Going into the penultimate episode of Community’s rough and tumble Season 4, I dreaded what was to come. Not the actual episode itself, but more the knowledge that Community may be facing its definitive ends next week. And how ignominious an end it has been shaping up to be. Like a college graduate facing the real world with few prospects, the thought of leaving Greendale is a bittersweet one. Yet, if a possible Season 5 is anything like Community’s senior year, then perhaps an extra semester is indeed unneeded.
Endings are clearly on the writers’ minds as well this week, as they chose to make Season 4’s second to last episode a trip back to the beginning.
As the study group prepares once again for Professor Cornwallis’s final (is that three of them now, plus Christmas is over?), Abed maps out a chart about the Greendale Seven’s origin story. See, Abed is convinced that their meeting in Senor Chang’s Spanish class was not happenstance, but the culmination of Stan Lee-styled soap opera plotting. Like the burglar who killed Uncle Ben, our Greendale heroes all knew each other before that fateful day. Thus, Abed has crafted an elaborate web of fantasy to reimagine their lives as a comic book origin story.
It is a pretty thin attempt at doing a “theme” episode for a few reasons. First, it is not really a superhero origin story if there is no real explanation of their heroic deeds. Perhaps if this show was as ambitious as it once was, it could be a mixture of these prequel flashbacks with fantastical clips of how it paid off in the future. However, the premise is funny enough that I can forgive their doing a half-a-theme yet again this season.
The bigger problem is the total absence of Chevy Chase. This clearly being one of the episodes that Chevy decided to play hooky on, Pierce has some lame reason for not being there to cram for his final. Pierce wasn’t really missed last week, but how can you do the ORIGIN STORY of the study group and leave out one of its most important figures? This is most glaring late in the episode when they try to pin the role of “villain” on one of the remaining six members. Anybody who watched a single episode of Season 2 knows that if there is a villain on Community, it is the once and forgotten heir of Hawthorne Wipes! I would not go so far as to say that he is evil incarnate, but he is certainly inflated ego and impotent irrelevancy personified. Oh, and didn’t Chevy’s “Griswold Vacation 5” movie get delayed this week? Huh, prima donna or not, he surely was the perfect fit for this character.
Really I cannot blame the writers for this glaring problem and they try to get around it the best they can in the episode, save for an awkward body double standing in as Pierce for one of the later flashbacks.
The rest of the episode honestly plays as a pretty clever retcon of Community history in the most forced and arbitrary of comic booky ways. It turns out that Jeff got the stripper who slept with Shirley’s husband off on some criminal rap (as well as the adulation of Britta’s “anHERchists”). One of Annie’s earliest Adderall freak outs caused Troy to reconsider his life as a jock and fake an injury that cost him his football scholarship.
It is all cutesy and pretty funny, if absurdly improbable. Perhaps that is its best tribute to comic books. The soapy plotting dynamics are fine, but the best gags are all the little nods to how recent and far back 2008 seems. I am not sure why all the flashbacks are of 2008, considering they did not enroll at Greendale until 2009, but I enjoyed Shirley wearing an Obama ’08 shirt, Troy doing a positively awful Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview impression (I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!) and I wish we heard his equally dated Juno gag. Perhaps, the best one is a quiet dig at crystal skulls.
But there must be some conflict to this all, so of course they realize they needed that aforementioned nemesis. Since Chevy dropped out, it fell to Abed to view himself as the heavy because of his berating of Shirley’s kids in 2008 for watching Star Wars: Episode I. The incident caused her to leave her husband alone on their anniversary, thus facilitating his cheating. But honestly, Abed was doing her kids a public service.
Soon, Jeff realizes he was the villain because he told the stripper from earlier to sleep with a married man, not realizing at the time it was Shirley’s husband. It all feels incredibly forced, as does their renewal at the end in a yogurt shop. Still, the flashback of them all having accidentally discovered their future Greendale prospects at that same shop five years ago on the same day was a nicely convoluted “prequel twist” worthy of George Lucas and his inane prequels. The intentional silliness of it was made all the more heartwarming when they remember it was then-Senor Chang who dumped his Greendale flyers on them.
The revelation causes Abed to visit Chang and announce that “Kevin” has always been their unofficial eighth member. Abed’s invitation to Chang/”Kevin” to join the group for yogurt is so surprising that it makes Chang give up his sneaky scheme of destroying Greendale with City College’s Dean Spreck (a very anti-climactic revelation, by the way). So, I suppose if Community does take that senior victory lap, Chang will replace Pierce as the seventh member of the team. At least, you can count on him to show up for class.
Truth be told, It was a perfectly fine (i.e. average) episode for this season. If one gets by how forced it was to make ANYONE BUT PIERCE the villain, there were plenty of laughs. I loved the dropped line by Dean Pelton about Greendale being built atop an ancient Indian burial ground and that if they do not pay their dues, it will be a casino next week. Seeing little Annie Adderall full of curls, braces and crazy was adorable. And the shocking truth behind the Dean’s cross-dressing was a nice touch.
It is nothing special, but it felt in line with Community for the most part and hit enough notes to appease most fans. Still, this has been an uneventful fourth year at Greendale as we approach the end if the only memories made were those of the felt variety.