NBC’s ‘Community’ season 4 premiere review: The inevitable Dan Harmon debate

CommunityDo you that feeling when you meet up with your friend who moved away for the first time in almost a year, and you really really hard to force it to the point where things are just comfortable? This is what watching the season 4 premiere of “Community” felt like. There was still some of the old charm that was obviously there, but new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port seemed so concerned with making the show what it was with Dan Harmon that what they gave us instead was something that was inevitably going to pale in comparison. Only Dan Harmon is Dan Harmon. (We find it interesting in itself that the show chose to present the opening in such a way that kept the real actors’ names, plus the showrunners, to be introduced within the first five minutes.)

When “Community” actually started back in season 1, this is actually what it felt like: a comedy that was a little weird, but still trying to be mainstream by giving each character a few notes to play. It was really around the halfway point of that season that it became brilliant, and for just over 50 episodes, we had the best comedy on television, hands-down. This is one of the few shows currently on that we’ve seen at least a quarter of the episodes for multiple times, and it is because that great level of depth and heart that is there.

Tragically, most of the attempts to feel hip here came across a bit forced. The biggest issue with Abed’s sitcom interludes, used to give him a happy place to deal with the fact that the Greendale 7 would be graduating, was that we’ve seen the same exact storyline on “Scrubs.” Plus, it felt more like “Community” trying to be a sitcom than a sitcom finding a way into its world. There were a few good lines that came out of it, but the “Muppet Babies” spoof could have been so much more.

So is this really what happens when Dan Harmon is gone? Let’s put the brakes on this here for a minute to remember a few things: save for when Betty White shot someone with a bow and arrow, “Community” premieres have never been their best episodes. Plus, Harmon’s genius is not the only thing that has changed about the show. Chris McKenna, Neil Goldman, and Garrett Donovan were also big parts of this writing or producing process, and they all left over the summer to other series. (Megan Ganz has also left now to “Modern Family.”)

We also don’t want to say that the premiere was terrible, because it wasn’t: it would be great if we were talking about “1600 Penn” or “Two and a Half Men.” This is just “Community,” and expectations have been raised. Guarascio and Port would probably be criticized regardless of what they did, and we at least give them some credit for taking a few risks (putting Troy and Britta together, having the Dean move in next to Jeff). The end product, though, felt a little much like they understood the characters on paper, but not necessarily their soul. Take for instance Leonard: there were great opportunities for a “shut up, Leonard,” but none were capitalized. The same goes for the Troy / Britta fountain scene, which could have been far funnier if Troy had flipped out more. (Then again, Harmon probably would have never gotten them together to begin with.)

We’re not going to go so far as to say that “Community” should have ended with Harmon’s exit yet, mostly because this is just one episode and the storyline with Chang / Kevin /whatever his name is now looks promising. However, we have to just put this out there: we have cause for concern, mostly because we were missing some of the rich subtlety and the heart that we felt during much of the first three seasons. There was too much crammed into the episode, and it was more of a plea to be loved than a cry for self-reliance.

What was your take on the “Community” premiere? We want to hear from you in the poll below, and you can get a sense at what is coming up this season over at the link here.

Photo: NBC


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