After a not-entirely unpleasant road trip to InSpecTiCon (boy, that's a fun name to type), Community returned to the confines of Greendale last night and proceeded to run headlong into a ditch.
"Alternative History of the German Invasion" called into sharp relief the problem I've had with Community 2.0 all season long, namely its strained attempts to try and recreate a very specific voice that is no longer in the writers' room instead of playing to the current team's strengths. (It's not surprising to learn that "Alternative History" was actually the second episode produced this season after the premiere, which had the same issues.) With the not-at-all-subtle allusions to World War II evoked by the tensions that erupted between the trio of German students (with Chris Diamantopoulos a.k.a. Brian the Boom Guy from The Office assuming Nick Kroll's duties as the leader of the crew) and our allies in the study group, this episode felt like it was trying to do for WWII what "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" and "Pillows and Blankets" did for the Civil War. But the script and the showrunners never fully committed to that idea, certainly not to the extent of producing an entire (and entirely brilliant) Ken Burns parody, as Dan Harmon did last year. Hell, they didn't really commit to anything in this episode, resulting in one seriously half-assed half-hour where even promising jokes died on the vine and the characters wandered through the college's halls looking utterly lost... and not just because their favorite study room had been taken away from them either. (And I'm not even going to bother bringing up the Chang storyline, which was a terrible idea, terribly executed. Jim Rash deserves better; hell, he's an Oscar winner for crying out loud! Okay, for writing, but still.)
Although watching "Alternative History" was a largely depressed experience, the fact that it was technically Season 4's second installment -- with the InSpecTiCon outing penned later -- actually provides some hope, because the latter episode indicated that the new writer's room is developing a stronger sense of what they can try and bring to these characters instead of recycling ideas and gags from old Harmon episodes. Community will likely never truly become Community again, but it could be a decent spin-off. We'll know more after the show's fifth episode -- which actually is its fifth episode -- airs next week. In the meantime, here's each character's ugliest moment from an ugly episode, along with one redeeming line apiece.
Ugliest Moment: His too-maudlin "giving back" speech, which felt the Lifetime version of the bitingly sentimental sermons he used to deliver.
One Redeeming Line: "Quick impression: Waaah." Who am I? You guys."
Ugliest Moment: Alison Brie was the one member of the core gang to survive the episode largely unscathed... mainly because she wasn't given much to do in the first place. Along with Shirley, Annie is the character that seems to flummox the new showrunners the most and so -- with the exception of last week's episode -- they've largely written around her rather than for her. We'd almost rather she'd had an ugly moment last night, because that would indicate that the writers were at least trying.
One Redeeming Line: "War... yeah."
Ugliest Moment: Engaging in a groan-inducing gag about dairy-related indigestion with Britta. Lactaid is by far the least amusing real-world product/pop-culture reference that Abed has ever uttered.
One Redeeming Line: "Unless we're talking about Die Hard 3."
Ugliest Moment: See above. Save the constipation jokes for Modern Family, guys.
One Redeeming Line: "I promise you, there's nothing gross in this sausage. It's just pig's blood stuffed into a cow's intestine."
Ugliest Moment: Lighting up at the idea of a class about The Real World (even though Annie was actually talking about... um, the real world). The Troy we thought we knew would never get so excited about MTV garbage. BBC garbage, maybe, but not MTV.
One Redeeming Line: "Oh! Someone must have changed the channel to USA, 'cause I just watched a burn notice."
Ugliest Moment: Spending the entire episode complaining about not being home with her kids, echoing some of the sentiments she expressed in last week's episode. We can only hope that the writers are laying the groundwork for an actual Shirley-centric storyline, because as of now, they're just reducing her to a version of Dante "I'm not even supposed to be here today!" Hicks.
One Redeeming Line: Nothing. It's not Yvette Nicole Brown's fault, but Shirley really is becoming Greendale's biggest spoilsport.
Ugliest Moment: Electrocuting himself on a flickering fluorescent light. This is really the best way they can use Chevy Chase now, huh? Granted, it's not like he's giving them much incentive to write better material for Pierce... One Redeeming Line: "Those people call ham bacon."
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