“Well, It Fared Better Than Poland”- Community Season 4 Episode 4 Review- ‘Alternative History of the German Invasion’
Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog run by Kevin Lanigan, a future writer of movies and TV and current Community superfan who’s just going through some stuff right now, OKAY?!
The fourth episode of any season of Community has always been one of its linchpins. No season of the show has started off particularly well. Season 1 was a textbook example of a strong pilot leading into a show that struggles to find its feet. Season 2 started off best, but still not strong. Hell, Season 3 started off just awful and then went on to be one wildly inventive season of television.
With each of those seasons, it was the fourth episode that really kicked us off in the right direction. The Jeff and Shirley gossip story from Season 1. The Space bus episode from Season 2. And while it was filmed third, the all-time classic “Remedial Chaos Theory” multiple timelines episode was the fourth to air in Season 3. So, perhaps needless to say at this point, there was a lot hinging on this episode.
And it wasn’t so hot.
There were a few decent gags to be found here. The mid-episode turnaround of the Study Group actually being the bad guys was neat. I find terrible people to be great fuel in a television format, as evidenced by Archer and Breaking Bad and perfected by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Overly pleasant characters get boring in long-format television, and that’s why most sitcom clans- from Arrested Development to Happy Endings– usually end up going full jerk after a season or two. This isn’t new for the Community, the Todd episode leaping to mind, and it works alright here. Very, very alright. I’ve never totally bought the Study Group being awful people, even when the show started pointing it out, but I’m going to accept it because that train has sailed already. We’ll never get that train back.
The Greendale belief celebration policy was also inspired, but that’s really all I have to say about it. There was also a clever bit with the chairs collapsing. Cute.
But then there’s the rest of the episode.
The show brought back everyone’s favorite Germans, who were moderately funny in an episode that I found to also be only moderately funny. Not entirely sure what the motivation behind this return was. It kind of seems like the writing staff made a list of things people like from the show on a white board and are now erasing them one by one and forming the show around it, evidenced by the upcoming documentary episode. I don’t say this lightly. I have a hard bond to this show, and am not known as a fickle fan (I’m still watching How I Met Your Mother after all), but last week’s Spacetime convention was nothing if not a shameless grab for the fans.
The end tag fell totally flat. Like…. Where were the jokes? They didn’t even do a Troy and Abed in the Morning reference, which I figured would show up at least twice episodally, to use a word I invented right now.
Also, how awful has Chevy Chase been lately? Just go, Chevy. Just go and be Hitler somewhere else and take your pretty solid jokes you ruined with you when you go. Most likely sometime later this season.
In traditional Community fashion, Malcolm McDowell was pretty much wasted as the stunt-casted new teacher of the Study Group’s history class. Just as with Michael K. Williams last season, McDowell is relegated to two scenes and a handful of fallback jokes. It was maybe clever to relate him back to George Cornwallis, but then the joke ultimately went nowhere. There was not payoff. It wasn’t even a joke. It is just a thing that has happened.
The only well-served teacher in the show’s history, except maybe Duncan or Professorson, has been the unkillable Chang, middling around in a memory loss subplot that can only lead to bad things. Season 4 is committing the Changdinal Sin: Putting Chang anywhere that isn’t a position of power. Season 1’s Chang, as the semi-fascist Spanish teacher, was by far his finest hour and the only bit to come close since his resignation has been the total-fascist Security Guard who took control of the school using a Jewish twelve-year-olds. Season 2’s middling Chang was the worst the character has ever been, barring perhaps wherever it is that he’s headed this year. As I’ve said before, memory loss is number two only to babies in terms of bad plots on television, and they’ve paired it with the show’s weakest character. Ballsy. I’m waiting for the episode that proves me wrong about all of this. Waiting patiently.
Listen, I think a lot of the criticism leveled against this show now is off-base and a lot of it wouldn’t exist without Harmon’s very public ousting from the show. On Facebook Thursday, in response to a picture posted of Jim Rash in a nurse’s outfit, there was a great outcry of “Fuck this show! You guys have ruined it!”………..Right. Because Jim Rash never dressed as a woman while Dan Harmon was in charge.
The fan base feels pretty biased against Community now that Harmon is gone and are probably giving it a tougher time than is necessary.
Don’t mishear me. Right now, Community is batting at about the same quality it did during its fledging episodes of season 1 and is doing a lot of things it used to excel at very poorly, former shadows of great jokes that used to be. But I also don’t think that’s too abnormal for a sitcom. How I Met Your Mother also went through a few strains in its fourth year, as I hear Archer is experiencing now.
I’m a generous guy, and I’m giving the show until Episode 7 to do something that impresses me. I’m too far in now to just bail, too invested in the characters and their stories to up and leave, but I’m not having the same kind of great time doing it.
Regardless, this will always be a nice show, with a cast rivaling that of Parks and Recreation for best on comedy television, starring an Oscar winner and offering what is still a unique place to spend your nights. Right now, I’ll still be buying the DVD. Right now.
If you liked this more than tonight’s episode of Community, be sure to check out my regular essays on film and television. The most recent one is about Alan Rickman! You like him! If you don’t, get off my blog!
You can also follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinWroteThis. If you like Alan Rickman.