Episode 1: History 101
By: Carlos Uribe
Community is a show about the senior year of a group of friends attending Greendale Community College.
This premiere of Community had a lot to prove. This is the first episode since creator Dan Harmon has left the series. Community is not a procedural where the behind-the-scenes talent is less crucial to it's success but a quirky comedy that was arguably good because of Dan Harmon's voice. It might have been brilliant but it hasn't really been able to get consistently good ratings. It doesn't help that Dan Harmon was apparently difficult to work with as he clashed with Chevy Chase. The production studio responded by deciding to demote him from showrunner and hiring David Guarascio and Moses Port. This meant that the two are now making the creative decisions for Community. This premiere their chance to not only show fans that Community was going to remain the same but that the quality of the show hasn't been impacted by the transition. Did they succeed? There's gotta be points for effort but the problem with this episode is that it simply tries too hard to replicate the quirkiness of the show without any of the heart that grounded it. This isn't necessarily a bad sign for the rest of the season. Now that the showrunners have proven that they're not going to be significantly changing the show, they can hopefully concentrate on delivering a quality product rather than a mere copy. The next few episodes are going to be the ones that really state whether this show will remain one of the most brilliant comedies on the air or if it will suffer without Dan Harmon's guidance. This isn't to diminish the significance of the premiere since first impressions are important.
When the last season had ended, I noted how there were three different types of Community episodes. The first was the “genre” type that sought to parody a whole genre. The second was the “ambitious” type where the show truly tried to do something completely different-such as making an episode dedicated around alternative universes or a fake clip show. The third was the “normal” type that didn't try to do a different kind of episode but was rather what you would consider a typical Community episode. The first is truly when Community went from being a regular comedy to being something special while the second is what helped it transcend itself to brilliant. The problem with the season premiere is that is should have just been a normal episode. It could have proved that it wasn't going to change through a typical Community episode because we would have seen how they were going to treat the mass majority of episodes. The show could have easily then done a “genre” and “ambitious” episode in order to prove that the showrunners weren't giving up on Dan Harmon's creative direction. It would have made sense and it would have allowed a much stronger premiere. What happened instead is that we got a season premiere that tried to be all three kinds of episodes. It tried to be a normal episode, a genre episode, and an ambitious episode. In doing so, it lacked the emotional pull that is essential to a proper Community episode. There was simply too much going on for there to be character development or true relationship conflict.
How was this episode a “genre” episode? I would actually state that it's a “genre” episode is partly what makes it so ambitious. There's a huge portion of the episode that goes into Abed's happy place. That place being a typical multi-camera sitcom where very little actually changes. This is supposed to tie into Abed's fear of change but the emotional journey is undermined because the episode wasn't able to commit fully into the idea. If this was an episode from the Dan Harmon era then it would have dedicated the entire runtime into this premise. What we get in this premiere is snippets into an episode. The idea itself isn't executed as well as it would have been. The jokes manage to land at times but it feels like it's trying too hard to really have any of the punchlines land. It's about as inconsistent as an actual typical multi-camera comedy. Overall, I think this whole plot would have worked better later in the season when the idea that change is coming becomes more and more pronounced. It would have worked better if it had been a whole episode and if the jokes had been sharp. While it might have been a good idea on paper, this plot simply ends up over-stuffing a season premiere without really landing the emotional beats.
How is it an ambitious episode? There's the part where the episode will at times transform into a multi-camera comedy or when the sit-com becomes a little kid's cartoon. There's also a large part of the episode that deals with a Hunger Games parody. The idea is that there's too many people signed up for the History of Ice Cream class. This is the class that Jeff wants to take so he decides to participate in the contest. He's able to win seats for all of his friends. The idea is to show that Jeff has transformed for a character who didn't care about other people into a character who does care. It is very much like Community to leave most of the contests in the background as other aspects are explored. History 101 might have a lot of faults but it reaches just as high as the Dan Harmon episodes used to go for. It's just that while Harmon might have guided Community to brilliance, this episode falls way short. If anything, the whole Hunger Games plot might only make sense in the season premiere based on the justification but it feels like it should have been the second episode. Simply change the justification just a bit and you'd get a strong episode.
How is it a normal episode? There's a whole sub-plot involving Bitta and Troy. The two are basically a couple now but they get into their first disagreement over the season. This is because Troy wants to do wishes at a fountain. There are rules to wishing that Britta isn't aware off. She manages to break them which leads into a physical fight before the two kiss and make up. Their solution is that there will be no more rules when it comes to wishing. It's a basic sub-plot but it doesn't really do anything when it comes to their actual relationship. This was basically put in there to allow the show to fill in some time. It wasn't a bad sub-plot. There is also another sub-plot where Annie and Shirley decide to pull senior pranks. This works well based on who their characters are but it doesn't really do anything between their relationships. These two sub-plots are nice ideas but it would have been a lot better if the show had picked one. The pranking one fits the season premiere better as the wishing one could fit in any other week.
Community presents an episode where all of the ideas would have fit under with the Dan Harmon regime. The difference is he would have known how to fit the ideas into the show a lot better because he wouldn't have tried to stuff the episode. They knew this would be their first impression for new viewers but they made a major miscalculation in trying to assuage fears. In doing so, they created a season premiere that was a mess and that never really came together. The future episodes are ones where they hopefully don't feel the pressure to prove themselves to old fans and that's where we'll see whether they can capture Community's old heart.
Pierce spends most of the episode trying to make a joke around Jeff trying to win red balls.
A couple of important plot developments at the end:
Chang arrives at the end of the episode with amnesia. I have no idea where they plan to take this. The Dean moves into Jeff's apartment. It looks like his crush is starting to become creepy.