Community season 4 episode 1 review: History 101

Review Emma Matthews 11 Feb 2013 - 06:58

October 19th finally arrived! Here's Emma's review of Community's season four opener...

This review contains spoilers.

4.1 History 101

After an extended sabbatical, our favourite dysfunctional study group finally walked back through the doors of America’s most dubious educational institution this week, allowing us to breathe a sigh of (almost) relief. Following a hiatus that saw the show’s creator Dan Harmon part ways with NBC, a precarious will they/won’t they be cancelled tug of love/disgust, where it looked as if Community would never again grace our screens, along with a display of diva behaviour from Chevy Chase that would make Joan Collins blush with embarrassment and frankly, the fact the premiere aired at all is nothing short of a miracle.

But as with all miracles, you’d be forgiven for approaching season four’s opener with extreme caution. Until its removal from our schedules, Community had been one of the most inventive and original live action shows on the TV. Given Dan Harmon’s departure and the openly dismissive manner in which the fourth season was truncated and indefinitely postponed, and the decimation of something amazing could well have been on the horizon. Having been so disappointed when it went away, any elation at the show’s return was fully tempered by the knowledge that there’s a very good chance that Community would be forced to become something it simply was not - just another sitcom.

As it turns out, these concerns were perhaps unfounded. Although it’s still very early days, History 101 had definite glimmers of the show we love. Based around Abed’s fear of change – the group’s final year at college, Britta and Troy’s new relationship, Jeff’s threatening to leave early, and pretty much anything that doesn’t involve them staying at Greendale forever - he retreats to his happy place, and spends much of the episode in what must have had NBC wetting its knickers – a traditional sitcom. Complete with laugh track and fifties-era gender gags, in places it made for very uncomfortable viewing – just how close did we come to seeing the dysfunction completely sucked from our favourite study group in favour of a script lifted wholesale from The Big Bang Theory? Chilling. Having said that, there is one way in which Abed’s Happy Place got it right – surely everyone’s dream Community cast replaces Chevy Chase with the legend that is Fred Willard...

Abed of course comes to realise that change can be good thing, but not before each character has uttered the immortal phrases 'Change isn’t so bad’ and ‘This year is going to be great’, or words to that effect several times each – by the end of the episode, the subtext has very much become big, heavy text that’s being used to beat us over the head. Never a show to shy away from communicating directly with its audience, in this instance, rather than being a sly nod to how funny and clever we all are, it instead had a slight whiff of insecurity. Which feeds directly into what was missing from this episode - Community has always been a show that’s comfortable with, and certain of, its identity, and that confidence has been evident in every episode... Until History 101. Given the recent uncertainty, perhaps a wobble is understandable, but when the pleas to stick it with are coupled with several portentous repetitions of ‘It’s our last year’ the message is nervous at best.

Not that there weren’t also things to be very pleased about. Any show that not only references Muppet Babies, but does an animated homage is surely a keeper, and with the usual smattering of great one liners, hilarious visual gags, and the revelation that Leonard is a badass, season four’s opener was not the disaster many had been expecting. A boring, bland sitcom Community is not, and for the time being at least, it looks as if it’s going to stay that way. We’ll gloss over the Troy/Britta horror show for now, and instead rejoice in Jim Rash’s ridiculously camp community college dean who, despite the enormous amount of money he must spend on fabulous frocks and stiletto-shaped tape dispensers,  can still afford to buy a condo next door to a lawyer. It’s things like that that keep us all dreaming. Here’s hoping that the Senior Year nerves settle soon, and that this year really will be a great year. And that Fred Willard really does take Chevy’s place... See you in class!

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