The fact that this season of ‘Community’ even exists is a bit of a baffling proposition. By removing Dan Harmon, the show’s creator and driving force, NBC left the series rudderless, and this season has been about finding its focus again. The best episodes have been simple, straight-up sitcom stories about students at Greendale. Rarely have the gimmick episodes had the wit or the originality of those under Harmon’s tenure. Last week’s ‘Heroic Origins’, however, manages to pull a gimmick that serves the story, instead of replacing it.
Instead of studying for a history final (boy, the writers have sure gotten a lot of mileage out of this history class, without actually showing much of it, haven’t they?), Abed has put together a “Crazy Quilt of Destiny,” which proves that every person in the study group had a previous connection to another member. At first, the group doesn’t want to hear it, but as the coincidences pile up, everyone gets sucked in.
The story is told through ‘Heroes’-esque flashbacks, jumping all the way back to 2008. (You can tell because Shirley is wearing an Obama/Biden shirt.) Annie is bespectacled with a mouth full of braces, while Troy is still the star athlete. Through the course of the episode, we see a lot of backstory that had long been referenced but never explored. To the writers’ credit, this feels genuine, and all the pieces come together as a cohesive whole.
Even Chang gets a chance to redeem himself, a smart move considering how uninteresting his plot line has been this season. The only person who gets short shrift is Pierce, who appears only once in a flashback, faking a heart attack. Whatever problems the producers have with Chevy Chase have really hurt the show. His absence is sorely felt in episodes like this.
On the whole, ‘Heroic Origins’ gets things right. The connections are smart and reasonable, as opposed to the contrived coincidences that might have been lazily written in. And the gimmick serves to tie everything together instead of overpowering the sentiment. In fact, things are tied up so well that I’m surprised this wasn’t the season finale. It makes me wonder what the show will do next week (though, given the last scene of this episode, I worry that it will be a big stumble). I guess we’ll find out soon.