Update: I’ve re-evaluated my assessment.
In which I examine the first episode of the 4th season of Community. I’d love to hear some other opinions. Did I miss anything?
Assertion: This episode, while a decent and entertaining return, feels a bit off because it does not follow the standard story circle.
Dan Harmon’s Story Circle is defined as:
- A character is in a zone of comfort,
- But they want something.
- They enter an unfamiliar situation,
- Adapt to it.
- Get what they wanted,
- But pay a heavy price.
- Then return to their familiar situation,
- Having changed.
Described in more detail here: http://channel101.wikia.com/wiki/Story_Structure_101:_Super_Basic_Shit
So let’s examine this episode from this perspective. Almost all previous episodes of Community follow this simple structure. A lot of times, an episode would consist of multiple characters traveling along their own circle while the group as a whole traveled through a bigger one.
I argue that this episode did not follow a complete story circle among any one character or even the group as a whole.
I started out considering Abed as the likely candidate for whom the story circle fits.
- Abed is in a zone of comfort: he’s happy being at college with everyone
- But he wants something: to stay in college forever
- They enter an an unfamiliar situation: possibility of the group splitting up and college ending (last first day of school ever)
- Abed adapts to it.
This is where the story circle breaks down for Abed, since he adapts to it at the very end. He gets what he wanted, but he didn’t have to pay a heavy price for it. He returns to his familiar situation, but he hasn’t changed.
Instead, this circle continues with Jeff paying a heavy price and returning to his familiar situation. He doesn’t get what he wanted, though, having not changed at all from his original state.
Let’s back up and look at Jeff’s circle as a whole (or as much as possible):
- Jeff is in a zone of comfort
- But he wants something: to graduate early
- He enters an unfamiliar situation where he’s helping the rest of the group instead of only himself.
But it breaks down here. Does he adapt to it? He doesn’t, really. But he pays a heavy price regardless, returning to his familiar situation, not having changed.
Shirley and Annie might as well have not been in the episode, since all they did was play a prank on the dean.
Troy and Britta had their own side thing going on with the wishing well, but it, too, was anecdotal. Troy and Abed accept Britta’s new wishing well rule without any sacrifice.
Pierce was trying to think of a joke for most of the episode.
Now let’s look at the Dean’s story circle:
- The Dean is in a zone of comfort
- But he wants something: for Jeff to stay at Greendale
- He enters an unfamiliar situation.
No, he doesn’t. Nothing changes with his story either.
The study group as a whole doesn’t have a circle either.
The only part that finishes the circle was the very end.
8. Having Chang’d.