In Slate’s Community TV Club, Aisha Harris will IM about each post-Dan Harmon episode with another Community fan. This week, she discusses “Conventions of Space and Time” with Slate contributor Abby Ohlheiser.
Aisha Harris: So Abby, as you’re a Dr. Who fan, this episode, in which Troy and Abed go to an Inspector Spacetime convention, must hold some significance to you. Community has long used Inspector Spacetime as a very thinly veiled show-within-a-show parody of the long-running sci-fi series, and this time around they devoted an entire episode to it. Did the use of the convention as a backdrop to Troy and Abed’s unraveling friendship work for you?
Abby Ohlheiser: To be honest, Aisha, I was kind of dreading this one before I saw it—Abed at a convention? But I walked away with decidedly mixed feelings: As a commentary on why people like shows like Dr. Who, or Harmon-run Community, I thought it was surprisingly right on. Shirley's observation that people like Inspector because it's "smart, complicated, and doesn't talk down to its audience" was perfect, as was Abed's analysis of the Inspector-Constable dynamic (which is pretty much directly parallel to the Doctor-companion relationships in Dr. Who): "His human friends keep him grounded and invested in the world." Still, I didn't think the episode delivered on being smart or complicated itself.
Aisha: I'm glad you mentioned Shirley's quote, because that was the defining moment for me in this episode. That is exactly what Community was and what it is still struggling to be in its fourth season. I did appreciate what they were attempting to do here, which was to test the boundaries of Abed and Troy's relationship now that the latter is no longer single. And what better way to do so than through their favorite show?
Abby: I agree that the backdrop of something we've known that the two both love is a good idea.
Aisha: But now that I think of it, this was handled much better in the Ken Burns-doc themed episode from last season. The idea was the same—that despite their natural closeness, they still have ideas and sensibilities of their own that will occasionally clash—but the execution of this rift wasn’t nearly as compelling as that of a war fought over pillow and blanket forts.
Abby: I like it when the writers let Troy's character be complicated, and we almost got there in this episode. But I feel like, aside from his friendship with Troy, Abed is slipping a bit away from us.
And I was completely baffled by the defeat of Abed's Internet pal, Toby. It fell flat. Actually, I was sort of cringing for the entire wrap-up of the whole episode.
Aisha: I did find it interesting that Toby was a) British and b) kind of an asshole.
Abby: I love that even in an entire episode set at a convention for a British series, they still manage to make the sole British character the villain.
Aisha: Right! I also enjoyed the Minerva gag—she’s the lone female inspector on Inspector Spacetime who everybody hates but "not because they're sexist, but because she sucks," according to Abed.
Abby: I disagree! That gag could have been better. The best part of it was that Britta immediately likes the character everyone else finds annoying, to the point of buying a T-shirt for her. But the explanation Abed used is kind of familiar to me. I think there's a reason beyond "she sucks" that fans wouldn't want an intellectual, brilliant character with emotional debts to be played by a female. Kind of like how a kid would write "no girls allowed" on a club house.
Aisha: Interesting. For me, I think the writer (Community vet Maggie Bandur) was critiquing, rather than endorsing, such ideas—especially when Toby and Abed say "she's such a Minerva" and Troy chimes in uncomfortably, "Yeah, Minerva, what a bitch.” This is certainly complicated by the fact that Britta really isn't into the show (and is basically many nerds' misogynistic fear that women who are into such things are "faking" it), and I can see how it can be viewed as problematic. But she clearly wants to be supportive of Troy, her boyfriend. And at the end, she does affectionately say, "I've told you many times—I don't care about Inspector Spacetime."
Abby: After the premiere episode, I was left wondering whether this season would demonstrate that understanding what makes a show work doesn't necessarily mean that you can make it yourself. This episode, if not a confirmation of that, certainly did nothing to sway me from that opinion.