Community: History 101 Season 4 Episode 1 Review

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It’s back! It’s back! It’s finally back!  After some behind-the-scenes drama and a delayed premiere date, Community has returned under new management.  Luckily, the Greendale Seven’s senior year is off to a solid start.

After series creator Dan Harmon was unceremoniously dropped from the show, fans began to worry about the new direction Community would head in once it returned.  Keeping this in mind, History 101‘s brilliant opening was in the style of a multi-camera sitcom, complete with a prerecorded laugh track.  Not to worry, though, it was merely a vision in Abed’s mind that he conjured up after Britta told him to go to his happy place.

Once the show returned to its normal, wacky self, the gang encountered their first problem of the semester.  Their “History of Ice Cream” class was overbooked and the only way for them to get in was to compete in a Hunger Games-style competition called “The Hunger Deans.”  Community has always had a knack for parodying pop culture, but part of the problems from last season stemmed from the fact that it focused too much on the references and in-jokes and less on the seven great characters it has.  This season seems determined to be different, though, as aside from a fiery banner the Dean had put up, there weren’t too many similarities to the popular Jennifer Lawrence movie.

Jeff was determined to prove himself a new man in this episode, as he worked hard through the competition to earn seven red balls–used for entry to the class–for him and each of his friends.  Of course, being Jeff, his motives were a little selfish.  After taking summer classes, Jeff is eligible to graduate a semester early.  This concerned a lot of the group, but it’s a great plot development that could make for an interesting season.

While Jeff competed, Annie and Shirley went to pull a prank on the Dean as part of Annie’s resolve to have senior-itis, Troy and Britta, still adorably together, went to throw pennies in the school fountain to make wishes, and Pierce tried to make a dirty joke out of the red ball trophies while he sat next to Abed, who was still in his happy place.  Abed spent quite a lot of time there, as it turns out he was feeling some anxiety about everyone graduating.  The more balls Jeff won, the worse he got.  His sitcom happy place, turned into a baby cartoon happy place where they could stay in Greendale forever.

The Hunger Deans competition and Abed’s weird mind worlds were funny, but as always Community‘s true genius came from its smaller moments.  Greendale having a class called “Instagramming with my Besties.” The Dean changing from his normal clothes into a ball gown in a matter of seconds, and then ripping it off to reveal another ball gown.  Annie’s idea of a senior prank being to move the Dean’s stapler half an inch.  And of course, the hilarious pop-ups in Abed’s sitcom dream world (“Blind and Blonde” was my favorite).

It’s good to know that, despite its new leadership, Community is still able to deliver its unique brand of humor that we’ve come to know and love. Still, something about this episode felt off.  I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there’s something about it that seemed to be holding it back from reaching its full potential.  Maybe it was the way that the show already seems to be phasing out Pierce, giving him the smallest plotline and replacing him with Fred Willard in the sitcom bits.  Maybe it’s that Jeff seemed to get the red balls too easily.  Maybe it’s just the general finality I felt now that the gang is getting ready to say goodbye to Greendale.  Whatever it is, I’m hoping the kinks will work themselves out at the season progresses.

The episode ends with Jeff giving up his quest to win seven red balls in favor of helping Abed with his anxiety.  The Dean ends up offering a second history class anyway, and also reveals that he’s living down the hall from Jeff.  In a weird ending shot, we see Chang resurface and give a mailman a note saying he has “Changnesia.”  I’m not exactly sure what this means or where he’s been, but I’m along for the ride to find out.  Grade: B+

By Mike Papirmeister

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