From the second Britta says to Abed, “I hereby therapize you,” we know we’re in for a wild journey through the recesses of Abed’s never-ending imagination on the Season 4 premiere of Community. It’s the perfect way to return to Greendale: by experiencing it through a ‘90s multi-cam sitcom lens, and later through an even simpler ‘90s cartoon lens. If we can’t have Dan Harmon, lord please give us some Abed.
We open on Abed’s happy place, and to Britta’s dismay, it’s not the babbling brook she taped a picture of to her notebook, but an evenly-lit three-walled version of the study room. Each of our favorite characters are boiled down to their bases essences, especially Jeff, who literally tells the room “congratulations” when he comes in. It’s a dream we didn’t realize Abed had, but when he replaces Pierce with Fred Willard, it all makes sense. Much like fans of TV’s remaining multi-cam giggle-fests: this reality is simply easier to take.
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The dark Harmon edges may be missing in this fourth season of Community, but the smart pop culture commentary mixed with the heartfelt antics of six best friends (and Pierce) delivers enough to keep us happy.
And while Abed’s Happy Community College Show on Abed TV may poke fun at the multi-cam sitcom, it also shows a great reverence for the format as an essential component of TV’s ability to act as an escape, a way of soothing us when life is simply too much. Community is not that same simplistic escape, and it’s a shame that an easy multi-cam show like The Big Bang Theory continues to crush it in the ratings, but they both have a spot on television. Abed says so.
When we come back into the “real” world, it’s the first day of senior year, Annie is “doing senioritis,” and Jeff is actually doing his best to help the whole group get into the overbooked history class: History of Ice Cream.
He’s even sending away cute, ditzy girls obsessed with Instagramming themselves (low hanging hipster jokes, ahoy), but there’s a catch: the Dean has set this whole thing up. He’s “forged” his own course cards, claiming his foolproof system of pink notecards and sharpies has been “hacked.” Oh, Dean. You’re not even trying to hide it now. (We missed you.)
Then we’re in it: the games the promos have been teasing for weeks. The Hunger Deans are a game that pits all the students against each other for a chance at ice cream (and that history credit for learning about the history of said tasty treat). It turns out Jeff took summer classes and he needs this class, which is the only history credit this semester (suspicious much?), to graduate early. “I want us to take the class together I just wanted it to be the last class we take together,” he says to the dismay of the whole group.
The notion that college is almost over, and that that day may come sooner for Jeff than the others, plays games with everyone. Annie, who’s busy executing senioritis by not sayin’ her Gs, is suddenly terrified of the boring future she’s been working for. But it’s Abed who takes this stimulus as an excuse to retreat to Abed TV, where the Dean has lost the MS Paint file that stored the school records, forcing the friendly friends to stick around for three more years to play catch up.
When Jeff throws down his Jobs magazine to chase from freshman hotties, Abed is totally comfortable, back in the glow of the reality he thinks he knows best.
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Jeff, convinced he’s “New Jeff” and not “Old Jeff,” who’s self-serving and addicted to texting. He dives headfirst into the Hunger Deans, nabbing six unforgeable balls (damn that Dean’s bite-mark system!) so he and his friends can take the ice cream class together. He won’t do it without them, but he really wants that credit, so he’s going to spend all his energy getting those balls. (Don’t worry, Pierce knows there’s a joke somewhere in all this.)
Jeff sexy tangos the Dean into submission and gets the truth: the Dean took away all the history classes and set up this elaborate ruse thinking Jeff wouldn’t participate in order to keep him at Greendale longer. Jeff doesn’t seem all that upset by it.
But when Britta and Troy return from their pseudo-erotic couple fight in the fountain after Britta fails to play by Abed’s rules for wishing in the fountain, Abed’s happy place has become a real problem. Abed’s Happy Community College Show characters, like all sitcom characters, have found a sudden way out of their problems: a safe, shaped like a rubber ball that contains backups of their school records. Huzzah? Not for Abed.
He retreats further into his happy place within a happy place: a shameless rip-off (or homage, depending on how you look at it) of Muppet Babies called Greendale Babies. It’s an even easier, more infantile version of escape and Abed is stuck there when he plays out the gang’s motto about playing together FOREVER.
Troy realizes Abed is not f-y-n-e, but f-i-n-e (which is code for “not fine”), and Britta admits she told Abed to go to a happy place in his mind. It takes all of Troy’s patience to not lose it on his new girlfriend (or something), and has the whole group hold hands with Abed so they can incept him out of his multiple dream levels. But it doesn’t work. They need Jeff, who must choose between Abed and the last Hunger Dean ball.
He ultimately makes the right choice, and Abed’s imagination gives cartoon baby Jeff a speech to deliver about change and how it’s difficult, but necessary.
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It’s a speech we can’t help but feel is directed at us. We’re resisting the change of a Harmon-less Community, and one whose final season may be flashing before our eyes right now. But as Abed says, everything he loves about the group was once the future.
So what’s the point in trying to stay in the past? Where’s the potential for finding the real life happy place with a group as perfect as the study group if we’re always insistent on stayi ng in the past?
There couldn’t be a better way for Community to come back to us. The dark edges brought by Harmon are gone, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come to find value in this change and this new future. And who better to teach us this lesson than Abed? (Besides, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have listened to anyone else.)
Of course, that doesn’t help the fact that in addition the Dean living next door to Jeff this semester, we’ll also have to deal with that naked, slimy Kevin with “Changnesia” next week. And just when we thought that whole battle for Greendale last season scared him off once and for all.
