Episode 3: Conventions of Time and Space
By: Carlos Uribe
Community is a show about the senior year of a group of friends attending Greendale Community College.
I have never been to a fan convention. I've always wanted to go because they always seemed like they were right up my alley but the opportunity simply hasn't presented itself. It's not just the major comic-con in San Diego that I would like to attend but some smaller ones as well. This is an episode that takes place at a Inspector Spacetime convention. All of the characters, for different reasons, attend. Abed and Troy because they're big fans of the show, Britta to support her new boyfriend, Jeff and Annie to ski together, and Pierce and Shirley crash the convention because he likes to be involved. The episode promptly splits them up so that they could have their own adventures. Jeff and Annie are largely at the hotel where their relationship is explored with mixed results. Troy finds that he might lose his best friend Abed to another Inspector Spacetime fan. Pierce and Shirley get involved in a test focus group which gives Pierce the power to change the American adaption of Inspector Spacetime into a product that is barely recognizable from the original. All of these plots converge together but none of them really work as a coherent whole. They don't even work in-and-of themselves. Conventions of Time and Space might serve as a loving satire of Doctor Who fans but it doesn't really work as an actual episode. It's simply lackluster and immediately forgettable. If there are any fans who were on the fence about this new season then this might have been the episode that convinced them that Community simply isn't good anymore. I disagree with that assertion as I still think it's too early to tell but this wasn't a good sign.
It was a smart move putting Troy and Abed's relationship at stake. The friendship between the two has become a pillar of the show. Their connection to each other forms the core of the episode. The two are excited to show up at the convention but Abed quickly ditches Troy for a friend he's met online. This new friend is a giant Inspector Spacetime fan who is basically able to connect with Abed because they're supposedly the same. The two aren't like normal people so it would make sense that they would hang out. A lesser show would have split them apart by having them disagree on their tastes but Community doesn't fall for that trap. What comes between them is Troy. It's not because he lays down an ultimatum but because Abed realizes that he needs Troy. Without a normal friend, he would lose his tether to reality. He compares himself to how the alien Inspector Spacetime needs a human companion so that he can invest in the world. It's a nice revelation for Abed to make that basically acts a sign of how important Troy is to him. This new friend isn't able to accept this so he traps Abed into a phone booth until Troy comes to the rescue. It's the plot that works the best and it hits most of the right buttons. It simply has two flaws that stop it from completely working. The first is a matter of stakes. It's never believable that Abed was going to move to England with a character we just met. The stakes were too high to work. The second flaw is that it pushes their bromance button a little bit too hard to the point where it felt like Troy was obsessed with Abed rather than concerned he was losing his best friend. These are two flaws that are minor but significant enough to detract from the overall experience. If the stakes had been more realistic so the viewer felt like their relationship was actually in danger then the other flaw would have been fixed. Likewise if the reaction from Troy had been restrained a little then the high stakes wouldn't have called so much attention to itself.
It is a lot better than whatever was going on with Jeff and Annie. The two were supposed to be going skiing until the slopes were closed. Jeff decides to hang out at the hotel bar while Annie goes to her hotel room. While there, she learns that the hotel staff believe that she is Mrs. Winger. She decides to fly with it and create a fantasy where she's married to Jeff. I'm sorry, but what? Annie might have had her fantasies before but this was just going too far. While it did lead to a couple of good laughs, it was just too sad to really enjoy. There's a huge difference between having damaged characters and having their faults overpower the show. I'm not sure if there was a way to salvage this plot unless there was some actual justification for Annie's actions. Having her do it just because does a great disservice to Annie's character. It basically turns her into a character that is obsessed with a character who doesn't seem to return the feelings. Alison Brie manages to salvage this plot from complete wreckage but it should have definably used more time in the development room so that it didn't regress the character too much.
The final adventure has to do with Pierce and Shirley. Pierce isn't happy that he didn't get invited to the Inspector Spacetime convention until he learns that Shirley wasn't asked to go either. He decides to take her to the convention. The two go but they're quickly recruited by a task group that asks them their opinion on an American version of Inspector Spacetime. Shirley tries her best to ensure that the aspects that made the original great are kept but she's foiled by Pierce. Pierce's motivation in this episode isn't completely established. Did he ruin Inspector Spacetime on purpose or did he legitimately think he was shaping to develop a better show? He constantly acts as the villain in this show but his motives weren't clear. The episode closes with the group gathering to watch the American version of Inspector Spacetime. All you need to know about how it turns out is that Abed sees only a couple minutes of it before uttering that he hates Pierce. This whole process might very well be a meta commentary on why Community fans like the show (Shirley) and the people who are trying to change it so it can appeal to a broader audience (Pierce). In the end, the people trying to change it win because they're the ones who have the power. As a plot, it largely fails to be funny.
Conventions of Time and Space is an unremarkable episode of Community. The best part about it is the Troy and Abed relationship and it's what makes this episode worth watching. At the same time, Annie's story simply went too far into depressing territory while the Pierce story lacked the motives to make him a proper villain. There were laughs in this episode but they weren't that common-overall a major disappointing episode of Community.