'Community' Shows Signs Of Regaining Its Old Form
After the first two episodes of this season, I thought that Community might turn into another Indiana Jones debacle where I only buy the first three seasons (movies) because, you know, “the fourth one blows." But last night’s episode, “Conventions of Space and Time” may have changed my mind. Each new episode in this fourth season has become better than the last. In the latest episode, the Greendale Seven takes a trip to the Inspector Spacetime convention, and though I never particularly liked the Inspector Spacetime storyline, dating back to season three, I surprisingly enjoyed this adventure.
“Conventions of Space and Time” gives us glimpses of the creativity that has made Community so great. Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) cold open was one of the best I have seen on the show. A simple scene about Britta sneaking out of Troy’s (Donald Glover) apartment through the window turns into a wild scramble for her. She has to swing across fire escapes, tumble across a balcony while putting on pants, and grab a bag of donuts that she had cleverly put in the ceiling tiles of the apartment complex hallway the night before. It turns out that all that work was for nothing as Abed (Danny Pudi) says to an exhausted Britta, “I know you two are having sex, I’ve known for weeks.” Throw in a few digs at NBC from Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), “I think what they like about the show [Inspector Spacetime] is that it’s smart, complicated, and doesn’t talk down to its audience”, and Community is almost back to normal.
Fans of Community will also be happy that many of their favorite characters are returning to form from the muddled caricatures that plagued the first two episodes. Jeff (Joel McHale) was back to his old bantering self with a couple of classic “Wingers,” such as when he responds to Britta’s, “Jeff, why are people staring at you?” with “because they’ve never seen a man without sex before.” Britta has regained some of her season 1 wit and is no longer just a buzz kill (“I’ve told you before, I don’t care about Inspector Spacetime"). And Troy, who is sleeping with Britta, is not portrayed like a child the way he was in the last episode.
Yet, despite being the best episode of season 4, it still suffers from the inconsistent portrayal of the study group characters from the new show runners. At the end of last season, it seemed that Annie (Allison Brie) had grown out of her immature infatuation with Jeff. In this episode, however, Annie reverts back to her old ways and creepily role-plays herself as Mrs. Winger to an unknowing Jeff, who is busy flirting with the attractive super-nerd Lauren (Tricia Helfer). At least the inappropriate storyline did lead to a fantastic joke by the hotel bellboy, “We normally don’t concern ourselves with adultery, because then hotels wouldn’t exist.”
I have to credit the writers with a very solid "best friend triangle" plot and fight between Troy, Abed, and Toby (Matt Lucas). “Toby and Abed, in the morning? That’s ridiculous,” yells Troy. But as we’ve seen throughout the show from the beginning, friendship matters. When Abed finds himself locked inside something yet again, he calms down, realizing that Troy will find him. It has always been Troy and Abed (“Troy and Abed in the Morning!”), and these friends have each other’s back, something that Abed did not quite understand back in Season 3 in “Virtual Systems Analysis.”
Still, something seems different about the post-Dan Harmon Community. I can only point to the lack of the study table as the culprit. Besides it being magical (“It magically keeps our books from falling on the floor”), the study table has allowed the study group to bond and connect with each other rather than just “seeing you when I see ya,” as Jeff says to Pierce (Chevy Chase) in “Biology 101.” It is the bedrock of the show, and when the study table makes appearances more frequently, this season of Community will feel like the old Community again (I hope).