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Community Recap “Heroic Origins”

By on May 3, 2013
Danny Pudi as Abed Nadir in Community (Image © NBC)

Danny Pudi as Abed Nadir in Community (Image © NBC)

It can take a new series—and especially a sitcom—a long time to find its unique voice, for everything to fall into place in a way that seems effortless. It’s the rare series that ever resembles what it is in its first few episodes. Since we’ve already been through that with Community (the first episodes of the series are jarringly different from anything in, say, Season Three), it’s been hard to reconcile the fact that we may have to do that again with a new creative team. We had our idea of what Community was and should be forever, and the first half of this season wasn’t it.

But over the past month a remarkable thing has happened. Everything—everything—about the series has improved. Community is not just good again, it’s great again, and in ways that feel entirely organic to this new season. Somewhere along the way the new Community found its own voice, and made it once again the best part of NBC’s lineup and one of the funniest shows on television.

This episode explores, as the title suggests, superhero origins, specifically super groups who turn out to have been fated to join together in their common goals. As the episode opens Abed is cryptically quizzing the study group on small details of their life before Greendale (asking, among other things, whether Britta was ever a foot-fetish model. Something she denies but Troy surreptitiously affirms). Abed’s creating a “backstory” for the group that he calls the “Crazy Quilt of Destiny”, searching for proof that the group was always meant to be part. The specific reference called out by Abed is the M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable, and the comic book effects that frame each flashback seem to call out the interwoven story threads of the unlamented NBC superhero melodrama Heroes.

The group dismisses the idea at first—Jeff most vehemently, per usual—but soon the evidence of their odd interconnected past is undeniable. Some of these connections have been known already. Annie went to the same high school as Troy, where she was a pill-popping outcast and he was a football stud. But in flashback we learn that Annie’s freakout (which has been referenced before) led Troy to realize that his fame was empty—a realization every bit as painful, he assures Annie, as the lacerations from her crazed dash through a plate-glass window. Alison Brie seems to be having a blast in her flashback scenes She’s practically beaming through her giant nerd glasses and braces, and these are the best Annie scenes of the season.

Likewise, we’ve known since at least last season that Jeff and Shirley crossed paths over a traumatic game of foosball, but in this episode we learn that Jeff had at one time been the defense attorney to a stripper named Misty (played by standup comic Natasha Leggero, in a great, tweaked performance)—the same stripper that Shirley’s husband Andre cheated with, leading to their split. Had Jeff not convinced the judge that Misty was actually performing a bit of non-profit performance art by gringing on an American flag, she would have been jailed for tax evasion and never crossed Andre’s path—or so goes Shirley’s wounded reasoning.

Now, that seems a bit of a logical leap, as the fault ultimately belong with Andre for giving into whatever temptation was in front of him. But even if Jeff didn’t force Andre’s hand, he did play an active role in Misty’s decision—the high profile victory leads to jealousy within the firm which leads to an allegation (completely true, as we know) that Jeff has no license to practice law. He’s informed of a temporary suspension and knows the truth will come out. In his nihilistic despair he encourages Misty to call the married guy who just gave her his phone number, which will lead to the dissolution of Shirley’s marriage and Misty’s head through a jukebox.

But as more past connections are made it’s revealed that Abed, not Jeff, may have had more effect on Shirley’s break-up. Back in 2008 Abed dedicated himself to traveling to any theater showing The Phantom Menace and warn people away (truly, a noble cause, because Midicholrians, that’s why). Two of those people happened to be Shirley’s kids. He scared them so much that the theater manager called Shirley, taking her away from her anniversary with Andre, keeping her away long enough for him to meet Misty.

Of course, it should be pointed out that Abed still didn’t place Andre’s penis inside of a stripper.

Abed was also the person who ratted out Annie for stealing prescription meds, causing Abed to believe that he’s truly been a super-villain all along (”Why didn’t I see it before? I’m emotionless, logical, smarter than everybody else, I tried sawing Jeff’s arm off”).

Underlying all of this is Chang’s secret plan to bring down Greendale, which we learn in the opening (and have known for several weeks, really) was orchestrated by Dean Spreck of City College. Dean Pelton entrusts Kevin/Chang with an envelope containing Greendale’s lease renewal. As the interconnected threads of the study group’s lives are further revealed, it turns out that they each made their decision to attend Greendale at the same time in the same place, a Yogurt shop in which then-Senor Chang was handing out Greendale flyers. Abed realizes Chang’s importance to the group and welcomes him to the group, closing the circle of acceptance that Chang has been seeking since losing his job at Greendale at the end of Season One. Moved by Abed’s gesture, Chang calls Spreck and tells him he’s out, but Spreck still has plans for Greendale—plans which would seem to involve a giant mechanical spider, ala Wild, Wild West.

It’s a tightly structures episode, and allows each member of study group a moment, but smartly focuses on the Shirley/Jeff/Abed as the main story. We get a glimpse of Britta’s anarchist (excuse me, an-her-chist) days, the “awakening” of Dean Pelton, and the origin of Magnitude’s catch phrase, but those are just brief (and very funny) throwaway bits. The biggest failing of the first few episodes this season was the need to jam full stories for everybody, and it’s nice to see that impulse curbed of late. The episode is also well paced and directed, with the yogurt scene particularly effective, helped by a subtle Breakfast Club homage that helps to sell the emotion of the moment.

Pierce’s absence in the episode isn’t subtly handled, and the headless body double in his place during the Yogurt shop scene is jarring, but it may be for the best (his contribution to the group, per Abed’s quilt, is “fixture at Greendale, unavoidable”). In fact, if there’s anything that may explain the relaxed tone of the back half of this season it may be the departure of the always difficult Chevy Chase.

But next week’s showdown with City College provides a bittersweet reminder of Pierce’s heroic role in the great paintball war at the end of Season Two. There are sad reminders all around the edges of Community this season, but also a spark of the genius that has informed the series all along. Next week’s episode could be an absolute disaster—the return of the dark timeline, mechanical spiders, and full-out Chang. Community’s back on the high-wire again, and that’s exactly where it belongs.

Community
Season 4, Episode 12
“Heroic Origins”: A-