TV Review: COMMUNITY 3.20-3.21 “The First Chang Dynasty” and “Introduction to Finality”

Brian wraps up this season - but not its last - of COMMUNITY.

"I'M the center slice on a square cheese pizza. YOU'RE Jim Belushi."

Whenever I'm kind of left cold by an episode of Community, I wonder if I just wasn't in the mood or something, because the show is usually so consistently good. So even though it's escalating my eventual carpal tunnel by writing up extra recaps, it's a good thing that two more episodes aired after "Digital Estate Planning", because I really dug them both and laughed my ass off throughout, so now I know it wasn't me. Hurrah!

The first episode, "The First Chang Dynasty," is the direct followup from "Curriculum Unavailable," with the group trying to convince Officer Cackowski (I love this guy so much) that the Dean has been replaced with an impostor. Unable to do so since Cackowski is too busy thinking about his "Copera," they decide to take matters into their own hands with an elaborate heist, involving magicians, fake plumbers, a chef and a Swami. If you've ever wanted to see an Ocean's 11 style plan unfold in roughly twelve minutes, Community has got you covered - it even has the now standard "fail on purpose" part of the plot.

This is, of course, a very ridiculous episode of the show. Any time Chang is a central element things get overly silly, and this is no exception, but it works quite well in this case. For three years the group have been mocking the Dean despite his obvious love for them, and it's great to see them go to such lengths to rescue him - outlandish or not. It also lets Ken Jeong cut loose and be as insane as he's ever been, which is a much better use of the character than, say, begging a bunch of people who don't like him to let him hang out with them. Because this way we get a very sloppy version of "Axel F" played on a keytar. Sure, one could argue that this might be the most unrealistic subplot ever on the show (Dean asks if anyone has paid his rent, the closest we get to any sort of reality about a man who has been missing for two months), but with all that time being off-screen, added to the fact that the place is simply weird to begin with, it's easy enough to accept.

The episode also restarts the somewhat dormant subplot of the past season, which is Troy's seduction by the AC repair school. In exchange for information and later a save from certain doom, Troy agrees to join the school, which means he has to move out of his apartment, cease all contact with his friends and stop saying "sensational" for some reason. That he finally agreed to join them to save his friends worked well, and I particularly liked how they showed Britta's disappointment with this development without getting too far into "doomed romance" territory. The episode ends with her and everyone else giving their odd goodbyes (Pierce: "Never wear a rubber." Jeff: "Never listen to Pierce."), with Abed's in particular being hilarious and touching in a very wonderful way, which segues nicely into the second episode, titled "Introduction To Finality."

Let's not beat around the bush - this one was most likely written with the assumption of its being the SERIES finale, though that might not be clear until its closing moments. The bulk of the episode finds the group split up for the first time in a while, as Troy is off with the AC school and a depressed Abed refuses to leave the apartment, which prompts Britta to "therapize" him. Jeff just wants to study for their biology final, but unfortunately gets roped into a not particularly nasty war between Shirley and Pierce for ownership of the sandwich shop now that Subway (eat fresh) has pulled out of Greendale. And Annie... actually Annie doesn't get to do much here, which is surprising when you consider that it might very well have been the last time we saw her. Everyone else was more or less coming into their own and making a breakthrough, but I guess there wasn't time to work in a major storyline for her as well.

They also seemingly had to cut John Goodman's time short, as his role in these two episodes amount to about 90 total seconds of screentime, and it's pretty clear that he won't be coming back. We never did learn why he was growing a ponytail, and, like Michael K. Williams' Professor Kane, I couldn't help but wonder if scheduling issues and other behind the scenes issues kept this character from reaching its potential. Luckily it's in service of a fun conclusion to this storyline, which had its issues but overall was a nice ongoing subplot for Troy; the first real one he's ever had on the show that didn't directly involve Abed. I also love that the AC school's antics and rules were too weird even for him, which speaks volumes.

But Laybourne's abrupt exit and Annie's sidelining are my only complaints about the episode, which packs in some of the biggest laughs of the season (the coked out referee for the AC match killed me, as did Troy's response to their plans at the end of the episode) and just enough weirdness to offset the sincere emotional points at the end. Evil Abed makes his return tonight, attempting to turn this timeline into the darkest one by cutting off Jeff's arm during his trial - a perfectly normal subplot for this show, and far better than yet another Doctor Spacetime parody (I also like how he dismissed the Chronicles Of Riddick novelization). And then we get the Gettysburg of Winger Speeches, where Jeff finally realizes (once and for all?) that doing things to help your friends is more important than doing things to help yourself. And thus the legal battle ends harmoniously, with Pierce dropping his fight and even apparently losing his homophobia in the process. Troy rejoins the group, and the Greendale Seven walk toward their biology final as one.

We're then given a sweet montage, showing Shirley and Pierce side by side opening her sandwich shop, Abed dismantling the Dreamatorium so that Troy can have that room for himself, and Jeff searching online for his father, a subplot that probably would have been resolved this season if not for the hiatus. And that's not the only hint about what S4 might be about, as we see City College's Dean Spreck planning yet another attack on Greendale, as well as the surprise appearance of a character we thought had left the school forever.

And then, a fade to white emblazoned with "#SixSeasonsAndAMovie," the show's rally cry that instantly began trending worldwide after the episode aired. I don't know if a single other show on the air is as screwed over by the outdated Nielsen system as this one, because I think any show that can trend worldwide AS IT AIRS clearly doesn't have to depend solely on DVR and online viewing to justify its continued existence - people ARE watching this show, regardless of what Nielsen says. And as rumors of personnel changes for the next season (as well as its seemingly bad timeslot on Friday night, paired with goddamn Whitney) continue to weigh heavily in our minds, seeing this sort of reaction as the cap to a top notch episode was just what we needed. I don't know if we'll get those fifth and sixth seasons or a movie, but I know that if this WAS to be its swan song, then we couldn't have asked for a more fitting sendoff.

See you in the fall!

p.s. For the episode numbers I went with production code, not air order. So these are 320/321, even though they're the 21st/22nd episodes to air, as production 322 was "Digital Estate Planning." I won't do it again, promise.