Community "Heroic Origins" Review: The Beginning of the Beginning of the End

Community S4E12: "Heroic Origins"

With episodic television and episodic television reviews, it can sometimes be challenging to see the forest for the trees. Since the beginning of Community's fourth season, I've been urging myself—and I think we've all kind of been urging each other—to give the show some time. It was never going to be what it was, but that didn't it mean it couldn't grow into something else that was also good. While I've enjoyed a number of this season's episodes, I still find myself wishing for more, or for something else. It's hard not to. 

Yet, over the last four episodes, Community's writers have pretty much figured things out. I'd say the string of episodes beginning with "Intro to Felt Surrogacy" were all "pretty good" to "very good," as if the current writing staff had finally wrangled control of the show away from big expectations, the Ghost of Dan Harmon, and/or any number of other things. The manic energy, the shrieking, and the overwhelming sense that everyone was trying too hard had all been stamped out. In their place was a more straightforward and lower-stakes version of Community, but also one that understood above all else what these people mean to one another. Though the show may no longer go to the same lengths to reinforce the study group's bonds, the writers have figured out how to tell enjoyable, mostly creative, and emotionally valuable stories. That might not be enough for you, and it might not be enough for NBC to keep the show around for another season of low-rated obscurity, but as the fourth season comes to a close, it's enough for me. 

"Heroic Origins" was another example of the show's current upswing, and while it leaned hard on a conceit that we've seen recently (the members of the group debate what they mean to one other and discuss how certain experiences have changed them), there was enough variation to make the story enjoyable. Abed's attempts to trace the group's pre-Greendale connections provided some smart, entertaining recontextualizations of history—that Jeff defended the stripper who slept with Andre, that Abed more or less ratted Annie out for her drug problem—and allowed the group yet another opportunity to reaffirm the fact that, however they came together, they can't help but stay together. A few moments stretched continuity a little for my liking, most notably Troy admitting that he lied about not remembering Annie and actually decided to fake his keg flip injury because of her pilled-up speech, and it was kind of a bummer that Pierce didn't have more of a role in the story, but I can forgive both of those problems because the story came together in such a simple, sweet fashion.

Above all else, I think the writers finally realized that they could just let the audience's love for the group carry them through some crucial stories. Think back to earlier in the season, when the plot was much busier and the characters were involved in a number of hijinks that weren't really about their larger bonds. To be fair, I liked a few of the individual character arcs (particularly Pierce's in "Paranormal Parentage" and Jeff's in "Cooperative Escapism and Familial Relations"), but overall I felt like gimmicks and outside forces where pushing Community's characters, and the group as a whole, in too many different directions. The show's biggest strength is the chemistry between the main characters; we like to see them together, even if they're breaking up, or arguing about arguing. 

Thus, it's probably no coincidence that three of the last four episodes have been about the group interacting in a single space. Those dynamics work best, and if this is truly the end of the show, I'd rather spend more time with everybody yelling, crying, and hugging in the study room than doing anything else. "Heroic Origins" sort of had it both ways, because the flashbacks allowed the episode to integrate a little more plot into the proceedings, but it always came back to the study room and the group's present-day conversations. The flashbacks gave us fun glimpses of things we'd previously only heard about, but it was the study room conversations that added the impact. Whether it was Jeff's realization that no matter how much he changes in the present, he can't undo the less-admirable actions from his past, or Abed's temporary realization that he was the group's super-villain, this episode did a fine job of letting the past inform the present, even with information that we pretty much already knew. 

And despite the convenient nature of the episode's ending, I'd argue that it was one of the season's stronger conclusions. Community's problems with final acts are well-established, but this one worked because it didn't totally need a rousing Winger speech (which, at this point, are getting a little stale) to bring everything and everyone together. Destiny, serendipity, or the neutron energy of Pierce's religion brought six of the Greendale Seven back to the place where they all decided to attend Greendale in the first place, all for very different reasons. Was it a little silly that the show simply wrote away all of Chang's evil-doings with a few Abed lines about starting over? Of course. Was the ending mushy? Oh absolutely. But in the moment, I didn't care, and I don't now. I love it when shows start looking back because they know they're either A.) making a big leap forward or B.) ending, and no matter what happens, Community did that with this episode. I don't think this "Heroic Origins" was as overtly funny as some of the show's recent efforts, but that didn't matter. I've given up assuming that Community is going to make me laugh as much as it used to. However, the show has found a nice heart without going as dark or complex as Season 3 did, and this episode felt like another variation on that theme. 

Finally, "Heroic Origins" also allowed for another episode full of strong performances from the cast. Danny Pudi made detached, douchey Abed almost immediately sympathetic; Alison Brie merged some of the things we saw from Annie back in Season 1 with some extreme and animated behavior; Joel McHale and Yvette Nicole Brown proved yet again that they make for one of the show's best moderately dramatic pairings, and even Ken Jeong sold that final scene where Abed finally invited him into the group. 

