Community fans rejoice! Your show has finally returned, and its Fourth Season opener did not disappoint. For those of you who have not been following along, the NBC show has been replete with drama causing many fans to wonder what the hell is going on here? First or maybe second, the show loses its creator Dan Harmon for seemingly no reason, although I'm sure there were many reasons.
Then in November, it was announced that Chevy Chase would be exiting the show. He previously had some very public altercations with Harmon, but Harmon or not, Chase was out. He will be in most of this season's episodes.
Then the network decides to postpone the season until last night. Why? Ratings are low for the show, but ratings are low for every show on NBC so why knock this one? Community is one of the smartest situational comedies of all time. Its humor is off the wall and not of the status quo, and perhaps this is why the network executives are against it - they aren't smart enough to understand it.
Last night's opener kicked off with a twist. The study group is in some type of alternate reality, but not their usual type of alter-world where they are video game characters or claymation. The study group is in a cheesy version of their own show complete with corny jokes, a live studio audience and laugh tracks. It is a brilliant stab at the audience's fear that the show was going to change without Harmon on board. Further playing into the rumor mill, Chevy Chase's Pierce is being played by Fred Willard. Genius.
But this pseudo-reality is going in Abed's (Danny Pudi) head as he agonizes over the group's senior year.
In the real world, where the possibility of the study group actually graduating, Jeff (Joel McHale) tries to make sure that the gang can all take the one history course being offered that semester, the History of Ice Cream, naturally. But there has been some over booking and to get a spot in the class Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) sets up a Hunger Games style competition. Jeff really wants to get in the class because, without the group's knowledge, he is one history credit shy of graduating.
"You're graduating early?" says Annie (Alison Brie). "I'd hardly call graduating after 30 'early.'" And of course community college should not take four years to graduate, but who's counting?
Jeff's admission of early graduation plays into Abed's anxiety over the group's inevitable demise, which is a nice parallel to the show's probable cancelation. So he goes into his happy, laugh-track place where the dean has lost all of the student's class records forcing the study group to start over as freshman. Of course, if the group has to start over then they will be together forever, as Abed wants them to be.
In case you forgot, at the end of last season Brita (Gillian Jacobs) and Troy (Donald Glover) realize they have some weird romantic feelings for each other. Brita and Troy perform Abed and Troy's first day of school tradition by throwing pennies in the school water fountain to make their school year wishes. Of course, Brita does it all wrong because she is not Abed, who Troy is really in love with. Let's just say that out loud.
Jeff makes it his mission to win enough "Hunger Deans" competitions to get each of the study group members into the History of Ice Cream class, and by doing so he is forced to tango with the dean. The dean admits to Jeff that he made it difficult to take the only history class because he doesn't want Jeff to graduate. Apparently, no one wants Jeff to ever leave community college (myself included).
In Abed's made up world, where the study group has to start over as freshman, Annie finds a way to get their records back and they won't have to take the past three years all over. Even in Abed's fantasy world the show has to end, or does it? Abed finds another "happy place," the Greendale Babies! They are baby cartoon versions of themselves, a la Muppet Babies. God this show is so amazing!
Of course, as with every episode Jeff has to give a heartfelt speech about what the episode is really about and for this one it is the fear of change. Even though Abed has actually dreamed this speech in one or more of his made up "happy places," it is exactly the speech that Jeff would have given had he not been off winning the Hunger Deans.
In the end, all is good. Change is inevitable. Whether we are talking about the changes that have gone on behind the scenes of the show or the changes we will find with our friends in the study group.
And if this episode couldn't get any better, we close with a naked Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) randomly walking up to a postal worker with a note saying he is suffering from "changesia."
In terms of writing, "History 101" was one of the tightest, well-constructed episodes that may well exist in the history of this show. It was like The Sopranos, in how well it was written. Ever single piece fit in perfectly with each other. It was funny and smart and hopefully alleviated some of the fear that this show was going to tank without Harmon.
That being said, it was written by Andy Bobrow who has been involved in the show for some time and as it was rumored they specifically let him write the season opener for continuity. Will the perfection continue is anybody's guess.
Taking wild stabs into the air about the future of Community, it might very well go the way of Arrested Development. Cult hits have been finding new funding on other television platforms and we might all wind up watching Community on Netflix or Amazon next year. Who knows? For now, I'm sticking this season out.
Totally awesome side plot - Annie and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) are playing "senior" pranks on the dean and they fill his car with unpopped popcorn and set up mirrors to reflect the sunlight in his sunroof to pop the corn. What? I love you.
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