Thursday, August 25, 2011

Slate on Community: Paradigms of Human Memory - the season that wasn't

Interesting article today on Slate about "Community," namely how the episode "Paradigms of Human Memory" is "the most insanely self-referential 22 minutes in sitcom history."

In this episode, Jeff hallucinated a talking fish, and we all learned a valuable lesson about mercury poisoning.o

I recommend the article to "Community" fans -- the writer makes some very insightful comments, about how the show is a sit-com about sit-coms and such, but he misses the main point of the episode.

Oh - what's that? You'd like me to
explain? Well ok.

This was probably the best episode of the show's second season, which crashed hard after it's fantastic first season, going from the show that I was most excited to watch on Thursday nights to the show I was least excited to watch. They even acknowledge the precipitous drop in writing quality in one episode with a clever (albeit sad) sight gag:



In its first year, show always had a fun, engaging formula where there were two or three different storylines that all converged beautifully at the end. The best example was the "Somewhere Out There" montage (available here).

But the show's creators moved from that format to a very soap operatic one and an increasing number of gimmick-shows (meant to replicate the success of the paintball episode), including TWO MORE PAINTBALL EPISODES. The worst thing that happened was the mismanagement of the Ken Jeong character, as Slate points out here.

Ken Jeong

(Note that given that he appeared in two of the three most successful films of 2011 (Hangover 2 and Transformers 3), the reaction will no doubt be to use his character more rather than less.)

So this episode, "Paradigms of Memory," was IMO the effort for them to make the episode that showed the season they wished they'd made. By saturating the episode with a litany of no doubt VERY expensive flashbacks to stories we've never seen, they were trying to wipe the slate (ah hah) clean and provide retroactive continuity (or "retconning").

(Also I appreciate that when the author of the original Slate articles talks about flashbacks and cutaways that he mentioned "30 Rock" and "ARD," but -not- "Family Guy," although "Family Guy" is easily the show that has popularized cutaway gags __however__ the show's creators stole the trope from early episodes of "The Simpsons.")

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