Seasons of Seasons: Community Season 2, “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” & “Epidemiology”

Some would say that Community’s meta nature is one of its biggest detriments. Others would argue that the same is one of its greatest strengths, and what set it apart from other network comedies of its era. I’ve always sided with the latter camp, believing that Dan Harmon intended the humor to deconstruct the tropes and genres we’ve become so accustomed to, rather than simply pointing out that they exist. Watching the show in 2022, it feels almost unfathomable that it came at a time much unlike today’s entertainment, when nearly every piece of content is designed to be as self-referential as possible.

Both episodes in this installment are a perfect example of what the show did so well, poking fun at several distinct types of movie and having a lot of fun in the process. It would be one thing if Community were to exist simply to make fun of movie tropes while making jokes, but Harmon never lost sight of the characters, and instead crafted parodies around them. In Messianic Myths – credited as written by Andrew Guest – the show does this to perfection. And the extra jabs at pretentious filmmaking is more icing on the cake. 

The season hasn’t featured much of Abed or Shirley or Pierce yet, and this episode gives them the spotlight, while barely registering Jeff, Annie, or Britta. Shirley approaches Abed about making a promotional video for her church, persuading him by selling the Bible as “the greatest story ever told.” Little does she know that Abed would take this to the literal extreme by deconstructing any story about making a movie as a deconstruction of a messiah complex, thereby turning the students of Greendale into sycophantic followers. Even though Twitter was in its relative infancy in 2010, this side of Messianic Myths feels very much aimed at the Film Twitter weirdos that overreact to every line and every development from their favorite filmmakers in 2022.

Meanwhile, Pierce’s B-story feels like a continuation of last week’s entry in The Psychology of Letting Go, in that he’s still searching for a place to fit in. This time, it comes as a subversion of the “old person tries to stay young by hanging out with the younger crowd” trope. Rather than continue and fail to fit in with the study group, Pierce sides with the “hipsters” (because they’ve all received hip replacements), which includes Leonards and a handful of other crotchety retirees. The centerpiece is a fantastic study table scene that feels like a riff on Rebel Without a Cause and the righteous indignation that a good soul is being corrupted by the youths. 

Epidemiology is just as upfront as what it’s parodying, and it harkens back to another bygone era of TV. That is, a time when a show would plan its episodes based around when they would air during a given calendar year. Community didn’t have any explicit holiday-themed episodes, so it hit the ground running in season two (Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas is just around the corner). It’s disappointing that the episode is so simplistic – the Dean’s misguided snacks at the Greendale Halloween party turns everyone into zombies – but the laughs are still there, and it gets in some nice character moments. 

The homages to movies like Aliens and Night of the Living Dead are dead on, especially as things escalate once the group barricades themselves in the study room. And lest we believe that – like most TV holiday episodes – the events of Epidemiology are to be self-contained and never referenced again, the episode’s stinger reveals that that’s probably not the case. It doesn’t feel like we’ve seen too much of Troy and Abed’s pivotal friendship this season, so it’s nice to see them get the spotlight here. Troy, always desperate to be seen as one of the cool kids, sheds his Aliens-inspired costume in favor of literal toilet paper. It’s a great character beat to have him finally realize that, by embracing his inherent nerdiness, he can save the school from permanently becoming zombies.

One of my biggest questions going into this season was how well the humor would hold up. Not only was I in a completely different headspace personally twelve years ago, but my tastes have changed substantially. Now that we’re a quarter of the way through this season, I think it’s safe to say that, barring a gag in Messianic Myths about auto-tuning new stories, the jokes throughout the show so far could be transplanted into today’s landscape and still hit with the right amount of frequency.

Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples Grade: A

Epidemiology Grade: B+

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