TV Review: COMMUNITY 4.10 “Intro To Knots”

BC wasn't crazy with this super meta episode. 

"Mi casa es su art project."

If you're not a fan of Community referencing other episodes of Community, then it's probably best to just skip "Intro To Knots" entirely, as at times I wondered if the writers had a bet going to see if they could reference every single episode of the show in 21 minutes. Annie playing house with Jeff ("Inspecticon"), a ghost messing with them ("Calligraphy"), a "None taken!" directly taken from the Todd ep... all of which didn't register a laugh but instead triggered a memory of a better half hour. I fully endorse the idea that these are real people and that nothing is thrown away or forgotten*, but when they lay it on this thick in a not-particularly-great episode, it can be a bit grating.

It's also a bit like the Pulp Fiction/My Dinner With Andre switcheroo, in that the promos of a "hostage" (Malcolm McDowell, finally returning as Professor Cornwallis), the Christmas setting, and Abed in a John McClane outfit - not to mention the hints dropped during the Thanksgiving ep - would suggest that this was a parody of Die Hard. But it's actually more of an homage to Hitchcock's film Rope, a "real time" film that was also made to look like it was shot in one take. The cuts are pretty obvious when you watch it, but just the attempt alone is admirable, and several sitcoms have tried the real time approach - Seinfeld did it a couple times, and one of the all time best episodes of Friends did it as well (Ross trying to get everyone ready for some big speech he was giving). But those didn't have a character (Abed, of course) going out of his way to point out that it was happening in real time, which is as amusing as it is kind of going overboard - the Community of old would have let us figure that out for ourselves later.

In fact, the saving grace of the episode for me was my appreciation of how they tried to pull it off. There's a lengthy take when everyone arrives that is truly impressive given the rushed nature of TV show productions and how much is going on - each character arriving separately, walking in and out of rooms... I hope that they focus on this production when the DVD comes along (it'd be tradition, after all - S2 and S3 both had behind the scenes features specifically about their Christmas specials). According to writer Andy Bobrow (via Twitter), he pushed for even more long takes, but had to relent because of the time it would take (and also Joel McHale apparently had limited availability that week, which is impressive since the whole thing takes place in one room and I never noticed them cutting around him or anything that would suggest he was MIA), but perhaps it's for the best - while I can admire the technical aspects of the long take, it's also noticeably affecting the comic rhythms that have been established by the characters over the past three years. The only real laugh in this entire sequence is a meta joke from Joel when Annie puts up some decorative drapes to spruce his place up, asking him to give them a shot (his response: they would look good on Valentine's Day, or "whenever people get to see them", a nod to the show's lengthy delay), so if it aired when it should have, it's possible that it would be entirely laugh free - though I did enjoy Abed's "Does Annie live here now?" when he entered.

So why do they have their professor tied to a chair? It seems that he is about to give them a "failing" grade for their history paper, and thus they have invited him over to butter him up and hopefully improve their grade a bit, but Jeff also wants to know how they could have failed when he was the only one to tank his portion of the paper (was it ever explained why they had to write a paper together and earn the same grade? Did Professor Kane leave Cornwallis his instructions on how to deal with these people?). He knows Annie would have gotten an A, as would Pierce because he would have paid Neil to do his section (this is the sort of "real people" joke I like - it's not referencing another episode, but keeping an unseen character on their minds). So with the usual Bs and Cs from the others, how could they get an F when his section was the only bad one? As it turns out, it's only "failing" by Annie's standards - they were actually getting a C-. However, once Cornwallis realizes they've been kissing his ass for a grade, he downgrades to an actual F, and the resulting arguments lead Chang to tie him to the chair, because he has "Changnesia" (will they PLEASE finish up this idiotic storyline?).

Wait, why is Chang even there? Well, another hurdle for this week is that this is one of the Chevy-less ones; Pierce gets a standard nonsensical "Where is he?" excuse (said to be sensitivity training with Gilbert - on Christmas Eve?) and Chang gets most of the lines meant for the character. Unlike the puppet episode, this one really hurts from his absence, especially in the 3rd act when Jeff makes his Winger speech - there's a great line about how he knows that at any given point, "the six of us are going to be paying for the mistake of one of us", and I couldn't help but feel a bit sad that he said "six" instead of "seven". While the character may have been the "outsider", it bums me out to see him completely out of the action and basically forgotten - no one even mentions him again after this, save for the mention of him paying Neil to do his part of the paper. Any chance they can convince him to come back in Season 5 if it happens, if even for a single episode to send him off properly? The season finale was shot before this one, so however that episode ends, it will almost assuredly be in a way that doesn't have Pierce going off anywhere forever, and thus 501 will begin with some inane "He moved to Switzerland!" type explanation and we will probably never hear his name again. It's a bummer.

The episode really only comes to life when Cornwallis starts playing them against each other, figuring out that Troy is nervous about Britta and Jeff's continued close friendship given their sexual history, and turning Annie and Shirley against each other when he reveals that Shirley, like Annie, is a candidate for valedictorian, and thus if either of them fails this paper then their chances will be gone. But unfortunately, again, it just all recalls two superior episodes (the missing pen and the "Todd problem"), with the group bickering and coming apart over something trivial, all while sitting in one room. And without ANY real big laughs throughout the whole episode (though a number of good chuckles - I quite liked Annie assuming that Cornwallis would be hitting on her or Britta but forgetting to add Shirley to the mix), it makes it even harder to enjoy. I also didn't find much amusement in Abed's decision to just sit there for the entire episode and enjoy the fighting with some popcorn, though taking off his shoes and scrunching his toes was a nice little nod to Die Hard, I guess.

But hey, the last three episodes were solid, and at least they were trying something creative (I was actually kind of shocked when I realized that this was their first attempt at a real time episode), so points for that. McDowell is always a welcome sight, and the bickering sequences, while too familiar, at least once again demonstrate how solid their chemistry is across the board. It's also nice to see Jeff's apartment again (seemingly remodeled since we last saw the living room in Season 2), and any episode that doesn't require Dean to dress up as a woman is automatically worth a point or two. Like the history paper, there are some sections that make up for the lows of the others, netting this one a C if I were a grading man - not a failing grade, but nothing you'd want to pin up on the fridge, either.

*For the life of me I can't figure out how these episodes are supposed to be sequenced, so maybe I should stop thinking about it, but given Annie's reveal last week of Cornwallis rubbing her feet, I'm surprised that didn't come up since so much of the episode was based on their grade and also repeated references to Cornwallis' lecherous treatment of coeds.