Season 4 of Community has been a problematic mess. The kooky scenarios the characters have been shunted into have frequently neglected to remember that the heart of the series comes from the emotional interactions between them. It’s managed to fit a handful of those in along the way, but they’ve usually felt tacked on rather than earned. If they succeeded at all, it was mostly because they were piggybacked off of the attachment I had to these characters thanks to the three years I’d already spent with them.
The season has also struggled thematically. The first three seasons of the show had plot threads running through each. The first was about Jeff shedding his former self and integrating into Greendale and the study group. The second focused on testing the group’s strength, especially when it had internal problems (Pierce). The third was clearly set on growth with each character moving toward realizing a goal. Season 4 had no clear thread or any feeling of forward momentum with a lot of episodes retreading past ideas that had been better handled before and random regressions of characters to former versions of themselves. It did move Jeff’s story along by having him meet his estranged father and, now, having him graduate, but it did these things more as though they were obligatory because Dan Harmon had set them up in the past and fans would be pissed if there was no payoff.
So it’s not too surprising that this finale tried to go for a particularly zany premise though one still full of previous series’ concepts revisited and, though it ended with what should probably be the most climactic moment ever of this series (Jeff’s graduation), it didn’t feel that huge. It just kind of… happened.
It’s hard to get invested in a show when it spends most of its time showcasing filler. Character development in Season 4 has rarely been a concern. The majority of the episodes seemed to be more interested in sticking Greendale inside a looping sitcom timeline where events have no major consequence so that the gang can come together week after week to reliably provide a few small chuckles. The finale does it no differently.
“Advanced Introduction to Finality” reintroduces the darkest timeline from one of the best episodes ever, “Remedial Chaos Theory”. The promos for this week were horrifying to say the least as they implied that the dark versions of the characters from this alternative timeline (which, back when it was introduced, was very obviously a jokey concept all derived from Abed’s head) were now going to invade the real timeline for realsies. And the episode does, in fact, spend the majority of its time on this plot, with all the evil versions breaking into the “real world” with sci-fi paintball guns that transport people, once shot, into the darkest timeline.
Luckily and ultimately not too unexpectedly it’s eventually revealed all this nonsense is just happening in Jeff’s head. On the one hand, it’s certainly good that the writers at least knew that making the darkest timeline a reality was an abysmal idea. But, on the other hand, it makes the episode almost entirely pointless. Apparently we’re meant to believe that all of this timeline junk was representative of Jeff’s internal struggle over graduating and leaving Greendale behind or blah, blah, whatever. The moral is confused.
But, seriously, how dumb do they think we think Jeff is? Of course he’s not going to reject his graduation. He’s not a mental case. If a more tangible obstacle to his graduating had been introduced, maybe this plot would’ve been worth caring about. As it is, it’s just Jeff having a fight inside his own head and the outcome is a foregone conclusion. In other words, the only real event that took place here is that Jeff graduated at the end of the episode. The conflict up until that point was imagined and the attempt to legitimize it was a stupid failure.
We’ve spent two episodes in Abed’s head before and, while those were some of my least favorite of the Harmon era, I could at least appreciate why Abed was having those internal conflicts. It just doesn’t add up for Jeff to be having these thoughts. In fact, the whole premise breaks down the more you think about it. How is Jeff conjuring up these vivid mental images of the darkest timeline, something he only knows about from Abed’s ramblings? How come Jeff launches right into this delusion in front of his friends? Is something actually wrong with him? Everything is confused and sloppy.
Pacing-wise, this episode is all over the place too. It has so much madness going on with this dark timeline invasion that it just becomes a poorly-executed action/sci-fi film. Were there jokes? I didn’t catch many (though, once again, the few times I did laugh were because of Troy). It reminded me most of my pick for worst episode ever, the season premiere, because so much nonsense was going on that it barely felt like there was a plot, the moral was scatterbrained, and its attempts at reminding us that it’s supposed to be Community were terribly misguided.
The dark timeline focus fell flat and the soulless, lethargic mini-revival of paintball just highlighted how far the previous paintball episodes went in order to sell the premise, while this one is content to just throw in a few boringly staged moments where people shoot at each other. It’s a hugely embarrassing moment when Abed says “We finally figured out a way to make paintball cool again.” Oh, writers. Just because you proclaim it to be so does not make it the case.
I am again left wondering who the hell this show is for. It pisses off Community fans like myself and I can’t imagine what it’d be like if you just tuned into this thing and saw people shooting teleportation paintballs at doppelgangers of themselves. You’d be like, “I thought this was supposed to be a sitcom about a college”.
Let’s all just go back to pretending the last episode of Season 3 was the series finale, okay?
Den Of Geek Score: 0.5 out of 5