Community Season 4 Review: Slowly Limping Towards Six Seasons and a Movie

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Community‘s infectious, diehard spirit has always been a delight to fans…until now.

The show’s endurance against low ratings almost became part of its charm, given its brilliant writing and whimsical sense of humor.  Now the magic is gone, and it isn’t difficult to figure out why. Under new direction, Community has become a shell of its former self, making season 4 feel extremely tiresome.

The show was in trouble right from the get-go, I just didn’t notice it at first.  With History 101, season 4 premiered rather triumphantly.  There were some clever jokes, a wonky plot about Jeff competing in a Hunger Games-style competition to gain entry into a class, and some really good moments with Abed.  It was as if the show was saying, “Don’t worry about us, we’re not going anywhere.”  There was even a great reference to series creator Dan Harmon’s departure, where new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port smartly showed that they weren’t going to turn Community into a typical, laugh-track sitcom.

Still, something wasn’t quite right.  I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but there seemed to be something holding the show back.  After a while, I figured it out.  No, it wasn’t the vastly underused guest stars.  With Harmon gone, Community lost its funny bone.  The basic elements where all still there–reference humor, crazy shenanigans–but the jokes just didn’t come together.  Perhaps that’s because the characters started to feel underdeveloped. The truth is, without the strength of the Greendale Seven, all of Community‘s pop culture parodies are merely gimmicks.

Things really started to go south with episodes like Advanced Documentary Filmmaking and Intro to Felt Surrogacy.  Here the show implemented two excellent concepts–a documentary episode and The Muppets–both of which fell completely flat.  Unique genre episodes like these have worked wonderfully in the past, but that’s because they were written much, much better.  These episodes merely felt like the new creators were grasping at straws, trying to get the fans’ attention by saying “Hey look! Weird concepts! It’s the Community you know and love!”

If they knew better, they’d  know concepts aren’t what made the show so great.  Over the course of three seasons, Community has done a wonderful job of creating seven very unique and entertaining characters.  Their multidimensional personalities worked well against the constant TV and movie reference that would have otherwise made them into archetypes.  Unfortunately, the fourth season decided to do nothing new, and seemed to hold a lot of the gang in a season-long freeze.  Jeff is still struggling between being a good guy and a “cool” guy.  Shirley still worries about being a good mother.  There’s still some underlying romantic tension between Annie and Jeff that doesn’t go anywhere.  It’s all just more of the same.

For other characters, things seemed to get worse.  Chang was all over the place this season, first being an innocent amnesiac, then being secretly evil, then giving up his plans in the name of friendship.  It was very confusing and not at all enjoyable.  There was a point during the end of season 2 where the use of Chang got to be too much, but at least his purpose was clear.  I wasn’t really sure what was going on with him this season and, even worse, I didn’t really care to find out.  The person who got the real short end of the stick, however, was Pierce.  I guess Guarascio and Port don’t know how balance seven central characters at once, because he was barely in this season at all.  Sure, Chevy Chase was given a joke here or there, but there were entire half-hours when he wasn’t even present.  Reports of the actor having onset tantrums are now starting to make a lot more sense.  Who wouldn’t be pissed that their role was reduced to next to nothing?

It should be noted that this season wasn’t all bad.  Whatever humor the show still had was saddled onto Troy, who delivered excellent one-liners in almost every episode.  The show actually did well with some more dramatic moments, like Jeff finally meeting his dad and Troy and Britta’s breakup.  Here I was able to see the characters that Harmon built shining through, if only for a few brief moments.  Abed had some particularly nice episodes with Conventions of Space and Time and Herstory of Dance.  In the first, he must choose between his best friend and his love of “Inspector Spacetime,” and in the second he finally gets a shot at some romance.  If anyone had any development this season, it was him.

Perhaps the best thing about Community‘s 4th season was its finale.  In a strange twist of fate, the show was able to pull together for a surprisingly enjoyable episode that was–gasp!–actually funny.  Combining two of the most beloved concepts on the show, paintball and the darkest timeline, was a nifty idea, but the real greatness came from the fact that it was all centered around Jeff’s early graduation.  Finally, an organic source of humor that the show can work around.

This episode also worked really well as a sendoff for the show.  Jeff decides to join a small, local law firm so he can “help out the little guy” and still be near his friends, and gives a final speech to the group that ends up being very touching.  It would have been the perfect way to end things, especially after what a drag this season ended up being.  But no, the show must unfortunately go on.  NBC has recently announced that Community will get a 5th season.  Normally, this would be cause for celebration, but I can’t help but be concerned.  It may sound like I’m being harsh, but that’s only because I love what Community used to be.  I don’t know if I can take another year of one of my favorite shows being turned into something its not.  I’d rather have a few seasons of something great, than a bunch of seasons of something half-assed.  And that’s exactly was season 4 was, totally half-assed.  Grade: C+

By Mike Papirmeister

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