Community addresses the cliches in college culture


Jeff (Joel McHale) competes in the Hunger Deans, a series of homoerotic challenges set up by Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) that would allow Jeff to graduate early. The new season of Community dumbs down its humor and loses its edge.

Ben Lerner, Staff Writer


Capgras syndrome is a disorder in which one believes a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member has been replaced by an identical-looking imposter.  Devoted  fans of Community may have experienced a similar delusion during the premiere of the show’s fourth season.  They could recognize all the characters, the setting and the music, yet there was something off.

Those who had watched the season three finale would feel as if the show wasn’t picking up where it left off; it felt as if I’d veered into a different, more generic direction. At its best, Community is able to break down a plotline that you’ve probably seen before and then put it back together in a wholly original way. The premiere was certainly as irreverent as it’s always been, but it was lacking the heart, characterization, and clever pop-culture deconstruction that make it work.

This episode was “the Hunger Games episode,” and it didn’t do much with it.  Jeff (Joel McHale) was simply a Katniss proxy for Dean Pelton (Academy Award winner Jim Rash) to toy with.  There wasn’t much to it besides the expected homoerotic undertones.

Throughout the episode, Jeff repeatedly says that he is now “new Jeff,” the “new” being his determination to win the Dean’s silly challenges so that he can graduate early.  This kind of “new” pervades the entire episode.  Troy (Donald Glover) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) spend their time exploring their “new” relationship, which, between seasons, has morphed into a dysfunctional power play between the two.  Abed has a “new” sense of panic that the study group will disband after graduation, and plots ways to keep them all together indefinitely.

This sense of newness might be a result of series creator Dan Harmon’s departure from the show last year.  His vision is what made “old” Community work: his obsession with pop culture, his adherence to an eight-step storytelling formula he came up with himself, his off-beat sense of humor and the way he envisioned the characters.

The replacement showrunners might be able to recreate Community superficially with the kind of things they think ought to be in a Community episode, but it feels like they’ve already lost touch with the soul of the show.

Community has certainly changed between seasons, from high-octane paintball episodes to weird, experimental Charlie Kaufman love letters, but each time it felt like the show had grown and become better-developed and more complex.  This episode seemed more like a step back, with the characters acting a bit more one-dimensional than before.

That said, it wasn’t all that bad.  There were a few jokes here and there that were at least mildly amusing.  Abed’s subplot was certainly the most meta part of the episode, in which he imagines that the show has become wholly transformed into a show akin to the Big Bang Theory (sycophantic characters, grating laugh track, awful jokes).  His delusions become progressively more simplistic until he’s imagining a Baby Looney Toons type of show.

If this was indeed self-referential, and the new showrunners know the direction that Community might be headed in, then I commend them for at least being self-aware.  Perhaps they know that they simply aren’t Dan Harmon, but they’ll do the best job that they can anyway.