The first two episodes of the 4th season and new Community outraged me. I went as far as to compare it to the Chief finding Randle McMurphy lobotomized at the end of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest". It felt like a poor impression of Community, an imitator wearing its clothes and badly trying to copy its humor. Community always walked a razor thine line by making its characters absurd and layered human beings at the same time. The first few episodes lost the humanity Harmon had built.
But starting in episode 3 at least for me, it’s been back. Episode 3’s Troy and Abed relationship scenes, Jeff and Annie scenes felt legitimate, as the pop culture references died down. As a result the laughs had more weight behind them.
Episode 4, “Alternative History of the German Invasion” continued and built on this hot streak, with Community feeling at its most Dan Harmon era yet. The writing easily felt at its sharpest this season, from the joke riddled characters in the German lines, to Malcom McDowell’s excellent cameo as the History teacher, to Dean Dean’ing. The sharp lines and puns come quick and fast, like under Harmon. While the German jokes may be “easy”, the plot to win the study room war fit the characters’ history (loveably immature).
Chang re-entering the picture surprisingly didn’t bomb. One of the problems with Chang in recent seasons is turning into a caricature, instead of a human being. It’s possible the new writers could fix this, especially with “Changnesia” giving them excuse to make him “babyface”. I loved when in the middle of Dean’s argument, Chang is in the background sifting through feathers aimlessly. Small moments like that, Annie closing her blouse at McDowell’s mention of a “Co-Ed incident”, or the group knowingly sitting down when the Winger Speech begins, is the small jokes and attention to detail that once made Community great.
This is also a well filmed and staged episode, such as in scenes like the set during the Octoberfest scene, the montage of the group progressively entering the school earlier and more tired and the fixing the school montage/parody.
Community’s new era may not last long with its ratings recently, but I’m glad it has a chance to go out on a high note. I believe in these writers. Truthfully, if this episode had run during the Harmon era, nobody would've blinked an eye. That is a fair sign.