TV Review: COMMUNITY S4E03, Conventions Of Space And Time (Or, When Fan Service Doesn't Work)

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
Since most of tonight's episode takes place in and around the Inspector Spacetime "InspectiCon", I guess now is as good a time as any to talk a bit about fandom, Community and my credentials for reviewing the show.

Community fans may be small in viewing numbers but they have a lot of bite and big hearts and are a very creative bunch. They're very vocal, incredibly intelligent and... see that's some rather obvious fan service, a veritable hyper bowl of hyperbole. Though I'm in no way in the inner circle of Community fandom I've been a fan of the show since the pilot was previewed online in August 2009. I just knew the man behind Laser Fart had something going, and I convinced many I knew to give the show a chance. Watching the show on TV for the last three seasons, week to week, long hiatus to longer hiatus, has made it one of the shows I've lived with for years, not one of those shows I devour in two weekends on Netflix. This counts for something I hope. Community has mattered to me as a TV touchstone, as a way to connect and check in with my parents and sister when we're thousands of miles apart. In the immortal words of Shirley Bennet: Isn't that nice?

Tonight's episode prepares us even further for the possibility of a Community that doesn't revolve around a study group at a community college but just a group of friends in the community, or wherever they may find themselves... in space... or time...

The Doctor Who-like Inspector Spacetime TV show that Abed and Troy became obsessed with at the opening of season three was an amusing little idea and probably due to some crossover appeal with both Whovian and Community camps, became a much bigger deal on the show than it probably needed to be. As the mock of a pop culture icon that the duo enjoyed on the periphery, it worked, but as the focus of a joke, well... let's just say the adventures of the Inspector and Constable Reggie were never that clever or funny to begin with.

When I heard that a whole episode would take place at an InspectiCon I naively thought this would round out the world of Abed and Troy's fantasy heroes a bit more. After all Community is a show that proudly wears the mark of the geek. Alas, it was not meant to be. The hackneyed hodgepodge of nerd cliches and tacky costumes that don't really feel like they're from an iconic sci-fi show (even a tacky one) are the least concerns for an episode that offered a lot of time for the whirring of cricket wings. It pains me to say I did not laugh once. For the life of me I cannot tell you what could have even been close to a chuckle. But let's get to the relationships, because that's interesting.

Britta and Troy have moved forward in theirs, as the first scene finds them in bed together watching an episode of Inspector Spacetime. Concerned that Abed will not take to their being intimate together too well, Britta sneaks out the window in an over-the-top moment that does not suit the show nor the character very well. As it stands, Gillian Jacobs probably has the hardest time tonight of any of the principles. Her obtuse reactions at the convention simultaneously feel so out of character and so incessantly in character to make the whole thing wobbly and confusing, and not in the right ways as in "a stubborn girlfriend can't get into what her boyfriend likes". Now ultimately Britta is understanding of Troy, but this feels out-of- left-field manic, or rather, a far too obvious and tacked on bit of writing. Compare this to how Abed deals with the friendly, yet ultimately villainous and deranged approaches of guest star Matt Lucas with a certain maturity that feels like natural growth for the character, and it makes me cringe. 

The idea of Britta and Troy as a couple was cute, even sweet, but for the life of me I can't figure out why they should actually be a couple. I'll go as far as saying that the fact they're having sex actually feels kind of odd... not wrong, but...

What's occurred in the first quarter of this shortened season is too much pairing for my liking. Either Troy is with Britta, or torn between Britta and Abed, Shirley and Pierce are largely sidelined, and of course, Annie and Jeff get their moments. Now the show has always done this, and certainly triumphed with such pairings, but right now I can't recall one solid sequence of the study group as a group (unless we count them coming together at the end of an episode) and I really miss that. Would it really be too much to ask for just an episode that takes place at Greendale and has the group working together? Perhaps the current crop of new and old writers are playing it safe by taking baby steps with these pairings -- pairings they know -- until things gel enough between everyone for a proper group adventure. 

As the episode felt so deflated there won't be any random asides or thoughts this week. I'm just gonna be pretty plain in my speak here: I'm feeling more than bummed. So here's a friendly reminder: Community has always been a slow starter, and for whatever reason tended to opt for more episode outside of Greendale at the beginning of the season. Let's remember that and give it the chance we always do.  
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  • Gabu

    I'll repeat what I said on twitter: I gave the last episodes from this season the benefit of the doubt, but with this episode things definitely just felt off. There were still the mainstays in terms of actors making up the recipe for the show, but with different cooks writing up their dialogue, the final product just felt different.

    Totally agree with you that Abed's character felt fine and even showed signs of having matured now that we're four seasons in. When it came to other characters, though, it felt like their slow but noticeable development over the seasons has been dropped and they're back to square one. Annie is back to pining over Jeff in the most wrong way possible, and Britta and Troy seem to be back to the archetypes that they've long proven to have broken (or at least given a unique twist to). As for the humor, I felt like Community has always been over-the-top, but always due to its execution. This time around, the whole idea of an Inspector Space-Time Convention seems like something fitting for the show, but its execution felt very basic and even subpar in some instances.

  • benu

    Very basic, very subpar, yup, yup. And you nailed it on the head in regards to the development of characters possibly being dropped/ de-evolving. I was just too flustered by Britta to be able to articulate it any further than I did, and then I had to run out the door, so... And Jacobs is usually the one actor's actor on the show to be batting near 100%, so for her to dive into bizzaro caricatures is very disconcerting.

  • VyceVictus

    Her "Pizza Pizza" dance was not a bizarre caricature?

  • benu

    Remember she was high the first time she did that. That was acceptable (to me at least). Not to say that this hasn't happened before (the protest during "Global Conflict" perhaps?) but last night felt the most off-kilter and obvious, just unsure in terms of the performance and writing.

  • deanareeno

    Agree with your review.

    Best bit: Abed calming himself with the assured realization that Troy will save him from being trapped in the phone booth.

    Worst bit/subplot: Thoraxis. Tricia Helfer in same playing what amounted to a plot device rather than an actual character (whereas Matt Lucas got to play an actual character).

    Confusing bit: Why exactly were Troy and Britta initially hiding the intimate nature of their relationship from Abed again?

    I'll continue to watch until the series ends, I sorta feel like I owe them that much, but it sure is limping to its conclusion (I wonder what the ratings will be like this week after last week's ~40% week-to-week drop off...I least I remember reading that it was that steep).

  • benu

    Troy and Britta didn't think Abed would be ready, and thus meltdown. That's it. He proved them sorely wrong as we know. Kind of seems that they may be more weirded out by their intimacy than he is.

    It's been pretty steep, yes indeed, but that's been for just about the whole of NBC's lineup. With The Office and 30 Rock over, and the nightmares that seem to be plaguing Up All Night into an early grave, it almost seems like NBC would be wise to keep Parks and Community around for another year, at least. The logic here (with Nielsen that is) is that almost all their shows are hovering around 1.5 ad shares and under in the 18-49 demo, so it'd make sense just to keep the shows rather than scrapping and replacing them with new shows, which would cost more money up front and not guarantee them anything. If they keep them, this way they're guaranteed a small, loyal audience, one they don't have to pump any extra marketing into.

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