Friday, 1 March 2013

COMMUNITY, 4.4 – 'Alternative History of the German Invasion'

Friday, 1 March 2013

We're four episodes into Community's new season, and my disgruntlement about creator Dan Harmon's absence has dissolved to an extent. These four episodes haven't been brilliant, but they prove the show is still very watchable and the performances likeable. Is it missing a spark of genius that came from Harmon's atypical mind? Undoubtedly. But what remains is a show with a fun cast, trying its best to stay true to the spirit of what's come before. It hasn't been a washout, and in some ways "Alternative History of the German Invasion" was the most rounded episode of the season so far. I still think the Halloween special was the funniest, but the actual plot and theme of this week's half-hour was decent.

I wasn't pleased to see the return of the three German characters from last season's foosball episode; partly because bringing back old characters smells of a low desperation (kind of like when Red Dwarf kept reviving Ace Rimmer in later series), and partly because those characters are such obnoxious stereotypes that I find them more irritating then funny. But I quite liked the gist of the episode's direction—with the study group finding themselves cast as the "villains" in a dispute with their German classmates over use of their signature table. There were quite a few funny moments when the show poked fun at the fact the show's six leads have monopolized the table for years, and I liked the flashbacks to moments when Jeff (Joel McHale) claimed ownership for various spurious reasons—like the fact they're playing Dungeons & Dragons (a call-back to that popular season 2 episode).

This week's guest-star was Malcolm McDowell as an egotistical British teacher, which wasn't a stretch for the actor and didn't take him out of any comfort zones to amusing effect. You sometimes have to wonder why the show bothers with these big-name guest-stars if they're not going to do anything interesting with someone who actually has a fair amount of pop-culture cachet for the show. (He was the lead in A Clockwork Orange and killed Captain Kirk, after all, so why did Community waste him like this?)

Interestingly, this episode was intended to air after the premiere—which explains why the sub-plot with Chang (Ken Jeong) having lost his memory has only just been returned to. This suggests they weren't pleased about how it turned out and wanted to air some better episodes ahead of it, but I don't think it was all that bad. There were some wasted opportunities, some gags that didn’t really work, so much xenophobia it often felt tasteless, and revolved around cartoon-y German characters I never wanted to see again... but it also had the women dressed as pigtailed Oktoberfest maids, and the Dean (Jim Rash) stumbling around various puns. So yeah, I can't hate it, but it was very average.

written by Ben Wexler / directed by Steven Tschuchida / 28 February 2013 / NBC