Review: Community Season 3 (DVD)

Season three of Community was a series of hit-or-miss episodes. It also marked a giant shakeup for the show moving into season 4, as show-runner Dan Harmon left the helm.

Season 3 featured some of the best episodes of an overwhelmingly underrated series. Remedial Chaos Theory is easily the best episode of any series for the year. But more on that later. Second, Community also had a few awkward episodes which featured poor directing, writing and timing.

The DVD gives fans what they crave, deleted scenes, outtakes, and commentary on every episode. My recommended viewing order is regular season 3, season 3 with commentary, and finally seasons 1-3 for context.

Any fan of the show will want to have season 3 on DVD.

If I have to pick a weakness, it’s the commentary. It’s great that each episode has a show star or two in it, but there’s not a lot of direction in the commentary. As is usual with these types of commentary most of the time is spent remembering guest star names and talking about how great co-stars are.

The only other downside was seeing footage of Donald Glover throwing up. Not necessary. For future editors out there, it’s ALWAYS a bad idea to use footage of someone actually throwing up. ALWAYS. Nope. No exceptions.

Now I want to get a bit more in-depth on season 3 and its place in the series. So if you just wanted a quick encapsulation, you can head to the store and buy it now.

THE HIGHPOINTS

303 – Remedial Chaos Theory

As I mentioned this episode is the best of the series and the best of any show for the year. It tells one story by using seven simultaneous stories. Each element is carefully placed as the story (or stories) progress, and each element pays off at exactly the right time. Annie’s gun, Torg the troll, Roxanne, Indy… they are interwoven masterfully. The highlight of the episode has to be Troy seeing Torg and the chaos it has wrought in his absence.

It’s also an important episode for the characters of Jeff and Abed. For Jeff the episode ends with his realization that, though he is the leader of the group, he’s also very much a member.

For Abed, the episode marks a point where he’s becoming more assertive about his surroundings. Even though everyone grows closer, Abed is most aware that their group won’t continue forever with the approaching end of their classes at Greendale.

305 – Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps

Any anthology episode of Community is always great, and this one is one of the best. Abed, Annie and Shirley’s stories are my favorite. It also features the payoff to an epic three-year Beetlejuice easter egg.

If you don’t know why people love Community, the Beetlejuice moment is probably the best example.

307- Studies in Modern Movement

Though we all love the parody episodes, this one is character driven. It also featured a twitter tie-in and a well-crafted music montage that was simultaneously funny and entertaining. And holy crap there’s the introduction of the Dreamatorium.

310 – Regional Holiday Music

I didn’t care for this one much at all when it first aired, but it grew on me quickly. Much like the characters I’ve slowly become absorbed by the gleeful atmosphere. The Happy Birthday Jesus song was probably my favorite, followed closely by Annie’s disturbingly sexy Christmas song.

317 – Basic Lupine Urology

This is also known as the Law and Order episode. If I had not seen the 30 Rock Law and Order parody first, this episode would have been my second favorite of the year. Still, it’s great fun. Shirley steals every scene she’s in, and the final scene was perfect.

319 – Curriculum Unavailable

This is the second fake clip show for the series. Just like Halloween episode this one eagerly cashes in on the great character building the show has accomplished in three years. The “twist” was also done well.

320 – Digital Estate Planning

This is the video game episode. The more video games you’ve played, the funnier this is. It’s not a great story, but the video game humor makes up for it.

THE LOWPOINTS

Greendale

It took me a while to really put my finger on the main problem with season 3. Eventually I realized there’s one character missing from this season. That’s Greendale. You can count on one hand the number of times you see an exterior shot of the campus. You can also count on one hand the number of times the writers take shots at the environment Jeff and Company exist in.

The only real example I can think of off-hand is the hilarious Greendale commercial. The rest of the time it almost doesn’t even matter where the gang goes to school. The stories and conflict are all built around the group.

Story-arcs

Speaking of stories, I can’t really think of many strong stories from season 3. Too many characters seemed stagnant this season. Abed faced a mental crisis. Jeff and Shirley’s friendship was great texture for the group, and I hope they get more screen time next year. Did anything else significant happen?

Sure, some characters fought and made up, but who’s really different in the finale? Jeff looks for his dad. That’s about it.

You could argue that Troy changed some this year. He seemed slightly smarter. He settled into a career path and began to have feelings for Britta. But I don’t think it’s going to stick.

