So yesterday was October 19th*. And it was the day all of the Community fans had been waiting for – our favourite study group, still soldiering on through the circus that is Greendale Community College, this time studying ‘History 101’.
But this season, their Senior Year, is different. Even if you only casually watch Community, no one on the internet could have not heard about the giant Dan Harmon debacle. On most other sitcoms, a leadership change wouldn’t have affected fans this much. But Community fans are a special breed.
There are few shows on TV that are this subversive, nuanced and just plain geeky. Community inspires a special kind of love, working its way into your affections until you’ve watched twelve episodes in a row and it’s 3am and you’re weeping into a bowl of Cheerios.
The first episode of Season 4 just aired, and the big question is: is it still the Community we know and love?
The answer is…well…kinda?
The show begins with a laugh track, but don’t panic too much – the new showrunners haven’t butchered it completely. Rather, a lot of the action takes place in Abed’s head, his happy place. We get these cheesy sitcom bits whenever he is reminded that it’s their last year at Greendale. Events are further complicated thanks to Jeff – he secretly took summer school classes, and now he only needs one history credit to make it his last semester.
To cut to the chase, there’s a noticeable difference in this season. It may be because of Abed’s laugh tracked happy place. Or maybe it’s just because Britta and Troy are all cuddly (to be honest, I more or less forgot that was happening). Or maybe it’s because Jeff is now “New Jeff”, a non-selfish, good guy. Or…well, there are a lot of changes, and it’s hard to make out whether it’s different because we know Dan Harmon is no longer part of the show, or whether it’s just the difference that we sometimes get at the start of a new season.
Because this episode uses a lot of tropes that have been played out in Community. For example, the opening this season was all in Abed’s head, which goes for the Season 3 opener in Jeff’s head. Abed gets stuck in his head, which has happened before.
Character-wise, most of the characters also feel a bit off. Again, we have to decide whether it’s just due to to the new season, or the lack of Dan Harmon (and six other members of the creative team). Britta and Shirley are both fairly boring this episode. Annie is mildly interesting, except there’s a lack of Jeff or Abed interactions there, which always make things more exciting in her storylines. Pierce barely gets a look in, and Troy is just not as interesting either. Jeff does get a decent chunk of storyline, but let’s be honest. Nice Jeff isn’t as interesting as Asshole Jeff That Finally Changes His Mind At The Last Minute. Maybe that character has been played out and we’ll get used to Nice Jeff, but for now, I reserve judgement.
Abed gets perhaps the most attention. I never thought I’d say this, but I feel like this episode was too focused on Abed, and everyone else got pushed to the side. Even in ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’, the other study group members were important, but this episode had problems with featuring everyone in the extremely talented ensemble cast.
I will note that I’m worried that Abed is in danger of turning into a Sheldon Cooper clone (something that diehard Community fans will loathe). Abed’s character has been wildly successful because he’s not a cardboard cut-out. It’s easy for watchers to identify with his obsession with pop culture, and hopefully he stays Abed.
In the end, we can only wait and hope that Community gives us more reasons to stay.
*The fourth season premiere of Community was supposed to air on October 19th, before it was delayed several months. Till now.