I knew before Seth MacFarlane was announced as the host of this year’s Academy Awards that I would not be watching the ceremony. If Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, two incredibly talented women whose shows 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation rank among my favorite of all time, couldn’t convince me to watch the Golden Globes, there’s no way MacFarlane, the creator of several shows I hate almost instinctually, could get me to tune in for the Globes’ stuffier, more overbearing sibling. But then a curious thing happened: a grinning, self-satisfied MacFarlane took to the stage and started singing about how great it was to be in a crowd with so many women whose breasts he’s seen, and the Academy Awards became more noticeably sexist than ever before. There’s been so much talk about these Academy Awards that one could be intimate with them without having watched, but, like a good cultural critic, I did. The end results were, to be kind, less than impressive. Read more
“Conventions of Space and Time” focuses on the continued friction of the Troy-Britta-Abed love triangle. Both Abed and Troy attempt to figure out how to deal with the fact that they no longer can spend every waking moment together. Meanwhile, Britta, to better connect with Troy, continues to search for something she can enjoy in his interests. It remains to be seen whether Troy will ever return the favor. I suppose that depends on which of the Troys we’re going to get the rest of the way: the thoughtful and empathetic one or the clueless, narcissistic version of Troy we saw throughout most of the first season. Troy telling Abed, “now, you’re sure it’s OK Britta’s here, because she can just wait in the car” does worry me a tad. Yes, Troy was the one making most of the effort to get into the relationship, but now it’s a two-way street and I hope the writers don’t simply focus on commitment-o-phobe Britta’s attempts to change herself for Troy. Read more
Note: This review contains significant spoilers and is meant to be read after viewing the episode.
In classic Community style they’ve turned expectations on their head and given us a Halloween episode on Valentine’s Day. Sure, it was in large part due to the show’s four month postponement, but I can’t imagine the specific timing was a coincidence. Halloween episodes have been a strong suit of the show from the beginning, and this one does not disappoint. While certainly not surpassing the excellence of season two’s “Epidemiology”, “Paranormal Parentage” compares favorably to the other Halloween offerings Community has put out. The costumes are as great as ever, with Jeff, bare-chested as usual, as a boxer (though as we’ll see, there’s more to it than vanity this time around), Shirely as Princess Leia and Annie dressed as the “Ring Girl” and giving us the creepiest moment of the episode as she makes her appearance. Britta’s costume is, of course, as unsexy as possible and is summed up perfectly by my fiancée’s rhetorical question, “Why is Britta dressed like a ham?” Exactly. Somehow Gillian Jacobs manages to make being a ham as adorable as her Squirrel costume ever was. Abed and Troy are Calvin and Hobbes, which couldn’t be more apt, though at first I thought Abed was a strangely-haired Freddie Krueger to Troy’s Tigger. Jim Rash as Dean Pelton (sadly absent from most of the episode) shows up as an actual “Ring Girl”, replete with blonde wig, sparkly short-shorts and a “Round 1” sign to save the day after Jeff and Annie’s miscommunication about their costumes. Is this sign of the chemistry been Jeff and the Dean or simply more evidence of Dean Pelton’s obsessive pursuit of Jeff? We’re left to wonder, as this serves as the catalyst that convinces Jeff to head to Hawthorne Manor.
