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.