Community – “History 101”

Community - "History 101" S04E01

The cast of Community, plus Fred Willard.

Rating: C-

It’s sometimes fun to have my expectations be challenged. After season 8 of The Office I thought the show’s quality could not possibly sink any lower, until season 9 happened. Conversely, my interest in 30 Rock was waning until season 7 – and a perfect finale – reminded me why it was and will remain one of my favorite comedies. So while the news of the creative changes and issues among the cast over on the set of Community made its way around the Internet, I found that I wasn’t too worried about the departure of showrunner Dan Harmon. While Harmon creative vision would be missed, I felt that an established show like Community wouldn’t suffer too much as a result.

I guess I don’t always like having my expectations challenged.

In a way, “History 101” can be seen as a pilot episode for the new Community – a chance to reinvent the image of a show that already constantly reinvented itself. Or maybe just a chance to show that all the behind the scenes changes wouldn’t cause the show to skip a beat. But “History 101” is disappointingly caught in a muddle middle-ground, where it lacks the clear sense direction that the show’s best episodes had.

Although it was long promoted by both NBC and the cast as a parody of the novel/movie “The Hunger Games,” the episode did little to take advantage of what might have been an otherwise interesting premise. Instead all we got was Dean Pelton channeling his inner Katniss Everdeen and some shots of Jeff participating in a few challenges.

And that’s what bothered me most about the episode – some of Community’s  best episodes are its concept episodes, episodes in which the writers and cast become completely immersed in and dedicated to the concept behind the episode. “Modern Warfare,” “Contemporary American Poultry,” “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” “Remedial Chaos Theory,” and “Digital Estate Planning,” to name a few, weren’t great simply because they dropped a few references to gangster movies or had a few video game sounds. They were great because of the show’s complete devotion to the episode’s theme, not because of a few cutaway gags.

There was so much potential here for a greater episode. The infighting between the study group could have easily transitioned to a plotline of them competing against one another on a much grander scale, leading to the same, but much more satisfying conclusion, or scrap the group tension all together and have them work together to complete challenges (but not without a few hiccups along the way). Or the episode could have gone the direction of better exploring the concept of the laugh-track sitcom that was playing in Abed’s head. What started out as a fun idea – the show poking fun at fears that Community would become a multi-cam, laugh track comedy with Chevy Chase’s Pierce being replaced (although the loveable Fred Willard certainly isn’t a bad choice) – quickly became tedious, and on-the-nose storytelling as the episode kept being interrupted by cutaways to Abed’s happy place. And Greendale Babies gets a here mention just because of how insufferable it was.

Even if an entire episode devoted to either of these concepts may have fallen flat, I at least wouldn’t be able to fault the show for having tried. Community has never been afraid to take creative leaps, but last night’s episode was one of the few times that we saw the show hesitant to fully take the plunge.

It’s evident that “History 101” is trying to mimic pre-season 4 Community, but between Abed’s issues, Annie’s issues, Jeff’s issues, Troy and Britta and Troy’s issues, Abed’s happy place, the Hunger Deans, and a wealth of other plots, the episode is way too much of a jumbled mess to enjoy. In trying to do everything, it accomplishes nothing. Towards the end of the episode I found myself echoing Pierce’s, “Can somebody tell me what the hell we just did?”.

But at least we can find enjoyment in our familiarity with these characters. Troy’s childlike innocence, Britta’s inability to be anything but majorly uncool, Jeff’s speeches and inability to be anything but majorly cool, and all the other pieces that we remember are still here. It’s

I must admit that I wasn’t too particularly excited about Community’‘s return (I wasn’t too heartbroken, or surprised, to learn that its original October 19 premiere would be pushed back to February 7). Maybe it was my mind’s way of preparing me for disappointment. Or maybe with the abundance of other great comedies on television and Community‘s long absences my opinion of the show has simply changed. Yes, there were some stinkers with Harmon’s Community too, but at least it was still Community, not a show that was a poor imitation of Community. This isn’t to say that I’ve already given up on the show, but just my belief that it needs to find its voice again – I remember not being too particularly fond of the original pilot either. But it better find it soon.

Additional Thoughts

  • It’s even tough to find funny one-liners from the episode because it simply wasn’t that funny.
  • I am however interested to find out what happened to Chang.
  • I’m having a difficult time watching Pierce on screen now, knowing the issues that Chase has had with the show.
  • With all of NBC’s other comedies struggling to maintain “NBC-decent” ratings there’s a chance that we won’t have to say goodbye to the Greendale 7 just yet after this season.
  • NBC was trying way too hard with the hashtags.
  • Damn, Jim Rash is ripped.

Posted on February 8, 2013, in Recaps/Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I agree with you completely. There was a hint of a concept with Abed going into his ‘happy place’ and then the Abed in the happy place going into another happy place with babies. A sort of visualization of change but it was a disappointment. As happy as I was to see them back on the air I was hoping for some more ‘meta’ oriented episodes like Remedial Chaos Theory or Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples, both of which are my favorites.

    • It’s not that concept episodes are the only good ones. There are a ton of “normal” ones too (season 1 was especially full of them). But it needs to be one or the another with Community, never half way.

  2. To think, I was cosufned a minute ago.

  1. Pingback: Community – “Intro To Felt Surrogacy” | It's Primetime Somewhere

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