May 11, 2013

Community: "Advanced Introduction to Finality" Review

All throughout the fourth season, I've been conflicted about Community. It's a show that began slowly, gained momentum in season two, and sailed through its third season with conviction and purpose. After creator Dan Harmon left, fans were a little concerned about where season four would take the Greendale study group. And now, after watching the season finale, I can definitively answer: I don't know. I have no idea where the study group stands (sits?).

This season has been strange because, while on the surface it seemed so authentically Community, something was off. Some fans might want to blame it on Harmon's departure. I'm not sure that's it. It might just be that Community hit its sophomore slump in its senior year. The finale, "Advanced Introduction to Finality," should have felt right. After all, it had paintball. But it also had too much of two things: commentary and sentimentality.

Lines from the episode will help me explain:
Abed: "You could go back and pretend that you're the same guy you were four years ago, but you're not. You're stronger. You're better. You have friends! No, screw that, you have a family."  
 Jeff: "Wait, if this is all in my mind, then I don't really need to fight him."
Abed: "Don't logic this one away from me. We finally figured out a way to make paintball cool again."
This episode was essentially a dream sequence of Jeff's inner conflict, so the whole story was a commentary. But what made it even worse were the moments like the one above, where the writers felt the need to spell it out for us. Good TV shows show us, not tell us, a character's growth and motivation. And the best TV shows never have to tell us that they're cool.
Jeff: "As long as you guys are with me, I have everything I need to graduate."
Really? This is not Jeff. Yes, Jeff gives the big, end-of-episode speeches, but not speeches like this. Character development (if that's indeed what we're supposed to be seeing in Jeff this season) is great, but this is character betrayal. Who is this guy? Where's the sardonic, cynical Jeff we all used to love to hate and hated that we loved? Even a Jeff who'd grown up wouldn't (essentially) just quote Britta in his closing monologue.

Sentimental Jeff.

Season four just didn't ever quite get it right. It discarded its one good plot setup (Changnesia) in favor of a poor rehash of season three's "darkest timeline." Well, Community has been renewed for a fifth season. I might watch it. I might not. I'm still conflicted.


  1. They've brought Dan Harmon back for the fifth season, so maybe give it a watch? Regarding Changnesia, I also think it had the potential to be a solid plot setup. But they left so many loose ends with Chang's character that it just became sloppy. For example, when there was so much doubt as to whether Chang was actually Chang or Kevin, could they not have somehow contacted Chang's brother, Rabbi Chang? Or his ex-wife (who we know has always stirred emotions in him)? I don't know, that's always bothered me. I actually wrote a post about it that might be of interest to you.

    1. You are right on so many counts. Yes, I agree, the fifth season will definitely be worth watching now that the news broke about Dan Harmon's return. Here's hoping there will be no more "posing," as you say.

      I love your use of the word "sloppy." That's totally how that discarded plot thread felt to me. Your blog is cool! Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for you. I don't know why they ignored Chang's past/family that way. Maybe someday, the box set won't include season four and we can all forget it ever happened.

      Thanks for the comment!