It may be the middle of April, but for Community, it’s Christmas. Thanks, NBC scheduling! Like the much-delayed Halloween episode that aired in in February, or the Thanksgiving episode in aired in March, the constant changing of Community’s return cause its holiday episodes to air just four months late.
Delayed airdates aside, it was a stronger episode than last week’s literal puppet show, and the characters felt a bit more like themselves again. Most of the characters are back to their regular form, although Abed felt like a fake version of the character with forced meta-humor (such as acknowledging that the episode is filmed in real-time, as if he doesn’t normally experience life in real-time) and a closing tag in his mind that calls back to the Darkest Timeline of last season. While it’s nice for the show to make callbacks to its past seasons, and it tries many times in this episode, they never feel handled correctly so result in feeling like a joke stolen from another show.
Despite this, there was some nice character moments for the others this episode, and I particularly liked the reveal of Shirley as a competitor for Annie’s race to valedictorian. It seems to be pulled out of nowhere, but works for a character who is so often ignored by both the series and her friends.
Unfortunately, the return to the characters’ former selves also means a return to the old Chang, a character that I am rarely on board with. Since his firing at the end of the first season, the show has seemed desperate in his attempts to keep the character relevant to the show. After the ridiculous plot of him kidnapping the dean and taking over the school last season, the amnesia plot seemed to be a way of correcting past mistakes with the character – but it looks like he’ll back to crazy form in no time.
While the old Chang makes a comeback, there’s no sign of Pierce again this week, and a different excuse for his absence than last week’s episode. This may be another issue with the airdates being moved around, the production order, and Chevy Chase’s sudden departure from the show, but I hope a clearer answer about his absence is given soon.
It was nice to see some of the characters back to their normal selves, but the series continues to feel just slightly off. It would be easier to forgive the changes of the show if it seemed that the new show-runners and writers wanted the show to be different. Instead, they are trying to mimic its preceding seasons and act as though nothing is different, making the small differences into obvious and large obstacles.