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.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”