California Literary Review

Community Recap: ‘Intro to Felt Surrogacy’ (Season 4, Episode 9)

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April 12th, 2013 at 12:07 pm

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Community - Season 4

Photos © NBC Universal, Inc./Vivian Zink

Forced. That’s the word I keep coming back to when trying to describe this season of Community. As I have made very apparent in my recaps of Community’s fourth season, the show has all but abandoned or lost the creative spark that set it apart from every other television comedy during its first three seasons. The writers are now trying to fit asinine storytelling styles into the Community mold and the more they try to be funny the less they really are.

It’s like the difference between the comedy of Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. Regardless of whether you are sick of him, Vince Vaughn is just funny. He doesn’t have to try and usually his most memorable moments are when he appears to be putting forth very little effort. Kevin James, on the other hand, is constantly scrambling to make every second he’s on screen funny. By working so hard to make you laugh, he ends up being less comical and more grating. Seasons One through Three of Community are Vince Vaughn; Season Four is Kevin James.

“Intro to Felt Surrogacy” is just bad. I mean, really and truly dreadful. In an effort to cash in on the popularity of earlier “concept” episodes like “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” and “Digital Estate Planning,” the writers decide that very Muppet-looking puppets should be the next cartoonish incarnation of the characters. Whereas with “Christmas” and “Estate Planning” the alternate reality worked to serve the story, “Surrogacy” was clearly devised as a way to turn the characters into puppets with the story coming in a distant second.

So, why are the characters puppets? Well, the episode opens with a very uncomfortable silence in the study room, each group member unwilling to make eye contact with the others. Dean Pelton arrives and tells the group that their awkwardness has gone on long enough and that whatever is bothering them needs to be addressed. How will they do this? With creepy hand puppets in the likeness of each person that the dean just happened to have lying around. Using the puppets, they begin to trace the events of what happened.

In puppet world, we learn that the group grew tired of the monotony of Greendale, left campus, hopped in a hot air balloon, took off without the pilot (played by Sara Bareilles), crash landed in the woods (unharmed), met a former Greendale student turned woods-dweller (Jason Alexander), ate some trippy berries and then shared their most intimate secrets with each other resulting in the awkward silence that opened the episode.

As puppets, this is all cute and harmless, but the group is supposedly re-telling a story that actually happened. Community has included some pretty ridiculous storylines, but none as ludicrous or uninspired as this one. Take the puppets out of the equation and imagine the characters actually having this “adventure.” It sounds like something leftover from sitcom Limbo that wasn’t good enough for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or Saved By The Bell. If the writers weren’t so stuck on using puppets, this episode would never have been written because it’s just so stupid.

Another error on the part of the writers is that this episode in no way furthers or even acknowledges the other plots that have emerged this season. The Britta/Troy relationships, as lame as it is, is never referenced. Abed’s growth as a result of last week’s episode (“Herstory of Dance”) is completely aborted and forced into reverse. Who is running Shirley’s sandwich shop? Is Jeff still planning on graduating early? Has Chang/Kevin given up on his evil plans? Some consistency would greatly aid the experience of watching what has become an abysmal season of television.

I wish I could be more forgiving of the writers and the show runners, but there is no excuse for the train wreck which Community has become.

  • Julia

    agreed!
    Thank you for putting this episode into perfect words.

  • http://www.twitter.com/MacAttacks Maki

    Overall I’m enjoying the season, but I didn’t particularly like this episode. It felt rushed and…awkward, I guess is the word to describe it. The scenes didn’t seem fluid at all, everything just kind of “happened”.

    And there was a small, little reference to Troy/Britta, when they’re in the hot air balloon. Troy says “if we fly off to heaven, please don’t tell my grandpa about Britta!” or something like that

  • Chris

    Was this episode not perhaps the one right after Chevy Chase was unexpectedly “let go”? He didn’t feature once and it seems at the end of the episode the writers expected us to forget that they left him in the woods. Maybe they were forced to make this one under very difficult circumstances. In which case I’ll say – well done.

  • http://www.facebook.com/grady.james.73 Grady James

    The article was spot on. The episode was garbage (like the rest of the season) and what’s really bad is that the showrunners were really hyped about it, you know, like it would somehow save the show and bring home the faithful. Now it’s pretty clear that the new showrunners had absolutely no idea what made Dan Harmon’s show so funny and likeable. Hint: It’s not just meta humor and outlandish concepts. At the very least, provide a competent script to the actors! The Thanksgiving episode at Shirley’s house wanted me to tear my balls off and staple them to my eyes it was so bad.

    It’s like watching Community fanfiction (minus all the Jeff/Annie sex scenes) produced on television. It’s that freaking bad. You know, if they were going to do such a shoddy job they might as well just have pandered to the fanbase and given us all that hot, hot Jeff and Annie action.

  • http://www.facebook.com/grady.james.73 Grady James

    After watching Season 4, I completely understand why Chevy left the show.

  • CJ

    I agree with the article; the episode was quite bad. The basis of comparison for me remains season one. I compare the quality of all Community episodes to the material from that season. It was unlike anything that else I had ever seen on TV. The quirky but rich blend of meta- and off-beat humour with pop culture references was fantastic; it just seemed to work effortlessly. It was a season of excellent TV that raised the bar as far as that type of comedy goes. Season four has been flat from the start. Some of the characters have become overdone (Abed, Craig Pelton & Britta); others have been watered down (Jeff & Troy).

    Lots of key figures behind the show’s success left after season three, which probably explains why this season is so different. Dan Harmon, executive producers Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan, writers Chris McKenna and Dino Stamatopoulos, and episode directors Anthony and Joe Russo. As colossal as Chevy Chase was as Pierce Hawthorne, these guys were the engine room behind the show’s success.

    The current show runners, David Guarascio and Moses Port, desperately need to find writers who can understand the balanced formula of season one. Forget the study group and look back at the trio of Craig Pelton, Ben Chang and Ian Duncan in season one. I mean, these three could have their own show. It seems pretty clear at this stage; if Guarascio and Port don’t change the show’s direction and go back to its roots, NBC will bury Community. And, given the potential that this show has, a premature death in a few episodes time would be an epic failure on their part.

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