Community: “Heroic Origins” and the Season 4 Problem

I need to apologize. I did not watch Community when it aired Thursday night because I was one of hundreds of thousands of people making their way to see the “midnight premiere” of Iron Man 3 (did you know that midnight premieres can happen as early as 9pm now?). Now, having watched Community this morning, I see a lot of stylistic similarities to both the latest rendition of Tony Stark and “Heroic Origins”.

Since “Heroic Origins” was a superhero origin story for the study group (our “Uncle Ben” if you will), why don’t we go ahead and compare it to some superhero films, just for kicks.

Spider-Man was good because Sam Raimi was a longtime, hardcore fan of the comic book franchise. X-Men, despite some liberties taken, was also good because of Bryan Singer’s dedication to that franchise. The same could be said of the first 2 Iron Man films with Jon Favreau. The first 3 Pirates of the Caribbean films were good because of Gore Verbinski’s special touch.

But what happened with Spider-Man 3X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Iron Man 3, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides? They were quickly manufactured, written and/or directed by new people who lacked the expertise and vision that the characters and plot needed to survive criticism, or had whole new creative teams brought in to help the franchise “appeal to a wider audience”. Does that sound familiar?

To paraphrase my colleague Kyle Trembley, there’s art, then there’s commerce. Art is created for the artist, commerce is created for the consumer. So what happens if art becomes commerce? You get Spider-Man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Iron Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Communityseason 4. These films, and this season all have their merit, but they don’t have the same feeling, and some parts are downright awful.

All of these films and the series have something in common: the people behind the sequels tried really, really hard to make them feel the same with the time they had to create them. They watched every film or episode, read every script, did research on where the characters came from, and generally learned how to write for or direct their existing franchise. But they lacked the ambition to make meaningful changes (except for Peter Parker’s emo stage… but we don’t talk about that).

Which brings me to Community, since that’s what I’m reviewing:

Has the study group grown at all? I know I’m harping on one specific aspect of Community’s fourth season when I repeatedly call attention to how the characters are simply derivatives of their season one incarnation, but if any episode were to justify this claim it would almost certainly be “Heroic Origins”. This episode is like Sandman being the assailant behind Uncle Ben’s death. We didn’t need it, but it ties the series together in a nice, contrived bow.

Plainly and simply, this episode was written from the point of view of the characters before they came to Greendale thus there was no need for us to acknowledge their growth. It’s written to fulfill a need we have as fans to see Annie popping pills and for Wolverine be infused with adamantium. It’s a safe way to write for our beloved characters because it’s easy to laugh at and acknowledge who they were before they joined the study group, plus who doesn’t like a good origin story? But that doesn’t make it the art that I’ve known, and it doesn’t mean this is the most fulfilling representation of where they came from.

I did like “Heroic Origins” because a major part of any character arc is the hero’s quest, and I can find enjoyment in almost anything that I love (even when it’s not doing what I’d like it to… except for season 4 of Angel; we never speak of it*). Sure, the quest might be like Abed’s: to stop children from seeing the Star Wars prequels, but who hasn’t done that?

My biggest criticism of this episode was not that it lacked any entertainment value, most certainly not. Rather, “Heroic Origins”, much like the unnecessary inclusion of Venom in the plot-heavy Spider-Man 3, was an easy and obvious choice to make; the writing required season one-specific knowledge of Community (perhaps a little season 2)and was hinged on the fact that everyone in the study group still has a bickering problem because they haven’t grown.

* Interestingly – season 4 of Angel and season 6 of Buffy are often harped on by fans because Joss Whedon left the creative vision to Marti Noxon (who is a super Spike fangirl) in the case of Buffy and both David Greenwalt and Joss Whedon were relatively hands-off in season 4 of Angel.

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