In Slate’s Community TV Club, Aisha Harris will IM about each post-Dan Harmon episode with another Community fan. This week, she discusses “Alternative History of the German Invasion” with Slate interactives editor Chris Kirk.
Aisha Harris: The study group is finally back at Greendale, and they’re taking a European history class with those obnoxious Germans from last season’s great foosball episode. So this week, I decided to try going into this episode with a very open mind. And to my pleasant surprise, I didn't have to look hard for this episode—I really enjoyed it.
Chris Kirk: My expectations were pretty low, and I thought it was funny in Community-like ways. Unlike the other episodes of this season, I felt like this one could have easily fit into one of the previous seasons.
Aisha: Agreed. I think what worked for me was the fact that the group was working as an ensemble here, instead of with competing storylines.
Chris: Definitely. The group is funniest and most charming when they're all together. That's something we didn't see very much in the Halloween episode, when they all were split apart. I really enjoyed the allusions to former episodes, including the reappearance of the Germans, the flashback references to the Dungeons and Dragons episode, and the bottle episode of Season 2.
Aisha: That was my favorite part! It’s when they recognize their inherent insularity and narcissism when things spark. Granted, this is not the first time this has been done on the show—if you recall last season, they re-enacted several moments during the "insane asylum" episode, when they're all trying to figure out how to help Abed.
Chris: I was happy to see everyone back at Greendale, instead of Pierce's mansion or at an Inspector Spacetime convention.
Aisha: Well that brings up another point—does the show work best when it's actually within the community school environment? It is, after all, called Community, and it's the only way all seven of them became friends in the first place.
Chris: Definitely. I think occasional changes of scenery are important for any show. I don't necessarily mind it when the characters go off-campus for some adventure every now and then, but I think the show is at its best when it’s at Greendale.
Aisha: Right. There have been great episodes off-campus—the timelines episode, the My Dinner With Andre one as well. But I'd say more often than not, the halls of Greendale are where they are most likely to thrive.
This episode produced a lot of nostalgia for me, and this time in a good way. (As opposed to the last few episodes, which were so bad they made me long for the old days.)
Chris: Yeah, I think the self-references were effective in this episode because they were fleeting and subtle. I laughed out loud when everyone groaned after the history professor banned dioramas. Another throwback to Season 2. The hardcore Community fans (like myself) feel rewarded when they catch them, and newcomers don't feel excluded.
Aisha: And let's talk a bit about Chang, who's officially returned. He's suffering from "Changnesia" and the Dean has to help him return to “normal.” To be honest, I didn't really miss Chang.
Chris: I have never found Chang to be particularly funny. I guess I just don't get him. He's just crazy. That's it. To me, he's only ever funny when other people respond to him. I really have no idea where the show will take him. He just baffles me. Though I did appreciate, in that subplot, all the references to the Dean's own ludicrous ways.
Aisha: Him and the Dean function similarly—they’re virtually one-note characters. Chang is prone to twisted outbursts, and the Dean will forever be cross-dressing and trying to get into Jeff's pants. But I think a show like this can only withstand one such singular character. And to me, the Dean wins in that regard. His quips never get old to me.
Chris: Agreed. Also, I really liked Jeff in this episode. Jeff has always been my favorite character, and I think the show continues to do an excellent job with him.
Aisha: The comparison to Hitler—great. In fact, the way in which the last few minutes turns the study group's perspective completely inside out is also really smart, if similar to past episodes. Realizing that they are, in fact, the "Germans" is a nice wake-up call (again) to the group that even though Community the show is all about them, everyone around them resents it. I mean, really—how is it that they always had dibs on the study room, day or night? Do we need the answer to that question? Of course not. But I liked how they made us aware of it.
Chris: Yes! I enjoyed that as well. I liked how this episode unravels this axiom that all of Greendale revolves around them and that they own "their" study room. And I lol'ed when Pierce pulled that dead raccoon out of the vent.
Aisha: Do you think this episode puts forth hope that maybe this season won't suck as a whole after all?
Chris: Yes! Community has not lost its soul.