Good afternoon, Communies! Once again you need must put up with me in lieu of the incomparable myr_soleil, who is rehearsing for a new production of King Lear in which she will play all three daughters and four of the five Dukes. Let's take a look at this week's collection of spooky reviews and ghoulish recaps!
- Many reviewers observed that "Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps" suffers by following on the heels of "Remedial Chaos Theory." AV Club TV Editor Todd van der Werff, for example, writes, "I liked it a lot and found it very funny—but I suspect that it will play better five years from now, when this episode rolls back around in late October in the syndication package and it doesn’t air right after one of the best episodes the show’s ever done." He also felt the ending was a little off: "the climax of the story wasn’t as funny as the rest of the episode and tried too hard to write itself out of the corner the episode Macguffin had put the episode in." Nevertheless, he gave it an A-minus and compared the show to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is high praise indeed.
- Alan Sepinwall of HitFix also makes the comparison between this episode and the previous one: "'Chaos Theory' was an awfully tough act to follow: a gimmick episode that was both incredibly funny while telling us important things about these characters and how they relate to each other. And I enjoyed 'Horror Fiction' a lot, but it's a gimmick episode that's mainly just funny, while reminding us of things we know pretty well about the characters. Not a sin; just a victim of bad timing." But he liked how clearly each vignette represented the POV of the person telling the story.
- Cory Barker of TV Surveillance, on the other hand, feels comparing the two episodes is unfair, pointing out that while "both episodes present seven separate stories within one 22-minute package ... 'Spooky Steps' explores something different enough to make the episodes feel distinctive." He does concede that it wasn't "as complex, thematically dense or 'good'" as the previous episode," he concludes "that's completely fine," because the important thing about last night's episode is that he "laughed consistently and loudly throughout the whole thing. Sometimes, being funny as hell counts for a whole lot." Incidentally, Barker is the only reviewer who shortens the title as "Spooky Steps" rather than "Horror Fiction."
- Jesse Carp of TV Blend thinks the episode was special but that it "would have seemed even more special" had it not aired right after "Remedial Chaos Theory." in his opinion, the "real accomplishment is the episode's writing (by Dan Harmon himself) because all the stories are not just told from the character's point of view but to the point where it actually feels like they are telling the story." He also suspects that the cash outlay for the CGI werewolf may result in the rest of the season being nothing but inexpensive bottle episodes.
- Steve Heisler's recap for Vulture observes the structural and "story volume" similarities between HFiSSS and RCT, but otherwise doesn't compare the two. Like Sepinwall, he admired the "neat little game" of having each story resemble the way it's probably being told. But unlike Todd van der Werff, he loved the ending. "The beauty of 'Horror Fiction' is in the way it chooses to end — the episode was essentially a character study, and the conclusion is one bait and switch after another, layered until it’s an even darker tale of its characters than before."
- Andrea Towers continues to display her spookily supernatural ability to write two entirely different articles about the same episode. For the Voice of TV, she writes that the episode was "hilariously funny" and that she "continues to be in awe of Gillian Jacobs' comedy chops." She also admired the way the episode involved all nine series regulars in ways that didn't feel forced and honored the way Jim Rash and Ken Jeong "bring their own sense of belonging to the show" despite not being part of the core group. Her piece for TV Overmind is more a recap than a review, but she does find room to call the episode "wonderfully ingenious" and compares it favorable to "Remedial Chaos Theory," calling this week's episode "a nice backtrack to both the study room setting and the quiet zaniness that makes Community, well, Community."
- Mark D. Curran writes in his recap for TV Geek Army, "If you’ve been put off by the first few episodes of Community this season, then fear not! Halloween is upon us, and Greendale is ready and more than able to defend its reputation with another amazing concept episode." He also earns points for using the term "Magnum P.I.erce," which is both clever and so blindingly obvious a construction that I'm ashamed of myself for not thinking of it myself.
- Emily Cheever's recap for ...ology gives "Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps" a grade of 9 out of ten, and describes it as "one of those fantastic, stand alone episodes which really reminds you that there's no other show like Community on TV." She misidentifies what Troy and Abed are dressed as in the framing sequence, though.
- Kelsea Stahler of hollywood.com writes, "As an episode, ['Horror Fiction"] was a little winding and erratic," but praised the way each story was "so perfectly tailored to our character’s psyches and personalities." She regrets that the ending spelled out which test belonged to what character, calling it "a pretty atypical move for the series. If we, as good fans, thought long and hard about it, we’d know that Abed was the sane one."
- TV Fanatic's Leigh Raines was not surprised to love last night's episode, because "Community always serves up great holiday episodes." She loved the Dean as the Devil, but she thought Chang was underused. And she was a little disappointed not to see the group in costume, but she still ended up giving the episode 4½ stars out of five. (The same as she gave "Remedial Chaos Theory, incidentally.)
- Robert Canning, writing for IGN TV, said "the conceit of the episode was fun, but may also have been a bit of a hindrance." His feeling was that the setup "locks you into trying to figure out whom the homicidal maniac might be. So instead of just sitting back and enjoying the tales, you're looking for clues that aren't really there to begin with." That said, he still enjoyed the episode, particularly Britta's and Abed's stories, and gave it a rating of eight out of ten.
