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“Community” celebrates October 19 with new season

Dylan Dobson, 4Play Editor
February 13, 2013
Filed under 4Play

The fourth season of “Community” was slated to premiere Oct. 19, 2012. Instead, NBC posted a video on their YouTube channel. In the video, the cast of “Community” laments that the network has pushed back the new season, noting that “October 19 isn’t just a date — it’s a state of mind.”

Fans of the series have been waiting on pins and needles since the third season finale last spring. The sitcom follows the antics of a group of students at the fictional Greendale Community College.

The series has been constantly subjected to woe and setbacks. Despite being critically acclaimed for its unique approach to humor and being well-publicized, the show has always suffered from low ratings. This has often left it on the bubble when the time to renew series comes around.

These low ratings have not been helped by NBC’s insistence that the show occupy some of the most unfortunate time slots in primetime, running up against juggernaut programs such as “American Idol,” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

In an example of reality reflecting art, Chevy Chase, who plays the often antagonistic and troubling Pierce Hawthorne, became involved in a very public feud with show creator Dan Harmon last year, which led to Harmon’s dismissal from the show.

A number of high-profile members of the show’s crew followed Harmon on his way out, and mounting pressure between Chase and the remaining crew caused the former “Saturday Night Live” star to step away from the series with two episodes left to be filmed.

It will be interesting to see how the writers and cast of “Community” deal not only with the turbulence of production, but the departure of Chase and Harmon this season.

Harmon was behind many of the show’s more adventurous and groundbreaking episodes, and was a big part of the show’s authenticity.

Even though the plot of the season premiere, “History 101,” is more accessible than classic episodes involving fast-food space exploration, the dialogue still reaches beyond the comfort-zone many comedy programs would rest in. The writers manage to sneak in obscure allusions to 60s television and box-office flops from bygone eras amongst mainstream references to “The Hunger Games.”

Though the writing is less snappy, the heart is still there. The show owes a lot to its fans — who have fought for the series’ renewal time and time again — and the writing staff knows their audience well.

This daring ability to take risks is a defining feature of the series. What other sitcom, in its run, has presented a zombie horror episode, a paintball western episode, a video game episode and an episode consisting of nothing more than its cast playing Dungeons and Dragons in real time?

“History 101” begins by showing longtime fans a possible future wherein the show becomes the very thing it always lampoons: a standard, fixed camera sitcom. There’s a laugh track, one-liners, and Pierce is now Fred Willard.

Thankfully, this is all occurring in Abed’s head — yet another of his pop-culture driven fantasies — taking obvious jabs at other, more popular sitcoms, namely “The Big Bang Theory.”

Abed’s storyline in “History 101” is relatable. The study group is embarking on their final year at Greendale Community College. This causes a conflict within Abed, whose need for continuum and stability has been stressed throughout the series. But as Jeff says, “like an ice cream cone melting in the sun,” their time at Greendale can’t last forever.

While Abed retreats to the television show inside his head, Jeff lunges headlong into the fray in order to secure seats for his friends and himself in an ice cream history class, the final class he needs in order to graduate. Jeff claims he’s doing this to prove his new unselfish identity. However, his motives seem to betray the cause.

Despite retaining a distinctly “Community” feel, the new season definitely feels more like a traditional sitcom. The characters seem less developed aside from the few characteristics they’ve acquired throughout the years, and the running gags that were once welcome have begun to turn stale. The long hiatus has caused the show to lose a bit of its energy. If the heart of “Community” is left intact, perhaps Harmon was its soul.

NBC has not yet made a decision whether or not their impending graduation means the end of the study group’s story, or if the series will live up to the fan campaign for six seasons and a movie. Perhaps, like the days of college, everything has its own time, and the time of “Community” is past.