The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

Wait a minute, something’s changed

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N and T,

Our long-awaited Community is back without its creator, Dan Harmon.  I think you both shared my hope that the show would continue to be smart and clever, as well as my concern that it wouldn’t be the same without Harmon.  The new producers seem to be telling us they’re aware of our worry that they’ll dumb down the show.  In the opening sequence of the show in Abed’s mind, Troy observes, “Wait a minute, something’s changed,” and when the show’s real Britta asks Abed if he went to his babbling brook happy place, he confesses that some fans of babbling brook will complain about his changes.

Well, the show did feel different.  It’s not just that it wasn’t as smart–it wasn’t as funny.  I can enjoy comedies with predictable rather than obscure storylines, as long as they’re well executed.  I’d rather the show keep its original Harmon-style, but since that’s not in the cards, I’ll hope it becomes a funnier version of what we saw tonight.

One piece of the show that has promise is the romance between Britta and Troy.  While trying to be sweet about making wishes in a fountain, their personalities clashed, leading to a physical struggle over the wishing coins.  Troy’s exclamation, “Why does this feel good?!” was one of the funnier moments in the episode.

An aspect of the show that I hope isn’t expected to carry so much weight in future episodes is the dean’s antics (to borrow a class title from the show in Abed’s mind).  They were central to this episode, and I think they’re more interesting when they’re interspersed with the dean conducting himself professionally.  On this front, the dean moving into the condo next to Jeff does not bode well.

I’m looking forward to hearing your reactions to the return of a new-ish Community.

-E

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Thanks for getting us started, Erinn. I’m really on board with your read of this episode. The weight of expectation/dread for the return of Community is such that there was really no way the new era (or will it be a season-long footnote?) could be satisfactory – everyone who watches this show, all 37 of us, tends to have so much invested in it that some form of confirmation bias was bound to control how we saw this Harmon-less episode. I was amused by the “meta” theme, which was boldly employed from the first shot – we’re now in Abed’s mind, watching a laugh-tracked, multicam Community that seems more like, I don’t know, The Big Bang Theory. Once we pull back out, it’s obvious that the new showrunners are wanting to follow through (at least for this episode) on the mind-bending Lost scenario that occupied much of last season, starting with Remedial Chaos Theory.

But here’s the thing: I’m not sure they should have, for two (and a half) reasons. First, it feels like the show is trying too hard to say, “Hey – we still do the crazy pop culture homages!” And as a consequence, the conceit of The Hunger Games theme felt hollow – something done for the sake of doing it. I’d much rather see the new showrunners try to take Community to the next thing, rather than just try to ape Harmon (to be fair, that would be impossible to do in one episode, so this complaint has a big “wait and see” caveat attached to it). Second, though, what particularly worried me was that Community‘s concept episodes, at least the best ones, have always been in the service of character, and usually in the service of a specific character conflict. Modern Warfare was about defusing the “will they or won’t they” tension between Jeff and Britta, and just getting it out of the way already. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons addressed the Pierce-sized elephant in the room. The awesome Ken Burns pair of civil war/blanket fort homages last season were all about Troy and Abed’s amazing friendship being torn apart. And of course something like Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas took us inside Abed’s yearnings. Abed is really just a guy who wants to believe in something. He’s the pop culture sponge he is, yes, partially because it allows his social disfunction to recalibrate, but also because pop culture forms something at a mythic level for him. It’s meaning-making in a way most of us don’t fully understand. The show’s willingness to embrace that is why the concept episodes often worked so well: Community committed to them, suspended our irony, and accessed the truth of those concepts in new ways, with often astonishing emotional results. That’s my half-reason, btw – I just don’t buy an Abed so afraid to leave Greendale that he’s catatonic (and honestly, Danny Pudi didn’t seem to be buying it either). That’s especially the case because last season invested so much in getting him, Troy, and Annie off campus and into a new space.

Also, as you rightly said: not very funny, either.

-Travis

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Hi friends,

Thanks for getting us started! You’re so right – the anticipation for this episode was almost so overwhelming that it’s difficult to parse out what I really thought of it. As my husband and I were sitting down to watch, he exclaimed, “ugh, it’s like reading the last chapter of Flowers for Algernon!” And as Abed and Troy walked onto a scene that was new, I realized it felt like watching two old friends re-appearing. I can think of few shows where I feel so invested in the characters, so uniquely attached to each and, more importantly, to the love in the relationships that flow between them. And so as the – decidedly unfunny – episode unfolded, I wondered how much this season would be my own little Hunger Games: an 8 episode test of endurance to see if I could still stay in love with these kids as much as I would have had I gotten the 6 seasons and a movie I was promised!

You both point to the loss of focus in the show, and I think you’re dead on. The concept episodes work best not only when they’re focused on a single character or relationship, but also when they’re focused on a SINGLE CONCEPT. We’ve never had a full mainstream sitcom style episode, and I thought they were pulling it off brilliantly. The actors were maintaining their usual characters in the midst of the transition to schmaltzy lines and laughter tracks, and the writing – while now corny – was holding together the relational dynamics of the group as well. I was intrigued at seeing 22 minutes of genuine story told in that ridiculous form. So why intersperse it with The Hunger Games? Seeing Jeff compete alone took all the fun out of what that could have been – can you even imagine the possibility of seeing all 7 of our friends play out an HG scenario. There are so many possibilities!!

So if anything it all felt like a failure of nerve – an unwillingness to commit to something long enough to make it work. And I think that’s what we’ve lost with the loss of Harmon. Every piece was still there, but nothing was held for those 2 extra seconds it needed to fully resolve into something special.

The problem is that I think it’s that 2 extra seconds of something special that’s made me fall in love with everyone (but Pierce – because I could take or leave him) on this show.

sigh,
Natalie

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