The general plot outline is simple, but effective. The episode opens in the study room with the group discussing Vicky’s Halloween party. Absent is Pierce, who has not been invited given their history (read: pencil feud). That quickly changes after Troy gets a call from Pierce, with a sob story about trapping himself in his panic room. Jeff doesn’t believe it for a minute, and the rest of the group doesn’t seem to either, but nonetheless, feel it their duty to go to Pierce’s rescue, if only from his own loneliness. The viewer is never given much reason for believing that Pierce is being sincere, even when he tells the others that he’s seen the ghost of his deceased father, Cornelius Hawthorne, the ivory-haired phrenology enthusiast. There is some mystery over what is actually going on in the Hawrthorne Manor and a series of dark figures looming in the background, but the writer’s never really try to pull the wool over the audience’s eyes. Soon enough we discover what we already knew: that Pierce had concocted the whole thing to get the group to spend time with him rather than go to a party he wasn’t invited to. Except, we learn, that Pierce knows nothing about Abed’s discovery of a shadowy figure who has been watching him sleep. It was a classic moment of the antagonist copping to being behind everything save one important detail, of which he knows nothing, and while certainly not a surprising development, it was one I enjoyed. However, I was a bit disappointed when we learn that the shadow was simply a lonely Gilbert (Giancarlo Esposito), who, after coming to look in on Pierce, had been living in the mansion for six weeks. I have no idea who or what I was hoping would come through the door, but I wanted to be surprised and this episode provided almost no startling moments. The most glaring flaw was that the whole episode felt a little too safe and predictable.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the return of Pierce’s modus operandi when feeling abandoned by the group: to force them (someway, anyway) to acknowledge him. But, humans are nothing if not creatures of habit and it was a believable premise. While his motives and actions may have been clichéd, the plot device worked well enough as a vehicle for some great jokes, much appreciated continuity and enjoyable chemistry and interactions between the characters. Despite my complaints about Gilbert’s appearance, he is one of my favorite secondary characters and it was nice to see the further development of his and Pierce’s relationship.
The story arcs unfold slowly, but we’re given more clues to where the season is heading. Annie and Jeff’s relationship is still an uncertainty, hinted at only subtly except for Britta’s quip about leaving couples costumes to the couples. We also get some insight as to Troy and Britta’s troubles: they seem to be having some difficulty connecting. Yet, despite any difficulties that may be surfacing, their relationship has a genuineness that is rare to see on TV. This is in large part, I believe, because of how Donald Glover has portrayed Troy for at least the latter half of the shows run: vulnerable, naïve, and at times aggressively defensive, but ultimately with an honesty and earnestness that has turned him into perhaps the most likeable character on television. But it’s Britta who is making the effort here, suggesting they watch Inspector Spacetime together rather than head to the Halloween party.
The biggest development comes with Jeff’s daddy issues. First, we get Jeff’s unintentional admission to Britta of how much his father’s abandonment had affected him and the implication that he is still struggling to move past it. Then, in the penultimate scene it is revealed that Jeff’s boxing gloves were actually his father’s and that this costume has more meaning than anyone suspected, especially when coupled with the fact that Jeff has had his father’s phone number for three weeks, but has yet to call him. The scene ends with Jeff dialing his father’s number and waiting as the phone rings and the screen fades to black.
All in all a solid and funny episode that recovered well a rather weak season premiere. It certainly didn’t blaze new ground, but perhaps there is still hope that this season still has a few surprises left for us.
Not being a big horror movie aficionado, I’m sure I missed a bunch of references that would’ve made the episode even better.
The map was a great touch, and though I’m not sure where it was taken from, it reminded me of Resident Evil 4.
Annie’s “I hate reference humor” and Abed’s “I remember when this show was about a Community College” were both wonderfully self-deprecating jabs by the writers.
Pierce reversing Chang’s line from the season three finale: “Ghost’s can’t go through doors, stupid, they’re not fire”, while not as great as the original, was good for a laugh.
It’s a shame that we’re two episodes into the season and we’ve only had a few seconds of Ken Jeong, but I have a feeling he’ll be bursting onto the scene soon.
Note: This review contains significant spoilers and is meant to be read after viewing the episode.
Last season’s finale was in many ways the perfect ending for Community. It wrapped up a good deal of loose ends while hinting at some avenues for the series to continue should it be picked up for this fourth season. The final montage, backed by an extended version of the theme song, was endlessly satisfying and it would have been fitting for the show to give us Leonard’s YouTube review of Let’s potato chips as our final glimpse of the world of Greendale. The perfection of the season three finale and the departure of Dan Harmon leave me with a somewhat ambivalent feeling about season four. I’ve been looking forward to this for almost a year, but it’s coupled with an odd sense that perhaps we would’ve been better off just letting Community walk off into the sunset.
