When NBC’s Community lost showrunner Dan Harmon in exchange for a fourth season, many fans were skeptical that the series could keep the same highbrow, madcap sensibilities it had under its creator when the next group came in; these fears weren’t exactly eased when it became clear that the role of Joe and Anthony Russo, regular producers and directors on the series, would also be pretty limited, thanks in no small part to their involvement with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Still, the cult hit’s fans held out hope that incoming producers David Guarascio and Moses Port could keep what was important while bringing in some larger audiences–something they’d shown an ability to cultivate during their years on more mainstream successes like Just Shoot Me! and Happy Endings.
Before the season began, though, ComicBook.com almost ran a list of the five most predictable things we figured we would see from “NuCommunity.” We opted not to write it, though, figuring that it would feel like an attack on the new showrunners rather than what it was–a statement of expectations.
After all, NBC and Sony Pictures Television seem to want a more traditional series, with more traditional hooks. Fans of cancelled shows often complain that they’re improperly marketed, but Community makes itself almost aggressively difficult to promote, and without Dan Harmon there exerting his influence, it always seemed as though we’d see a little more “normal” sitcom fodder creeping into Greendale.
Weirdly, though, the things that haven’t particularly worked about the first three episodes of the new season are the very things we expected to see from the show when it came back under new management…and it hasn’t helped. Community’s 1.1 million viewers for the much-anticipated Dr. Spacetime convention episode last week marked a series low and, for the second week in a row, the precipitous drop in ratings have made “six seasons and a movie” seem less and less likely.
So it seemed as good a time as any to point out these wholly predictable events that we thought might happen ahead of time, and why it is that they haven’t worked for Community.
Troy and Britta were the broken toys left over after Jeff and Annie became the fans’ preferred shipping couple toward the end of the first season, and while the idea of them getting together is appealing, now that it’s actually happened it’s just…dull.
At the start of the series, if you went by traditional sitcom conventions, it was clear that before the series was over, Jeff Winger would end up with Britta Parry and that Annie Edison and Troy Barnes would be a couple. The chemistry didn’t support it, though, and Alison Brie is just a force of nature. Resisting the urge to hook her up with your de facto series lead is pretty difficult, and when the fans started clamoring for some Jeff-Annie action, that left the other halves of their relationships out to dry.
The options? Either hook them up, hook them up with other people from outside the central cast, or let them stay single.
Of course, sitcoms abhor characters who stay single, and shows that are knocking on death’s door don’t generally get the kind of budget to add a long-term guest star of the caliber that would likely be required in order to sell them dating outside the group, and you pretty much have your answer.
Don’t get us wrong: putting these two characters quietly together at the end of last season with a wink and a nod was great. The problem is actually seeing them together, which hasn’t worked yet.
Granted, we’re only three episodes in, so it’s hard to say definitively that there’s more Chase. But this is something we expected going into the season–that your big-dollar, big-name star would get more camera time because the ratings are poor, he’s a name and also he’s more famous and important than his new “bosses,” meaning that he can exert pressure on the showrunners.
So far, we’ve had a good deal of Pierce in the first episode, a Pierce-centric episode for the second and then a third where he and Shirley had a pretty dominant B- or C-plot.
Compare this to life under Harmon, where Pierce basically just appeared when necessary to move the story along, and it certainly seems as though his role has been increased in the series.
Okay, so they haven’t gone there yet, but this week’s episode was a real step in that direction. Like Troy and Britta, these characters “belong” together and should probably end up together from a narrative point of view, but it’s a lot more effective if we don’t watch it happen.
Characterizations that are just slightly off.
It’s not like anybody’s butchering the beloved Greendale Seven and their supporting cast–but certainly there’s been a number of characters already who are being written a bit too broad, with jokes that land easier than they should. The characters, as a result, feel less nuanced and real and more like a silly caricature. Abed can take it, because he’s got so much going on, but when Dean Pelton had so much screen time in the series premiere, something was…off…about him.
Part of it was the fact that he’s been increasingly played for camp value and cheap laughs. It started under the Harmon regime, with the character no longer being a believable human being but a delivery device for jokes. Maybe this can’t be laid at the feet of the new showrunners, but the character felt even more divorced from reality and “sitcommy” in his last appearance.
This is notable because so far we’ve seen episodes that played in some classic tropes of the Community storytelling mold and where the principal architects of the episodes were still from the Harmon days. That it seems to be slight changes to the way the humor is delivered and interacts with the audience is what makes it seem like an actual change has been made, not just like they’re not sticking the landing.
Dumbing it down
This is a bit like what we describe above as it pertains to specific characters, but it’s the show at large. Going for the big, easy joke that will come across to the most people but which will be forgotten before the next commercial break is the stock-in-trade of most sitcoms; Community has always been a bit different, going for that odd humor that doesn’t connect with everyone, goes over some people’s heads, and is seen by many as too smart for its own good.
This is a show that did an homage/parody of My Dinner With Andre, for God’s sake. And now it’s doing The Hunger Games. It might be unfair to judge it based on that, but it seems telling.
Ironically, it’s pretty telling that they don’t know, or don’t think, that they’re doing this to the series–because Shirley just had a mini-rant preaching against EXACTLY THAT KIND OF THING in the Inspector Spacetime episode.