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'Community' Season 4: The Year of Lasers and Unicorn Men! (So, Toning It Down?) — PICS

By Michael Arbeiter, Hollywood.com Staff

Community premiered in September of 2009, fostering a charming but none-too-flashy pilot about your standard good-looking jackass hoping to bed the down-to-earth blonde whom he comes to meet in the new world to which each of their lives have led them.

The episode introduced alongside said ostensible romantic leads, Jeff (Joel McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs), a quirky supporting cast who'd come at first to stand in the way of the former's sexual conquest, while promising subtly to entrench themselves into his daily routine and, eventually, his heart. The pilot played out largely within the confines of a single room — the same dimly lit library nook that has housed this cast of seven ever since — relying entirely on dialogue between the disparate, at-odds individuals for comedy. From what any viewer of the Community pilot might gather, this would be a show about nutty people existing in an ordinary world.

Three years later, we have these new photos from the approaching fourth season of the sitcom: images of men dressed as women, a man dressed as Olive Oyl (I know he's not supposed to be Olive Oyl, but the similarities are striking... but Community would never do a repeat reference), and college students dodging laser security systems...

In short, the show has changed quite a bit. Community's reality continues to breach its limits, allowing for some of the strangest circumstances imaginable to undertake its heroes week after week. These new images suggest no rest for this expansion.

And while many of us love Community and everything that it has become with its costumes, elaborate heists, Dreamatoriums, and monkey gassings, we have to wonder: how might the show have been different if it stuck to the formula of the pilot? Keeping its world grounded in ours, but having its characters soar high above on their eccentricity alone? Is Community better off as a fantasy of sorts, filled with Deanelgängers and zombie outbreaks, or do we miss the simpler, softer days of people just talking?

Personally, I'm content with the form the show has taken. Community might have adhered more stringently to a cartoon world over the past two seasons, but it has done so with aplomb, not losing its humanity or its capability of sincerity. Yes, things happen on this show that can't and won't in real life, but we're treated just as frequently to genuine struggles between and within the members of the central study group. And oftentimes, as the genre was created to do, it is these elements of fantasy that help the show to acknowledge the pains and problems plaguing Jeff, Britta, Abed, and company.

So, Community might never stick to its musical pledge to ""be less weird"" than the years preceding. But why bother? The weirdness on its own is great. And when the weirdness is utilized to illustrate everything that makes it humane and relatable, that's when the show is at its best.

[Photo Credit: Vivian Zink/NBC (5)]

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