There's only one episode left in this season, and probably in this series. Things started out a little rough, but you know what? The writers figured it out. If you haven't been watching, I urge you to check out the last few episodes and I really urge you to watch the likely series finale. If the last few offerings are any indication, Community is going to end with its beating heart very visible. The writers have rediscovered how to let the characters love one another, and we should all spend one last episode expressing our love for them. 



STUDY NOTES

– I seriously missed Chevy Chase and Pierce this week. It's really unfortunate that Chase is a prick and the production team couldn't deal with him anymore, because Pierce would fit into this version of the show very, very well.

– Not too much Dean Pelton this week, but Jim Rash really sold the "I hope this doesn't awaken something in me" line as only he can. His bit about the mall being a great place to find students because they're awake during the day made me chuckle. 

– Uh, seriously: Chang tried to murder everybody, and enslaved the school. It's Greendale, but the dude kind of deserves his comeuppance, no matter how much froyo he pays for.  

– I'm a little concerned that the finale is going to be overstuffed with plot. We know that City College is going to attack with its giant spider (shots at Wild Wild West? I hope so), and for whatever terrible reason, characters from the alternate timeline are going to show up. That certainly undercuts my hope that we'll get another episode like the last few, but I'm willing to hold out hope. I've never been a big fan of the show's season finales anyway. 


Comments (33)
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Loved this episode. Having flashbacks before the Pilot made for a decent story and one I'm actually surprised we never saw before. Loved it though...just like the past few episodes.

Hoping next week is only the season finale, I hate potential-could be series finales, even though they're usually a little better than the actual billed finales ;).

PS has anyone noticed the lack of Troy and Abed's handshake this season? Has it even happened at all?
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Pop Pop !
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One of the better episodes of the season. But that wouldn't take much. At least it was fairly consistent. If this had been the way they did the whole season I wouldn't have minded it. But in the beginning they were too erratic, guest stars weren't used well at all. And overall it looked like it was done by people that never watched the show previously.

The so called good episodes were still rather meh. They had great premises, absolutely great, just as this episodes premise was great. But the execution has been off all season. So they have the ideas, but due to trying to include all of the cast in the episode. It just leaves the staunch viewer wanting.

And then they completely bollocks'd the Chang conclusion. I thought it was city college that he was talking to, because, these writers haven't shown the capacity for originality or making something huge and sticking with it. It would have been great if he was talking to himself. But no.

The overall episode was all right. It just seemed recycled for some reason.
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I liked parts of it. Some of it was bad, though, like everyone laughing at Chevy messing up the yogurt machine, and I dread any scene Chang is in.
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I don't think they've figured anything out, these recent episodes have been extremely bumpy, a few good and a few bad, all woefully gimmicky even when they sit in a room and talk. This latest episode - as part of Community - was bad, it knew it was bad and it said it was bad, but it didn't stop doing what it was doing. But it was acted and directed and even scripted well, provided you ignore the putrid context it was stemming from, so as entertainment it was alright. How does one rectify those two diametrically-opposed concepts?

The fan perspective would be that this was a bad episode; the tv-viewer perspective would say that this was a good episode; from a longer in-series perspective, this episode was a misstep to worse than the movie it insulted (The Phantom Menace may have been terrible, but at least it was authentic from Lucas' notes, Heroic Origins here was poppycock with a bolt-on idea that undermined the original setup of the show). And that it was doing it knowingly and even intentionally is confounding.

I'll argue that it was entertaining and fit well within this season of "just do whatever to get a moment and a laugh", but was gimmicky and clumsy and dubious - dishonest even - to the series as a whole.

The giant spider is probably more a shot at Warner Bros. and Jon Peters, an exec there who was pushing Kevin Smith to put a giant robot spider into his Superman movie as the finale in a supposed homage to King Kong, Peters and Warner went on to make Wild Wild West and shoehorned the giant spider into its finale after the Superman film fell through.
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The whole episode, I was half way in between liking the episode and feeling very "meh" about it. It was at least better than a lot of other episodes this season though.
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I simply enjoyed the episode, because it was sweet and played well with the heroes references. Like you said, the writers did figure it out. Hope the show gets renewed.
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I haven't agreed with all of Cory's opinions about this season and will not say anything good about that awful puppet episode but I can certainly see the difference in tone between the very recent episodes and the manic, shallow earlier ones and it is somewhat of an improvement, even though regardless of the style each episode still lives and dies by the execution of its concept. I did like this episode enough and think it's up there with the 'good' episodes this season (my favourite is still the Sophie B Hawkins one).
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I loved the Magnitude joke, him sitting in the chair and jumping backwards, popping two balloons in quick succession. Pop pop indeed, Magnitude....pop pop indeed.
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"Pop....pop?..." The birth of a legend!
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That was TREMENDOUS. I'm an idiot for forgetting.
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The back half of this season has been great, this and last weeks I would put on par with the quality during Harmon's time. I am looking forward to next week and if it's the end I am happy we got another season with these characters, Community is one of those rare shows that come along and leaves a massive creative foot print and is universally loved by everyone.
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A bit too many retcons for my liking, but it was enjoyable.

