So I see lots of people complaining/commenting upon how each of the characters has become more dumbed down/has more issues than in Season One (Britta especially, but Abed also, and sometimes Troy as well). Some people defend this change, saying it makes the characters more interesting, and funnier; others claim the changes make them no longer relatable. I see both viewpoints being valid.
However, I think that this was, instead of simply an adjustment made as the show was going along, to respond to viewer feedback and cast input, part of a larger plan of Dan Harmon’s for a four-season Community cycle. We’ve all seen that image from “Regional Holiday Music” (you can see it here) of a clock indicating a four-season version of Harmon’s eight-part story arc. Here’s my idea for where that was going.
Season One was a fairly normal/average/ordinary sitcom—there were more pop culture references than most, and a more diverse and complicated cast, but until “Contemporary American Poultry” and “Modern Warfare” nothing especially unusual. The characters, although each of them was a little “off,” all seemed to have an idea of what they wanted from life, and had a concrete reason for being at Greendale. Over the course of the next two seasons, however, each of these characters became more and more troubled, with Britta’s apparent intelligence and common sense degenerating into an inability to see the obvious, Troy’s early cockiness (especially in social/romantic arenas) being replaced with unsureness, Abed’s initial “self-esteem falling out of his butt” turning into a guy who claims he’ll never get married or make it into Sundance, Jeff’s vanity growing to overtake his personality, Annie’s romanticizing tendencies expanding to the point where she sees things that aren’t there in her relationships, and Shirley’s initial self-righteousness morphing into self-doubt. (Pierce has had an entirely more complicated arc, since he moved from a confused old guy in season one to a full-out villain in season two, to an even more inept and racist version of himself in season three, which was in large part shaped by his addiction to painkillers. I still think he fits, but I’m going to ignore him here, as well as Chang, whom I don’t think this applies to.)
So they’ve all become crazier, wackier, more messed-up versions of themselves, by the end of season three, and this is explained as “we’re at Greendale! Greendale screws people up!” Which makes sense. I mean, they have a class about ladders.
But my idea is that the study group were never the people they appeared to be in season one. Their personalities were simply facades, the faces they put on for the outside world: underneath they were as stupid and crazy as they appear now. And so what I think would have happened in season four is an apparent return to normalcy, to the characters they seemed to be in season one. To confident Abed and intelligent Britta. But in fact, they would be becoming these people for the first time: no longer would they need to pretend to be normal, because they would have explored their flaws and emerged as the people they were trying to be all along, but never quite were. Thus it’s a positive rather than a negative journey. And I think that the “return to a zone of comfort, having changed” of Harmon’s story arc would be, in this case, the return to the faces they presented to the world at the start of season one, but the change is that they now own these faces.
I don’t know. Just my thoughts. :)