May 6th, 2013

Inspector Spacetime, Troy & Abed

Whither the flashbacks in Community 4x12

Badass Digest writer Brian Collins didn't like the most recent episode of Community, particularly the setting in time of the flashbacks:

But more baffling - why is Abed telling people not to see 1999's Phantom Menace in 2008? They state the year more than once, and even throw up some posters of Prom Night and 88 Minutes (both conveniently Sony releases) to clarify the time period for those who remember such things. Plus - the show began in 2009, not 2008, so when it becomes a "this is how they found out about Greendale" story that makes everything even more coincidental, it just confused me further - did they all decide to slum it at this community college a full year before they started to attend it? Wouldn't 2009 make a LITTLE more sense, as it would a) be when people were finalizing their college plans and b) there could be some sort of 10th anniversary showing of Phantom Menace that Abed was trying to ward people away from seeing? ... Pierce's inability to work a frozen yogurt machine is a recurring problem, and so we get a shot of a guy whose face we don't see (probably Chevy's stand-in) bumbling over the one in the yogurt shop that, as it turns out, everyone was in at the same time back in 2008, when Chang and Dean were handing out fliers for the school.

Collins raises some good points here, and he's right that the flashback sequences make little to no sense, particularly if you accept that all the flashback sequences take place in 2008. But do they?

Flashback #1: Annie and Troy at Riverside High. This one clearly does take place in 2008; it's even introduced with a "Meanwhile in 2008 caption." Troy is first seen quoting a line from There Will Be Blood, released in 2007; he also mentions the film Juno, also released in 2007.

Flashback #2: Shirley and Abed at the mall. Shirley is wearing an Obama shirt, so it's not unreasonable to assume this takes place in 2008 also. That said, I'm wearing an Obama '08 baseball cap today. (My Madison Mallards hat is dirty.)

Flashback #3: Jeff and Britta at the courthouse. There's nothing that sets this in any particular year, but for cross-referencing purposes, we'll note that Jeff is wearing a gray suit with a pale gray shirt, and that Britta mentions she wants to break into the animal testing laboratory "next week." (Unrelated to any question of chronology or continuity, I also want to point out that Jeff is first seen looking at a wall of photos, all of which we later see are of Annie, which led dearygirl to observe, "Oh, there's Jeff looking at a wall of pictures of his future wife." Shippers gonna ship.)

Flashback #4: Jeff at the restaurant. Jeff is wearing the same clothes in this scene as in the previous one, as are Mysti and the other lawyer, so we can assume this later is the same day.

Flashback #5a and 5b: Troy and Annie at the party. We can assume this is not the same day as the previous high school flashback, because Troy and Annie are dressed differently. "Senior Superlatives" are being handed out, so it's their senior year at Riverside High. It could still be 2008, but it could be 2009; some schools vote for "Senior Superlatives" in the fall, some in the spring.

Flashback #6: Abed at the mall. There are posters for Prom Night and 88 Minutes on the wall behind Abed, both released in April 2008 in the United States. The theater is a dollar theater, so we can assume it's still 2008, just later in the year. Why is the theater showing Phantom Menace? Who knows, but it's a dollar theater so I can let it slide. (Though it does raise the question of why they didn't just have the kids say they were going to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which we know that Abed thinks "kind of blows.")

Flashback #7: Shirley at the restaurant. She's seen taking a call from her sons, so obviously this happens within minutes of Flashback #6. And let me just add that Collins is correct when he says in his review that this makes no sense. Shirley's sons are Andre's sons too, so why wouldn't they both leave the restaurant? Barring that, why would she say where she was going?

Flashback #8: Abed and Annie at the psychiatrist's office. Abed has been served with a restraining order by the theater after Shirley yelled at the management for three hours. I figure this takes place a couple of days after Flashbacks #6 and #7, just because it would probably take a couple of days to get a restraining order issued. Regardless, it's still 2008. Annie doesn't appear to be in need of reconstructive surgery, so this must take place before Flashback #5. As Annie leaves the psychiatrist's office, Britta comes running down the hallway, dressed differently than in Flashback #3.

Flashback #9: Jeff at the restaurant. Mysti's comment about having been given a phone number by "some married guy" whose wife left him at the restaurant on their anniversary places this flashback and nos. 3 and 4 as happening on the same day as nos. 3, 6, and 7, and a few days before #8. So, 2008.

Flashback #10: Everyone at the yogurt shop. OK, this is where everything goes to hell. The Prom Night and 88 Minutes posters are still on display at the theater. Shirley still has straight hair and is returning something she bought to wear on her anniversary. Troy is talking about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was released in the summer of 2008. So it's still 2008, probably just a few days after Flashback #8, right? I mean, Jeff even says, "2008 was the height of the slightly sour frozen yogurt craze."

But it can't possibly take place in 2008, and Annie proves it. The contextual clues I just mentioned suggest that Flashback #10 takes place within a few days of #8, which took place a short time after nos. 2-4, 6-7, and 9. But #8 takes place before #5, because obviously Annie hadn't run through the window yet, and #10 has to take place after #5, because Troy's leg is injured and Annie is done with rehab.

So when does #10 take place? Well, the summer of 2009, obviously. And #5 takes place in late fall of 2008. Here's my thinking: like I said above, some high schools vote on their senior superlatives in the fall. In fact, the very first result I got when I Googled "senior superlative voting" was this Facebook event page, which reads, "Voting for senior superlatives will, once again, take place online from October 8th until October 29th." Clearly, Riverside High is one such school, and they held a party to make the announcements, which Annie and Troy attended, some time in November. Then Troy found a shady doctor to put his uninjured leg in a cast, and Annie went off to have her reconstructive surgeries.

Some of the stuff seen in #10 I can handwave away. Shirley is trying to return the nightie several months later because money's tight now that Andre's gone. Jeff is only just now looking for a way to earn a degree because the rumor about his fake degree had only just been definitively proved. Troy is talking about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because he always sees movies a long time after they're released. (Remember, he was talking about two 2007 films in Flashback #1, which definitely took place in 2008.) Gobi Nadir routinely asks Abed to apologize, even months after the fact. (Maybe his falafel shop is in the same mall.)

But there's too much to paper over, and that's setting aside the issue that Troy injured his shoulders in the kig flip, not his knee. Basically, it was just really, really sloppy writing and directing. Disappointing, but what are you gonna do?