Community S4 E04 – Alternative History of the German Invasion

Finally, four episodes into the season, Community gets it right with “Alternative History of the German Invasion.”

Community S4E4Interestingly, it’s also the first episode that really features Greendale as a campus and the study group as a unit. We see their first history class together, where their professor announces their first assignment: understanding a historical battle from the perspective of both the winning side and the losing side. (No dioramas allowed, to the group’s disappointment.) This assignment becomes the thematic thread tying the entire episode together, as Jeff and Shirley’s nemeses from season three’s “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” wage war with the group for study room F. With the Germans signing out the room earlier and earlier in the morning, the study group decides to create a clever ruse, Hogan’s Heroes style, in the form of an Oktoberfest celebration.

It’s a clever episode, chock-full of historical allusions and German-inspired jokes. (Personal favourite: “that must be nearly one hundred luftballons!”) For the first time all season we see the study group function as an ensemble, rather than as splintered pieces of a whole, and it’s refreshing to take a break from the relationship drama that has bogged down the first few episodes. I actually have to wonder if this episode was written to be the fourth in the season — I find myself doubting it, given both the use of Oktoberfest and the fact that Annie’s room number in “Conventions of Space and Time” was 404, not 403.

Meanwhile, as the study gCommunity S4E4 Changnesiaroup experience history from the perspective of both the victors and the vanquished, Dean Pelton is charged with the job of overseeing Chang, now “Kevin,” who claims to be suffering from “Changnesia.” It’s not the first time Community has gone to elaborate lengths to keep Ken Jeong on the show well past his character’s expiration date, and I found myself simultaneously exasperated and entertained. While the plot is surely ludicrous, it was a nice opportunity for the Dean to behave like an actual character, rather than as merely a costumed plot device. His tendency towards forgiveness as well as his willingness to do just about anything for the sake of his school — including nurse back to health a man who once imprisoned him — is actually sort of touching.

The best part of this episode comes in the last act, after the study group has successfully reclaimed the study room only to find that the rest of the student body has rallied around the Germans. We see a series of flashbacks to previous Community episodesCommuniy S4E4 Protest, with students like Todd and Gareth looking on as the group lock commandeer the study room for their own purposes. “I have a final tomorrow!” moans Gareth, and Todd replies with a bitter, “They lost a pen,” a wonderful call-back to season two’s “Cooperative Calligraphy.” Ultimately, the Greendale Seven realize their own selfishness and set out to make “reparations,” painting walls and fixing chairs and replacing light bulbs around campus to give back to the school.

What detracted from an otherwise excellent episode for me was an over-reliance on Nazi jokes. Even aside from the way these jokes blunder clumsily through a sensitive period in history, they’re neither creative nor particularly funny. “Germans are Nazis” is easy, lazy humour, the sort Community as a show should be well above.  Wouldn’t Abed’s line “unless you’re talking about Die Hard 3” be funnier without Jeff’s reference to the 20th century? That’s the joke — w don’t need Jeff to spell it out for us. Likewise, did we need to directly call Jeff the “Hitler” of the group, or Pierce to want that title for himself? Isn’t it funnier for the implication to remain unsaid? The World War II allusions in this episode hold up without these stale jokes weighing them down.

Still, though, in most ways this episode was a nice return to what feels like normal Community  — over-the-top Greendale students, classes, and policies, with the study group functioning as an ensemble rather than being split into sub-groups. It’s worth noting that this is actually the first episode penned by a new writer, rather than a returning writer, a fact which should deflate a little of the Dan Harmon nostalgia. Past seasons of Community have often take three or four episodes to get off the ground, so fingers crossed that “Alternative History of the German Invasion” is season four’s turning point.

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