It’s hard to write a review for an episode like History 101 without taking into account all of the fan reactions over the past 16 hours or so. There seems to be two polar opposite reactions. On one side you have fans who say that this episode was not the real Community, citing a lack of input from show creator Dan Harmon making the show a shell of its former self. On the other end you have viewers who genuinely enjoyed the episode and claim that although it is different, the show is still vibrant and full of life.
I’m a part of this group. I’m not willing to give up on this show quite yet. The debut episode of the “new” Community was not without its faults, but it was far from the worst episode we’ve ever seen. Remember Competitive Wine Tasting? Custody Law & European Diplomacy? Of course you don’t!
For those convinced that the show is not what it used to be, let’s have a more in depth look at the fandom behind the show. Most people who tend to traffic this site are familiar with more than just the show itself, but the politics and production of the show. If any of you follow Dan Harmon on tumblr, you’ll know he has a very specific type of storytelling outline. He tends to tell stories in four part structures illustrated by circles drawn on whiteboards in the writers room. When asked to explain the concept behind Community’s storytelling techniques, Harmon explained that the four act structure was always meant to be the story of Jeff and that the third act (season 3) was meant to be the darkest. This is exactly what many reviews (NY Times, Huffington Post) criticize about the fourth season, that it lacked the dark humour that the former Community had. I believe Community’s story was meant to be a bit lighter. If the group had returned from last year still in a dark, dark place I would have considered that a dishonour to the beautiful finale Dan Harmon put together last spring.
Now, for the episode itself…
History 101 definitely hit the ground running. I was glad to see the opening of the show intact with previous season premieres that began with the opening shot of each of the Greendale Seven’s rooms in season two and continued with the musical opening of season three. This was actually one of my biggest fears going into last nights episode – that it would be afraid to take risks and come across as a broadened version of season one.
This however, was not the case. In fact, it was quite contrary; maybe even to a fault. One thing I noticed off the bat was the ridiculousness of the Dean; a big swing and a miss until the very end of the episode. Dean puns were being thrown around like nothing and the costumes were utilized as if they were saying ‘the Dean isn’t really the Dean unless he’s dressed like a woman.’ Thank goodness, by the end of the episode, the Dean returned to his true Dean-ing form and bought out the condo next to Jeff’s. This is much more plausible than the Dean throwing a competition called “The Hunger Deans” or even having a class called “History of Ice Cream.”
One thing the episode struggled with was fitting nine cast members (or eight, Chang wasn’t in this one too much) into 21-22 minutes of screen time. For a story that was supposed to revolve around Jeff, it felt as though he were a minor character, or a B-plot next to the Abed and Troy/Britta story.
Still, it managed to have time for everyone, save Pierce, who has now become nothing more than an excuse to make tasteless dick jokes. Abed TV Pierce (Fred Willard) really grew on me, it would be awesome if they replace Chevy with him during the two episodes that Chevy never filmed.
I’m excited for two things this season. I’d like to see where this New Jeff is going as well as where Kevin/Chang is going, or even came from. Like I said in our forums, my best guess would be that Chang is up to something. The last time we saw him was in a vent at City College peering over the shoulder of an ominous Dean Spreck.
I was a fan of the Shirley/Annie pairing in this episode. It sort of reminded me of the buddy cop pairing in season one’s “The Science of Illusion.” Some people on other message boards are claiming Annie’s character has changed, but I think that was explained rather satisfactorily by Annie’s speech regarding the group being seniors. The only problem I had with Annie this entire episode was the sudden career change. It was too sudden, to rapid. It kind of just discards Annie’s entire third year. It was cheap.
If any of you watched Joel McHale on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last night, you would have seen a brief preview for next week’s Halloween episode (on Valentine’s Day, how romantic). It looked pretty good so far, and none of the critics have seen it yet (they’ve only seen History 101 and the third episode). So give it a chance, all of Community’s Halloween episodes are among my favourites.
Wether or not you’re a fan of the new Community or not, I think we all agree it’s too late to abandon ship now. We’re in it until the bitter end. When the end will be, nobody knows. Judging by last nights ratings, I’d say we’re well within reach of season five, and who knows, maybe we will get our Six Seasons and a Movie.
– “That’s okay, it’s just Leonard’s blood!”
– Abed TV sequences
– Fred Willard as Pierce Hawthorne (A bit of meta-referencing to Chevy’s stance on the show?)
– New Jeff seems solid
– Troy/Britta fountain scene was funny
– Too many stupid Dean puns
– The Dean’s “Toooooooooo” was way too long and unfunny
– Annie’s sudden career change
– Greendale Babies (Don’t know why, it fell flat with me)
– The Hunger Deans (pointless premise to get the dean in stupid outfits)
– No sassy Shirley in this episode? It’s been a while.
Overall Grade: B