Community season 4 episode 3 review: Conventions Of Space And Time

Review Emma Matthews 25 Feb 2013 - 09:10

Community at a sci-fi convention? It sounds like a match made in heaven. So why didn't this episode raise many laughs?

This review contains spoilers.

4.3 Conventions of Space and Time

After last week’s spooky/Daddy issue fest, this week the gang spends a second week away from the rarefied Greendale air, and ‘treats’ themselves to a trip to Troy and Abed heaven – an Inspector Spacetime Convention. While, generally, anyone who isn’t Troy and Abed would rather eat their own feet than go to a sci-fi convention, thanks to the handy proximity of some mountains to the convention centre, the etiquette of pretending to enjoy something your other half is obsessed with, and Pierce’s inability to take a hint, the whole gang descends on the nerd-fest.

In an ideal world, Study group + Road Trip + sci-fi convention should equal Community comedy gold. This is, after all, is the area in which the show traditionally prospers; it should be almost too easy to squeeze a classic, reference-filled, razor sharp episode from the comedic situation.  And yet... Somehow, that did not happen. Instead, the road trip/convention was used to move the Troy/Britta relationship further along, which left little room for obscure references or Winger-patented nerd-baiting. Given that those things are pretty much the show’s bread and butter, a script without them is always going to feel a little flat; add to that a less than sparkling cameo from Matt Lucas, and Shirley’s plea to the network during the Inspector Spacetime focus group and confidence would appear to be in very short supply. Telling us what makes the show great, and then showing us a Luke Perry-shaped nightmare vision of what TV will be like if networks continue to allow elderly white men to dictate what’s broadcast, only goes so far. Just doing what the show does best, without fuss – which after all is one of the things that makes Community so great; it always felt effortless – would be worth a hundred lacklustre trips to sci-fi land. The last couple of episodes have clearly taken a lot of effort – on everyone’s part, and that includes the audience.

With a truncated season, time for nerve-settling is in short supply – given the show’s shoddy treatment by NBC, it would have been apt for the writers to come at the start of the season with all guns blazing, but there’s a definite air of defeatism about this and last week’s episodes. That defeatist air has been almost completely embodied by Abed’s role in both – relegated to the surveillance room last week, unsure of his place in the group this week, and attempting to find a quick fix in Matt Lucas, something that could also be said about his appearance in the first place.

Upping the cameo and nakedness quotient – two chests for the price of one, and a woman in her underwear (isn’t it weird that a man’s bare chest is seen as the TV-nakedness equivalent of a woman in her bra and knickers?) – as well as adding some actual swearing, did not help with that defeatist air. Throwing everything in your arsenal into the pot and hoping that something makes comedy magic isn’t only hit and miss, but it may actually be a Community first. The show has always been rapid-fire, but here there was a distinct whiff of kitchen sink-ness about it all. Having said that, it’s always a pleasure to see Luke Perry popping up where he really shouldn’t.

So, while, as things stand, it appears that season four will be a slightly watered down version of the show – Community Light, if you will – there were still one or two flashes of the genius that raises it above the run of the mill; Danny Pudi once again showing off his frighteningly accurate mimicking skills, and the aforementioned Luke Perry pop-up among them. Also, Jeff gets two drinks thrown in his face, so even in the new Community, Jeff remains the fall guy, which is karmically, exactly as it should be.

Of course, the latest instalment of new Community did throw up some rather disconcerting questions – with Britta and Troy now Abed-approved, how will the Troy/Abed dynamic change? Is the show about to commit Friends-style Hari Kari and break up the central comedy partnership? Similarly, as Jeff and Annie’s friendship morphs into something that resides in a far more overtly grey area, are we about to see a double coupling? Is that something that Abed – or any of us – can cope with? And perhaps most disconcertingly of all – has Pierce even owned a TV since the eighties?

So, with three episodes down, things are still looking a little shaky over at Greendale. And while shaky might be forgivable for a limited time, sooner or later, the writers are going to have to bite the bullet and make a decision. Let’s hope it’s the right one. 

Read Emma's review of the previous episode, Paranormal Parentage, here.

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