Looking back: Community season 4

Frequent visitors of this weblog may have already noted my music obsession. Those of you who know me personally are most likely aware of my obsession with NBC’s ‘Community’, which is in my humble opinion the best TV show ever made. For the music freaks, this may be a bit of an annoying departure, but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on the controversial fourth season of the brilliant sitcom.

A quick summary of what it was that made the season so controversial for those unfamiliar with the story: series creator Dan Harmon was sideroaded by Sony Pictures for reasons that are still unknown. Harmon wasn’t the show’s sole writer, but the vision was his, so many fans, including myself, didn’t quite know what to expect of these series. Especially since several other key figures of the ‘Community’ crew also departed, among which writer and producer Chris McKenna and the directing brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, all of whom have been vital to many of the series’ key episodes.

Now that the series have finally aired in Holland – I know I could have watched online, but I think the wait and excitement are part of a series experience – I can finally have an opinion on it. And I must admit: it wasn’t as bad as some reviewers have lead me to believe it would be. Granted, the season was short (13 episodes instead of over 20) and Harmon’s influence was certainly missing, but I still found it to be an enjoyable season. It did have the general air of a tribute band with original members – you’d be surprised how many of those exist – because while the brilliant actors were still there, as was the general idea of the series, but there was something lacking. I’ll try and explain.

I don’t think season 4 will have the replay value of the earlier seasons because the humor of this season lacks the subtlety of earlier seasons. When I revisit those earlier episodes, I still discover new things that are incredibly funny – keep in mind that I have watched those a ridiculous amount of times – but with these episodes, there aren’t many surprises even the second time around. It’s not necessarily a problem, but I do think the replayability adds to the general quality of a show. In addition, much of the show’s genius meta-humor and popculture references appear to be in the episodes because they need to be, not because they’re spontaneous strokes of brilliance.

Also, the comic talents of Gillian Jacobs, who plays Britta Perry, were severely underused. In some ways, I’ve always thought it may have been a burden on her that she’s a good looking blonde woman, as several interviews I’ve seen with her prove that she is truly naturally funny. In addition, some of the writers seem to have mistaken the naivity of Troy Barnes, played by the superb Donald Glover, for stupidity. On the other hand, the popularity of the Abed Nadir character, brilliantly portrayed by Danny Pudi, caused the writers to enlarge his role, which isn’t always to the series’ benefit, as his sudden appearances are part of his character’s charm. And where both season two and three had brilliant animated episodes (respectively the stop-motion Christmas episode ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’ and 8 bit game animated ‘Digital Estate Planning’), the Muppets-like ‘Intro To Felt Surrogacy’ ultimately fell flat, favoring shape before content.

Having said that, the season does still have the general ‘Community’ vibe and a bunch of fantastic episodes. And these aren’t necessarily the episodes done by the house writers of the show. For instance, actor Jim Rash, who plays Dean Craig Pelton in the series, debuted as a writer with the episode ‘Basic Human Anatomy’, which is one of the best episodes of the season. The ‘Freaky Friday’ homage is a bit obvious, but applied very well to the general story and containing several moments of clever humor. New writer Jack Kokuda contributed to ‘Herstory Of Dance’, which I found strong story-wise, while Abed’s story was simply charming.

While the Halloween episode ‘Paranormal Parentage’ (written by veteran Megan Ganz) may not have been aired in time for the holiday, I found it really funny – anarchist vegetarian Britta dressed as a ham is downright brilliant – and well-written. And I’m not quite sure how the Thanksgiving episode ‘Cooperative Escapism In Familial Relations’ was aired in relation to the holiday, but it was a very enjoyable episode. Abed’s ‘Prison Break’ reference may have been the best joke of this season. Using Yvette Nicole Brown’s character Shirley Bennett in a funny matter rather than the group moral was a good choice as well. The two episodes closing the season may have been a tad overdone, but they were good nonetheless.

In the end, questions will remain. Would Dan Harmon have wanted Jeff Winger – portrayed by the never disappointing Joel McHale – to actually meet his father? Would the end of the season be what he had envisioned? And more importantly: now that Harmon has agreed to be back on board for a fifth season, did these series provide him a satisfying starting point? I’m just glad that Harmon is back. His presence was missed, but after all: a mediocre season of ‘Community’ is still streets ahead (pun intended) of many a sitcom’s good season. The fifth season is prospected to also consist of 13 episodes, which I consider the ultimate stepping stone to six seasons and a movie.

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