'Community' Loses Footing With 'Alternative History of the German Invasion'
“Jeff! Pierce tainted our handshake with his blood money and now we can’t get the magic back!” – Troy Barnes.
In similar fashion, NBC took the magic from Community by refusing to extend creator Dan Harmon’s contract last year. In another blunder, this week’s episode, "Alternative History of the German Invasion," should have aired two weeks ago on Valentine’s Day. Instead, it was replaced with the Halloween episode and was advertised as “Valloween.” One might ask, “Why couldn’t that episode be shown on Halloween?” Because NBC pushed the critically acclaimed Community to the midseason instead punishing the mediocre Whitney. Not surprisingly, the once popular network has fallen to 5th (behind Univision!) in the latest television ratings sweep.
In "Alternative History of the German Invastion," our beloved study group encountered their German foosball enemies (sans Nick Kroll) in their new History class. After class, they discovered that the German trio had taken over their study room, much to the dismay of the group, and in typical Community fashion, the Greendale Seven went to war with the Germans to regain what had been theirs for the past three seasons.
But "Alternative History of the German Invasion" did not feel like a typical episode of Community (the first three seasons). It suffered from the same problems that plagued the first post-Harmon episode, "History 101." There were too many plot devices used for the main storyline. In the past, Community parodies or flashbacks have focused on one theme. You can see this in “Basic Lupine Urology” when the episode focused on just spoofing Law and Order, or in “Paradigms of Human Memory” where flashbacks of unseen material are the center of attention. The German invasion plot in the latest episode contained three different scenarios: a war movie video montage, a Hogan’s Heroes parody, and a flashback montage. As a result, the pacing was inconsistent, and the episode felt cramped. There was just not enough time spent on each of these classic Community scenarios, and it seemed obvious that the writers were trying to fit as many fan favorite plot concepts to appease the fans worried about the post-Harmon show’s direction. They should have listened to Jeff (Joel McHale) in "Contemporary American Poultry." “Pick one reference [story idea], Abed [Writers].”
The focus on the main plot with the use of so many devices dimmed the creativity of the smaller storylines. Abed’s (Danny Pudi) video game relationship with one of the Germans, Karl (Alex Schemmer) could have been expanded into its own subplot. Abed and Karl could have had a side diplomatic peace mission to try to solve the tension between the two groups. Instead, their relationship seemed lacking and just existed for a few gags. Chang’s (Ken Jeong) “Changnesia” plot suffered in a different fashion. In a matter of minutes, this storyline had already been written into absurdity. I was also disappointed that Chang had been relegated to child status with Dean Pelton’s (Jim Rash) milk placard scene.
Even though this episode of Community felt forced, it still gave us the clever jokes and pop-culture references that have made this show my favorite program on television for the past three years. When Jeff jokes, “Really Abed? Karl’s not horrible… Even though he took your home?” he referenced not only the study room as home, but also the fact that Abed is half Polish. I could not help but laugh when the decrepit study table that the group was forced to use fell apart to the tune of a depressing and dramatic song. There was also a Pierce (Chevy Chase) sighting with a great army-dodging Canada dig, and later a welcome USA network Burn Notice burn (pun intended) by Troy (Donald Glover).
I may have misspoken last week when I declared that Community would feel like the old Community when the study table made appearances more often. It may be that the writers just needed to get more acclimated without their old showrunner. Since "Alternative History of the German Invasion" should have been the second episode to air this season, the momentum from last week’s episode has not stopped. Community should officially be back next week. Like Troy and Abed’s handshake, the magic has to come back eventually… Right?