Saturday 19 May 2012

COMMUNITY, 3.20-22 – "Digital Estate Planning", "The First Chang Dynasty" & "Introduction to Finality"

Saturday 19 May 2012

Community's third season came to an end with a trio of episodes shown across two-hours on NBC; which was either a parting treat for loyal fans, or a way to burn-off the remainder of a low-rated comedy. Which do you think? The first episode, "Digital Estate Planning", was a spiritual sequel to "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" from last season, only with claymation replaced by 8-bit computer graphics. The virtual adventure began when Pierce (Chevy Chase) was summoned to his late-father's estate with "seven of his closest friends" (um, LeVar Burton didn't show), to compete in a video game against his dad's manservant Gilbert (Giancarlo Esposito) to win his family inheritance. Cue the study group sitting inside a multi-player simulator, playing "Journey To The Center Of Hawkthorne", with the vast majority of the episode visualized as an '80s-style RPG...

**½ (out of four)
There's no denying "Digital Estate Planning" was an ambitious and original comedy idea (it was produced last because of the extensive animation required), and one which undoubtedly tickled nerdy G spots if retro gaming's your thing. I haven't felt passionate about gaming since the days of Street Fighter III, but it was nevertheless amusing to see cute avatars of Community's characters journeying through this digitised world—poking fun at the style, subtleties, traditions and clichés of retro RPGs. One of the funniest sequences was seeing Annie (Alison Brie) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) accidentally kill a kind blacksmith and his wife. But while it was a visually-arresting, it felt oddly frenzied and alienating at times. The story and themes got lost amidst jokes derived from nostalgia for late-'80s consoles. Consequently, while I bow to "Digital Estate Planning" on a creative level, definitely had fun watching it, and laughed many times—especially when Abed (Danny Pudi) adapted the game so a girl sprite could bear him thousands of cooing "children"—it felt slightly too unfocused and repetitive at times.

*** (out of four)
Far funnier and better focused was "The First Chang Dynasty"—despite the fact this recent storyline, about the Dean (Jim Rash) being deposed by Chang (Ken Jeong) and replaced by a "doppledeaner"—has been very poorly implemented. (Why did nobody even mention these events in the previous episode?) There's no excuse this season's listless mytharc, really, which didn't help this story once it resumed progressing the idea of Troy (Donald Glover) becoming an air-con repairman in service to Laybourne (John Goodman). Still, putting that complaint to one side, I adored this episode's witty spoofing of identikit heist movies like Ocean's Eleven—particularly the way it exposed the genre's countless clichés. (Ever notice how unoriginal plans are when breaking into high-security banks, casinos and prisons?) The moment where Troy and Abed pretended to be mustachioed plumbers, bullshitting two of Chang's young operatives to gain access to a room to cause a flood, was a strong example of good writing and performances working in tandem. Along the way, we got Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) in a thick beard, Britta (Gillian Jacobs) as a magician's assistant (someone cast her as Batman's Harley Quinn already!), Pierce as a racist Swami, and it was all gold... culminating in Chang, dressed as Napoleon, playing a keytar rigged to blow up the school on its final note, with Abed having to cut the only wire connected to the bomb. Fast, clever, strewn with funny lines... this was a joy.

**½ (out of four)
Knowing the finale could have been the last ever episode of Community, it worked nice enough as a farewell echoing the pilot in Jeff's (Joel McHale) story. But in comparison to season 2's joyous two-part paintball extravaganza, I couldn't help feeling shortchanged by "Introduction To Finality". Jeff representing Shirley in a courtroom battle against Pierce over her sandwich shop was lamer than it should have been, especially as this was intended to bring his story to a close. Jeff was sent to Greendale Community College to get his law degree originally, remember? But none of it washed with me. More interesting was Abed coping with the loss of Troy to his time-consuming repairman job, which manifested itself in him becoming "Evil Abed" from the well-received "Remedial Chaos Theory" earlier this year. And from that point, he attempting to "darken" this primary timeline to vent his frustrations. But even Abed's story was ultimately just a fun diversion, because the best storyline actually belonged to Troy—discovering more about the bizarre cult of air-con repairmen. Admittedly, Jeff's excellent closing speech in court nicely drew the episodes together with a "friendship conquers all" knot, and the closing montage of the characters would have been a pleasant way to end the show (the return of Starburns, the dismantling of the Dreamatorium, Troy growing up, Shirley/Pierce as business partners, etc). But there was ultimately a severe lack of passion and verve to the finale, certainly compared to previous years, and Community strikes me as the kind of show that should be trying to outdo itself. Oh well, at least we know there's a half-season to come later this year, before school's out for good.


  • NBC may have given Community an unexpected fourth season, but showrunner Dan Harmon's contract is still being negotiated. There's a chance he won't return, meaning Community would be without its creator for its fourth (and likely final) season. Will this be damaging? I don't know, but it will certainly have an impact. It's hard to know how strongly Harmon guides the writers, so without him we might notice a change in style and/or attitude. Maybe less/more spoofs? Who knows, it may even be an improvement. Or it could be a disastrous final run without Harmon at the helm. We'll have to wait and see if NBC are willing to compromise with him. I'd be interested to hear what you think about the prospect of Community without Harmon. TV shows lose showrunners all the time, and it's not always a death knell, but it does affect things. Dexter, anyone? Update: Dan Harmon has been sacked. Thoughts?
  • Starburns lives! He faked his own death! Uh, yeah. Can't say I care. Ultimately it felt strange to do this, and I think the character's popularity is overrated if his return in the coda was supposed to make us feel anything but cheated. Now, if they'd killed and resurrected Magnitude...
  • Guest star Giancarlo Esposito is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors. He was so damned good on Breaking Bad as the quietly terrifying Gus Fring, and now appears to be getting lots of guest-starring roles in shows where the writers are fans. I hope his larger role in this year's Revolution continues his winning streak.
  • #sixseasonsandamovie.
written by Matt Warburton (3.20), Matt Fusfeld & Alex Cuthbertson (3.21) & Steve Basilone & Annie Mebane (3.22) / directed by Adam Davidson (3.20), Jay Chandrasekhar (3.21) & Tristram Shapeero (3.22)