I think that the biggest challenge that Season 4 has is the show’s large fanbase of cynical, jaded hipsters. This was cultivated by Dan Harmon, who — let’s face it, is one himself. (Or used to be one? I’ve heard reports that he’s been mellowing out as of late.) For this crowd, Jeff Winger is a hero, a sort of devil-may-care lawyer type who sees through the dumb BS of all the community college activities they had to go through. It made for more clever writing, since the guy was usually pretty flummoxed by the all the weirdness around him but was able to overcome things through his craftiness and his Winger charm.
The new showrunners aren’t. his should be apparent in the convention scenes from CONVENTIONS OF SPACE AND TIME. It was recognizable, and I’m sure that the showrunners know what a convention looks like as they’ve done COMMUNITY talks there, but there was something missing. Maybe some secret insider knowledge that only true convention goers would really relate to. Contrast this to, say, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons episode, which was fully committed to replicating the trapping of an actual AD&D game. The show could’ve totally gone the route of the Study Group in cosplay, but you have to admire Harmon’s restraint in keeping it mostly a bunch of players with sheets of paper in front of them.
The new showrunners, though, aren’t jaded hipsters. And they shouldn’t be. It would actually be more painful if they were trying to replicate Harmon’s style and failed miserably. Three episodes in, and it’s apparent that they’re not. The sweetness from S1 to S3 almost seemed to emerge from a sense of gamesmanship. (The Dinner With Andre episode, for example, came from Jeff trying to spring a surprise party without revealing too much.) This time, the sweetness is far more open.
I imagine this is a real point of contention for the hipster crowd. Where’s the old COMMUNITY? Sadly, you can’t go back… and I think the characters can’t really go back, either. Three years is plenty of time enough to be trying to pull one over on your friends. If these seven really are a family — and I think they are — they at least have to act like they’re more comfortable around each other, don’t you think?
Besides, Andy Bobrow and Megan Ganz seem to be the major plot drivers this season, and those two have produced probably the least cynical episodes of COMMUNITY that ever aired. The DNA is still there; it’s just shifted to a new plane of existence.