Community’s seasons have always started slow, but by the fourth episode of each one there have always been some glimmers of brilliance as the writers start getting into their groove. Instead, with this abbreviated season of only 13 episodes, we’re a third of the way done and things are, if anything, only getting worse. “Alternative History of the German Invasion” had the dubious honor of being the first traditional Community episode of the season, centered around a class in the school (theoretically, a third of the semester has gone by before day one?), and with this really had no excuse for how bad the episode was.
Admittedly, there was still a gimmick at play, because linear, entirely spoof-free episodes have apparently been excised from the season. The study group wants to work on their first assignment in the lounge they always use, only a group of German students who hates them wants it too and actually knows how to use its sign-up sheet. And admittedly, Greendale is actually a strange enough college that it might have a sign-up sheet for using a table. This begins a war, albeit one much less exciting than last season’s and which consists entirely of the study group waking up early and the Germans waking up even earlier until the Germans are banned from using it for the really, truly stupid reason that they were celebrating their own culture, a rule so illegal and impossible in a publicly funded institution that it’s mesmerizing.
It’s not a very funny storyline. However, what’s worse was the way it ret-conned many of Community’s past events to say that the study group was tyrannizing the rest of the campus. This included some of the show’s sweetest moments, like the attempt to help Neil by playing Dungeons & Dragons with him, and like most attempts at ineptly done retroactive continuity, left a sour taste. Once they’ve realized the error of their ways, Jeff makes a somehow even worse speech and they go ahead and fix up the school’s other study room so it’s less of a disaster. Then they fail their first assignment because none of them went to class. It’s a whole string of dumb ideas, few of which are funny, all of which are infuriating.
The episode’s B-story, though, makes all of this look brilliant by comparison. Ben Chang returns, only he has “Changnesia,” and somehow gets help forcing Dean Pelton to let him back to Greendale as “Kevin.” It’s a mess that’s more confusing because Chang was set up to go to head to Greendale’s rival City College at the end of season three, as he looked down on its dean from the air cuts. Maybe this has something to do with that, but it seems more likely that was just forgotten about entirely. I’ve always loved Chang, but Community had trouble figuring out what to do with him during previous seasons. He’s best used in a peripheral role because he completely dominates things with his aggressive wackiness, which is what happened here. It’s sad, but if that was how Community wants to use him in the fourth season, I’d rather he was written off entirely.
For all the plot missteps, the main problem with this episode is the same one that we’ve seen all season: it’s just not that funny. To be more precise, it was barely funny at all, and while there are as many jokes as usual, they’re either the same jokes we’ve seen before or complete misfires. The reason why so many parts of the story didn’t work for me was because they weren’t done in a funny way—I’m always ready to accept improbabilities in Community when it leads to something hilarious. Here, though, that most important part of the show was missing, and without that glue holding things together, the episode completely fell apart.
•That was some mighty, mighty poor CGI with Pierce and the light. Poor writing, too, but the CGI was more in-your-face about it.
•”Dean Pelton, if I don’t offer you a receipt, your education is free.”
•”This whole time we thought the Germans were the Germans, but it turns out… we were the Germans.” – Except no, they really were still the bullies in this case, regardless of what happened two years ago.
•The SS t-shirt gag was so lame it hurt.
•Sooo professor Malcolm MacDowell threw them blank papers for the F’s? Stacks of blank papers?