Did “Community” get Britta’d?

I decided for the seventeenth time to stop being a wimp and get over whatever's going on in my head. So with that in mind:

“The Damn Beast no longer suuuulking!”

There’s a particular reason why I love NBC’s “Community”. Much like the proverbial show about tiny magical, flying or apple bucking equines that’s soon to end its third season, “Community” is extremely important to my personal life because one of the very few things that never fails to put me in a great mood.

Well, never failed. Big meaty emphasis on “ed”.

“History 101” was the first episode of season 4—the first one handled under the new post-Harmon-getting-canned show-runners that was either going to prove or disprove the inter-seasonal fears of the series’ dozens of fans, including me.

Now, other than the unbelievable unfairness of the whole thing, I really didn’t care that much about Dan Harmon—creator—forcibly leaving the show because it looked like despite that, it was still in the hands of the same great writers that had given us the first three seasons, not to mention that the cast was mostly intact; this is important, because the cast of “Community” (in my opinion Chevy Chase not withstanding as I always liked the show despite him) is a huge part of its success (uh, in terms of comedy, of course). So I tuned in hoping for the best, but the episode just wasn’t very good.

The opening scene, shot and played as a traditional three-camera sitcom, was a rather predictable but spot-on parody of the fans’ fears of change. The whole shtick about hipster glasses, recycled jokes, poor acting, the re-cast actor (Fred Willard as Pierce killed me), and the use of a totally out of place laughtrack was not just a parody of the mindblowingly shitty sitcoms that are destroying“Community” in terms of ratings, but also a middle finger to NBC. It’s like they’re saying “This terrible shit is what you want? This is the terrible shit that will give you ratings, ya filthy coonts.”

"Aah, look at us having fun! Sitcoms are fun!"
Once the show left sitcom mode, we were given to understand that the whole scenario was Abed’s “happy place” in his head, where Abed was supposed to escape if shit got too real—this, of course, a suggestion from Schoolyard Psychiatrist Britta Perry. This was the moment where something felt off. I wasn’t sure what, but it was immediately noticeable. It hit me later that something that had been changed was not necessarily in the writing or mood, but something technical.

The way it was shot—it’s different. Technically. Distractingly so. The scenes are shot and framed way more tightly than they were before, the lighting is different, even the actors look somehow strange, and some of the sets looked cheap (the fountain, for instance). When I noticed this, I began thinking if there was some other ‘level’ to the story, and that much like Abed ‘awoke’ from the sitcom fantasy, that would happen again from this weirdly shot episode.

That didn’t happen. Apparently that’s what “Community” is going to look like from now on. This isn’t necessarily a complaint; just something I noticed that bothered me if not too much. What really bothered me was the writing—the part of production the show is best known for and best at.

“History 101” was written by Ben Wexler. He’s a new writer, and he wanted to encompass all the Communitiness of “Community” into one episode, and it results in a disjointed, jumbled, incoherent question mark that tries doing too much, too fast. There were too many things going on, but the only thing that was really going on was Abed’s storyline where he somehow ‘suspects’ that “this might be the last year”. Now this is clever in terms of the meta-stuff the show in known for, but goddamn was it taken too far. The worst insult was when it went into a show within a show within a show and sitcom Abed imagines another scenario where the characters are cartoons of themselves as babies. It wasn’t funny, it looked cheap, and it was gratuitous; nothing like the real magic and cleverness of the stop-motion episode from season 2.

What was going on with Jeff trying to be “New Jeff” (as he had done before) and the early twist involving his possible graduation—another sorta clever wink at the terrified fans—didn’t really go anywhere, the whole "Hunger Games" parody seemed outdated five months after it was supposed to air, and involved what might be the first time the Dean was actually annoying.

Again, they took the schtick too far.

Fun fact: I auditioned for the role of "White Unicorn", but
apparently "unicorns aren't so hairy". Bullshit, man.
Troy and Britta are now a couple, which was revealed in the most sudden and abrupt way. “Community” is known for subtlety (remember the brilliant Beetlejuice joke?), even if it likes to pretend that sublety ended when “Scary Movie” came out. I didn’t care for one second what was going on with those two—and keep in mind Troy is my favorite character alongside Annie—and again, it didn’t go anywhere. Annie and Shirley had some bullcrap “We need to make a senior prank” plot  that was irrelevant, though one hilarious joke at the end involving a stapler made it almost worth it. Pierce did absolutely nothing in the whole goddamn episode (except say a very ominous “What the hell are we doing?”) and Chang was also MIA until the very end.

In short, it was a narrative mess. And what’s worse, is that the season-long storylines it promised at the end (SPOILERS: the Dean moving in next to Jeff, Troy and Britta being a couple, Chang having amnesia) are the typical sitcom fare that seems to be very obviously written in to appeal to a wider audience, which the show desperately needs to stay alive.

So there are three possibilities here, none of which is certain:

  1. This episode is a good indication of what NBC has done to the show. It has turned something unique into a watered down mass-appealing bastardization that felt like the product of fan fiction. The silver lining is that it won't last much longer.
  2. The whole thing is a huge troll, and the show is being meta-er and ballsier than it’s ever been before.
  3. This was just a bad episode—as there have been before, albeit few—and the show will be back in shape next week.
I’m not losing faith, and I will no doubt watch every episode as it comes out until it either ends after six seasons and a movie or is definitely cancelled. Nonetheless, it was sad and somewhat frightening to see what this episode looked and felt like. It was still very funny (loved the fake commercials in "Abed TV", the Obama joke, the sitcom parodies), and the characters seemed to be themselves for the most part, so it’s hard to decide what the future of this season will look like after just one episode. I’m not ready to call NBC slaughtering the unicorn for its balls yet. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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