Community Season Premiere Review: “History 101″ (Season 4, Episode 1)

COMMUNITY 01 510x383 Community Season Premiere Review: History 101 (Season 4, Episode 1)

It’s been a long time coming, but October 19th is finally here! “History 101″, the season 4 premiere of Community, marks the first episode of the show without creator Dan Harmon. And thankfully, much of the trademark zippy dialogue and offbeat humor is still there.

“History 101″ opens with a sitcom parody – complete with laugh track and applause – which is soon revealed to be the story of the Greendale Seven as re-imagined by Abed, who has been struggling with the fact that the study group is starting their last year of college. Britta attempts to “therapize” him by inviting him to go to his happy place whenever he’s stressed. Naturally, Abed (in a That’s So Raven-esque eyeball-flashing moment) uses this opportunity to escape into the Greendale TV show he’s constructed for himself and, as the opening credits for would-be-sitcom Abed’s Happy Community College Show roll, we are introduced to what is perhaps the central framing device for this episode: senioritis.

Senioritis is clearly on Annie’s mind, too, as she declares that she would be skipping classes and pulling pranks to commemorate her senior year. At first glance, this may seem very uncharacteristic of her. But, in one of this episode’s most emotionally resonant moments, Annie reveals to Shirley that she, like Abed, is actually really anxious about graduation. While the two ladies fill Dean Pelton’s car with popcorn, Annie laments about her potentially mundane future in hospital administration (“Woo-hoo! Sad slow march towards death begins!”). You know, I was worried about this sub-plot when they introduced it, but in retrospect, it makes so much sense to me that the one character who is the most driven and certain about her future would start to radically question herself as said future draws nearer. And that’s always been one of the things I’ve loved about Community – consistency and continuity.

Speaking of continuity, Britta and Troy are apparently (gasp) dating now! And holding hands! And doing couple-y things, like throwing wishes in the school fountain without Abed! Well, that was a bit unexpected; I mean, I expected there to be more Britta/Troy in season 4, yes, but I didn’t expect them to happen this soon. The hand-holding was definitely cute, though, especially in consideration of the fact that this relationship is probably an entirely new dynamic for formerly-bad-boy-loving Britta.

But right away, we’re introduced to some tension between Troy’s childish antics and Britta’s defiant, anarchist, rage-against-the-machine-ist roots: Troy fusses over Britta breaking him and Abed’s fountain-wishing rules (it’s been a yearly first-day-of-school tradition for the besties), and fusses even more when she hops into the fountain to toss out a penny and un-wish her wish. In the hilariously awkward scene that follows, the two end up wrestling each other over the edge of the fountain. Hmm…verdict’s still out on this particular storyline. I found the fountain scene to be rather oddly edited, and while I do like the idea of Troy and Britta as a couple, I really don’t know how this first minor conflict bodes for the development of the relationship over the course of the season.

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community s04e01 Community Season Premiere Review: History 101 (Season 4, Episode 1)

Meanwhile, Jeff has declared to the study group that he has taken some online courses over the summer, and now only needs one history credit to graduate. Hence his eagerness to get into The History of Ice Cream – the only history course that’s currently available at Greendale – and his subsequent determination to win the “Hunger Deans”, Dean Pelton’s homage to The Hunger Games that would determine who gets into the hugely popular course.

The imminency of Jeff’s early graduation and the realization of how ready Jeff is to move on from Greendale life only heightens Abed’s anxiety: as the Hunger Deans unfold and Jeff continues to win more challenges, Abed retreats again and again into his fantasy Greendale sitcom. In it, he imagines that the Dean has lost all the student records, and as a result, everyone has to do the last three years of college over again. Yet even this imaginative rendering is not enough to soothe Abed, since sitcom!Annie (now a Forensics major) has found a way to retrieve everyone’s records. Like her actual counterpart, sitcom!Britta encourages Abed to go to his happy place, and he retreats into a second fantasy world within the first: a cartoon called Greendale Babies in which everyone stays a baby at Greendale Daycare…forever.

Frankly, this Abed arc worries me a lot. He’s always been emotionally detached than the others (at least on the surface), but to have him actually check out of reality and into his TV-infatuation-induced imagination for the majority of an episode? Yikes. I thought the show’s already explored the darkest of Abed’s psychological issues with the appearance of Evil Abed at the end of last season, but this episode seems to foreshadow more troubling things to come.

Back to Jeff, whose willingness to win has him dancing a tango with a very enthusiastic Dean Pelton. Jeff gets the Dean to admit that he cancelled the other History class at Greendale and orchestrated the Hunger Deans to stop Jeff from graduating at the end of the semester. When he is on the verge of winning the games, Jeff decides to ditch the last event to help break Abed out of his escapist reverie. In the meantime, Leonard has stolen the red balls that marked Jeff’s winnings, which means bye-bye History of Ice Cream for the study group.

In the last few moments of the episode, the Dean tells Jeff that he’s moved in next door (is it just me or is this kind of creepy?), and Chang reappears at an unspecified location as “Kevin”, who has “Changnesia”. What?! Well, I guess that’s one way to leave us hanging.

To be honest, I watched the premiere with some reservations, because I was concerned that Community wouldn’t be the same without Harmon. I’m glad this episode proved me wrong; it wasn’t without its off moments, but overall, a strong first showing to mark the return of the best comedy on television.

Random Remarks:

  • The post-credits scene is another look inside Abed’s Happy Community College Show: Troy and Abed are dressed up as girls to get into Antics 101 (“You need a tomfoolery prereq, but they waive it for women!”). They avoid getting caught by the Dean, who mistakes Britta for a guy instead. HAH.
  • Pierce’s only function in this episode was to stare intensely at the red balls Jeff earned as winnings for the Hunger Deans, and eventually coming up with the joke: “Gay balls”. He finds it hilarious. I could have done with less Pierce in this episode.
  • In Abed’s imaginary sitcom, Pierce is played by Fred Willard, while everyone else plays themselves. Interesting.
  • I loved how meta the sitcom parody was. Nice insight into what this show could have been like if it’d gone the Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother route.
  • I also enjoyed the running gag with the hipster glasses. (Cliffsnotes version: in Abed’s sitcom they’ve become a ‘fad’, but everyone takes them off when Pierce is seen wearing them. In Greendale, Britta and Jeff are the only ones wearing the frames…that is, until Jeff sees Britta wearing them and takes his off.)
  • Minor characters who appeared in this episode: Leonard, Annie Kim, Garrett, Vicki, and Fat Neil. I miss Magnitude (Pop, Pop!).
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  • Chris

    I actually thought that laugh track was going to be a part
    of the show in those opening minutes, and I have to say the bubbling
    hash-tagged rage I was about to unleash on the Internet was the likes of which
    my Twitter feed has never seen. Then, when I realized what they were doing:
    sweet relief! After I calmed down and stopped trying to pick apart what was
    different and just enjoy the things that were the same—namely, the characters—I
    really dug this episode. It’s far from the best ever (for me that would be Remedial
    Chaos Theory), but it was even further from the lifeless simulacrum I had come
    to expect without even realizing it. I
    work at DISH and a coworker of mine said he thought it felt as little off,
    like they were trying to prove to fans just like me that it was indeed the same
    show, and I can see where he’s coming from. I think they had to do that, in a
    way, but now that the pressure of that first episode is gone I’m really excited
    to see what the new kids do. I have the other three seasons on DVD and am
    planning on saving season four to my DVR until it comes out as a set. I have
    the DISH Hopper which has two
    thousand hours of recording time; more than enough to save the entire season
    and not worry about not being able to record my other favorite shows.