Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Starring Charlie Hofheimer, Shiri Appleby, Meredith Bailey, John Billingsley
Directed by Maron Haron
It seems like I’m the only member of the DC staff with the iron constitution and fortitude it takes to continually submit myself to watching and reviewing NBC’s Fear Itself without succumbing to the desire to eat my own face. At least so far…
The seventh episode in the series is called “Community”, starring Superman Brandon Routh and Shiri Appleby from “Roswell” as a young couple named Bobby and Tracy. Bobby and Tracy have a good relationship and do pretty well for themselves, but they live in the Big Bad City. Tracy wants to have babies, and she hates the Big Bad City. Their friend Meryl (Alex Fatovich) recommends The Commons, a nice gated community in the Nice Quiet Suburbs. However, Meryl’s husband Scott (Charlie Hofheimer) warns them that he wouldn’t live there if they paid him. How auspicious!
Despite buddy Scott’s reticence, Bobby and Tracy go look at The Commons, and it’s every bit as beautiful and peaceful looking as Meryl proclaimed it to be. Bobby has some concerns about rushing into buying their first house, but Tracy wants it so bad he goes along, and pretty soon they’re moving into their swank new house and trying to put a bun in Tracy’s oven. Life is bliss.
Now, cue the arrival of strange next door neighbors Phil (Billingsly) and Debra (Bonita Friedericy) to welcome them to the neighborhood. Debra’s laughter is a little too desperate, and her smile way too forced. And Phil makes jokes that aren’t jokes about the 12 years they’ve lived in The Commons being “the twelve worst years of my life”. Bobby and Tracy just kind of blandly smile. Nope, nothing wrong there!
Oh, if only! If only that were true. Where do I begin to explain the combination of utter dullness and forehead slapping stupidity that ensues throughout this episode? The Commons is kind of like a mix of the town of Stepford and Shyamalan’s Village, only half as interesting as either. It’s kind of unfortunate because the concept is mildly interesting, at least on paper.
But the script doesn’t make any attempt to get the viewer involved enough to care. Writer Kelly Kennemer only has one other credit to his name, which according to NBC’s Fear Itself website is “the moving and critically hailed Music Within, which I’ve never heard of. But if this episode is any indication, I think I’ll skip it. Because this story is just weak.
We get a few speeches from community leader Candace about how they’ve planned the community down to the last member based on studies of societies from African tribes to medieval villages, which they use to calculate exactly what new members they require to meet their needs. But it’s never even hinted at what “their needs” entail.
All the houses are wired for audio and video so everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Anyone caught breaking the rules of the community or of society gets punished. One adulteress is tied to a pillory in the center of town wearing a pig mask and pelted with lettuce, which supposedly makes both the sinner and the community stronger – although there’s no mention of how or why they think this works.
By the end of the episode, it’s perfectly clear WHAT the people who live in The Commons want, but there’s not an inkling of WHY they want it. And that is ultimately the failing of this episode. Everything that happens seems to be for the sake of the reaction in the moment with no connection to a bigger story. The tense moments lead nowhere, as do the various threads of story.
Phil’s barely overheard, drunken Christmas party rant about everyone being “too afraid to say anything” and asking his wife how she could “let them”, and then collapsing and revealing a prosthetic leg to young Bobby is just about the only thing that ties in to something later. Bobby tries to find a way out of The Commons, and tells Scott to find the previous owners of their house to see how they did it. Scott ominously tells him later that the previous owners disappeared off the face of the earth – “He’s either dead, or he wants people to think he is.”
But this revelation – or what seems to be a revelation – really only serves as a “dun dun dun” moment that bears no connection to the outcome of the story. Also, near the climax (if you want to call it that), there’s a complete reversal of behavior on the part of both Scott and Tracy that hints at possibly nefarious Stepford-like activities, even though there’s not even the slightest whisper in the rest of the episode that this is the case.
Basically, it’s a mess. The acting is passable, and the direction fairly competent (although I expected more from the director of American Psycho, which I thought had a really great visual style), but the story itself feels like nothing more than a series of random images that never add up to a compelling tale. It’s broken up into these chunks of time that are without meaning – “Four weeks later”, “Christmas”, “Valentine’s Day”. I understand using the black screened title card to herald a time passage to the audience if it’s significant. But the fact that it’s four weeks later or Christmas means nothing in the sense of the story. So why not leave it out? There are thousands of other ways a filmmaker can clue the audience in to the passage of time. The “Five Months Earlier” cue at the beginning of the episode is the only one necessary. The rest are just lazy storytelling.
I could go on. Really, I could. But “Community” was at turns aggravating and boring to watch, and it’s exhausting to rehash it now in my head in order to convey it’s not at all finer points to you good people. Suffice it to say, another week, another blah Fear Itself episode. I’m not even surprised anymore.
2 out of 5
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