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Community Review: "Conventions of Space and Time" (Episode 4.3)

February 22, 2013  |  12:25pm
<em>Community</em> Review: "Conventions of Space and Time" (Episode 4.3)

Season four of Community has been about nothing if not trying to please longtime fans of the show, so it’s no surprise that rather than trying to deepen the world by going to a location important to any of the show’s characters, “Conventions of Space and Time” is set at an Inspector Spacetime convention. It’s the show’s answer to Dr. Who, and rather than parodying it Community largely just references and recreates a new incarnation of Dr. Who that it can use without paying royalties to the original show. It’s also used as a way of highlighting the relationship between Troy and Abed, but partially because Inspector Spacetime itself is so dull (it’s the lowest form of referential humor, as there’s little parody involved) and partially because their storyline just doesn’t work, it mostly just illustrates how many missteps this season has taken in just a few short episodes. All three episodes so far have relied on film/TV references, and I wouldn’t expect that to slow down anytime soon, as much as I wish it would.

Britta’s relationship with Troy is supposed to be a problem because of his close friendship to Abed, however it’s a concept that can’t get off the ground because it goes against what we know about the characters. Troy and Abed aren’t quite that inseparable anymore; that was a lot of what season three was about. Likewise, Abed is happy for his friend and sees no reason to be jealous. Troy’s insecure about his friendship still, which makes sense because he’s an extremely insecure person when it comes to practically anything, but his comfort with being in a relationship with Britta seems far stranger than any reaction we’ve seen from Abed. Essentially, Community skipped from the stage of mutual attraction between Troy and Britta into a full-fledged relationship, but it’s almost impossible to see how a relationship like this could’ve happened. While their lack of chemistry together could be a way of foreshadowing when they break up, the main result is that it just creates a weird, unbelievable tension around them.

Abed has really been the star of all three episodes, which is no surprise given that he’s a fan favorite. But it’s been to the detriment of all the other characters, who seem to have reverted back to versions of themselves that we saw in the first two seasons. Case in point, Annie’s infatuation with Jeff this season has gone against her hard-fought growth in many previous episodes. Fans have been hoping for a romance between the two of them ever since their kiss three seasons ago, and the new showrunners seem to have agreed. But this has kept Annie from growing up and having real adult relationships, even ones as stilted as Troy and Britta’s. Keeping her only searching within the group has stunted her and cut away Dan Harmon’s efforts to make her into more of a person. While the age difference between her and Jeff isn’t nearly as disconcerting as it was during season one, she’s hardly matured. The version of her we saw pining for him in their hotel room was probably what many hoped for, but it’s far from adult, which makes this storyline feel at odds with the show rather than flirtatious. I won’t even touch on how absurd it is that they’d be sharing a hotel room at this point.

And past all of these, we have the story about the two members of the cast Community seems to have largely lost interest in, Pierce and Shirley. Aside from the fact that it’s weird no one invited Shirley—everyone likes her, so the snub makes little sense even if she’s not a fan of the show—they’re relegated to a c-plot watching an American remake of Inspector Spacetime that felt like an afterthought created for contractual reasons. They get a few good lines, but are left with nowhere to go and little to do.

This was a far funnier episode than last week’s stillborn Halloween parody, but aside from a few clever jokes it always felt off. Rather than repeating previous stories, what we saw this time seemed like fan-fiction versions of characters far removed from the growth we’ve seen across the previous three seasons. Rather than solving the problems of the first two episodes, it just dug a deeper hole as characters became less real, references became broader and lost their purpose, and above all, the neediness, the desire to please everyone was impossible to ignore. The best part about Community used to be the show’s willingness to follow its muse, regardless of whether the result was off-putting or dull to much of its audience. It’s that sense that’s most missing, and rather than an original voice it feels like we’re left with an able but disappointing ventriloquist trying its best to mimic what used to come naturally.

Stray observations:
•Between Britta in her underwear and Jeff shirtless, this season’s really milking the cast’s sex appeal this season. And it hasn’t really been for the better.
•The “sent money to someone over the internet joke” is so old at this point that I don’t even believe those spam emails still exist.
•I do love that different inspectors would win fights in space than in time.
•“Your thoughts would be very valuable to us.” – Words Pierce had never heard before.
•Annie on scotch: “tastes of… bog.”
•”Normally we don’t concern ourselves with adultery, because otherwise hotels wouldn’t exist.”
•”Oh my God, he can make a fist. That would hurt harder than a slap.” – I’m not a fan of Little Britain, but Matt Lucas was good here. Tricia Helfer, on the other hand, seemed kind of wasted.
•Am I wrong, or has Jeff not actually “Winger-ed” it himself in like two or three seasons at this point? Three episodes in and Abed has already parroted that concept twice, both to awful results.

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