Review: COMMUNITY S4E12, Heroic Origins (Or, Hey, Here's An Idea: Let's Insult The Entire Fanbase And History Of The Show)

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
So here we are, the penultimate episode of the season, and what may be the penultimate episode of the series -- though NBC has renewed a slew of their hour-long shows, they've yet to comment on the status of their half-hour comedies.

So if this is, indeed, one of the last Community's ever I am both relieved and frustrated that Dan Harmon had nothing to do with it. In the Harmon years, this episode wouldn't have gotten past the idea phase in the writer's room, despite it sounding on paper like a "classic Community scenario." (read that in a sarcastic TV announcer voice) Yes, in case you skipped the headline it is that bad. Though my frustration stems more from exhaustion and disinterest at this point than just pure nerd rage.

Okay, time to get into the knitty gritty. Heroic Origins is quite simply just that. There's no real double entendre here. It's as plain and straightforward and uninteresting (and insulting, but we'll get to that) as just about every expository line and reveal in the episode. So... as graduation looms, the Study Group (sans Pierce, who is giving a kidney to half-brother Gilbert) needs to buckle down for their History final. But Abed's been doing a project of his own, and with the hope that the final piece of the puzzle will fall into place, he is finally ready to share it with the group. What may that be? Abed has collected copious amounts of data that point out that all the members of the Study Group were destined to meet. Yes, these chance or peripheral encounters and happenstances with everyone pre-Greendale led them all to Greendale. 

Quite early on, the writers have called out their own problem with Jeff stating to Abed: "We don't have origins, we have lives." Yep. Right there. That's the kicker. We just don't need to tie their story, their story of friendship at Greendale to the pre-Greendale days. We don't need to see Adderall Annie or Footballer Troy or Abed telling Shirley's kids that they shouldn't see The Phantom Menace in 2008... which leads to Shirley leaving Andre at a restaurant to pick up the kids, where he then subsequently hooks up with a stripper, who Jeff just got off in court, wherein Jeff actually encourages said stripper to go after the married man.   

We don't need these moments because like Shirley and Jeff state themselves, they're not those people anymore. Those aren't the people we care about and know. We don't need an all encompassing, linking group origin that behaves like some of the more schmaltzy episodes of Lost, the entirety of Paul Haggis' Crash, or yes, as Abed states, Unbreakable; An origin of connective tissues and threads that is far, far less like Kieslowski's Trois couleurs Trilogy (Britta's hilariously over the top pronunciation of each title in the trilogy was the only moment to make me laugh tonight, probably because I just watched Rouge again). My biggest issue with this idea is that shows and movies such as Lost or Crash take the notion of happenstance and of a grater connecting tapestry in the universe far too literally and completely. Heck, I believe in some form of it, but the reason why Kieslowski's films work is because he doesn't ruin the mystery by explaining the mystery. There is a euphoric, enchanting moment of connecting to that something greater and then things move on. And we're all the better for it.

Obviously an episode of a sitcom is not going to play out this way, but for it to play out the other way is just... well, it is ultimately insulting. Insulting in the way that it trivializes these people to their base stereotypes and denies the history of the show a little distance from pre-Greendale days. Yes, it is trying to make a point that these people were never quite just these stereotypes, and that they can change (and did), but it is completely unable to express this. Instead Heroic Origins is full of moments like where a punkish Britta blindly follows an absurd and bogus cause, Annie chucks pill after pill after pill as if they're candy, and an unblinking Abed is forced into therapy by his father because he goes around theater to theater telling people they shouldn't see The Phantom Menace. In 2008. The fact that every major connecting thread relies on Abed telling Shirley's kids not see a movie that would not have been playing in the theater on any kind of regular basis (or even revival) is perhaps the biggest, most massively misguided and lazy plot element to ever be presented in the show. Why? It's the simple fact that many of us fans of Community, and probably Star Wars, would know that this just doesn't make much sense. And Abed would agree. Even the atrociously cartoonish shadow of Abed we see tonight would agree. So, yes, sense matters in something like this. Also, Shirley to just getting up and leaving Andre at the table without any explanation, was... senseless. 

So the other reason we went pre-Greendale tonight? Why because, if the show gets a fifth season, we will most undoubtedly be going post-Greendale for a good length of the season. They're trying to get us prepared for that.

With one episode left -- and for perhaps forever -- it pains me that we've gone back to the rickety, misguided pod-person incarnation of the show that I struggled with so much at the start of the season. I know Port, Guarascio and the rest of this new Community are trying their darndest with gusto and with earnest. You can tell they are by the string of really decent episodes we got this season. But we don't need an imitation, and this Community still feels like an imitation. If you guys win the favor of NBC and Sony execs and get a fifth season, please remember that... okay? Because if not, well.. I am finally going to say it: I'd rather have no Community rather than an imitation of Community.

