Community’s fourth season is well underway now and Advanced Documentary Filmmaking (4.06) made me finally realise why this season has frequently come to be called the darkest timeline.
Obviously losing showrunner Dan Harmon as well as other integral members of the creative team (such as the Russo brothers, Chris McKenna and more) was not a good start. Perhaps the show’s quirky and original tone could never have continued without them. However, the true problem is not necessarily who the show now lacks but what the network has added – “heart”. Many other fans (myself included) have commented on other aspects of the season that they disapprove of, but I am convinced that this added “heart” is the real issue.
I use inverted commas because, as Harmon himself has previously said, Community has always been chock-full of genuine emotion. There are countless examples of honestly moving moments, showing the students of Greendale connecting and growing with each other. Most importantly, this had all been done whilst keeping totally true to character.
Perhaps it was expecting too much of this season to be able to nail the characterisation – after all, Community contains some of the most complex and subtly well-developed personalities on TV. Yet the unabashed and sappy gushing that occurred at the end of Filmmaking about Chang was so far removed from the classic “Wingers” that I realised I don’t really like this “new Jeff”. Furthermore, his reunion with his father, a moment that Community has built up since season one, was not handled with enough delicacy. And the problem does not end with Jeff; everything is being sugar-coated and simplified – from Abed’s character to the homages they have attempted thus far.
As Shirley said so well in Conventions of Space and Time (4.03) – “What they like about the show is that it’s smart, complicated, and doesn’t talk down to its audience”. Here’s hoping Community stops with the “heart” and the simplification and returns to its witty, moving and original self, before it all ends.