I can’t say that I’m rooting for Troy and Britta. They don’t seem like a good match, honestly. And, after the episode where they both played Michael Jackson at different points in his career, it’s kind of creepy to think of them getting physical.

Jeff and Annie work because their personalities complement each other despite being different. They also have some great similarities. Jeff and Annie are both ruthless competitors. They also both like the way Jeff looks without his shirt.

Troy and Britta don’t mesh. Troy needs a stronger woman to provide stimulation and direction. Britta needs the same thing, an organizer, a sympathizer, someone with the strength and intelligence to help her fulfill her dreams.

Pierce, Shirley and Annie remained virtually unchanged over the season. They had their stories, but nothing significant really happened.

Chang

What happened to El Tigre?

Ken Jeong is fearless and inventive. He was also completely wasted all season. At no point were we emotionally invested in Chang. Insanity doesn’t work if it’s never grounded at some point along the way for contrast. He was just human white noise, bright lights and shouting that never amounted to much of interest.

Chang needs a reboot for season 4. He needs a reason to gain control of his insanity and slowly let it out and inappropriate times like his best moments from season 1 and 2. This would probably work best with a girlfriend to bounce off of. Jeong seemed to spend a lot of time on his own in season 3 (kind of like Pierce in season 2). He needs to be worked in and grounded to be enjoyable again.

Pierce

Speaking of Pierce, his role seems to have greatly diminished. He had a token episode or two, but his character is rarely more than a walking punch line dispenser.

Go back and watch season 1. Pierce is still insane, but he has a lot more humanity to him. There are several moments when he gets to be more involved. He teaches Shirley public speaking. He helps Britta quit smoking. He even helps Jeff give up gossiping.

Writing/ directing

I hate to see moments or jokes ruined by poor scene staging or writing. There were more of those this year than in previous years.

The Biology professor’s timing wasn’t great. The whole speech about Legos is painfully unfunny. He was excellent in the Law and Order episode, but he floundered when given anything resembling a one liner.

The scenes where Pierce invests in the trouser bench and race-profiling camera also don’t work. Those scenes aren’t staged well.

Blade? That whole episode is awkward.

And we can’t forget Pillows and Blankets. I know the budget was tight, but there’s very little ambition in the staging of fight scenes. Pierce’s doomsday suit battle should have been much more epic.

Continuity Errors

I hate pointing this out, but there were a couple of huge continuity errors.

For example, the group takes Biology. However, Troy and Abed have already taken Biology. In season one they train a rat to respond to a song in biology lab. You could argue that they might have failed the class, but I don’t count possibilities. If it’s not explained on the show, it’s an error.

Also, Pierce’s dad is dead in season one. While accidentally calling his mom on speaker phone, she mentions that she saw the ghost of his father again. Somewhere in season 3, Pierce mentions his mom was mentally unstable. You could argue that she simply wished Pierce’s dad was dead, but I could also argue that Pierce thought she was unstable because her last message to Pierce was that their cult was a lie.

LOOKING TO SEASON 4

Hopefully Community will get more than 13 episodes this year. Here are a few things I’d like to see.

There are a few group combos that haven’t been explored. The cast is such that new combinations have paid off a great deal in the past. So I’d like to see stories with a few new combos:

Shirley and Troy – I don’t think they’ve actually had a story together yet. Shirley’s past is a goldmine, and Troy cries easily. I’d love to see what would happened if Troy dated a relative or Shirley met Troy’s Jehovah’s Witness parents.

Abed and Jeff – These guys always work well together. Abed has the habit of accidentally seeing into Jeff’s soul, and Jeff subconsciously wants to geek out. I’ve always thought Jeff was subtly jealous of Troy and Abed and wanted an excuse to join the fun.

Pierce and Britta – Other than the stop-smoking hypnosis, I can’t think of anytime they’ve spent real time alone.

Duncan and anything – No character was missed more in season 3 than Professor Ian Duncan. He’s comedy gold in any capacity. Get him back.

I’m very interested to see how season 4 develops without Harmon. Yes, he helped build something great, and I’m worried that it won’t continue. However, he can also take a bit of the blame for the problems with season 3, as well. It’ s hard not to imagine his issues with Chevy Chase and budget problems didn’t take their toll last season. We’ll find out in mid-October.

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