Review: 'Community' - 'Heroic Origins': I am Spider-Man
A review of tonight's "Community" coming up just as soon as I write a letter of apology to George Lucas...
Since "Heroic Origins" is unapologetic about its superheroic inspirations, allow me to go hardcore nerd for a while.
In terms of comic book origin stories, Spider-Man's is one of the very best. It's simple (if ridiculous in an early '60s kind of way), universal, and utterly random. Peter Parker's just a very smart kid in the wrong place at the wrong time (or, if you believe the spider powers made his life better rather than worse, the right place at the right time). It's perfect — and yet a number of successive writers, in both comics and film, have felt they can improve on perfection, whether by tying the radioactive spider experiments to one of Spider-Man's arch-villains, or (in a hilariously convoluted early '00s arc) claiming that the bite was a mystical thing that turned Peter into a "totem," bridging the gap between man and beast. Similarly, every now and then a Batman writer decides that the death of Bruce Wayne's parents couldn't be a simple tragedy, but an organized crime hit, or revenge from the bitter son of a former Wayne family employee, etc.
I understand the impulse that drives those kinds of stories. Comic book fans love explanations, and comic book writers (most of whom were fans first) often feel like they have to contribute something to the larger mythology to make an impression. But randomness has a power in its own right, and attempts to replace it with predestination strips that power away.
As presented in the "Community" pilot, the study group is an accident: Jeff needed a cover to hit on Britta, and that lie unexpectedly attracted these other five people who were in their Spanish class. We knew that Troy and Annie had gone to high school together, but overall it was pure happenstance that these seven people wound up in the same room as each other's surrogate family. That was the point of the show, and why the concept has been capable of as much emotional power as it has over the years: that a community can be formed from something as frivolous and random as a guy scamming a woman he wants to have sex with, and yet despite that become the most important and stable aspect of its members' lives.
"Heroic Origins" tosses out the randomness of the pilot in favor of the spider-totem approach, in which each member(*) inadvertently crossed paths with every other member and caused them all to end up at Greendale.
(*) Other than Pierce, as this was another one filmed while Chevy Chase had gone walkabout.
It's our second episode in a row of Jeff being in a really pissy mood about anything standing between himself and graduation, and we're clearly meant to side with Abed as more and more details of the group's interconnected past comes to life. Yet despite some good emotional moments — particularly from Yvette Nicole Brown, who got to do some honest-to-goodness dramatic acting in the midst of the usual "Community" foolishness — and the end of Chang working as an agent of Dean Sprecht and City College, I mainly wish it could be retconned out of existence — the way ensuing Flash writers quickly ignored the introduction of Mopee as the explanation for Barry Allen's powers — so we can go back to the study group as simply seven people in a room as the byproduct of Jeff Winger's attempt to seduce the hot blonde.
Some other thoughts:
* Beyond the rewriting of the group's origin story, "Heroic Origins" was — like this week's "New Girl" — an opportunity for some of the cast (or, at least, the female half of it) to put on wigs and unusual fashions. But like most of the non-Jim Rash-scripted episodes of this season, it wasn't especially funny. (Rash himself delivered the biggest laugh line when the dean studied Shirley's lingerie and said, "This better not awaken anything in me.")
* Mini-"Free Agents" reunion with guest appearances by Joe Lo Truglio as Jeff's former colleague (presumably Rob Corddry and Drew Carey weren't available) and Natasha Leggero as Misty the home-wrecking stripper.
* Also better off without a specific origin story: Magnitude.
* I'm puzzled by the Annie's Boobs of it all. Didn't Troy buy her from a pet store with all the chicken finger money? Or was this somehow an entirely different monkey?
Next week's the season finale — and, depending on how NBC feels about its comedy development (and whether Sony wants to bow and scrape again for another renewal), potentially the last "Community" episode ever. (It was also written and produced earlier in the season, so Pierce will be involved.) Having seen all but one of the post-Harmon episodes, who wants to see the show continue and who would rather it end with (presumably) Jeff getting his bachelor's degree? And did people like the new "Unbreakable"-style origin story for the study group, or would you rather Jeff had been right in his argument with Abed?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com