Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A milder, more contrived ‘Community’

(Published June 19, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Originally inspired by some of “Community” creator and show runner Dan Harmon’s experiences at a community college ages ago, the show almost consistently delivered for three seasons.

After Harmon’s firing following a reported feud with actor Chevy Chase last year, the acclaimed comedy series’ fourth season became hit-and-miss.

Harmon’s absence was felt. New episodes elicited noticeably milder laughs or were just bafflingly unfunny. Hopefully, his recent rehiring will rectify this and other lapses, and defibrillate the beloved show into its original, gut-busting but periodically moving state.

“Community’s” fourth year is shorter. Its first three seasons had over 20 episodes each; this latest season has only 13.

The more compressed set apparently doesn’t allow much room for running story lines, and it has been  quickly wrapping up arcs like the “amnesia” of the villainous ex-teacher Chang (Ken Jeong), and the relationship between geeky Troy (Donald Glover) and independent Britta (Gillian Jacobs).

It expectedly reiterates the family aspects of the misfit group of community college students. Their bond has been tested from time to time, but characters always learned from each other’s gaffes.

Led by the ex-lawyer Jeff (Joel McHale), the eclectic study group has gone through thick and thin, often finding common ground despite their differences. Season 4 addresses Jeff’s abandonment issues. His anticipated meeting with his long-absent father happily made for a somewhat satisfying self-contained episode.

Other characters’ issues are brought to the fore. Abed (Danny Pudi) has the usual quirks and anxieties; Annie (Alison Brie) is still a restless overachiever; Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) has marital and maternal insecurities; Pierce (Chase) often wants to fit in; the aforementioned Troy and Britta face compatibility difficulties.

Some problematic episodes already aired had a more scattered consistency and a less-precise handling of humor. Previous seasons saw sturdier, better-paced stories and were able to present and mine situations for hilarity without missing a beat. Season 4 has had episodes that dragged or simply added nothing new to “Community’s” characters.

But the better episodes exhibited tighter, more explorative writing, most apparent in those stories dealing with the gang’s “secret origin,” Jeff’s inner conflict on graduating and his daddy issues, to name a few.

 Previous seasons had their clay figure and video game iterations—there were fewer pop culture references and parodies, which were essential “Community” ingredients. But the show is able to experiment again—the characters recently appeared as puppets in an episode.

(“Community” airs Sundays, 8 p.m. on Fox.)

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