It was inevitable that Community would be a different show when it came back for its fourth season. Its creator and showrunner had been fired in a publicly way by Sony, and the interim hiatus was riddled with not-g00d-stuff. The show was supposed to return back in October, and then that turned into February. Then we learned that the first episode was going to be some kind of Hunger Games parody, which sounded like the most suit-wearingly awful idea ever. (Thankfully, the episode wasn't focused on this idea as much as I had feared.) It really wasn't looking good for Community. And then it actually came back. The first episode was...alright? I mean, it was certainly a funny show. But was it really Community? Well, yes. Of course it was. But only sort of. Instead, this feels like just a more broad and sitcommy version of the show we used to enjoy. We've seen three episodes so far. None of them have been very good.
"History 101," for what it's worth, had great jokes. Troy's wistful "Aww, just like real ice cream" was a winner, and Donald Glover had a ton of great reads throughout the episode. Pierce, on the other hand, was ENTIRELY misused (seriously, for the whole episode), and Shirley didn't get very much to do at all either. Jeff was reduced to...a sitcom character, basically, and Abed has been messed up in the head way too long for me to still be enjoying it.
Pierce's haunted house ordeal was pointedly weak, with Troy and Britta's relationship coming across as episode-ruiningly forced, while Jeff and Annie's relationship has become frustratingly nebulous. In fact, it's become increasingly disappointing to see the way Annie has acted this season, especially rounding the corner into that third episode. We've seen Annie do the play-acting thing before, and it's actually been incredibly cute and endearing. Annie's fantasy about marrying Jeff, though, pushed to the most ridiculous point possible, was not only the low point of the third episode, but of the entire fourth season so far. What's more is that I really don't believe that Jeff would have responded to that situation the way he did.
Of course, in a very odd way, "Conventions of Space and Time" saw Jeff criminally underused in the same way Pierce had been over the course of the preceding two episodes. He's largely left out of the action for almost the entire episode, and when he does show up, it's the most rote and uninspired bit of bullshit ever. Maybe I'm saying this because Jeff was supposed to have grown at least a little bit last season. Does Harmon's departure mean that we've had to hit a bit of a reset button on these characters? I certainly does feel like it. I'm not sure if anyone's at fault for this, being that there are two new showrunners now, but these first few episodes have turned out to be a pretty disappointing watch. I realized that my sense of confusion comes from the fact that I'm watching sitcom characters exist in what amounts to a very broad "first season" of a TV show, instead of an attempt at depicting real character growth that's happened over the course of the last three years. Seriously, the only vestige of these characters that's left over from last season is Troy and Britta's ridiculously forced relationship.
Maybe things will get better in the coming episodes, but I don't really see how they could. At least not if I'm expecting to be comforted by the characters with whom I spent three years falling in love. It's understandable that Community would show up on the air and be a completely different show, but I don't know that anyone expected that it'd arrive as gutted as it is.