Odds are if you watch this show, you love this show and know everything about this show. So if that’s the case then I don’t have to tell you that Dan Harmon, the series creator of Community, left after season 3 and this Thursday was the premiere of the first episode produced without him. The question on everyone’s mind going in was if it could live up to the hype that’s been building within the show’s fanbase. Could it deliver the same jokes just as cleverly? Would it be even better than it was? Or would it be a shaky, messy, shallow, and ultimately grotesque façade of its former self wearing the skin of something it can no longer be, much like the killer in Silence of the Lambs? I would be inclined to say the latter. But as this is only the first episode, I’d say that the show is going to fall back into its comfort zone in the coming weeks. I’m sure the show’s intentions are to start off BIG in order to keep all the people likely watching this at the behest of friends who are entertained just devotedly enough to keep going with it.
As I noted in my previous article referencing Community, this show’s gimmick is the playful homage and satire of bigger television and movie tropes and genres, all within the scope of a community college. Shrinking all these big ideas and references down to such a small level makes the writing much simpler and the jokes more clever. However, like the shows and movies it plays off of, Community too must get bigger and more exciting as the series progresses in order to keep viewers entertained. What that means for a clever show like this is that eventually, it loses its subtlety. Now, it was never very subtle from the beginning, but there was always that “Oh!” moment when you finally get what all the references are too and the show comes together. In season 3, the episode where they played on Law & Order brought that to a head when they straight up copied the intro. That isn’t to say it’s a bad thing when it’s more obvious, but the show never outright said what it was going for… until last Thursday.
That seems to be the biggest complaint against the season 4 opener, that it was spelling out the references rather than blending them. Not only that, but they were disconnected and spread rather thin along too many separate storylines. I laughed at the jokes, I enjoyed the episode, but it felt much too shallow with so much happening. There were no less than seven different kinds of references that felt too scattered to have any deeper meaning other than to be reference for its own sake. And that’s not what the show is about. The show is about using those references to tell a bigger story. The Law & Order episode mentioned earlier wasn’t just about Troy and Abed pretending to be cops and shaking down suspects. It was about Annie’s stubborn refusal to take a bad grade, and Jeff’s realization that he made her that way when they were looking for answers concerning their smushed yam science project. In the season opener, the resolution to Abed’s problem wasn’t a story told in references, it was a slew of references told to a story.
Overall I’d label this season’s opener as disappointing, but having waited for October 19th to come around ever since the first October 19th came around, I’d have to say this felt even worse. With any luck the next episode will be better. To paraphrase Abed, change is scary but it’s a part of life. Let’s just see if it’s for the better.