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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: Community, "Alternative History of the German Invasion"

Season 4, Episode 4
Grade: D
Verdict: Up until now, Community's 4th season has been hiding mediocre writing behind higher-level, geeky concepts. The more minimal, run-of-the-mill plot we see this week exposes the weakness of the dialogue and character development.

If I had to summarize the evolution of Community so far, it would go something like this:
Season 1 - high focus on characters/personality,  low-level concepts
Season 2 - medium focus on characters/personality, occasional high-level concepts mixed with more standard fare
Season 3 - low focus on characters/personality, dedication to constant high-level concepts


When I say high-level concepts, I simply mean that the episode is entirely dedicated to a theme (often of a geeky nature) in a way that lifts it from the standard sitcom plot arc. This in and of itself isn't necessarily the formula for success; plenty of comedies that I adore (i.e. Parks & Rec) use fairly standard, realistic plots and stay away from concept or themed episodes.

Thinking back on what I love about Community, it's always done it's best, in my opinion, when it balances those interesting, themed episodes with more low-key, character-focused ones. In season 2 it hit a high note in that regard; season 3 was interesting, was certainly different, but we lose a lot of character development in the process. Did you ever hear the awful saying that a woman has be a shade more attractive than she is crazy? I feel like that applies here. This show can be crazy, as long as it's just a shade more funny than it is crazy. Sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn't.

Up until this week, season 4 of Community had been relying on the season 3 formula, but doing it less well -  interesting themes with insta-geek appeal, shoddily held together with few genuinely funny moments and a skeleton of mediocre dialogue. It's funny how when the show is well-written, it feels like a theme, while when it's poorly written, it starts to feel like a gimmick. In fact, my favorite episode of this season was the first one, which was far less "themed" than the ones that have followed. Every week, my opinion of the show gets worse.

What happened this week is very different from what I really wish had happened, and what I thought was about to happen in the show's first few minutes.  In the opening scene (which actually takes place in the school's hallways - remember that place?), Shirley mentioned something about missing her baby's first steps. My initial reaction was literally: OH YEAH! She had a baby! Huh. Whatever happened with that? As I mentioned, this was the weakness of season 3, and season 4 had an opportunity to really improve there and bring the characters back into focus. But it didn't. It doesn't.

And I'm now noticing that I'm 4 or 5 paragraphs in and haven't even gotten to the plot. The plot here doesn't deserve much summary; something like the gang gets territorial about their study space and fights against an evil group of German students, only to find out that they may in fact be the villains. Also, Chang shows up, says he has amnesia, and is acting weird. Really and honestly that's about it.

I'm holding out hope, but I'm starting to fear the sharp writing that yielded the Greendale Human Beings, the dean's furry fetish, and the best school flag ever has officially become a thing of the past. I guess, on the bright side, if Community does get cancelled, we'll all be a little less disappointed...

Favorite quote: "If I wanted to know what happened in Europe a long time ago, I'd watch Game of Thrones."  - Troy
Favorite moment: Montage of all of the times the study group held the room hostage
Least favorite moment: ...Everything else? Not specific enough? OK, let's go with the gang making amends by pitching in and cleaning up Greendale. Blah.
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