Can season four live up to that would-be ending and the rest of the first three seasons that, at their best, provided some of the most enjoyable and innovative television that I can remember? Can it do so without its creator? Probably not, but I still expect this season to be enjoyable, if not as tightly constructed, daring or innovative as it had become. I’m going to take the stance (perhaps for my own sanity) that there are only twelve more episodes left of one of my favorite shows of all time, and just try to enjoy the ride.
Opening the episode with horrendous jokes backed by a cacophonous laugh track induced a visceral recoil followed by some genuine worry. While, intellectually, I reassured myself that it must just be parody, nightmare scenarios kept bursting forth as I worried that NBC had not just canned Harmon, but gutted the soul of the show entirely. Perhaps the writers were going for such subversion, but it was a cruel joke to play on an audience at the best of times, and given my lack of trust in the future of the show, it was a sour note to begin on. Moreover, the sitcom segments, largely failed to play on TV tropes to much humorous effect, and instead were often simply grating.
Ultimately, the season premiere disappointed. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination and, dare I say, was good when compared to most of television, but that’s not the bar that Community has set for itself. It failed to achieve the greatness that I grew used to throughout season three, in large part because it tried to do too much by jamming four plot threads together without adequate investment in any of them. It was an enjoyable episode, but failed to quell my worries that it is all just downhill from here.
After discovering that the mother of all blow-off classes, the History of Ice Cream, has been over-registered, the study group splits up. Jeff spends the episode competing in the Dean’s ludicrous competition (The Hunger Deans) to win spots in the class for the entire study group, while Troy and Britta go off to make wishes in a fountain, and Annie and Shirley attempt to pull a prank on the Dean. Meanwhile Pierce tries to craft the perfect balls joke and Abed retreats into his mind at the thought of college ending. It turns out that Jeff has been taking summer classes and needs just one history course to graduate, prompting the study group to deal with the end of an era a semester early. In a predictable twist, the Dean had concocted this elaborate plan from the start so that Jeff would have to spend another semester at Greendale.
The Abed fugue state has been done before (and much better), and while I liked the idea of parodying a sitcom, and the Muppet Babies allusion brought a smile to my face, both fell flat. There was little depth in either and not much humor. If you’d like to see the sitcom parody done right, check out Scrubs S4E17, which quite effectively juxtaposes the conventions of the genre against Scrubs’ own style. Given that Community relies so heavily on meddling with television conventions, it is worrying that these segments were so loose. Not everything about these scenes was bad, however. Fred Willard as sitcom Pierce was a bright spot and a clever play on the audience’s fears/expectations given the rocky relationship between Chevy Chase and the show. Additionally, the riotous applause when Jeff appears, the Abed TV theme song, Coffins magazine, Microsoft Paint line, the American Sword Cooks advert, and Baby Pierce stuck in a terrarium all worked very well.
Both the Annie/Shirley and Troy/Britta plots lacked sufficient depth or screen time, which is a shame, because I felt both were worthwhile to explore, but weren’t given enough space. The tension between Troy and Britta deserved more exploration, particularly considering they seemed to wrap it up so quickly at the end rather than allowing the plot to play out in subsequent episodes. I was interested to see how Britta’s breaking of Abed’s rules would play given Troy’s usual rabid defense of his best friend, but we were given a quick fix instead. In Annie’s case, we again see her trying to escape the bonds of her own anxieties and expectations, but aren’t given much we haven’t already seen. Both plots provided some good moments, though, including the return of Annie’s Carolina Decker accent, and perhaps my favorite line of the episode, Troy’s “Why doe this feel good?” as Britta throttles him in the fountain.
However, the plot that suffers the most from the lack of screen time is Jeff’s. Which, is a shame because I thought there was a lot of potential with The Hunger Deans. Instead, we were left with only glimpses of the contest and only from Jeff’s point of view. When I heard there would be a Hunger Games spoof, I was expecting real chaos and conflict within the group; instead, we had brief glimpses of American Gladiators. Oddly enough, the paint ball episodes felt far more like The Hunger Games than anything in this episode did. Most of what we did see of Jeff and the Dean in this episode was great (particularly their tango), and the development of New Jeff, embracing his emotions and love of his friends, while trying to balance that with his efforts to regain his old life, is something I look forward to see explored further throughout the season. He has swung back and forth between the two poles from the very beginning, and maybe he’s finally finding some equilibrium.
