‘Community’ Season 4, Episode 8 Recap: The Darkest Timeline Update

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After creator Dan Harmon was unceremoniously dismissed from his role as showrunner at the end of Season 3, Community‘s loyal fans feared its departure would plunge the show into what Abed Nadir would surely call “the darkest timeline.” But despite our concerns, we hold out hope that the new showrunners and their stable of writers are able to make the best of this worst possible role of the dice. This week’s episode, “Herstory of Dance,” finds Britta staging a “protest dance,” while Abed maybe (just maybe) finds love.

Earlier this week, I was asked on Twitter for “the best thing” Community could do at this point. My response: “Build a time machine, go back in time, don’t fire Dan Harmon.” (The 140-character limit prevented an Inspector Spacetime reference.) Obviously, bringing back Harmon isn’t really an option—as several commenters on these recaps have taken pains to point out—but that’s how bleak this season of Community has become. There have been pretty good episodes mixed in with the misfires, but even at its best, the show still couldn’t approach the Harmon era. Until this week.

Given the opportunity to respond to that query again, I’d offer up this answer: “Give more episodes to Jack Kukoda.” He’s the writer of “Herstory of Dance,” an episode that was consistently funny, undeniably clever, and honestly sweet. From its airtight opening forward—with its sly, knowing correlation between early/current Community and original/American “travesty” Inspector Spacetime (“It’s broad, obvious, sexist…”)—the episode rarely stepped wrong.

The too-busy, juggled plotlines and reliance on multiple plotlines are gone; this week was focused on two plots (Britta’s “Sophie B. Hawkins dance” and Abed’s two dates to it), with plenty of group scenes and lots of screen time for Gillian Jacobs—often underused this season—and Danny Pudi. Britta’s confusion of Sophie B. Hawkins and Susan B. Anthony is just silly enough to work, and just innocent enough to be charming, while her attempt to reclaim the verb form of her name (“That’s right, I’m takin’ it back!”) give the episode a good, solid motor.

Pudi, meanwhile, is in top form, firing off his dialogue with aplomb, remaining nonpulssed at the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Annie set him up with, and generally having a great time. But the season’s most welcome guest star, by far, is the wonderful Brie Larson, who is a perfect match for Pudi; her wide-eyed look when they’re supposed to kiss is a heartbreaker, and her reading of “Do you wanna pretend like you’re just going out with me for a bet?” is just right. Her mixture of moxie and genuineness is just right for the show, right out of the gate; here’s hoping hers will be a recurring role (at the very least).

Season four’s insistence on wrapping up every episode with an earnest Jeff voice-over (sometimes two or three!) has been a real sticking point for this viewer, but the abbreviated version of the device that shows up at the end of “Herstory of Dance” was like a rejoinder to all the clumsy fumbles of weeks past—at long last, this week the earnestness was earned. Season four of Community has been, to put it mildly, an up and down affair. But this week’s hearty episode made it clear this is a program still capable of greatness, and that’s very good news indeed.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The stuff with Pierce’s poor grasp of email was a real treat—especially since it seems at least partially inspired by Chase’s own lack of understanding (on a WTF episode, Donald Glover said Chase once said that his email was “in New York”).
  • “He’s like the Colin Farrell of people.”
  • Annie’s MPDG’s band: “Did she tell you she plays the saw?”
  • Meta comment of the year: “It’s been three and a half seasons… is what the old me would’ve said.”

LOWLIGHTS:

  • Really would’ve liked a bit more of Troy and his shenanigans on this episode, though his punch cup bumbling through the background of the Abed/Shirley/Annie confrontation was priceless.
  • Would’ve much rather seen a legitimate episode tag than the “preview” of next week’s puppet musical episode. It’s been entirely too long since our last “Troy and Abed in the Morning,” am I right?