Random Thoughts And Observations:

- Oh, and as it turns out, Chang was cohorting with Dean Spreck of City College after all. This matters to me because I find it so lame that they're dipping back into a pool that I feel at this point is oh so dried up. The presence of the other dean does nothing largely because he has been a character which seems to appear for all but two minutes every season or so.

- All the references to Spider-Man plus Donald Glover's bemusement at all of them being Spider-Men in their own way was somewhat amusing.

- By proxy, the Dean even gets a little cross-dressing origin of his own.           
Around the Internet:
  • Alex Smith

    I've seen all of Community's episodes and still remembered them quite well, therefore I did find this episode to be quite "genius" in terms of writing. We always had "lines" of what the study group did pre-Greendale but to have it "materialized" was something new and enjoyable, and in essence, became a 'meta' reflection of what a 'Community' college can be. I can't really see why the reviewer's "mad much?" about pre-Greendale or origins, and lamenting over the fact that the show 'sucks' after Dan Harmon left seems more of a hangover bias than an accurate assessment.

    Even if the show seems to lost its appeal to some people when it first aired 4 years ago, still, real fans shouldn't proclaim for the end of it just to satisfy their own opinion.

  • benu

    Well my opinion is my opinion. I can't really alter it to fit someone else's, and better that we have a show like Community that conjures up many opinions rather than a show that doesn't. I'd rather engage in a healthy discourse than argue outright.

    As to this episode, this one is really telling of where the current crop of producers and writers are trying to take the show; they're trying to define it in new yet connected ways, testing things out. I'm struggling with what could be a New Community, but what feels like to me more an imitation of the old Community. It just didn't work for me, for what I've seen the show as in the past. As sentimental and warmhearted as Community is at its core, I don't think it needs to wrap it all up in a destiny tale such as this. Yes, it's about finding, and really building a community, but for me I didn't need it to go the route they took for that message to continue to ring true for me. If it works for others, then I'm glad people can be more accepting of this direction. I wish I could and maybe I will be down the line. I'm just not there right now.

    It sounds like this is the first review you've read of mine for the show. If you go back, you'll see that I've enjoyed a number of episodes or elements of episodes this season, but I feel overall this has been a very rocky season because they're having to deal with creative adjustments after Harmon's departure. I'm not a Harmon fanboy, but believe that the show is greatly struggling in finding its way without him. My hope is that it finds its way certainly, but if not, I'd rather live without it rather than with some former shadow of it.

  • CJ

    I agree, conceptually this episode was a colossal failure, but I still got a few good laughs out of it.

    Yes, Britta's THREE COLOURS moment was the biggest laugh for me. Also when Abed asked her if she ever took photos of her feet and posted them online for money

    In fact, I'd say Britta has been the best character this season. Which is nice since she was kind of a retard last season..

  • benu

    My take is that the MVP of the season, in terms of comedic consistency, is Dean Pelton. That is if you are someone who digs him. I think they've struggled with Britta from episode to episode, much like the previous seasons (and much like most everyone else this season) but when the writers get it, Gillian Jacobs can take it well past greatness.

  • Christopher Holloway

    also I think having them (community) as a fan on facebook doesn't help me want to watch it, the posts are mostly all "check out this weeks special guest" making it all seem so cheesy, or they try and ram down any callbacks or points, and its full of "fans" who equate "being meta", doing themed episodes, and the dean dressing up as enough to make a good episode, it definiately makes me feel I am not the target audience for the show anymore

  • benu

    Well perhaps you're not the target audience for the show the social media marketing folks are selling to. Take comfort in that.

  • Christopher Holloway

    unsure if I even want to watch this episode now, I'm still on a high after last week, and this seems like one of those episodes that makes you enjoy the season 1-3 epidoes less (like with gossip girl after watching series finale....ughhh) the trouble with origin stories (as you touched on) is that they have to fit an entire origin into a half hour episode, which makes the "origin" nothing more than a contrived scenario fitting everything in together far too neatly, and makes the whole show seem less organic for it, cougar town did an episode like this, which basically tried to show how all the major plot points originated in (what seemed like) 1 day, the foosball episode with jeff and shirley was felt quite contrived too, but at least that was just one "origin" and they dealt with the fallout quite well (and then over the toply, but at least there was an anime scene with a cat, so all is good)

  • c

    I started reading this review because I saw "insult" in the title and I thought it would refer to the major inconsistencies between the origin stories in this episode and the bits and pieces we've been fed in other episodes throughout the series. Had you commented on that I might have found your review to be accurate. Unfortunately, without noticing such a blatant error the rest of your argument loses any and all weight.

