Episode Title: "Conventions of Space and Time"
Writer: Maggie Bandur
Director: Michael Patrick Jann
"Conventions of Space and Time" took viewers to a place that I hoped never to see on TV. It was something straight out of our collective nightmares:
An episode of “Community” that just wasn’t very funny. At all.
As a fan of “Community,” “Doctor Who” and geekdom in general, I feel that I can say that Comic-Con and sci-fi conventions are ripe for parody. So why does it always feel like TV shows that mock them are written by people who have never actually been there? Instead of sharp satire of the con scene, “Conventions of Space and Time” gives us broad “comedy” and a pack of nerds following Britta (Gillian Jacobs) around like she’s the only women they’ve ever seen.
What... is this, “The Big Bang Theory?”
The episode almost got off to a fun start, as Britta escaped Troy’s (Donald Glover) room by swinging around the building in her underwear only to learn that Abed (Danny Pudi) had already deduced that they were sleeping together. Pudi’s delivery was gold, but Britta’s antics were surprisingly flat.
Soon enough, the Greendale 7 ends up at a convention for Inspector Spacetime, “Community’s” resident stand-in for all things “Doctor Who.” And the bulk of the episode revolves around the threat to Abed and Troy’s friendship from Toby (Matt Lucas), a British Inspector Spacetime fan who is more in tune with Abed than even Troy is.
Putting someone between Troy and Abed isn’t necessarily a bad idea and it’s been done effectively on this show before. However, not even Donald Glover can make Troy’s psycho girlfriend freakout work and Toby was barely memorable himself. So when the episode turns Toby from a well meaning long distance friend into a crazed kidnapper, it didn’t register. If Toby had actually understood Abed’s “Winger” moment, shaken his hand and walked away then it would have been a nice twist that kept that story away from a predictable turn.
But instead, this episode was all about the predictable turns. So while Jeff (Joel McHale) cashes in on his resemblance to an Inspector Spacetime villain to attract the lovely Lauren (Tricia Helfer), Annie (Alison Brie) is in their hotel room pretending to be “Mrs. Winger” and running up a sky high room service bill.
Brie has natural comedic talent that can usually pull off anything her character needs to do. However, Annie never seemed more sad and pathetic than when she tried to build up the illusion of her sham marriage. And it was definitely disturbing when Jeff mentioned that Annie went so far as to place his hair in the sink to complete the illusion.
Jeff does get one of the episode’s best lines about needing to “call science” if he was really losing his hair, but even Jeff felt out of character here. Sure, Jeff would absolutely hit on someone like Lauren and he would even play out the ruse of his identity. Jeff’s reactions to Annie’s hotel antics were a lot less believably subdued and his closing, shirt ripping performance in front of the convention goers definitely didn’t seem like a Jeff move... or even a “Community” moment. That was more of a “Happy Endings” thing and it felt out of place in the episode.
It’s almost insulting when Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) becomes a mouthpiece for “Community” itself when she says that the Inspector Spacetime fans like that show because “it’s smart, complicated, and doesn’t talk down to its audience.” That used to be true of “Community,” but this episode was definitely talking down to its audience.
Shirley and Pierce (Chevy Chase) got pulled into a sidestory about clueless American TV executives looking for a way to bring Inspector Spacetime to a U.S. audience. The result is a dumbed down and sexed up version of Inspector Spacetime with Luke Perry and Jennie Garth that ran over the end credits.
The sad part is that’s almost exactly what’s happened to “Community.” This feels like a less intelligent, more relationship oriented version of the series we know and love. Sometimes change is good and the Britta & Troy romance could still be promising.
However, it’s disturbing that the first three episodes of “Community” Season 4 were all written by veterans of the first three seasons and yet none of them have been able to fully recapture the humor and joy that the show used to have.
The result is a “Community” that feels heartless and empty.