As I wrote in my review of Season 3, “Community” has found a niche fan base that can appreciate the spirit of community college—home of the Great American Second Chance.
Unlike four-year bastions of higher education, community colleges attract a wide variety of people with different backgrounds, jobs, goals, family situations, races, classes, intellects, and ages. I once taught a class on Lit and War the teens and twentysomethings in the class just couldn’t identify with Hemingway’s characters from A Farewell to Arms. Then a little old lady in the back raised her hand and said, “I was a nurse in WWI. Would you like me to say a few words?”
So were the second and third seasons of “Community,” a sitcom created and produced by Dan Harmon. The first got off to a slow start, I thought, but the show soon hit its stride and delivered some real laughs.
At the center of the comic maelstrom was Jeff Winger (Joel McHale, “The Soup”), a disbarred attorney who enrolls to legitimize credentials he’d been lying about for the bulk of his career. A womanizer, he tries to seduce a woman named Britta (Gillian Jacobs) by inviting her to a fictional Spanish study group. She catches on and invites the pop-culture obsessed Abed (Danny Pudi) for security, but Abed misinterprets and invites four additional people—Troy (Donald Glover), a former high school quarterback who lost his scholarship due to a stupid injury; Annie (Alison Brie), the youngest group member who’s a naive overachiever; Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), a single, born-again mom; and Pierce (Chevy Chase), a caustic, bored millionaire. On the administration side there was Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) and the wacky Spanish teacher (Ken Jeong as Ben Chang), who in Season 4 fakes amnesia.
Chase left the series in the middle of the season and was written out as “graduating.” Though he appears in all but two episodes, the bigger loss is Harmon, who was replaced by writers David Guarascio and Moses Port (creators of “Aliens in America”) as captains of the ship. As they steered, and as they encouraged performers to improvise more, the show earned some of its worst reviews, and Harmon was announced as returning for Season 5.
There are really just four standout episodes out of the 13 that are included here on two DVDs:
“History 101”—isn’t one of them. This episode is almost painful to watch, it’s so unfunny. The premise is that they fight for spots in History 101.
“Paranormal Parentage”—This out-of-season Halloween episode has all the typical accoutrements.
“Conventions of Space and Time”—The gang humors Troy and Abed and accompanies them to InspectiCon, the Inspector Spacetime Convention.
“Alternative History of the German Invasion”—The annoying German students from last year are back, and the study group gets a new European History Professor (Malcolm McDowell); meanwhile, Chang returns to campus with a severe case of amnesia.
“Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations”—The group goes to Shirley’s for Thanksgiving, while Jeff has a reunion with his estranged father (James Brolin) and half-brother (Adam DeVine).
“Advanced Documentary Filmmaking”—The first laugh-out-loud episode of the season. While Dean Pelton seeks a research grant for “Changnesia,” Abed films it like a documentary. But Jeff suspects there’s a motive behind Chang’s “memory loss.”
“Economics of Marine Biology”—Dean Pelton tries to lure a wealthy student to Greendale; meanwhile, Shirley and Troy compete in a P.E. class.
“Herstory of Dance”—Another entertaining episode in which Dean Pelton’s Sadie Hawkins Dance provides a series of laughs.
“Intro to Felt Surrogacy”—After a stressful hot air balloon ride, the gang turns to the Dean’s “puppet theory” and they all become puppets in order to reveal deeply held secrets in an animated musical extravaganza featuring Jason Alexander. Sounds better than it really is.
“Intro to Knots”—The group tries to mend fences with Professor Cornallis at Jeff’s Christmas party, then when Change takes the professor hostage, negotiations get intense.
“Basic Human Anatomy”—Things get freaky on the anniversary of Troy and Brita’s first date, like, Troy and Abed switch bodies. I’m serious.
“Heroic Origins”—This decent episode pits dean against dean with Chang in the middle, while Shirley has a stunning revelation involving Jeff.
“Advanced Introduction to Finality”—Another decent episode, with everyone celebrating Jeff’s early graduation and when the evil doppelgangers from the Darkest Timeline are set loose, a nightmarish paintball war follows.
Total runtime is 278 minutes.
As with previous seasons, the episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and for a DVD the picture is surprisingly sharp. Colors and skin tones are also bright and natural looking, respectively speaking.
The featured audio is once again an English Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH. This series is dialogue-driven, so really the rear speakers don’t have much to do. The sound quality is average to slighty above average for a DVD these days.
A cast/crew commentary is provided for every episode, and fans who love the show so much that they can’t get enough of it may enjoy revisiting every episode. I couldn’t take it, because I just didn’t find the episodes funny enough, on the whole, to revisit them—with or without comments. Outtakes and deleted/extended scenes are also included, along with two brief featurettes: “Inspector Spacetime: Inspection” and “Adventures in Advanced Puppetry.”
I gave Season 3 a 7 out of 10, but Season 4 of “Community” isn’t nearly as funny or cohesive. So many of the plots seem dependent on their being “out there” rather than clever, and the jokes so strained that it’s easy to understand why Sony wanted a return to the status quo with Season 5. I could be in the minority, but this year was a failed experiment, if you ask me.