By Stefanie Lee on 2/19/2013
One of the only things I’ve had to look forward to in this post-30 Rock world was the upcoming return of Community; the show that’s forever almost-cancelled, hardly-heard-of, uber-meta, and phenomenally cast. I didn’t always like the show, but it grew on me quickly after I realized how weird and wonderful its humor is, and how risky and brave NBC is for airing it. Except, they didn’t for awhile, and then they fired the show’s creator, because he’s sort of insane, and then they put the show’s fans through the runaround with the premiere date. Anyway, we’re now two episodes into the fourth season, so it’s safe to say that the show is on now.
The natural fear after the showrunner leaves, for whatever reason, is that the show won’t be the same again. But the stakes were much higher for Community, because Crazy Dan Harmon’s mind works in such a mysterious, compartmentalized way that only he could really envision a clay-mation episode or a paintball episode or a My Dinner with Andre homage. The first two episodes of the season, whimsical in the style of the past three seasons and emulating Harmon’s ubiquitous pop-culture-references (and Cougar Town shout-outs!), just don’t feel the same, though. It pains me to say this. I’m not even that huge a fan of Harmon. But the guy had the magic touch, and the show oozes something unfamiliar.
I think it all boils down to timing, really. Harmon’s influence was actually a calming one, even if he himself was talkative and egomaniacal (if you don’t believe me, listen to his podcast). All of the characters thrived within the quick-but-sparce pace of the show–awkward silences were beautiful moments, looks and stares were too. Now, it seems that all those empty, completely meaningful moments have been replaced with an overdose of witty repartee. Don’t get me wrong; the study group has wit up the wazoo. But they don’t have it this much or this often. Each character has a response within a half a second of another character saying something. It streamlines them all a bit, taking away their unique personalities. Abed (Danny Pudi) and Jeff (Joel McHale) are characteristically the quickest, reference-wise, on their feet. But now Troy (Donald Glover) and Annie (Allison Brie) have all the answers, too. It makes no sense. The rapid-fire has gone too far, and I’m afraid Community won’t be able to get it back.
It’s a shame, too, because the plots this season, while weird, could be really interesting. Sure, Troy and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) make no sense as a couple, but the disparity in their interests is what makes it funny. Jeff and Annie make slightly more than no sense as a couple, but they’re apart for nebulous reasons. I’d rather see them squirm a bit in their ambiguity than watch them barb each other with references. The show is known for its brilliant references, but not for abusing the privilege of using them on a receptive audience. I can only hope the show will slow back down before it’s too late. We need to get to six seasons so there’ll be a movie!