Hair Guy Reviews: Community S4E1, 'History 101'

 Above: The entire cast of NBC's Community.

I thoroughly enjoyed Community’s recent return to the airwaves after an eight month break. It’s no secret that Community has had a rough couple of years – looming threats of cancellation, a hiatus, the firing of creator/showrunner Dan Harmon, and the recent departure of Chevy Chase – and there was a lot of concern among fans that this season would be a hollow shell of what the show once was. As far as I’m concerned, however, it was a tour-de-force of modern television, filled with electrifying moments that I’ll remember forever.

The episode started off strong with Alison Brie walking into frame and making her first appearance of the new season. Not long after, I was elated to see Alison Brie walking down a hallway with the rest of the cast, smirking mischievously as she announces her plans to ‘do senioritis’ in this, her last year at Greendale Community College.

One of Community’s strongest features from the get-go has been the ‘bad girl’ streak explored by Alison Brie’s character as she tries to break away from the straight laced academic lifestyle she’d built for herself in high school. This subplot succeeds precisely because it often involves closeups on Alison Brie with a sly grin and a twinkle in one or perhaps both of her flawless blue eyes, and more of that theatrical magic was on display last Thursday.    

 Showrunner Dan Harmon (left) made headlines for his frequent clashes with outspoken cast member Chevy Chase (center).

The quality really picks up as the episode gets underway, when Alison Brie and some other character break into the dean’s office per her goal of reckless senior hijinx. After first speculating about some adorably mild pranks, Alison Brie does a spot-on impression of Greendale’s dean (whose name escapes me at the moment) and flounces over to his desk to complete her plan of surreptitiously rearranging his desk.

Not long after, some other character convinces Alison Brie to instead fill the dean’s car with unpopped popcorn and Alison Brie obliges. As she and whoever else she’s with at the time shine mirrors into the open sunroof of the car to pop the popcorn, she beautifully muses about her time at Greendale and how boring her post-graduation life as a hospital administrator will be. 

Just as Friends redefined women’s hairstyles and Will & Grace made homosexuality mainstream, Community has undeniably changed society’s attitude toward hospital administrators. I know I used to think of hospital administration as a rather drab (yet necessary) life of paperwork and bureaucracy. However, ever since Alison Brie’s character first stated her intention of becoming a hospital administrator I’ve begun to see hospital administrators not just as healthcare professionals who manage the day-to-day workings of hospitals, but as real people with dreams, friends, tragic flaws, raven colored hair that flows like water and shines like the sun, hobbies, sensuous smiles, and infectious laughter the likes of which could tame a savage wildebeest. I’d go so far as to say that I’ve fallen deeply in love with hospital administrators.

Robert Greenblatt (above) chair of NBC Entertainment, has drawn ire from fans for his last minute decision to delay Community's premiere from October until February.

As with every episode of Community, there were a lot of nuanced details waiting to reward the more attentive viewer. For example, did anybody else notice how Alison Brie was parting her hair on the right side? Or that ensemble she was wearing! A lavender cardigan, floral top, and a black skirt which matched the black straps of her signature backpack – I wonder, was that an intentional choice?

That’s the beauty of Community. With an outstanding cast of Alison Brie, even the smallest details just seem to pop. 

Dan Harmon was replaced as showrunner by David Guarascio and Moses Port, seen here at the 2010 Emmy award ceremony. Guarascio and Port previously worked on popular sitcoms Just Shoot Me! and Happy Endings.

Of course, this episode was not without its flaws. Chief among them was the frankly baffling decision on the part of the writers and director to include several scenes which did not feature Alison Brie at all. No, I’m not referring to scenes where Alison Brie is simply in the background – scenes which, while frustrating, still allow us to study her from afar – I’m talking about scenes in which Alison Brie simply is not present on camera.

Throughout the history of television, programs have suffered for lack of Alison Brie – I Love Lucy, MASH, All In The Family, Happy Days, The Cosby Show, Taxi, Moonlighting, Seinfeld, Frasier, The Office, Arrested Development, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Breaking Bad are just some of the otherwise excellent programs crippled by an Alison Brie deficiency. So for Community, a show that has Alison Brie on contract, to not maximize Alison Brie’s screentime is a creative decision I will never quite understand. To quote President Eisenhower:

Every second of television that is filmed without Alison Brie in front of the camera represents, in a final sense, a theft from those hunger for charm and are not charmed, those who long for a vivacious, tight-sweatered girl next door type but must learn to do without.

 World War II hero and NATO commander Dwight David Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States.

This may just be a sign that the show is changing. After all, Community started as just a show about Alison Brie going to community college, but in subsequent seasons has grown increasingly eccentric and self-referential. This has afforded Alison Brie many enjoyable opportunities to steal America’s collective heart in a variety of different settings (and equally enjoyable costumes), but anyone who watched Thursday’s episode can’t argue that things have changed since Dan Harmon departed.

Everyone at work on Community is incredibly talented, from the writers to the new showrunners and even the cast members who aren’t Alison Brie. But the show, while good, has lost something intangible, and I begin to worry that if NBC’s dismal schedule results in Community continuing beyond this season that it might just lead to more episodes that are light on Alison Brie – episodes that would eventually drag down the fond memories of Alison Brie’s performances in the spectacular first two seasons. 

 The decision on Community's future will most likely be made here, in the 36 story skyscraper that houses NBC's West Coast headquarters.

I’m not saying I want the show to end, but perhaps it could restructure. The other cast members could be set free to pursue their own other projects – which I would gladly follow – while Community could become a show that focused more closely on Alison Brie.

They could call the revamped Community something like Just Brie Yourself, or Brie At Last, Brie At Last, Thank God Almighty, Brie At Last, or maybe just The Alison B. Schermerhorn Variety Half-Hour – provided the producers are willing to Chang the show’s name.

Truman Capps thinks Gillian Jacobs is pretty cute too.