Community S4 E03 – “Conventions of Space and Time”

As a huge fan of Doctor Who, I’ve been looking forward to “Conventions of Space and Time” since the idea was first announced. An entire episode centered around Inspector Spacetime, Community‘s own Doctor Who parody? Sign me up! In “Conventions of Space and Time,” Troy, Abed, and Britta attend an Inspector Spacetime convention, while Jeff and Annie tag along with the intention of skiing at a nearby resort. Pierce convinces Shirley to crash the con with him, and they wind up as part of a focus group screening the American adaptation of Inspector Spacetime.

Unfortunately, what “Conventions of Space and Time” delivered was more fun for me to watch as a fan of Doctor Who than as a fan of Community.

The episode opens with Troy and Britta watching a black and white clip of Inspector Spacetime in bed together. “There are fifty years of these, huh?” Britta asks, unenthusiastically, and Troy chirps “isn’t it great?” When Abed knocks on Troy’s door, we see Britta ushered out the window and onto the fire escape to perform an elaborate and well-practiced gymnast routine of getting dressed. Troy, we learn, worries that his relationship with Britta is going to make Abed jealous, and tries to hide the fact that he and Britta are having sex. In fact, Abed already knows, and when they arrive at the con and meet Abed’s like-minded internet friend Toby, it’s Troy who finds himself feeling threatened, while Britta tries to help.

Community - Season 4It’s a nice idea and a nice subversion of what you’re led to suspect in the opening sequence; however, with the strength of Troy and Abed’s friendship well-established and the relationship between Britta and Troy comparatively underdeveloped, it doesn’t quite work.  Abed’s friend Toby, though designed to be a sort of bizarro British Abed, poses no believable threat to Troy and Abed’s friendship. We have Abed conclude that people like him need people like Troy to keep them grounded in humanity, but since it’s been obvious for seasons now that part of Troy’s relationship with Abed is acting as interpreter, this feels redundant. Troy and Abed are very close, and this episode reaffirms that without ever really making us need that affirmation. Conversely, though Troy and Britta seem quite happy together in this episode, we still haven’t seen why or how these two got together in the first place. This needs to come soon, or it will keep feeling unnatural whenever they do things that abruptly remind the audience that they are a couple.

Meanwhile, the ski resort is unexpectedly closed, so Jeff plans to head back home, much to Annie’s disappointment. She suggests they stay at the convention, but Jeff — who, it turns out, shares a striking resemblance with Thoraxis, a major villain from Inspector Spacetime — wants to leave immediately. He tells Annie to use the hotel room he booked, and when hotel staff addresses her as “Mrs. Winger,” she lets it go to her head. Soon Annie is constructing an elaborate fantasy about her married life with Jeff, while ordering obscene amounts of room service and constantly referring to her “husband.” Jeff, on the other hand, uses his resemblance to Thoraxis to get close to an attractive con-goer, played by Battlestar Galactica‘s Tricia Helfer. Annie finds out, publicly accuses her “husband” of having an affair, scares away Tricia Helfer, and then admits to Jeff that she felt dejected when he didn’t want to spend time with her. Jeff assures Annie that it’s not her he doesn’t want to spend time with, he simply doesn’t want to spend time doing “lame things,” then buys her a drink to smooth things over.

Community - Season 4This, for me, was by far the most frustrating part of the episode. The Jeff/Annie relationship is not one I enjoy — at least, not when infused with romantic undertones, as it often is. Part of my dislike stems from the way Annie’s immaturity gets turned up to eleven when Jeff is involved, and this was on full display in “Conventions of Space and Time.” Annie’s fantasy life as Mrs. Winger was embarrassing to watch; we may as well have watched her doodle Jeff’s name in her notebook. Beyond that, it seems unreasonable that Annie herself is not more interested in the convention, when we know from past episodes that she enjoys hanging out with Troy and Abed and has even enjoyed dressing up as an Inspector Spacetime character. Why not allow her to have fun at the convention itself? Instead, she is written like a teenager, so that Jeff can feel chastised and buy her a drink. For me it was the worst of the Jeff/Annie pairing, full on display.

The convention itself is the only major success in “Conventions of Space and Time.” The whole of the episode is peppered with Doctor Who jokes, through the lens of Inspector Spacetime. Whether these jokes would work for someone unfamiliar with Doctor Who, I can’t say, but then Community has never seemed overly concerned with whether or not people understand its reference humour. With mentions of 50th anniversaries, Christmas specials, female “Inspectors” and the fanboys who hate her (“it’s not sexism, she just sucks”), “Conventions of Time and Space” was littered with Easter eggs for the Whovians watching, and it was funny.  Pierce and Shirley’s conflicting advice for the American adaptation was hilarious. I found myself desperately wishing the show had taken Karen Gillan up on her offer to guest star, as that’s just about the only thing that could elevate the Who jokes even more. Abed even makes a speech which sums up the role of Doctor Who companion more acutely than anything Doctor Who has actually aired in years. As a tribute to Doctor Who, this episode excelled.

Perhaps that only makes it sadder that it failed as an episode of Community.

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