A few random thoughts: Pierce seemed mostly absent from the episode, which I’m fine with given Chevy Chase’s behavior over the series’ run, though he did provide some laughs here. Dean Pelton appearing in red dress, black wig, and atop a chariot pulled by Unicorn-men was inspired. Yet, he also provided the worst moment of the episode, when he elongates the word “to” all the way to the Cafeteria to unveil “The Hunger Deans”. It was a classic Family Guy move, and as far as I can gather, only served to make the audience twitch. I kept waiting for Abed to do something to sabotage Jeff’s attempt to win the red balls (bone saw anyone?) but all we got was him retreating again and again to the sitcom in his mind. The last scene should have been naked Chang wandering up to the postman; it was the perfect reintroduction to the man who finally descended into madness last season.
At the end of the day, this historian is just glad they’re finally taking a history class.
Flipping through channels on Super Bowl Sunday is an exercise in futility. Unless you’re a fan of “counter-programming” like the Puppy Bowl or the Lingerie Bowl, odds are that, if your TV is on tonight, it’s tuned in to CBS. Advertising, football, glimpses of the summer’s upcoming tentpole blockbusters, it’s all kind of a drag. Tomorrow, an endless stream of articles will go up collecting the best advertisements, .gifs, Tweets, and plays from the game and the clock will reset: another year until the next Super Bowl, Puppy Bowl, Lingerie Bowl, and round of Doritos ads. It’s audacious to suggest that more networks run original content against the Super Bowl, but if Animal Planet has the guts to do it every year, why not, say, the USA Network?
When Beyoncé took the field to perform during the Pepsi Halftime Show tonight, USA Network was halfway through an episode of an interminable marathon of NCIS episodes. In 1999, with the WWF at the zenith of the Attitude Era, they aired Halftime Heat, a 20-minute special that butted heads against Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Stevie Wonder, and Gloria Estefan, an odd hydra of acts that served as a “Celebration of Soul, Salsa, and Swing.” The Super Bowl halftime show has grown in size and scope since then, becoming a celebration of whatever company shells out the most cash. Running a wrestling match against Beyoncé sounds like a daunting proposition, but as evidenced by Aaron Rodgers’s “discount double-check” championship belt move, scads of athletes mimicking John Cena’s “You Can’t See Me” hand gesture, and The Rock appearing in multiple Super Bowl commercials this year, the crossover potential of World Wrestling Entertainment has never been more apparent. With The Rock, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and CM Punk on the roster, the time has come for Vince McMahon to once again sell the general television audience on the brilliance of sports entertainment. It’s an easy, three step process.
1. The Commercial
As crazy as it seems, the WWE has, at this point in time, as many unique characters as it did during the Attitude Era. Sure, Daniel Bryan, Damien Sandow, Brodus Clay, Antonio Cesaro, and The Shield aren’t as immediately recognizable as Kane, Mankind, or Sable, but they’re different from just about any other characters on TV, and against a sea of bro-celebrating beer ads, slow-mo car commercials, and This Year’s GoDaddy.com Advertisement, the WWE’s stable of characters would pop out against the mundanity of the modern Super Bowl commercial. This year, the cost of a Super Bowl ad was roughly four million dollars. That’s a lot of scratch. But an ad next year would be in prime position to promote the 30th edition of WrestleMania, the further involvement of guys like Lesnar and Rock, and perhaps Triple H and The Undertaker. It’d get the lesser-known guys before the largest television audience of the year, once again establish the WWE as a purveyor of unique pop culture moments, and legitimize the company in ways that direct-to-DVD movies, wellness policies, and celebrity cameos during WrestleMania ultimately can’t.
2. The Competitors
If The Rock vs. Steve Austin was the feud of the Attitude Era, The Rock vs. Mankind ran a close second place. At Halftime Heat in 1999, that feud was chosen to represent the WWF during their version of the Super Bowl halftime show. Though the resulting empty arena match was hardly among the best Rock/Mankind encounter that happened between Survivor Series 1998 and WrestleMania XV, but The Rock’s charisma and Mankind’s ability to withstand tremendous abuse were important things to showcase going forward, and 2/3 of the era’s triumvirate of big stars were put before a large audience in an important match.
