‘Community’ 4.10 Recap: “No One Wants to Screw the Group”

Thursday’s episode of ‘Community’, called ‘Intro to Knots’, features Malcolm McDowell tied up in a chair for extended periods of time. Under Dan Harmon, this would have led to a smorgasbord of ‘Clockwork Orange‘ gags, but instead, we get a half-hearted homage to Hitchcock’s ‘Rope‘ that does no credit to either the original film or a show that should have knocked this premise out of the park.

At the study group’s Christmas party, Annie reveals some bad news: Professor Cornwallis (Malcolm McDowell) is going to fail the group for a joint history essay. She has invited Cornwallis to the party to try to smooth talk him into bumping up the grade. Jeff really wants that grade changed, especially when it’s revealed that he tanked his section of the project. Abed is annoyed that they aren’t re-enacting ‘Die Hard‘ in a restaurant, but gets excited when Chang, who was also invited, ties up Cornwallis in a bad misreading of the situation. Cornwallis then uses this to try to tear the group apart from the inside.

On the face of it, ‘Intro to Knots’ should be a good episode. It has plenty of angles to choose from, and a Christmas episode is always a good excuse for something creative. Unfortunately, the writers manage to bungle things at almost every turn. There’s nothing Christmas-y about this episode except for the setting. A few quips about Annie wanting to play house with Jeff are dropped almost immediately. Pierce doesn’t even show up, continuing the theme of utterly marginalizing his character. Chevy Chase may be difficult to deal with on set, but the way Pierce has been reduced to nothing is utterly transparent.

Once Cornwallis is tied up, things don’t get much better. He tries to prey on the group’s in-fighting, leading to one of the few good moments of the episode, when Annie learns that Shirley is another candidate for valedictorian. But, for the most part, it’s simply a lot of nay-saying. The whole thing is wrapped up with a predictable speech from Jeff.

This episode attempts to play on Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’, one of the more obscure references the show has made. Even if you haven’t seen ‘Rope’, you may know that the movie was intended to be filmed in a single shot, without cuts. Of course, that was impossible to do using film technology (with the advent of digital filmmaking techniques, a few later movies would do true one-take features), so Hitchcock used hidden cuts to keep the illusion alive. ‘Intro to Knots’ attempts to use some long shots, and the whole episode is shot using the same focal length (another aspect of ‘Rope’), but this mainly leads to some odd framing. The episode barely even features a roaming camera. As an homage, it’s a failure, and the end result also diminishes the episode as a sitcom.

The lack of references to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, still Malcolm McDowell’s best known feature, is even more shocking. What’s the point of even getting McDowell, who was completely ignored in his last appearance, if you’re not going to make reference to his extensive body of work? I wouldn’t say that the actor is necessarily phoning it in here, but he’s not being challenged either.

As for Abed’s idea about ‘Die Hard’ in a restaurant? Other than getting a replica John McClane shirt from Troy (who does virtually nothing else for the rest of the episode), that idea is completely abandoned. Abed instead becomes content to sit back and watch the events unfold, even stopping to make popcorn. If only we, the ‘Community’ community, could be so content as to sit back and watch this show continue its inexorable fall from grace.

7 comments

  1. I think you’re being a little too hard on this one. While not the show’s best episode, it’s also far from the worst, including some of those under Dan Harmon’s reign.

    Aren’t Clockwork Orange jokes all played out by now anyway? I have a feeling that Malcolm McDowell has it written into his contract that he won’t do them anymore.

  2. Paulb

    Agreed, you seem to have decided the show is going down and so you now look reasons to dislike it. Also agree that it would be too ‘on the nose’ to do Clockwork Orange stuff though a little side reference wouldn’t be bad.
    I felt it was a slightly below average episode, but not a horrible one.
    As for the reference, I actually though they were doing more of a Suicide Kings reference. I haven’t’ seen Rope yet but the description doesn’t seem to match the scenario at all.

    • The writers specifically said in interviews that they were referencing Rope, and that they wanted to do it all in fluid masters, but NBC wouldn’t let them.

      As for looking for reasons to dislike it, it wasn’t hard to find them in this episode. I’ve praised this season when praise was due, but this was not one of those times.

  3. NJScorpio

    First, gotta say, I had quite a few good laughs this episode. I’ll keep my observations short:

    – I don’t mind that it was a far less Christmas-y episode than other Christmas episodes. Especially since it didn’t air around Christmas. It makes those episodes more enjoyable other times of the year (unlike the claymation episode).

    – My biggest laughs came from Abed. Espeically his first line about the sushi reasturant! His enjoyment of the events unfolding, for me, sold the episode.

    – Rope (apparently) is one of those movies who’s infulence is so great, you get the concept without knowing the originating movie. So I got that it was a movie concept reference. I agree, Clockwork would have been too on the nose. Since it is their last season, I would have much rather have had a Die Hard episode.

    – I don’t like what is happening to Pierce’s character, but if it’s issues with the cast/writers, then I guess it’s good it’s the last season. If he totally left, and they continued, that’d be “jumping the shark” so to speak.

    – Recent episodes have had lots of character development, in terms of growth. Interesting, but it’s making most characters consistantly feel unlike themselves. While there wasn’t much character development, everyone felt like themselves, which was nice.

  4. This show just makes me sad now. I didn’t feel as strongly about this episode as you did, but the best I can say about any episodes this season is that they’re almost as good as the worst episodes of any other season. Honestly this one felt like a step up from the absolutely god awful puppet debacle.

  5. Baked Waker

    I will still watch every show, and even look forward to Thursday shows from 8:00 to 9:30, I am still a bit sad about this series. It was a favourite within a handful of episodes and was brilliant and different.
    While not bad and still enjoyable, and among the few network shows I watch, the loss of Harmon is a fatal injury, it no longer has that fervent specialness to it. He was an a-h, but he used that power for the force of funny and different.
    For a really bad analogy, the Harmon years were heroin, the post-Harmon year is methadone weaning us off bit by bit for the time it is finally cut off for good.

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