Community, you’re making me look bad. I’ve spent three weeks singing your praises, urging readers that our favorite show hadn’t left us. I insisted that while Dan Harmon was gone, there was still something worth coming back for. I’m not ready to recant my opinions, and against all odds, I still hold out hope that the NBC comedy can come back to us in some capacity, but “Alternative History of the German Invasion” is severely testing my resolve.
The laugh-less episode is like a giant metaphor for the show since its public shakeup behind the scenes. When our study group attends their real history class as Garrett sings the praises of the “History of Ice Cream,” they’re confronted with the horror of their foosball rivals: the Germans. Only this time, instead of riotous Nick Kroll as the head douche, we get the significantly less funny guy whose biggest credit is as one third of the Farrelly Brothers’ Three Stooges. The jokes certainly try to make us laugh, and the head douche is certainly saying fairly well-written words, but it’s just not the same. It’s a wonky copy of the original, like the Xerox copy you get when you forget to close the lid on the copier, and it’s depressing.
Naturally, the situation doesn’t improve when the B plot of the episode focuses on the return of Chang, who we thought we’d gotten rid of for good last season. Unfortunately, the Dean is forced to accept the “Changnesia” victim back under his care because the school is getting funds as a result. The Dean tries to prove that the newly-annointed Kevin is actually evil Chang, but he quickly learns that Chang’s brain (and the increasingly awful character) got a reboot thanks to the ridiculously convenient amnesia plotline. I’d say this had better be working up to some hilarious commentary on the absurdity of amnesia cop outs that are rampant on television, but that would mean more Chang/Kevin, and if anything is worse than a sad, downtrodden Chang, it’s more Chang.
But it’s not just a matter of a character switcheroo and the resurgence of the worst character on the show. The episode itself is flat and without much reason to chuckle or even smile. With the exception of a few spot-on Troyisms (the success of which is largely about Donald Glover’s delivery and less about the writing) and one German’s observation that a bouquet at Oktoberfest looks like is has “nearly 100 luft balloons,” the jokes are simply flat and almost non-existent. Hell, the group’s history teacher is played by none other than sci-fi vet Malcolm McDowell, but the guy doesn’t get a single giggle-inducing line.
Instead, we’re treated to a reference to Hogan’s Heroes I’m sure we’re supposed to find charming and a battle between the stubborn Germans and our study group, who they’ve stolen the study room from. After a war-themed montage of the group’s failed efforts to take back their study area, the group finally gets wise and tricks the German right into the most convenient plot twist ever used (unironically) on this show: They get the Germans to celebrate Oktoberfest, which violates the Dean’s policy against people celebrating their own faith or nationality. Right. It’s not even a convenient twist that’s funny. Is this really all they’ve got?
Eventually, the whole school finds out and turns against the group, because as it turns out, they monopolize the only real study space for groups in the whole school. Ooh, shock: They are the bad guys and the Germans are the downtrodden ones. After a midguided moment in which the group assumes that their history professor was trying to teach them a lesson (he was actually informing them that in all their goofing around they missed his test), the group realizes they have to give something back to Greendale in exchange for the school fostering the formation of their dysfunctional little family. So what do they do? They paint a dingy study room and take back the good one. Yeah. Lesson definitely learned.
This is the part where I’d normally tie this recap up with a little bow and move onto the part where I grade the best one-liners and funny moments for each character, but I can’t bring myself to do it. This week, Community broke my heart.
It’s fine for an episode to err on the side of story and meaning over a string of laughs. We’ve signed up for a series that never quite delivers the same mood. It’s not, however, fine for the episode to throw together a conclusion that appears to be concocted from a series of “wouldn’t it be funny if” suggestions that never really got the benefit of a full thought. The episode wasn’t funny. It wasn’t enlightening. In fact, it was barely Community.
Still, it’s only the fourth episode of the short season, so I refuse to give up just yet. I will hold on to my optimism like Abed hangs onto his version of reality. I may be delusional, and it may drive me to lean on my more normal-minded friends to keep me grounded in the actual day-to-day world, but I can quit this show just yet. There are too many smart, hilarious people still attached and only when they show their lack of dedication on a consistent basis will I feel comfortable loosening my grip on the show I once loved almost as much as Abed loves Cougar Town.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Colleen Hayes/NBC]