Community is back, and those of us who have been waiting for production issues of the fourth season to be worked out can be forgiven for being sceptical about the premiere. What was scheduled for October 19, 2012 was finally broadcast on February 7, 2013 without the input of creator/producer Dan Harmon and the knowledge star Chevy Chase quit before the entire season was filmed.
In homage to Harmon’s love of pop culture references and meta-analysis of society, Season Four opened by mocking conventional sitcoms, adding an audience laughing track and satirising ‘Hipsters’ for their fondness of thick-rimmed, non-prescription glasses. It was a clear message from the writers to the fans that even with the off screen dramas their beloved show had not become what we all feared: just another TV comedy. Indeed, the writers returned to familiar territory, their fondness of sending up hipsters moved from an unnecessary fear of a group of geriatrics with hip replacements to a sending-up of being “cool but also not” by fitting in with a trend that aims to stand out. The replica of The Hunger Games in order to win positions in a lucrative class mirrored the first season’s paintball competition to gain priority access to timetabling; the writers more concerned with recreating the same show than building on the foundation that has already been set.
The premiere’s constant references to change for the better and an eventual end at ‘Greendale Community College’ felt more like an attempt to validate changes behind the scenes rather than a necessary narrative for the plot. The Dean’s (Jim Rash) concluding “I don’t know why we’re so worried about change; this year’s going to be great” sums up the entire episode; the writer’s trying too hard to convince the viewers the show is still the same, rather than continuing the brilliance of the first three seasons. New changes such as Britta and Troy’s increased romance seem forced, creating awkward on screen moments as well as interrupting Troy and Abed’s much loved repartee and partnered antics. This wasn’t the only change that didn’t sit right in the episode: Jeff punching Leonard and the absence of the group’s study room also upset the episode’s pacing.
For those unfamiliar with Community this definitely isn’t the entry point into the show. It’s hard to imagine this season matching the brilliance of the original, but given it’s only thirty minutes old there’s always a chance it can improve and remind us all of what made this show so great in the first place. Indeed, the pop culture references to Entrapment, Muppet Babies and Inception blended seamlessly into the story. It was in no way a classic episode but there’s more than enough to suggest this season can improve, especially with the presence of an even more mentally unstable Ben Chang suffering from “Changnesia” (Ken Jeong from The Hangover fame). Season Four hasn’t been an immediate success yet, but we can only hope the off screen decisions won’t cause too much more Changuish. (Bad Community pun very much intended, feel free to start a slow clap).