Episode Title: "History 101"
Writer: Andy Bobrow
Director: Tristram Shapeero
As a fan of “Community,” I’d love to be able to say that the new showrunners are going to keep the series going strong and that the fourth season premiere didn’t miss a step.
But that wasn’t the feeling I took away from “History 101.” The episode itself wasn’t bad and it even had a few moments of mad comic genius. Both the writer, Andy Bobrow and director, Tristram Shapeero are “Community” veterans who have worked on some of the series’ best episodes.
And yet there was something intangible that was missing. It’s hard to fully quantify it in words, but the closest way to say it is that the heart and soul seemed forced. At it’s zany core, “Community” had some impressively powerful emotional turns that often reminded us how and why we loved this group of characters and the series as a whole. But when that moment arrived in this episode, it felt strangely empty.
The best part of the episode revolved around Abed (Danny Pudi); whose anxiety over his final year at Greendale led him to retreat into a fantasy version of his life: “Community” as a studio audience sitcom, complete with laugh track and Fred Willard as an alternate version of Pierce. That was a brilliant and terrifying glimpse of what “Community” could have been if it had aired on CBS. Although given NBC’s willingness to transform “Up All Night” into that same type of show, it’s not entirely out of the question that the network wouldn’t try it again with “Community” if “Up All Night” can miraculously survive the loss of its star and its original format.
Inside Abed’s head, a standard sitcom trope allows the Greendale 7 to stay together for another four years, since their school records were erased from Dean Pelton’s (Jim Rash) MS Paint files. But even Abed’s fantasy becomes too stressful for him, so he retreats into an animated series which can only be described as “Community Babies.” It’s not quite as funny as Abed’s first delusion, but it was funny enough.
Out in the real world Jeff (Joel McHale) shocks the group by his apparent willingness to look out for them… right up until he reveals that he plans to graduate from Greendale early once he finishes his final history credit. Annie (Alison Brie) is particularly upset at him, despite his assurances that he is a “New Jeff.”
New Jeff is so obsessed with getting the study group into “The History of Ice Cream” that he endures the ridiculous “Hunger Deans” to win a pass for everyone to get into the class. Jeff even does the tango with the Dean, before calling the Dean out for instigating the entire situation just to keep Jeff around. The entire dynamic between Jeff and the Dean seems less fun now that the Dean is so brazen in his pursuit of Jeff. That angle was better suited for the background than the forefront. But the ending implies that Jeff won’t be rid of the Dean so easily, especially if he’s living next door.
The one really human moment Jeff gets here is when he rejoins the group in support of breaking Abed out of his mental retreat. And it was funny that the Jeff in Abed’s head already gave the speech about staying connected to his friends, thus freeing Jeff in real life from having to make one as well.
It was good to see Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Troy (Donald Glover) further along in their romance, but their fountain escapades didn’t ring true for either of them. But the most disappointing turn came from Annie, who mopes over Jeff’s willingness to abandon the group and lashes out at her own boring career path. It seems like a backwards slide for Annie after the character development she went through last season. But at least it gave Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) some funny responses to Annie’s one sided rant.
And sad to say, Pierce (Chevy Chase) was really underused here. For what little he had to work with, Chase did what he could. But Pierce basically has nothing to do in the episode except to sit around and try to come up with the perfect joke about Jeff’s balls. It’s so pointless that even the episode barely has any time for Pierce.
As for the final member of the cast, Chang (Ken Jeong) reappears near the end as an apparent victim of “Changnesia.” But if “Kevin” had really lost his memory, then how would he know to add a “Chang” to everything? That’s very suspicious, but it’s also a very “meh” development as well.
I really, really love “Community,” but I’m still not sure what to make of this. "History 101" has its moments, and some of those moments were quite good.
However, the new “Community” creative team still has a lot to prove. This wasn’t definitive one way or the other.