Grading on a Curve
Abed was supposed to be envisioning a babbling brook for his happy place, but he pulled in layers of their world, something he knows will upset fans of the babbling brook, but he thought the initial universe was a bit limiting. +50
Abed has Jeff and the study group reading “Jobs” magazine while Pierce is reading “Coffins.” +60 Abed's reality TV show ad on Abed TV: American Sword Cooks +10
Troy and Abed living out a Bosom Buddies parody in the tag. +15
"I'm trying out the hipster look. It's cool, but also not." -Troy on his new hipster glasses +10 “Last year we wished for Osama Bin Laden and the Dorito taco.” -Abed "Yeah, but Obama got credit for both" -Troy +30
"F-i-n-e or F-y-n-e? We made one of them a code for 'not fine'" -Troy +35
"Why do I like this?" -Troy, being strangled by Britta +15
Shirley is the one with real prank ideas even though Annie didn’t think she could handle “doing senioritis”: they fill the Dean’s car with popcorn. Yes, because that is an actual prank. +30
Shirley making her "Oh lord, no" a sassy catch phrase in Abed’s multi-cam sitcom. +50
Annie’s prank on the Dean is sneaking into his office so he’ll have the sneaking suspicion that someone was there. Okay, she’ll move his stapler. -15
"Yay hospital administrator! I can't wait to be buried alive under a pile of paperwork hoping to summon up the courage to talk to Dr. Patel, the gorgeous Indian neurosurgeon who doesn't even know I exist." -Annie while pranking the Dean. Woo, senioritis. Killer fake future backstory though, bro. +30
“Is that blood on your shirt?” “No, it's cool, it's Leonard's.” - Jeff during the Hunger Deans +25
"Here's the deal, Jessica Biel" -Britta to Abed -5
"It's progressed, but it hasn't progressed progressed. It's progressing. It's progressive" -Britta, on her relationship with Troy -100
Britta does the wishing all wrong and wishes to “end all wars.” -50
In Abed's happy place Pierce is played by a man who got caught jerking off in a movie theater instead of Chevy Chase. -1000
"If you want something you have to work for it or use a spell" -Pierce on Abed and Troy’s wishing well tradition +15
“There’s got to be a ball joke in here,” -Pierce, holding Jeff’s balls and failing to see that that is the joke -15
"All these balls. So close I can taste it.” -Pierce holding Jeff’s balls -20
"Gay balls! Nailed it!" -Pierce -1000
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[Photo Credit: NBC]
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Hollywood has a difficult relationship with science fiction. Whether they're translating classic sci-fi stories into brainless action movies or too caught up in the otherworldly details there's always something they can't seem to get right about the imaginative genre.
Looper defies the odds by fleshing out a unique future world while honing in on a specific story with real people at the center — a balance that defined works by greats like Bradbury Asimov and Dick. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper an assassin for the mob bosses of the future who use illegal time travel to send back their targets for disposal. It's an easy lucrative life — one that affords him a party lifestyle of fancy cars and drops (drugs taken through the eye) albeit with the added knowledge of a definite grisly end. Eventually the mob "closes the loop" on its employees finding the Looper in the future and sending them back to be offed by… themselves. When it's Joe's turn to end his own life he's outsmarted his future self (Bruce Willis) escaping Joe's grasp. Driven to fulfill his duties as a Looper Joe goes on the hunt to kill himself.
Director Rian Johnson's Kansas City of 2044 feels appropriately lived in and extended from present day. When Joe's not blasting people away shrouded by the stalks of a cornfield he's dining on steak and eggs at a local diner. It's only the casual presence of hovercycles mutant telekinetics and the occasional visitor from the future that would give away the action of Looper isn't happening today. The realism gives Joe and the metropolis around him a necessary grit — there is danger and violence and pain in this world and when Johnson rouses up an action sequence there's something on the line.
Looper's greatest flaw is that it steps away from the confrontation between Young and Old Joe sending the two in different directions as they pursue answers to the film's spoilerific MacGuffin. On a farm away from the city Young Joe crosses paths with single mother Sara (Emily Blunt) who may hold the key to what Old Joe needs to survive. After being introduced to an ensemble of delightfully wicked characters — including Looper coordinator Abe (Jeff Daniels) Young Joe's sleazy coworker Seth (Paul Dano) and hotshot marksman Kid Blue (Noah Sagan) — plus Young Joe's stripper with a heart of gold confidant Suzie (Piper Perabo) Looper takes a sharp left turn leaving most of the cast in the dust. The interesting sci-fi mosaic slows down and enters a new chapter and it's rarely as engrossing as the first half.
When Willis and Gordon-Levitt are at odds Looper is simply magic. Nathan Johnson's industrial score pounds away as the two fight to stay alive all while grappling with the implications that come with glimpsing into your own future. One riveting sequence follows the timeline that played out before Old Joe tinkered with the space-time continuum a roller coaster through the years after the events of the film that see Gordon-Levitt evolve into Willis. The montage is a playground for Johnson's visual style. He never misses a beat.
For sci-fi nuts Looper corrects the past with an understanding of what makes the genre more than just an array of tropes and iconography. There are shaded characters duking it out in Looper's chaotic web of time travel logic and while their arcs fizzle out without much pay off they're a joy to watch.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall talking adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957 into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot talking fish and all it obviously tries to flesh things out adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning) an uptight control freak has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother Joan (Kelly Preston) works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and she's dating the guy next door Quinn (Alec Baldwin) a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold wet day in question Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes) the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly slightly sarcastic wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack) an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous as are the hilarious little asides he spouts although they'll probably go over kids' heads: "Well sure [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No not really." But even though Myers has some fun moments he just isn't the Barney type and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn a bad-guy role that while a little superfluous gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat however he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool too from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger or S.L.O.W vehicle to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger or D.I.R.T. mobile for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world though the film's Seussian look starts to have problems possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate the Cat's world can produce "the mother of all messes " and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).