If I didn’t know better, I would think Dan Harmon, in all his mischievous glory, was responsible for writing/sabotaging last night’s episode of Community. “Intro to Knots” perfectly demonstrates what is so wrong with this season, its horribleness taken to such a new low that one gets the feeling the episode is intentionally bad. It takes very little effort to imagine Harmon crafting the script so as to highlight the disastrous path Community has followed in its fourth season. Sadly, though, we know this is not the truth and “Knots” is just another indicator that Community has lost its spark.
So here’s what happened: Jeff hosts an early Christmas party at his condo but didn’t get anyone presents. Annie tells the group they are receiving a failing grade on the History paper they submitted so Annie invited the instructor, Professor Cornwallis (Malcolm McDowell), to the party in hopes of sucking up and convincing him to change the grade. The gang tries to woo Cornwallis but Jeff finally discovers that they weren’t failing, they were just getting a C- (which in Annie’s mind is failing). Kevin/Chang ties up the professor when he refuses to change the grade and while he is restrained, the group and the professor learn valuable lessons about themselves and being a part of a group. The end.
The entire episode consists of playing up past themes or characterizations in hopes of coasting through 22 minutes. Jeff tells everyone not to bring presents, so everyone does and he looks like a jerk. How many times has this been covered already? Abed wants to celebrate Christmas via Die Hard homages because he’s obsessed with pop culture. Troy and Abed are besties. Britta is the worst. Annie is in love with Jeff. And Shirley is more than just a single mother. According to IMDB, Jim Rash, who plays Dean Pelton, wrote the episode, but I have a hard time believing that. The characters are all stagnant and show none of the growth that happened over the course of Season Three. Rash has proven himself to be a very talented writer (The Descendants, the upcoming The Way, Way Back) so how he could produce such drivel is a mystery.
“Intro to Knots” reads like a spec script a first-year MFA student would submit for a final project. Are the characters all playing into their respective roles? Yes, but that isn’t necessarily a strength. The last few seasons of Friends turned the six characters into caricatures of what they once were as a way to help the writers avoid coming up with any new ideas or storylines. Community has taken the same approach, retarding the characters’ development because it’s easier.
Fans became so loyal in Seasons Two and Three because we hadn’t encountered characters like these before. Jeff is a selfish a-hole, but we still love him because he really is the glue that holds the group together and occasionally surprises us with profound insight. Abed’s tunnel vision for all things TV and movies allowed viewers to geek out at home while watching the episode and later with friends when they caught the obscure nod to Apocalypse Now or The Terminator. The interwebs have exploded with lists detailing Community’s pop culture references because no show has ever been so laden with obvious and subtle jokes of this kind.
And then there is poor Malcolm McDowell who looks as depressed to be appearing in this episode as his character supposedly is. This is Macolm FREAKIN’ McDowell! Community has had some incredible guest stars in the past (Betty White, John Goodman, Tony Hale, LeVar Burton, Rob Corddry, Keith David) and all were given terrific scripts and characters to play with. McDowell, however, is relegated to the worst episode of Community ever with a character as flat (and appealing) as roadkill. I mean, come on!
There are only two more episodes of Community left and I don’t know whether to be sad or grateful. I wish someone could Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind me so all memory of this terrible season could be wiped from my brain. Ignorance is bliss and it would be wonderful to live in a world where Season Four of Community doesn’t exist.
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.”