Community came back last night for its first Dan Harmon-less episode of Season 4. Before I get into the merits and criticisms of the episode I have a challenge for all of you fans out there: Pretend that I know nothing about Community (instead of knowing EVERYTHING about Community.) Can you tell me in Tweet format (140 characters) what the show is about? It’s harder than you might think. Can you encapsulate the meta-textual nature of the show without sacrificing the personality growth that each character has? Here is my stab at it:
Community is just…Community, it’s a hard thing to explain briefly. Take that frame of mind and apply it to the Season 4 premiere: “History 101.” The episode is about the study group entering their “senior year,” and we learn that Jeff is planning on graduating earlier than the rest of the gang. The fear of change causes Abed to retreat inside of his mind to various sitcom versions of their lives where everything stays the same. Of course this is all amidst Dean Pelton’s Hunger Games-themed tournament for seats in the only history course offered this semester: The History of Ice Cream.
Some fans might see this as business as usual, others might see it as a desperate attempt to make an episode of television that merely looks like Community. I can see both sides of the argument, really. Moses Port and David Guarascio, the new showrunners, clearly framed this episode as a way to assure fans that they are going to try their best to make sure that the show keeps the same heart and soul that it has always had. Attacking the fans’ concerns head on is without a doubt the best way to enter this season. Some may argue that its a less subtle approach and they may be trying too hard, but think about it like my “Tweet Challenge.” Port and Guarascio are two guys hired by NBC to take the reigns of a cult show. They only have one first shot at a premiere. They only get 22 introductory minutes to sway fans while simultaneously prove to studio execs that Community can still be a profitable TV show. That’s a lot of pressure. “History 101” was by no means a perfect episode. The (intentionally) vague nature of Troy and Britta’s relationship, the sidelining of Pierce (though nothing really new to the show there) and perhaps a Dean that was just a little too over-the-top(?) definitely had a whiff of feeling forced. But I am a Community fan, and I am going to stick with the show and judge it as the season unfolds. The season premiere didn’t completely sell me, but I did enjoy glimpsing into Abed’s imagination, as well as the potential storylines provided by the Dean’s new home and Chang suffering from “Changnesia.” Port and Guarascio have 12 more episodes to win me over and prove that they are worthy inheritors of this series. I pray that they are up to the task. Until then, I have to go find out when the next episode of American Sword Cooks airs.
Season 4 Premiere Grade: ★★★½ 3.5/5