It would be generous to call season four of Community a mixed bag in terms of quality. There have been some awful episodes (“Intro to Knots” jumps to mind) and some generally amusing episodes, but overall, most of the episodes of season four have been pretty forgettable. I mainly graded these episodes using three different criteria. 1. Does the episode make me laugh? 2. Does it utilize and grow the characters and existing story lines in a meaningful way? 3. Does the episode say what it needs to say in an interesting or unique way? This season there’s been a few episodes that I’ve enjoyed that have maybe hit on two of these aspects but never one that has addressed all three–until “Advanced Introduction to Finality.” On paper, “Advanced Introduction to Finality” has everything I’m looking for in an episode of Community, and I enjoyed the final immensely, but for me there was also something off about the episode as well, and I can’t help but feel like there was a much better episode somewhere in the middle of it all.
I’ll start with what I liked about the episode because there really was a lot to love. I really love the dark timeline, and seeing all the bizarro versions of the study group again (evil Troy with the electrolarynx is still my favorite) was a real treat. I thought evil-Jeff does a good job of highlighting the growth of Jeff’s character since the beginning of the show. The insults he dishes out to the other members of the study group are actually not that far off from the way real Jeff initially reacted to the study group members in the pilot. Overall, I thought the characterization of Jeff was excellently done in this episode. His initial conversations with Annie are all about how his actions will affect other people, which is quite a long way from the narcissistic “moral relativity” guy he was when the show began. The fact that this episode is all in Jeff’s imagination shows another thing he has learned from the study group. Community as a show has always focused on the power of imagination as a way of dealing with emotional problems (a la “Virtual Systems Analysis”), but Jeff has never explicitly been the one with the imagination so it’s nice to see that he has learned something from his friends (which made it fitting that his subconscious consoled him as Abed, the person from whom he had to have inherited this particular coping mechanism).
While I like the fact that all of the “invading dark timeliners” plot takes place within Jeff’s imagination to help him get over his fear of leaving Greendale and the study group, I also wish it was implemented in a smarter way than something Jeff thought within the space of a couple seconds as he stared at a six-sided die. While I do believe imagined story lines can be just as meaningful as real ones, it’s hard for me to feel that that’s the case here when it is introduced so haphazardly and I also have to constantly wonder if the story line is “real” or not (even though I know it can’t be, based on everything that has come before in the show).
I also was not a huge fan of the paintball references this time around. The paint ball episodes of the past were always cool to me because they were always tied to reality, portraying something you might do yourself with your friends if you were given a college campus and an infinite supply of paintball weaponry. The futuristic paintball gun/dimension transporter devices featured in the finale were not only missing the point of what made paintball cool in previous episodes, they also felt a little desperate to me. It’s no secret that the paintball episodes are some of the most popular Community episodes of all time. So it was pretty ballsy of the creators of this languishing season four to try and shoehorn the concept into the episode. Abed’s declaration of “We found a way to make paintball cool again” felt particularly out of touch.
The forced insertion of the paintball throwback sums up a lot of my feelings about where the fourth season falls so short. It has too often been content with resting on the laurels of seasons one through three. Instead of developing the characters, we get unchanging representations of the characters painted in broad strokes. It’s always a catchphrase or a throwback. This season has been terrified of doing anything new. Instead it’s more comfortable giving its audience what it knows they love (or at least what it thinks the audience loves base on past results). I felt like the paintball parts of the episode were particularly guilty of this sin. It felt low to me.
I’m worried this review will sound too negative because the finale is bearing a lot of the ill will I’ve felt for the season as a whole. As I said before, I really did enjoy last night’s episode, especially the parts regarding the dark timeline and the graduation ceremony afterwards. Since Community has really been Jeff’s story from the get go, it was touching to see him say goodbye, and although it was a little uncharacteristically sappy, I think the wrap up came across well and the emotions were well earned. There’s a good chance this is the last episode of Community of all time. It’s been a strange season, and my feelings are a little mixed about any possible return for a fifth season. By the time this article publishes you will probably already know whether the show has been canceled or renewed. If Community does go the way of the dodo, “Advanced Introduction to Finality” would be a decent end. Above all, the episode had an ambitious spirit that has been sorely missing this season, and while the plot might not have been as tight as something like “Pillows and Blankets” or “Modern Warfare,” there was still an infectiously fun attitude in what could be the show’s last half hour that left a positive image in my head of what the show was and what it finally became.
- Pierce’s exit was far from subtle and obviously done with as little shooting time as possible for Chevy Chase.
- I loved the fact that evil-Jeff’s insult for Troy was the fact that people would think a Troyan Horse Sandwich would have horse meat in it.
- If this is actually Jeff’s dream, than he is dreaming the evil version of himself is in love with Annie. Hmmm.
- I enjoyed the fact that evil-Abed was reformed and that they changed his goatee from black to grey.
- If Community is cancelled, you can expect a series review of the show from me at some point after I’ve had time to process what has been one of the better comedies of the last decade. What are your thoughts on a potential season five? What did you think of the finale? Let us know in the comments section below!