Friday, May 18, 2012

Another Season of "Community"

NBC aired the last three "Community" episodes of the season last night. It was almost too much. First, there was the animated video game episode, one of the best straight parodies they've ever done. Then came the heist episode that paid off the Chang storyline with the doppelganger Dean. Finally, we had an episode that tied up a lot of loose ends, and could have served as a nice series finale if "Community" hadn't been picked up for a fourth season. All in all it was a great capper to a suspenseful year of ups and downs, highs and lows. We definitely need a post to wrap up the season.

"Community" had some significant growing pains this year. It added Jim Rash's Dean Pelton to the cast, and was often in locations outside of Greendale, such as Troy and Abed's apartment. This meant there was less focus on classes and studying, and more on the characters' changing relationships. As a result, this was a terrible year for the guest stars, with the severe underuse of John Goodman and Michael K. Williams as potential antagonists. Among the regulars, we had mixed results. Annie moved in with Troy and Abed part-way through the season, which ruffled some feathers. There was the brief Troy and Abed split, which didn't yield nearly as much good material as I was hoping for. However, Troy and Britta's increasingly cuddly attraction to each other has been a great vein of humor all year. Meanwhile, Chang became a security guard at Greendale, amassed an army of preteens, and took over the school. It was a good move for him, as Chang always worked best in the role of unhinged authority figure. However, Pierce and Shirley didn't get much to do outside of squabbling over Shirley's sandwich shop, and Jeff has become much less apathetic to his friends' troubles since last year, but had a tendency progress or regress depending on what the plot needed from him. Also, no movement on the Jeff and Annie romance at all.

Of course, this was also the year of seven different timelines and the pillow fort v. the blanket fort saga. And the "Law & Order" episode. And the "Glee" episode. And fooseball. And Inspector Spacetime and Constable Reggie and the Blorgons (Can you believe "Inspector Spacetime" was only introduced in this season?). And "Kiss from a Rose" karaoke. And "Roxanne" karaoke. And a new television commercial for Greendale Community College. And the Air Conditioning Repair Annex. And the black and white Michael Jackson impersonators. And Cornelius Hawthorne and his ivory hairpiece. And another blatant Subway promotion. It was a year of more running gags and story devices, revisiting some concepts and ideas, but with new variations. Hence another documentary episode, but in the form of a behind the scenes "making of" chronicle. And another fake clip show couched in a therapy session with John Hodgman. The "normal" episodes were few and far between, but the normal episodes were getting odder and the odder, while the weird ones often had the best character development, such as the installment where Annie learns to use the Dreamatorium and navigate the inner workings of Abed's head.

Some of the more ambitious ideas didn't work. The Halloween episode had a lot of good gags, but it wasn't up to par. Chang's stint as a film noir detective early in the year had me worried that is character was going in the wrong direction, before he started recruiting minions. Also, while I appreciate that Dan Harmon and the writers were trying to add more thematically interesting material, particularly Abed's fear of change and Troy's continuing maturation putting them at odds, sometimes they were too on the nose about their intentions. Evil Abed was great for a gag, but his later appearances were really hitting us over the head with Abed's mental baggage. Ditto Britta's decision to declare herself a psychology major and using it as an excuse to play therapist with her friends. Britta was great this season, but she didn't need the extra schtick. Ditto some of the more outrageous plot developments like the Dean being replaced and the Greendale Seven being briefly expelled. The school kept getting farther and farther away from reality, so it was a relief that the finale was a fairly by-the-book collection of smaller, low-key stories, that reestablished the status quo after several weeks of escalating madness.

The third season of "Community" is probably my least favorite overall, but it has some of the best episodes in the show's run, and I admire that it was trying to improve on what it had done in the past, and to strike out in different directions. Ironically, I think it got a little too far from its roots while at the same time devoting so much more time and attention to the relationships at the heart of the show. Pierce and Shirley still need more to do, but I think that's a given at this point. However, this season did manage to establish is that "Community" is no longer Jeff Winger's show. He's now sharing the narrative pretty equally with Troy and Annie, and to a lesser extent Abed and Britta. And that's a good thing.

Here's hoping for a back nine order for Season Four, and that they'll cast someone awesome to play Jeff's dad.

'Til next season, fellow Greendale Human Beings.

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