The idea of Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) attending a convention for their favourite sci-fi show (Doctor Who pastiche Inspector Spacetime) offers so much potential for geek-friendly references and pop-culture lampoonery, but "Conventions of Space and Time" didn't make good on its promises. There was a mildly enjoyable storyline about Troy's friendship with Abed having to overcome fresh obstacles—after Abed revealed he knows Troy's dating Britta (Gillian Jacobs), before making a new friend in British fan-boy Toby (Little Britain's Matt Lucas)—but it wasn't enough. I also quite enjoyed the subplot with Pierce (Chevy Chase) becoming part of a focus group on a US Inspector Spacetime remake, and using the fawning attention to make all manner of stupid suggestions—although quite why a modern-day TV exec would hire Luke Perry (Beverly Hills 90210) as the eponymous time-traveller is anyone's guess.
The rest of the episode's storyline were something of a washout, with Annie (Alison Brie) using some alone time in a hotel room to pretend she's in a relationship with Jeff (Joel McHale), becoming "Mrs Winger" to her giggly amusement. It was a clear sign season 4's trying to take the Jeff/Annie relationship down a romantic path the show previous avoided with tongue-in-cheek humour about the rote nature of such things. I'm not sure anyone really wants those two characters to become an item, sadly—ditto unlikely couple Troy and Britta, although there's more amusement there because it's part of a love triangle (of sorts) for Abed's affections too.
More pointless was Jeff being a dead ringer for a cult actor who played a muscular alien on a TV show, drawing the attention of a bombshell geek-girl played by Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica). Unfortunately this storyline went nowhere fast and wasted he gorgeous Helfer completely, making you wonder why they even bothered—beyond the fact Community has to give six characters something to do every single episode. Just be grateful they didn't have to service the Dean and Chang, too.
While it wasn't utterly awful thanks to decent resolution with the Troy/Abed story and a handful of amusing moments and quips, "Conventions of Space and Time" just didn't live up to the episode of Community that exists in your head when you first heard the characters were going to their version of Comic-Con. The episode wasn't particularly savage or insightful about other sci-fi shows fans would recognise, and if you ask me the whole Inspector Spacetime gag stopped being funny a long time ago. There's precious little juice left in the idea of spoofing Doctor Who after 50 years, but perhaps to many American eyes it feels like a fresher target.
I was worried about Community without its creator Dan Harmon at the wheel, and this episode has left me similarly anxious again. You can sense the admirable desire to keep Harmon's flavours strong (you don't alienate the existing small but loyal audience by doing something entirely different), but it's also more apparent the new showrunners are trying to add traditional sitcom elements that the show would usually either avoid or subvert—like trying to pair four of the characters up. And, to put it bluntly, it just wasn't a very funny episode considering the possibilities of the venue.
written by Maggie Bandur / directed by Michael Patrick Jann / 21 February 2013 / NBC