‘Community’ Season 4, Episode 12 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, “Heroic Origins,” finds Abed advancing a theory that the study group was “destined” to meet, as evidenced by previously unknown or unnoted chance encounters.

The episode opens with a study session to prep for the test Professor Cornwallis promised in “Intro to Knots”—though Pierce isn’t in attendance, his absence from yet another post-Chase departure episode given the latest in a series of strained explanations. The easily distracted gang is drawn into Abed’s painstakingly researched and intricately designed flow chart, “The Crazy Quilt of Destiny,” which he calls “our origin story.” That origin story is laid out in flashbacks to 2008, just before their freshman year (and just before season one); the comic book motif is presented in dialogue shout-outs to Unbreakable and Spider-Man, as well as comic-book visuals and captions.

The flashback episode is, by this point, a pretty trite go-to sitcom move (witness its abuse on Friends and How I Met Your Mother), though it can still be done well—as seen on an episode of New Girl that aired this very week. Stammering teenage Nick was unquestionably that episode’s highlight; here on Community, the MVP is Awkward Annie, in all her braces-wearing, pill-popping, type-A glory. (Nose-ringed Britta is awfully fun to watch too.)

So what we’re basically dealing with here is a prequel episode, a notion made explicit by a well-executed set-up and callback to Abed’s hatred for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. But aside from what seems like a knowing wink to the kind of broad oh that’s how that happened dialogue that’s such a cornerstone in prequels (specifically, the Dean’s “This better not awaken anything in me”), it seems that the prequel notion is utilized rather than satirized; once you get past the giggle factor of bad hair and dated clothes, there’s missed opportunities abound.

This is not to say that “Heroic Origins” isn’t an enjoyable episode—the direction (by TV vet Victor Nelli, Jr.) is zippy and inventive, with some welcome comic-book compositions to spice up the visual canvas. But it’s just not all that funny. Like the puppet episode, this one seems to have stalled at the concept stage; it’s a fun idea, rich with comic possibilities that mostly go unexplored. It’s a workmanlike episode, expertly crafted and structurally sound. But somebody needed to go through and give it a good, solid punch-up for laughs.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Britta’s unnamed activist friend may well have landed the episode’s best line, the sneering “I had a hamburger the other day, and now I’m not cold all the time!”
  • “Just ten minutes ago I would’ve been so excited about that peeing thing.”
  • Semi-obvious, but still a good explainer for Magnitude’s catch phrase.
  • Bonus points to whoever landed “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” for the mall music on a show that’s always owed a debt to The Breakfast Club.

LOWLIGHTS:

  • On a show this meta, if you’re going to do such a lousy job putting in a double for Pierce, you’d better acknowledge and make a joke about it.
  • The “changnesia” payoff is looking about as weak as anticipated, but hey, we’ve only got one more week until it’s put out of its misery. (Insert joke about similar feelings w/r/t season four here.)