For a rebooted Halftime Heat to work, that’s the template the WWE would need to work with. In 2013/2014, the three most important men in the WWE are The Rock, John Cena, and CM Punk. Despite his popularity, The Rock is no longer as emblematic of the WWE as he once was. Cena and Punk, whose feud in various permutations defined the bulk of 2011 and 2012, are the obvious choice for a halftime wrestling match. There are no two men on the regular roster who have the same effect on the crowd as Punk and Cena, nor is there a better main event combination going.
3. The Match
Say what you will about the empty arena match, but it signified everything about the Attitude Era, good and bad. Vince McMahon, while never the greatest announcer in WWF history, was at the peak of his abilities in terms of his evil boss character, and when he wasn’t shilling for the company, his cheerleading for The Rock is among the match’s highlights. My favorite exchange happens relatively early in the match, after The Rock whips Mankind into a bunch of chairs and incapacitates him with a barely protected chairshot to the head. With The Rock extolling his virtues to the crowd, Mankind’s Mr. Socko-clad arm rises from the wreckage like Jaws’s fin from the ocean. As Rock keeps speaking, McMahon notices the approaching Mankind and alerts his champion just seconds before the deranged challenger shoves a sock down his opponent’s gullet. Rock’s muffled screams through the play-by-play headset are great. McMahon complaining that Mankind interrupted The Rock’s “eloquent” speech is even better. In combining the brutality and comedic aspects of the WWF at the time, it’s the Attitude Era in a time capsule.
To get it right in 2014, the match would need to be taped before a live audience. Rock/Mankind taking place in an empty arena makes sense within the context of its being another in a series of increasingly crazy gimmick matches designed to test the unbreakable will of Mankind and the cunning intellect of The Rock. There’s nothing the WWE is more proud of right now than their ability to connect with their fans, who are collectively referred to as the WWE Universe and who have the ability on any given Monday to dominate the trending topics on Twitter. It’d be unreasonable from a budgetary standpoint to air the match between CM Punk and John Cena live, but an audience is almost necessary. Best case scenario, film the match in Chicago and get a crowd something like this:
If the match between the two is even half as good as their Money in the Bank 2011 match, then you’re talking about a contest that’d immediately qualify as one of the best of the year. Furthermore, it’d be a match that showcases two sides of the WWE’s product, the two they most emphasize during any given broadcast. In John Cena, you have the larger-than-life, PG, kid friendly specimen of masculinity, the unquestioned face of the company. In Punk, you have the emblem of the WWE’s so-called “Reality Era,” a dangerous man whose offense is a combination of realistic submission holds and strikes and classic wrestling showmanship.
Every Monday, the WWE produces a number of PowerPoint-style bumper graphics that promote the company as a pop culture juggernaut. They trumpet the virtues of their various public relations outreach projects, big events, and bigger personalities. With five TV shows and the occasional pay per view card, they sometimes do this six times a week. They are preaching to the choir. Signing The Rock and Brock Lesnar are good steps to entice casual fans and snakebitten diehards to watch the product again. Putting Snooki in a WrestleMania match ensures that the media continues to cover professional wrestling like the freak-show it’s been perceived as since the rock ‘n wrestling era. It’s beyond time for the WWE to marry those sensibilities and reach out to casual fans in a way that it hasn’t in over a decade. It’s time to bring back Halftime Heat, to do it bigger and better than before. The company has little to lose, and the USA Network has the time. John Cena vs. CM Punk during the Super Bowl would be a once in a lifetime event, something wrestling fans would talk about enough to distract from the ridiculous plays, overproduced pop concerts, and potential power outages the big game provides. To me, it’s not a question of when the WWE will put on another Halftime Heat, but why the idea has gone untouched for fourteen years.
And if John Cena hits CM Punk in the head with a gigantic bag of popcorn, so much the better.