Unsurprisingly, we’re back in the alternative timeline version of Community where everything is a bit lamer, wordplay jokes end up being confounding rather than funny, and Pierce isn’t on the show anymore.
To address the latter matter first, it was my understanding that Chevy would only be MIA for two episodes (counting the puppet one that at least had his voice in it), but he definitely wasn’t around for this one, resulting in one, small, cheesy moment where a guy who looks quite a bit like him from the back does something awful Pierce-like.
Regarding everything else, “Heroic Origins” was an episode that left me feeling really weird. I think this is because, on the one hand, it was very much a Season 4 effort with very few laugh-out-loud jokes and some pretty slipshod plotting. But, on the other hand, it ran with a premise that felt like it could’ve, at least at one time, been a great idea for Community. Plus, it also had a few developments between characters that made sense emotionally even if the plot didn’t accomplish the heavy lifting needed to get us there.
The concept here is that Abed has decided to explore the pasts of each member of the study group (except not really Pierce because, y’know) with the goal of proving that all of them were destined to be together as their lives had been intertwined from the beginning. I was already a bit iffy on this kind of thing back in Season 3 when it was revealed Shirley and Jeff had a fateful foosball game back when they were kids and the idea that the show might try to manufacture past connections between all of the characters was worrying as it had the potential to make everyone seem less believable as people, not to mention it could cheapen the history they’ve already created together over the course of the show.
Turns out I needn’t have feared because these past connections weren’t that momentous. First of all, rather unnecessarily, they were just visualizations of stuff we already knew about, like Annie getting addicted to Adderall and Jeff getting disbarred. Jeff’s disbarment was really anticlimactic and, frankly, Annie being addicted to pills is the sort of thing that should just be stated, not shown, as it comes across as a touch messed up. This is a basic issue with dredging up characters’ pasts; it’s fine to reference them once doing somewhat outlandish or even out of character in hazy, non-specific ways. But if you explore this stuff any more deeply, it runs the risk of feeling wrong to the characters or the tone of the show. Plus, almost of all the backstory this episode is working with came out of the show’s original pilot script and these characters have changed a LOT since then. I mean, honestly, does anyone actually envision Annie as a pillhead? Does Troy act even remotely like someone who was ever a jock?
Beyond staging events that were previously only a line or two of dialogue in the pilot, the other run-ins the gang had had in the past were really pretty incidental. It was more just stuff like they happened to be in the same place at the same time and said one or two words to each other. More than that, everything was so confusingly plotted that, though there seemed to be some effort to tie all the stories together, it instead just felt like a potluck of disparate storylines that occasionally intersected sorta-kinda. As a result, it didn’t really destroy the show’s world in any way that felt particularly heinous. However, by the same token, none of it felt all that important. Like so much of Season 4, this episode had almost no real effect on the series at large. It just canceled itself out and didn’t really matter.
The one exception to this is the final scene (featuring “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” playing in the background) in which the group realizes they were actually all in the same place once (a frozen yogurt shop) at the same time and this was when they all decided, independently, to go to Greendale. They’d all decided this because they were at low points in their lives and Chang happened to be there handing out Greendale flyers. The important thing to come out of this is that Abed realizes Chang was, oddly, the reason for all of them coming together and so he confronts him and tells him that he deserves to be in the group. The frozen yogurt shop scene was corny and labored like much of the episode before it, but seeing Chang accepted by the group finally still came across as somehow right and natural for Community (and we’ll just pretend it’s coincidence that Ken Jeong can now slot into the spot that Chevy Chase has vacated).
There were, as always, a handful of clever lines and I laughed roughly three times, like when Britta’s activist friend explained why she was ditching vegetarianism: “I had a hamburger the other day and suddenly I’m not cold anymore.” It was also kind of charming that the whole thing had a comic book theme based on Unbreakable because, according to Abed, it’s more relatable than Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs trilogy (though kudos to Britta for noticing the similar themes). Still, all said and done, this was an episode that felt good in some spots, but was mostly another decent concept failing to reach the heights one would hope for from Community. Still, as I said, at least it didn’t completely destroy the characters’ relationships or the show’s universe.
But, hey, did you catch the preview for next week’s finale? The implication is that they’re actually going to have the darkest timeline be a real thing that invades the study group’s world.So, unless this is all going to be some Abed fever dream…
…Show destruction, ho!