TV Review: COMMUNITY 4.12 “Heroic Origins”

BC didn't care for this origins episode of COMMUNITY.

"I call it the 'Crazy Quilt of Destiny'. Mainly because the 'Loom of Fate' was already taken."

The above quote is the biggest laugh I got out of "Heroic Origins," which is a bummer when you consider that it's in the first few minutes and merely a throwaway joke at the expense of Wanted. But apart from some Star Wars jokes, it's also the only time in the episode where the world outside these nine people (including Dean and Chang) seems to exist - the entire half hour is given over to Abed's realization that they were all destined to be together and that they've all crossed paths several times before. That they get through the entire thing without a Lost joke is sort of impressive, I guess, but personally, I found it a rather flimsy waste of what may be the penultimate episode of the series' run.

I mean, it's cute and amusing, but for a show that's always been one of the best at actually letting their characters grow, it's a bit awkward to watch such an insular half hour, built entirely around events we have heard about (Andre cheating on Shirley with a stripper, Jeff losing his job at the law practice, Annie's Adderall-driven breakdown, etc) and how the other members played a role in each event. For example, the stripper that Andre cheated with turns out to be the client for whom Jeff had successfully gotten charges dropped, which put a target on him at the law firm by a jealous coworker and led to his ultimate firing. And the reason Andre found her in the first place is that Shirley ditched him at a dinner to pick up their sons after they were warded off from the movie they were seeing by Abed, who was standing outside the theater telling people not to waste their money.

First of all, none of that makes much sense. Isn't Andre their father too? Why wouldn't he go with her to get their children (and why doesn't she even tell him why she's leaving?). But more baffling - why is Abed telling people not to see 1999's Phantom Menace in 2008? They state the year more than once, and even throw up some posters of Prom Night and 88 Minutes (both conveniently Sony releases) to clarify the time period for those who remember such things. Plus - the show began in 2009, not 2008, so when it becomes a "this is how they found out about Greendale" story that makes everything even more coincidental, it just confused me further - did they all decide to slum it at this community college a full year before they started to attend it? Wouldn't 2009 make a LITTLE more sense, as it would a) be when people were finalizing their college plans and b) there could be some sort of 10th anniversary showing of Phantom Menace that Abed was trying to ward people away from seeing? I get and can even appreciate the notion that these folks were destined to become a little family (even Annie's Boobs gets tossed in the mix, because why not?), but the way they go about backing up that idea is incredibly sloppy and borderline idiotic, as if they just went with the first thing that popped in their heads even if it didn't make a hell of a lot of sense. Even ignoring the baffling timing of it all, it's far too forced.

And like I said in one of the other reviews, they can get away with some lazy storytelling if it's funny enough to make up for it, but with nearly half of the episode given to comic book panel transitions and the characters at the study table reiterating what we just saw in a flashback, there's barely time for any jokes at all, let alone ones that work. Some of Abed's bizarre questions are chuckle-worthy ("Did you ever date Roger Ebert?") and I like Britta's fellow activist quitting because, as she explains, "I ate meat a few days ago and now I'm not cold all the time," but a few mild "hehs" doesn't even come close to balancing out the weak story points. And that's not even factoring in Pierce's contribution to the episode; this was one of the post-Chevy ones, and once again Gilbert is invoked - apparently Pierce is donating one of his kidneys to him. Again with the laziness - the writers knew they had the finale with Pierce next week, so of all the hastily written explanations in the world as to where he was, why pick something that would clearly be affecting him seven days later? Remember when he broke his legs and was thus in a cast for six or seven episodes? What happened to that level of commitment to realism (and I know the answer; I'm being facetious)?

That said, they do at least try to work him in - as it turns out, Pierce's inability to work a frozen yogurt machine is a recurring problem, and so we get a shot of a guy whose face we don't see (probably Chevy's stand-in) bumbling over the one in the yogurt shop that, as it turns out, everyone was in at the same time back in 2008, when Chang and Dean were handing out fliers for the school. Apparently this bit (a tag in S3, if you don't recall) was the happiest Chevy ever was on set, so it's a nice but bittersweet gesture to "include" him in a manner that the actor would have loved to have done if he was still there.

Otherwise, the only thing I appreciated about the episode was that it finally put the idiotic Chang-nesia subplot to rest. We see in the first scene who he's been talking to (big surprise there - it's Dean Spreck from City College), and their plans are finally coming to a head - it seems Greendale is on Native American property, and if the Dean doesn't mail in some forms, it gets turned into a casino/mid-sized concert venue. So he gives the important document to Chang to mail, and then the subplot is completely dropped while everyone remembers their coincidental pasts, only resurfacing at the end when Abed extends his thanks to Chang for inadvertently bringing them together. Chang then mails the forms while Spreck switches to "Plan B," which involves a giant spider of some sort (spoiler? I've seen next week's and thankfully this is NOT a setup for the finale, just a dumb gag). I don't know if they planned to do more with this by assuming they'd get their other nine episodes when it started, or just had no idea what else to do with Chang for the season, but I think we can all agree that it was even more bungled than Troy and Britta's relationship. At least that paid off with last week's terrific episode; what good did Chang-nesia give us? (OK, his puppet telling them that he was evil was pretty funny.)

So, yeah, I wasn't a fan, but I suspect I may be in the minority on this one. Like last year's video game episode, I tend to put a little more stock into the story making sense than in cute things that will provide fodder for T-shirts and stickers (or costumes - expect an "Annie in braces" or two at next year's Communicon). If you like the idea that Magnitude's obsession with saying "Pop pop!" started when two balloons popped from the shattering glass of the door Annie just smashed through, you'll probably love this episode and call it a highlight of the season. To those folks: I'm glad you enjoyed it. Personally, I'd rather what's potentially half of my last hour with these folks be spent on something a little more substantial than 20 mostly laugh-free minutes telling us what we already know or didn't care much about in the first place.