The giant spider thing could also be a shot at that entire Superman-Kevin Smith fiasco, which is what I'm hoping for.
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As you and Cory kinda mentioned, 'Kevin Smith vs the giant spider vs Wild Wild West' was immediately the first thing that came to mind when I saw that. I love how fixated Jon Peters apparently was with that idea.
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That's so random, but also very awesome.
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You and I, we get Superman, you know why? Because we're from the streets.
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I really don't get why they feel they have to rehash the darkest timeline idea? It know it is a fan favourite, but it was devised by Dan Harmon and served a deeper and purpose in season three, alongside being funny. To go back to that idea just seems desperate and lacking in their own creativity. In terms of episodes, though, I have actually enjoyed more than I expected to this season, but why has the last few episodes revolved around them reaffirming themselves as a group? It has become stale in my eyes and think it would have been better served reaffirming individual pairings within the group now and again, like they did in previous seasons and have only touched on this time around.
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"Desperate and lacking in their own creativity" is pretty much how I would summarise this season. Even when they were telling good stories, even when the show made me laugh, there was a constant feeling of "they're just bringing back old jokes and hoping people will still find them funny." The Germans, the darkest timeline, City College, Inspector Spacetime ... It rarely felt like they've being trying their own thing.
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It's really, really lame. Just let it go.
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It is hilariously brilliant that Chang's craziness might be from Annie's Boobs.
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I know they make me crazy.

Wait, oh.....
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This ep. was definitely intriguing with how they were all intertwined in the past and finally found out. I give credit to Alison Brie for making herself not attractive to me which is extremely hard, haha.

Well, I don't have too much hope for the finale since the alternate timeline is involved. Maybe I'm in the minority but I just hate that stuff.

The hardcore fans tended to embrace Community more when they got into another timeline or far out stuff but I still stand that Season 1 by far was the best. It's honestly the true purpose of Community and I'll never forget how much I loved that first wonderful season. I of course loved a lot of the progression but the show got into such a niche for specific fans. Too much obscurity in parts for me but Community ranks as one of my all time faves for sure.
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I don't care who's running (or ruining depending on your stance) the show, I just want it to be funny. That being said... it's not. Sure there were some smiling moments (the dean's line and Abed's midi-chlorians) but overall it's just lackluster. When this episode started, I instantly got a big dumb goofy grin on my face because they were doing ORIGIN STORIES! but in the end, they just didn't capitalize on how great of a story this could have been. That being said, I do love the cast and can't wait to see what projects they turn up on next.
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Most episodes about Community are about the characters! I was satisfied with the latest episode, sure I didn't laugh as much as last weeks but it was a great look into how the characters ended up at Greendale
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I loved this episode and I love Abed.

But one thing has been bugging me all night. Magnitude would have been 13 in 2008. When they did the election episode in 2011, his "profile" said he was 16. Why were high school seniors hanging out with a 13 year old?! And why did he look the same as he does now?!
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Maybe Magnitude is immortal and perpetually looks the same age. He's actually 150 years old and is unknowingly the true reason for the gang getting together, not Chang. Dun dun dunnnn.
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Don't you mean Pop pop popppp?
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the magic of television. :P
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I liked this episode, It wasn't the funniest but it was still entertaining.
I liked the throw away line explaining why chang went crazy (how if the monkey that Britta sold, which im assuming is Annie's Boobs, bit anyone they would prob go crazy). Also Annie going through the glass door was great.
Um one thing: wasn't Annie described as being overweight when she was in high school cuz I didn't notice a change (or was that when she went to rehab?). Im not upset that they didn't do it, im just saying.
Um as for the wild west giant spider, I hope it doesn't end up being some weird CGI thing, cuz that's the only thing that's coming to mind. I think I would enjoy it more if it was some weird puppet thing and they filmed the attack like some sort of Godzilla sequence. But yeah Giant robot spider and the ult. study group. It sound promising but I really really hope it doesn't turn out busy like first episode of this season.
Im still hoping that this show will get a renewal. B/c unlike the 1st 1/2 of the season Im really starting to enjoy the 2nd half which makes future episodes a lot more promising.
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Maybe I missed something somewhere or my memory is fading away, but I don't recall Annie or Troy ever saying that Annie was fat in high school.
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Ah! Hmmm, now I remember Annie saying something about having lost a lot of weight since her NA meetings, in the Accounting for Lawyers episode.
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She held her chin inwards to suggest a rounder face with a little fat underneath, it was well-played. The hair and braces added to it. She doesn't have to be fat to lose some weight.
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yeah so you would think that she would at least be a bit chubby when her NA group was geting froyo
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