I love the characters on Community and despite the dip in the quality of writing I still enjoy listening to their banter week after week. When I read that this week’s episode (“Heroic Origins”) would be an origin story of the Greendale Seven, I was cautiously optimistic about the episode’s potential. Sitcoms have long indulged in the “what were they like then” episodes (remember fat Monica on Friends?) as an easy form of comedy since we already know how the characters end up. Most comedies today have gotten away from this approach, but in the heyday of the multi-camera sitcom it was a staple of nearly every series.
“Heroic Origins” strives to be Batman Begins but sputters through its histories like X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Abed (natch) is the guide for this convoluted backstory inspired by the overwhelming number of origin stories proliferating in TV and movies. According to Abed’s Crazy Quilt of Destiny, the study group members have all crossed paths before, sometimes multiple times. (Here there is a quick reference to the graphic novel adaptation Wanted that was both unexpected and appreciated.) Abed believes fate brought the group together and that they were meant to become friends. Jeff, of course, is skeptical and would rather focus on studying for their History final, but everyone else seems interested.
The writers craft the connections in a few pretty clever ways. We see Jeff – in what would become his final legal victory – successfully defend a stripper and her right to get naked. Britta, in full anarchist and feminist glory, praises Jeff and his willingness to protect a woman’s right to use her body however she wants. This isn’t exactly what Jeff was intending to do, but he accepts the praise anyway.
Meanwhile, we see how Troy and Annie crossed paths in high school. Annie is clearly in love with Troy and, being the star of the high school, Troy barely acknowledges Annie’s existence. We see Troy’s “keg flip” which allows him to fake an arm injury that will end his football career. As it turns out, his decision was prompted by the Adderall-addicted Annie who accuses him of being nothing more than an automaton who is told what to do and when. We then see Annie’s breakdown which we heard so much about in Season One.
The other connections all fit together, but as with most stories this season they feel forced. The stripper Shirley’s husband cheated on her with the client Jeff was defending. Worse, Jeff inadvertently encouraged the stripper to pursue a married man. Abed crosses paths with Shirley’s sons while they are standing in line to see The Phantom Menace. Abed not so courteously tells them if they see the movie they are horrible human beings. This leads to Abed’s father taking him for therapy sessions in the doctor’s office where Annie is stealing prescription pads.
In what was supposed to be the “Aha!’ moment of the episode, Abed discovers that they were all in a yogurt shop on the same day at the same time and this is where they all decided to go to Greendale, each for a different reason. What could be a touching moment is marred by the very contrived ways they got there and the very simplistic happy ending, especially Chang who is apparently no longer going to overthrow Greendale in order to help City College.
“Heroic Origins” isn’t a terrible episode, it’s just mediocre. The only highlight is seeing Alison Brie as the overachieving, nerdy high school student Annie used to be. Brie’s comedic talent is rarely fully utilized but here we get to see another side of her as an actor. Overall, though, I was underwhelmed but not totally disappointed.