If you’ve already watched the first two seasons of Community, you know what to expect from this season. This has been a crazy, engaging show, one that I never watched until 2020.
Most sitcoms are easy to describe. “It’s like Friends, except in LA, with only one girl and five dudes.” Or, “Think Seinfeld, if every episode was also a detective procedural.” You describe a series by comparing it to other series. That’s impossible to do—for me, at least—with Community. My go-to is always Scrubs (read my reviews), only instead of having a character daydream outlandish things, the outlandish things are just a part of the show’s reality. But, this doesn’t quite cover it, somehow. Community is unique.
The word “unique” is often used as a synonym for weird, different or strange. It’s as facile as the word “special.”
I think it does help to be more open to magical realism to really enjoy this show. In this regard, the series has more in common with British television such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The IT Crowd, or The Young Ones. There’s an undercurrent that allows you to believe that you’re a part of an inside-joke with the show creators and actors.
“Yeah, yeah,” you say, “I know this is impossible and ridiculous, but I’m going to give you a pass this time because I want to see how Pierce and Troy react.”
At the same time, in the midst of the surreal and—let’s face it—sometimes dumb things that happen, the minds behind the words and stories, and the actors bringing the situations to life, make the viewer care about the characters. We become invested in the characters and are interested in seeing how their stories play out.
I have a confession to make. Sometimes the wackiness that is a hallmark of this series is more than I want to sit through. This is a bold admission, because I have a high tolerance for wackiness and have been responsible for my fair share of it. If I didn’t like the characters, I probably wouldn’t watch. Because I like the characters, it doesn’t matter what insane predicament they find themselves in each episode. For me, this is a sign of a great series. I may not be able to accurately recount a single episode plot, but I can tell you all about the characters.
A lot of things happen in this 22-episode season. I’m not going to talk about everything, but have cherrypicked a few moments I think form important signposts throughout the season.
Britta (Gillian Jacobs) introduces Abed to the long-running Inspector Spacetime series, which becomes a running gag. Inspector Spacetime is, of course, a parody of Doctor Who.
The concept of alternate timelines is explored, with The Darkest Timeline being revealed. Not coincidentally, The Darkest Timeline is the name of a Ken Jeong-Joel McHale podcast recorded this year.
Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) reconnects with her ex-husband, Andre (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), and, after Subway is finally run off from Greendale, opens an on-campus sandwich shop with Pierce (Chevy Chase) as a partner. Also during the season, Shirley is revealed to be a foosball phenom.
Britta begins to prove that a little psychology education is a dangerous thing. Her attempts at playing at counselor becomes a running gag, as well.
Annie (Alison Brie) becomes Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed’s (Danny Pudi) roommate. The Dreamatorium Troy and Abed created in their apartment opens up the opportunity to have holodeck malfunction episodes. Sort of. Troy and Abed’s ambitious world record pillow-fort-building on campus results in an all-out war.
Star-Burns (Dino Stamatopoulos) dies. Or: does he? The study group gets expelled after inciting a riot at Star-Burns’s memorial service. But, this is all a part of Chang’s (Ken Jeong) coup d’etat, replacing Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) with an impostor and ruling Greendale as a tyrant. Chang becomes the Big Bad of the season.
Meanwhile, Troy is revealed to be some sort of HVAC repair wunderkind, the Chosen One of the Air Conditioning Repair Annex. This particular story thread allows us to have John Goodman as the annex dean for a few episodes.
The team goes 8-bit, retro video game style, for one episode. Giancarlo Esposito becomes a part of the show canon, as Pierce Hawthorne’s half-brother.
There’s a musical episode I could have lived without. But, whatcha gonna do?
I realize now, looking back at the moments from the season that I chose to highlight, there’s no mention of Winger at all, and I’m pretty sure he’s considered the star of the show. Joel McHale is in this season, I promise. Don’t be alarmed. And, he always delivers a spot-on, snarky-douchey performance. I think it’s a little like Seinfeld. When you have a talented ensemble cast, sometimes the lead character doesn’t always get the best lines or juiciest stories. Troy and Abed are the focus of many episodes because they are more interesting characters, with only the loosest of tethers to any single reality, let alone the warped reality of Greendale Community College.
In addition to those already named, this season boasts other famous (or semi-famous) guest stars, including Eddie Pepitone, Michael K. Williams, Rob Corddry, Jeff Garlin, Luis Guzmán, Michael Ironside, Taran Killam, French Stewart and Martin Starr.
A couple of things before I give you my report card grade for this season. Dan Harmon, the creator of the series, was fired after the final episode aired. He would not be around as showrunner for the 13-episode fourth season. I’ll let you know if I think that affected the show’s quality or not.
The second-half of that news is that Dan Harmon would return for seasons five and six. But, that’s a story for another day.
In the meantime, Firewater’s So-What-You-Call-Insanity-We-Call-Solidarity Report Card: A-
In the spirit of fairplay and equal time, my wife the lovely Sharon would probably tell you that this series is “just all right.” She watches it with me, but spends more time on her iPhone than watching the episode. Only you know your willingness to suspend disbelief.