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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Community Delves Into Their "Heroic Origins"

Article first published as Community Delves Into Their "Heroic Origins" on TheTVKing.

I understand what NBC's Community is trying to do this week with "Heroic Origins." By using the comic book-style transitions and frequent references to superheroes, like Spider-Man and the film Unbreakable, they're trying to present a weird episode in yet another genre-busting format. But like most of this fourth season, it fails to find the perfect pitch, and while it's somewhat entertaining, the story falls far short of the emotional impact that it should have.

Abed (Danny Pudi) decides that, instead of working on his history assignment, he'll track the history of how the study group is destined to be together. This leads to a series of flashbacks to 2008, and various members of the cast influence one another's lives without knowing it. Mysti (Natasha Leggero, Burning Love), the prostitute that Jeff (Joel McHale) successfully defends in court, ends up being the same one that Andrea (Malcolm-Jamal Warner, not appearing in this episode) cheats on Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) with, after Shirley ditches on Andrei on their anniversary because Abed scares her kids. Annie's (Alison Brie) drug-fueled rant makes Troy (Donald Glover) rethink his future and inspires the creation of Magnitude's (Luke Youngblood) catchphrase.

There are plenty of other connections, some obvious, such as Britta's (Gillian Jacobs) rescue of Annie's Boobs (Crystal the Monkey), while some are more subtle, such as the pictures of Annie as Citizen of the Month in the courthouse where Jeff's case goes down. There are a variety  of allusions, both big and small, which come together to form a complete story.

And yet, it feels hollow. It isn't believable that these characters have so much influence on one another prior to meeting. When Jeff and Shirley's childhood history is explored in a previous episode, that's one thing, and so an acceptable coincidence. "Heroic Origins" just takes the concept way too far. Not to mention, the guest stars, Leggero, Glee's Iqbal Theba as Abed's father, and Joe Lo Truglio as Jeff's boss, detract, as Community has never been big on lots of stunt casting, and using several in this one episode doesn't work for them.

Some of the contrivances, such as the Dean (Jim Rash) discovering his love of cross-dressing because Shirley tosses her lingerie near him, are ridiculous. Surely, based on the Dean's extensive wardrobe, he is aware of this part of himself prior to the incident. Why try to explain it away here?

The Chang (Ken Jeong) story is even more confusing. Supposedly, Chang is the one that influences each of the six main group members to attend Greendale in the first place, so Abed invites him to join them for frozen yogurt, which somehow makes Chang feel warm and accepted, fulfilling a yearning he's expressed since at least season two to be a part of their gang. But that cures his crazy money fever that Annie's Boobs has given him to make him evil? And he's a jerk before he's bitten, so I really don't understand how this is supposed to work out.

On this topic, there are a couple of very odd edit points, one occurring when Chang sticks the Dean's envelope in his pocket, and the other where Chang, while leaving the library, tells Abed that he needs to mail the envelope. Neither feel in place with the scene they occur during, and seem to have been poorly added in after the fact.

I think the biggest problem, though, is that this episode relies so heavily on Abed and his eccentricities. Abed has been so badly handled this season, the current writers not seeming to get his character, and that continues this week. Many of the problems can be explained away just because this is an Abed-heavy episode.

"Heroic Origins" again tries to make Pierce (Chevy Chase) a presence without including him, going so far as to even have someone who sort of resembles him from the back slip on ice-cream in a 2008 scene. I don't understand why he's in here at all, especially when he's completely absent from the various plot threads that come together, thus making him seem less a valid member of the study group than Chang is. It's a shame what this character has become.

We still get a bit of the Jeff-has-changed plot in this episode, which has been the highlight of the fourth season. However, it's not central enough to this installment to matter much.

The end of this episode sets up the season finale, where Abed will try to be the villain of the story, and the alternate universe evil versions of the characters will intercede. Presumably, this will be tied into the scheme City College has been trying to use Chang for, an arc awkwardly abandoned on a whim in this episode, which could have been a late-production decision, based on the aforementioned weird edits. I can't say I'm looking forward to it, especially if it turns out to be the series' end. But at least it will put this lackluster year out of its misery.

Community's fourth season concludes next Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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