The further we get into Community’s second season, the more I believe that the showrunners would create a better product if they simply ignored fan feedback and the critical press. “Epidemiology” was yet another mediocre episode, enjoyable in parts but underwhelming overall. Like much of this season, it was too gimmicky, too self-aware, and so far removed from reality that it no longer felt like an episode of a character-driven sitcom.

I usually start my reviews by talking about the good, but aside from a few lines here and there, there wasn’t much of it in this episode. Troy provided a few laughs, and some of the action scenes were fun, but other than that, there wasn’t much to enjoy about “Epidemiology.” Most of the humour didn’t land. Even the dean, usually a reliable source of entertainment, failed to make me laugh. Maybe the jokes were flying over my head, but I doubt it, because so much of this episode made no sense. Did Shirley and Chang kissing have any purpose other than setting up a stupid gag in the end credits, or was the show attempting to make fun of the Jeff/Britta kiss from last season’s “Modern Warfare?” Why did the zombie bite become fast-acting after Rich got bitten? What was the point of having Rich in the episode if he was going to get infected halfway through? Part of the problem was that there was almost no exposition. For example, there was no explanation given for what everyone was doing at the Halloween party. As a result, the entire episode felt surreal. “Modern Warfare” and “Basic Rocket Science” were also surreal, but both of them had moments that were rooted in reality. “Epidemiology” made no effort to make it seem as if it were occurring somewhere other than an alternate universe.

Because the episode was so focused on its surreal zombie gimmick, none of the character beats landed either. Jeff hates Rich…so what? Annie is flirting with Rich…what’s the point? Troy once again has to decide between being cool or being friends with Abed…haven’t we seen this storyline more than once before? Every time an honest conversation was about to occur, OMG ZOMBIES ARE ATTACKING. The episode consistently undermined itself with a gimmick that seemed like a lame attempt to recreate “Modern Warfare” instead of being original, and it suffered as a result.

But wait a second: wasn’t “Modern Warfare” one of last season’s best episodes? Wouldn’t it make sense to try to recreate it? No, it wouldn’t. “Modern Warfare” was special. It was something fresh and innovative that no sitcom had ever done before. But now that it’s been done, the show will never be able to reproduce its novelty. I don’t know what’s going on inside the Community writers’ room, so this is just conjecture, but I suspect that the writers are attempting to recreate past glory instead of building on the good that they already had. Critical response to Community last year was quite positive, and much of that praise cited the skillful use of meta humour and pop culture references as a reason for the show’s high quality. The overwhelming positive fan response to “Modern Warfare” solidified that viewpoint. But Community also had good character stories, sharp writing, topical humour, and the audacity to be emotional when it needed to be. For the most part, those qualities have disappeared this season to make room for more meta humour and outlandish gags. It has become increasingly difficult to take the show seriously, even when it wants to be taken seriously, and as a result, Community has become much less enjoyable than it used to be. It seems as if Community’s writers have forgotten that they didn’t just coast through last season on pop culture references.

Perhaps if Community’s writers hadn’t been listening to TV critics, they would have chosen to continue chugging along with the things that made the show great. It’s true that shows which don’t evolve get stale, and I’d like to believe that TV writers know that, but not every evolution is successful. Community’s evolution this season has been in the wrong direction, towards gimmickry and silliness, instead of towards increasingly rich and funny character stories. “Epidemiology” wasn’t offensively bad (unlike “Anthropology 101” and “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples”) but it did demonstrate that Community has become too reliant on cheap thrills and surreal humour. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to keep me entertained.