Community is back, and, despite the many spoilers and teasers and Hulu ads leading up to the long-awaited season premiere, “History 101” still managed some surprises.
Taking place on the study group’s first day of senior year, the episode was primarily about Jeff and Abed: Jeff wants to graduate early, and needs one last history credit to do so. To prove he’s not selfish, he competes in “The Hunger Deans” to win six spots for the study group in the semester’s only history class (in true Greendale fashion, it is a course about the history of ice cream). Meanwhile, Abed is struggling to cope with the finality of senior year. Britta encourages him to “go to a happy place.” She suggests a babbling brook, but Abed turns his life into a sitcom, complete with laugh track, even though he knows that “fans of babbling brook will be disappointed.”
“History 101” reminded me why I really missed this show during its extended hiatus. Abed’s happy place is a meta-commentary on sitcom tropes and network TV cliches, but all constructed in a way that makes sense for Abed’s off-kilter brain. His fantasy even has ads for Sword Cooks, starring Troy and Abed, annoyingly covering the lower third of the screen. As an additional gag, in that world Pierce Hawthorne is played by Fred Willard. Don’t we all wish that now, just a little bit?
Speaking of wishes, in the episode’s other subplots, Troy and Britta battle over Abed’s rules for making wishes in a fountain while Shirley and Annie pull “pranks” on Dean Pelton. These situations are mostly excuses to get the characters talking about the future. Pierce (the Chevy Chase version) mostly sits in a chair trying to think of ball jokes. It’s hard to watch any scene with Chase and not think the writers are just punishing him for his tirades against the show and Dan Harmon. He can’t even get in on the group hugs any more!
The episode’s best scene is an intense tango between Jeff and Dean Pelton in which Jeff unmasks the dean’s plot to keep him at Greendale for another year. Jim Rash, only you could make ripping off one ballgown to reveal another one look so good. We also learn the dean has moved next door to Jeff, much to Jeff’s horror. Their relationship is one of my favorites, and I’m excited to see more than a few TV cliches explored (and exploded) around their new living situation.
At the end of the episode, Abed realized he can’t hide forever in a fantasy world, and he imagines Jeff encouraging the group to come together to celebrate change. There’s a message in here for Community fans: This may be the final season, but there’s no point in wishing to go back in time. Enjoy the moment while it lasts.
Oh, yeah, one more thing: Chang reappears as a wet, naked, amnesiac named Kevin. Good luck with that, gang!