Everything seemed the same. The actors were as top-notch as ever, the dialogue was whip-fast, the jokes were referential, the Dean was in a dress. And yet, something about last night’s season premiere of Community, “History 101,” was off, and not just because the show’s brilliant asshole of a creator, Dan Harmon, had been shoved aside for the less cantankerous, more user-friendly Moses Port and David Guarascio. I’m hesitant to make Dean/Replacement Dean comparisons, because it’s only been one episode and that’s not nearly enough time to make an accurate assumption about a show, and besides none of Community‘s season premieres are anything special, and I want to continue this sentence forever so that I don’t have to get to my point, but I’m a little worried.
Maybe worried isn’t the right word. Community has given us three amazing seasons of TV, and if season four sucks, which it won’t, because the worst episode of Community is still better than the best episode of, say, The Big Bang Theory, but just go with me here, that shouldn’t hurt its reputation; The Simpsons has gone on for 12 years longer than it should have, and it’s still the greatest sitcom of all-time. But like The Simpsons, which lost much of its heart and soul when the writers had burned through every last original “Marge fights with Homer” story, “History 101” was a sign of a show beginning to recycle, not subvert, old gags and feel dishonest to its characters. It wasn’t without its great moments — it was smart, and funny, of Port, Guarascio, and writer Andy Bobrow to use Abed TV as a framing device to comment on everything’s that happened since we last checked in with Greendale 7, and Britta was as magnificent as ever — but Troy and Abed’s sing-songy relationships is getting tired, Annie’s 0-to-11 pranking came out of nowhere, Pierce’s build to a “balls” joke had an obvious conclusion, and, worst of all, the Dean’s obsession with Jeff has gone from, well, it was never subtle, but “History 101” beat you over the head with it.
The Hunger Deans was a misstep, too — Guarascio has stated in interviews that the writers were just looking for an excuse for the Dean to wear some new elaborate get-up, but in the past, whenever Community did a pop culture homage, it went all-out, like in “Beginner Pottery” and “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.” The Hunger Deans was too broad a concept to fully work, something Danger touched on a few weeks ago, and the episode as a whole show felt like someone trying to make a show like Community, rather than an actual episode of Community. Put bluntly, a lot of Community‘s jokes weren’t much better than Abed’s Happy College Show‘s.
Community will always be one of my favorite shows, and I can’t wait for next week’s episode, the Megan Ganz-written “Paranormal Parentage” (a.k.a. the Halloween one), but let’s just say that after “History 101,” I’m not so sure I really want “six seasons and a movie.” Anyway…Parks was pretty great.