- The anonymous reviewer at The TV Obsessed called it a strong episode, but hypothesized that it would have seemed a much stronger one if not scheduled immediately after "Chaos Theory." Despite that, he gave it a score of 8.9 out of ten, and said "the stories are very funny because we can immediately recognize the personality behind the stories."
- Luke Gelineau of Daemon's TV goes meta, suggesting that the funniest part of "Horror Fiction" was that it was so similar to the last episode. He goes on to say, "there was so much great stuff here that it’s hard to pick a favorite," but ultimately settles on Troy's story as the funniest. Oddly, he describes Annie's story as "prissy" and "Pride and Prejudice-esque." Maybe he meant Pride and Prejudice and Zombies-esque? Or maybe he was referring to the early draft in which Elizabeth Bennett says, "You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in messily devouring you."
- Amy Lee, recapping the episode for HuffPo, writes that "Community Halloween episodes may be the best thing about the holiday." (This rounder-upper, who is rather curmudgeonly when it comes to Halloween, agrees.) "With all the referential spookiness you could want, this year's Halloween Community not only excavates all the stereotypes of the season, but also serves to show us why we love each of these characters, and what it is specifically about each of them that makes them necessary for this comedic formula to work out."
- Daniel Carson's review in the Houston Press Art Attack blog starts off, like so many others this week, talking about "Remedial Chaos Theory" ... but wait, there's a twist! "That was a smart, funny episode, but it also left me feeling colder than I realized when I was writing my review ... Yes, it was amazing to see seven timelines juggled in 22 minutes, but it was a long road to walk just to learn once again that these people need each other." About last night's episode, he says it "had the potential to misfire ...but what made the episode really work -- what elevated its aesthetic above gimmickry -- was the way each story was a sharp insight into its teller." He also makes the unique observation that the whole episode is essentially a defense of Abed, calling it "Harmon's way of saying that Abed's weird, and awkward, and not very good at understanding social cues, but that he's not broken or screwed-up. He just is who he is, and he's making peace with it."
- Yiannis Cove admits in his review for Sound on Sight that "he knew he would go into the latest episode with a bit of a bias after "Chaos Theory," and that the similar setup caused him some concerned when the episode began, but that it won him over with its "consistently funny spoof of the classic 'horror stories at Halloween convention." (Is that a convention?) He was unsurprised but gratified that Abed turned out to be the only sane one.
- Sean Gandert of Paste Magazine called last night's episode "a great episode in every respect other than its relationship with the previous episode." The individual stories were "universally great, not just in and of themselves but also in the way the characters are each responding to what came before them. It’s an episode that really grows in the telling." He is a little concerned, though, that "this season of Community has struggled to find new material and has resorted to old character relationships and storylines we’ve largely seen before," and suggests that the real problem with having "Horror Fiction" and "Chaos Theory" airing back-to-back is not that the latter diminished the former, but that taken together they reinforce the notion that the show is "struggling for what it wants to do next."
Also: Gandert refers to there having been a "two-week break" between episodes, but my take on it is that there was a one-week break that resulted in a two-week gap. I concede this may be an overly pedantic interpretation, but as someone who majored in education, I do have formal educational training in pedantry.
- True to the name of the site, Kelley Dunlap of Character Grades gives individual grades to several of the stories. Annie gets an A; Abed, a B-plus; Jeff and Shirley each earned B-minuses. She didn't grade the episode itself, but called it "fun but a little too similar to the vastly superior ..." well, by now you know the rest. She also disliked the joke of using a character's name to mean screwed up, which she says has been done to death. And in fairness to that point of view, here is the TV Tropes page for Person as Verb.
- SplitSider's Joshua Kurp--the only reviewer to identify what Vampire!Jeff was reading to Werewolf!Annie, by the way--not only rates the episode but also the costumes. Of the former, he says, "I liked 'Horror Fiction' a lot, and thought it was the funniest episode of the season ... But I’ll admit that it airing after 'Remedial Chaos Theory,' which also used the seven-story structure, did it no favors, and it’s impossible not to think of Treehouse of Horror when watching a multiple-sketch Halloween episode." In his ranking of the ten best costumes from this and the other two Halloween episodes, Troy and Abed's Air Force and thug4life get-ups place third and second in that order. (The first- and second-season costumes occupy three and five spots respectively on the list respectively, but you'll need to follow the link to see which ones got the Kurp Seal of Approval.)
Ratings-wise, "Horror Fiction" was "bat"-tered by the unexpectedly rescheduled Game 6 of the World Series and and "squash"-ed by a special broadcast of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, not to mention "bang"-ed up by its usual timeslot competitor. We even lost to The Vampire Diaries in the 18-49 demo, 1.4 to their 1.5. We had more total viewers than them, though, so we've got that going for us, which is nice. My guess, though, is that the Live+7 numbers will show that it got about as many viewers as always.
That's it from the 608. JHeaton out!