Well, it is finally here, Community has returned to television once more after yet another extended hiatus. Jeff, Annie, Britta, Troy, Abed, Shirley, and Pierce have come back for their senior year, but in true Community fashion, things will get weirder before they get…um…less weird. The premiere episode of season four, directed by Tristram Shapeero and written by Andy Bobrow, titled “History 101” sees the study group encounter their first crisis of the year when Jeff reveals he only needs one more history credit to graduate… but he has to fight for it.
Greendale is a strange community college, so the part where the only way to get into a class called the History of Ice Cream is to retrieve a red ball by taking part in a series of skill-based challenges based off of The Hunger Games is pretty much par for the course. This all transpires when the group learns that Jeff has taken some classes on the sly and only needs one more history credit before he can graduate and go back to his legal career: this doesn’t sit well with the group.
As Jeff competes in feats of skill, the other study group members deal with their apprehension of facing their last year in different ways. Annie and Shirley decide to catch “Senioritis” and play a prank on the Dean, Troy and Britta decide to make wishes in the school fountain, Pierce struggles to come up with a joke regarding all the balls Jeff is going after, and Abed, naturally, retreats into his mind to the world of a more traditional sitcom, complete with a laugh track, where everything will stay the same for the group forever.
Community is known for a couple of reasons: the genre-bending homages/parodies that they frequently make use of, and the fun character dynamics. This episode does an adequate job of showing how most of the characters are doing, excepting Pierce and Shirley who are not given much to do. Annie is dreading a life of drudgery as a hospital administrator, Troy and Britta are enjoying their new relationship but are still tentative about it, Abed is terrified of the inevitable changes that being a senior implies, the Dean is still the Dean, and Jeff still wants nothing more than to graduate and slip back into the life that was taken from him, but he also wants to stay close to the friends he has made.
This episode also shows development in two of the show’s romantic pairings. Troy and Britta seem to be in some sort of relationship, they are shown holding hands in front of the group, but how far along the two are is unknown. To quote the inimitable Jeff Winger regarding the state of their relationship: “well, that’s progressing.” Jeff and Annie may finally be on the road towards something other than making eyes at each other from across the table, as their usual flirtatious banter seems to have been amped up a bit in this episode. Annie is also the most excited when it seems that Jeff did something thoughtful, and the most disappointed when it seems he will be graduating early.
“History 101” combines elements from Inception, The Hunger Games, clichéd sitcoms over-reliant on laugh-tracks, and Saturday morning cartoons (yes, there is more animation) into something only Community would attempt to do. The results are hit and miss, though definitely enjoyable. The Inception-style structure to delve into the strange mind of Abed Nadir was very clever and very effective, but the material within the levels of his consciousness wasn’t all that funny, though there was a solid payoff toward the end. The Hunger Games element of this episode was very funny, but underused and wasn’t tied in well enough with what was going on with the other study group members, aside from it involving Jeff.
There is a pair of new developments towards the end that indicate what we will be seeing from the non-study-group regular characters this year. Stop reading now and skip to the next paragraph if spoilers are not your thing. Chang is shown wandering around with a blank expression on his face with a note saying he has “changnesia.” So expect to see his usual unhinged presence to become even crazier this season then the last, though hopefully they only use the character in small doses this year. Dean Pelton, the Dalmatian fetishist and Jeff Winger admirer, seems to have bought a new condominium next to everyone’s favorite disbarred lawyer: Jeff Winger. Hijinks will most definitely ensue.
Community is back, and that is just fantastic. “History 101” is a good episode, but not a standout one, and one that shows a lot of promise for the fourth, and probably the last, season of the show. Dan Harmon may not be back, but Community is, and it looks like we are going to have a good thirteen episodes, even if they are starting a few months later than I would have liked.