COMMUNITY - Season 4

Season Three Began February 7, 2013
*Click the episode title for a link to a full synopsis

There is nothing glaringly wrong about this episode, but it just seems to all fall flat. I found most of the episodes in season four to be pleasant and funny, but lacking a bit of an edge that the other seasons had. Whether or not this is the result of Dan Harmon being gone from the creative team, I don't know.

The whole Sophie B. Hawkins story doesn't really work, though it provides Pierce with one of his rare moments of redemption. Abed's double date scenario is funny and works well, but unfortunately it's dropped in further episodes so it feels inconsequential in retrospective.

Troy and Abed have a Freaky Friday like body switching moment and play it out over a full episode. The whole thing only works because Donald Glover and Danny Pudi seem to be having fun mimicking each other. Otherwise, the psychological explanation for why they are doing the body switch just doesn't work and leads to some drawn out sequences. A hit and miss episode.

10. Intro to Knots (C+)
Tying up the professor in order to get a better grade isn't the craziest idea the show has ever had, but the episode just doesn't find enough reason for the audience to accept that an action like this wouldn't really lead to expulsion. Like the last few episodes on the list, it's funny and pleasurable, but just falls a bit flat.

9. Advanced Introduction to Finality (B-)
Jeff Winger finally gets enough credits to graduate, but he must first battle his inner demons (the darkest timeline) in order to accept his new selfless self. It's a decent episode that figures out a way to bring back the darkest timeline, the dice throwing from "Remedial Chaos Theory" and paintball without it being too annoying. Still, it's meant to act as another series finale and on that level, it doesn't work as well as it should.

This is a peculiar episode because it features several good story lines, but just fails to somehow tie them together in a satisfying way. It is almost as if they are taking place in different episodes and just so happen to coexist together. It's too bad because there is a lot of funny stuff in this one.

The two primary stories in this episode are the study group at Shirley's house for Thanksgiving dinner and Jeff (along with Britta) finally meeting his estranged father. There is some good stuff going on in this episode, but I wish there would have been a stronger commitment to it. For instance, there is a Shawshank Redemption motif going on, but the episode never fully embraces it, making it feel a bit shoehorned in. Also, it would've been nice to get some further follow-up on Jeff's dad in later episodes. Still, there is a great moment of grace for Shirley at the end of this episode when she admits she brought the gang to her house not to witness to them, but so that she could endure her extended family alongside of her friends.

Desperate for attention, Pierce locks himself in his panic room and the study group must search his "haunted" house to find the code to let him out. It's a good opportunity to dress the group up in costumes, split them into interesting pairings and let scary stuff happen to them. Funny episode.
Community has done a lot of episodes about making films and in this one the study group helps to make a documentary on changnesia in order to get the school a grant. It's a good episode with Annie and Troy's detectives really standing out.

Like "G.I. Jeff" and "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," the writers use a different medium (its puppets this time) in order to express some of the sociological issues between the members of the group. It's certainly gimmicky, but it essentially works because its funny and it is able to hit some real nerves. Not everything in it works perfectly (like Jason Alexander's cameo), but it's still a solid episode of Community.

3. History 101 (B)
This was the season opener and the first episode without showrunner Dan Harmon. I have to say, this first episode didn't really miss him. There is a lot of good stuff going on here including Abed's own Community show inside his head, Jeff''s performance in the Hunger Deans, and the Greendale Babies. This was a great start to season four.

This is one of the forgotten gems of season four. The return of a German study group forces the study gang out of their usual routine. They attempt to take the study room back, but end up feeling the wrath of the entire school. The story gets pretty epic and there are some truly hilarious sequences here. 

The true unsung episode of the entire series is "Heroic Origins." Community fans tend to look down on season four as if it belongs only in the darkest timeline, but to do so means missing out on this masterpiece. In this episode, Abed seeks to find the connections between every member of the group and through the use of flashbacks, we learn how each member of the group is connected to one another. The writers do a fantastic job bringing a lot of loose threads together and giving us origin stories for Magnitudes "Pop Pop", Troy's keg flip injury, Britta's anarchist background, the Dean's clothes fascination, and more. How everyone ends up in the same yogurt shop getting a Greendale invite from Senor Chang is a great feat of writing. Perhaps the greatest moment though is Abed's inclusion of Chang at the show's end. The moment basically disarms Chang and forces him to swear off his "changnesia" cover story. It's a great moment of grace, one of the best moments of the series. In many ways, this would have made the perfect series finale episode. 

Season 4 Analysis:

Season four is often looked over by Community fans because Dan Harmon, the series creator and showrunner, was not part of it. Although the series does seem to suffer from his absence, it is by no means a terrible season. Looking over the numbers, the average episode hovers between a B- and a B with the inclusion of at least one A episode, "Heroic Origins." It's my worst average episode rating of all five seasons, but it's not that far off. With only thirteen episodes, its tough to compare this season with others. I think that if they were given a full season order and had produced one or two more A and B+ episodes, fans would be kinder to it. I think the best perspective would acknowledge the overall drop in quality, while still pointing to the true successes of the season.  

What do you think? Do I have right to be confident about my rankings, or is it a good thing I'm holding them lightly? Feel free to comment below.