New “Community” fails to impress


Throughout television history, the behind-the-scenes changing of a show’s creative force has become a common occurrence. While some shows, like “How I Met Your Mother” and “Breaking Bad,” have had the same set of showrunners from the beginning, most shows endure a changing of the guard at some point during their run. One of the most recent shows to change hands is NBC’s “Community.” Last spring, NBC and Dan Harmon, the show’s inventive creator, parted ways after creative differences. Harmon was replaced by David Guarascio and Moses Port (“Just Shoot Me”), with the new showrunners promising to retain Harmon’s zany vision. After the first three episodes of “Community’s” fourth season, Guarascio and Port have struggled to live up to their promise.

“Community” tells the story of a close-knit study group at Greendale Community College and their crazy adventures. The group is anchored by Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), a narcissistic former lawyer who has grown to love his friends. Surrounding Jeff are his on-again, off-again love interests Britta Perry, a neurotic psychology major, and Annie Edison, the group’s overachieving voice-of-reason. Also in the group are best friends and pop-culture nerds Abed Nadir and Troy Barnes, middle-aged mother Shirley Bennett and bigot Pierce Hawthorne.

The first few episodes of the fourth season of “Community” have been problematic for a number of reasons. Over the course of its first 3 seasons, “Community” was often one of the funniest sitcoms on television, thanks in large part to its brilliant use of meta-humor and parody. While the show is still funny, part of the new season’s problems lie with its direction. In the past, the show’s excellent parody episodes, such as last season’s takes on Ken Burns’s documentaries, “Glee” and “Law and Order,” have been spot-on with their direction and execution. Through the first three episodes, the show’s parodies have been lazy and unfocused, especially the season premiere’s take on “The Hunger Games,” which seemed out of place and ultimately unneeded. The show’s signature quick pace has also diminished. Despite the fact that two of the episodes were directed by executive producer and frequent collaborator Tristram Shapeero, the fourth season has been far less energetic than its predecessors, resulting in a significant loss of wit and charm.

In addition to its execution, “Community’s” writing has been a mixed-bag. A previous Emmy nominee for its writing, season four of “Community” has already had one of the worst scripts in the show’s history. The season’s third episode, “Conventions of Space and Time,” is completely devoid of the show’s immensely clever style of meta-humor. Set at a convention for “Inspector Spacetime,” the show’s version of “Doctor Who,” the episode bumbles around until it reaches a set of unnecessarily earnest conclusions. As bad as the third episode is, season four’s first two episodes are slightly more redeemable. In the season premiere, Abed frequently thinks of different versions of the show, including a broad sitcom with a laugh track and an animated version with the characters as babies. The storyline, which runs parallel to the lazy riff on “The Hunger Games,” works as a clever way to address the show’s new management and the fan’s fears over what the show would become.

While the direction and writing of “Community” have had its troubles, the show’s magnificent cast continues to shine. Joel McHale is great as the snarky and self-centered Jeff, anchoring the show’s eclectic ensemble strikingly well. Allison Brie and Yvette Nicole Brown are reliably endearing as the good-natured Annie and Shirley. The wacky Gillian Jacobs and Donald Glover continue to impress as the now-dating Britta and Troy. Veteran comedian Chevy Chase, as brash as ever and set to leave the show at the end of the season, is a perfect fit for the unlikable Pierce Hawthorne. As excellent as the ensemble is, the standouts of the show continue to be the magnificent Danny Pudi as Abed and Oscar-winning screenwriter Jim Rash as the ridiculously over-the-top Dean Pelton.

Unfocused and less energetic than before, the fourth season of “Community,” and first without series creator Dan Harmon, has stumbled out of the gate. While the show may never again reach its previous heights, “Community” still boasts one of the best ensembles on television and has a good shot at finding its footing.