  • benu

    I'm sorry, but I can't recall all the details of the show or back histories. I haven't watched the other seasons in a year. If you care to remind me of what I might have been missing, and what inconsistencies occurred, then by all means...But, honestly, I'm baffled as to what I could have been missing. The writers seemed to cover everything in some fashion, however horribly.

    I take it you're referring to the pretty well documented Jeff and
    Shirley stuff, in addition to Annie and Troy, plus a few bits here and
    there?

  • benu

    So I've been told that when Annie first told the story of her running through the glass she screams, "We're All Robots!" Or something of that ilk. She did not say that when we flashbacked to that moment. I suppose this is the kind of thing you were referring to?

    You're arguing that for my stance to work I had to remember and acknowledge such points as this. I didn't. At any rate I spoke of the history of the show in a context of how it dealt with the characters and events that had happened pre-show, in that it largely let them be and did not feel the need to bring them into the show, wrapped up all neat and tidy. This episode destroyed that. That was my point. I don't think it lost all weight because I didn't remember exactly the bits and pieces we were given prior. Depending on what others remember or how they interrupt it, sure, weight to the stance made could be lost, but the entirety of the conversation lost?

  • benu

    I've been told by someone else that they saw the plate glass scene as a wonderful piece of writing because in the earlier
    episode Troy claimed Annie ran through a plate glass window screaming
    "everyone's a robot." This episode showed her calling Troy a robot then
    running through a plate glass window. They thought this was really clever showing how
    self-involved Troy was in high school, that in his mind everyone = him.

    While I still didn't need that moment, that could fit the basic logic of things just as well as anything else. So some people didn't see a moment like that as being an inconsistency, others did, others, like me, didn't really need to remember to feel frustrated. So, I'll chalk this up to difference of opinion, leave it at that.

  • disqus_SPLLhrDaqU

    The biggest examples that come to mind are that Annie claimed to have lost weight getting out of rehab which is why Allen didn't recognize her but in the flashbacks she was the same size, Shriley first stated that her husband left her for a "long neck, weave having bank teller" which was later changed to a stripper named Valerie and who in these flashbacks somehow became Misty and Troy's fake injury was that he intentionally dislocated both of his shoulders in a keg flip but in the flashback he claimed it was his knee. Fair enough not everyone watches the show as frequently as I or other fans do but you can't talk about insulting the audience without noting the differences between what we already know and what we are now being told.
    The reason your argument loses its weight, for me at least, is because it demonstrates how little you know about the show.
    In addition to the oversight of the above mentioned examples, and several others I'm sure, you claim that Harmon would not have had anything to do with this episode. That's extremely presumptuous and not based in any facts. The truth is Harmen has consistently been invovled in comic books and comic book scenarios and it is very possible that he would have had an episode along these lines. This is even more probable considering that the three writers of this episode have all worked alongside Dan Harmon throughout the series (Steve Basilone and Annie Mebane most notably on the season 3 finale and Maggie Bandur on Competitive Ecology). The number of people (writers and producers especially) that have remained the same from last season to this season makes it hard to believe that the show is an imitation. Yes Harmon is gone and that is unfortunate and upsetting but I doubt that the difference is as noticeable as you claim.
    Finally, some small points the movie in the episode is showing at a dollar/discount theatre which can play a movie from its archive whenever it decides so it's not impossible that it would be playing. Second, Shirley would not have to explain why she was leaving to Andre because he was at the table and would have overheard the conversation (what makes less sense is why he didn't go with her). Third, the appearance of the city college dean was set up by Dan Harmon in the season 3 finale so they needed to bring him back to finish that storyline. Lastly, I believe they tied their story of friendship at Greendale to the pre-Greendale days as a spring board to next week's graduation episode. Showing where they came from to where they are today so that next week they can take us from where they are to where they will be going. You said so yourself, they're trying to prepare us for a potential 5th season and I though this was a good way to do so. You may not agree and you are entitled to your opinion but that doesn't mean that it was unnecessary. Especially since tracing the origin story was used to get Chang to join the group and to presumably help them in their 'battle' against city college.
    - C

  • benu

    Fair enough. Whether it was unnecessary or necessary stands on opinion too. We have our takes and we aren't going to budge for the time being. I'm always of the mind that with TV shows, opinions ebb and flow a little bit more than other mediums because of the cycle(s) shows can go through. Perhaps I'll see this as a bump in the road to a great 5th season. Though I will say it certainly hurts that someone is telling me I don't know the show. I've been with it since the pilot aired, and I recognize that many key folks are still on board. I've just had a different experience with it than you.

    As for the Dean of City College... Yeah, I know they planted the seed at the end of last season. I've just never been a fan of how they've handled the guy. Harmon or no Harmon, it's always felt a little underwhelming.

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