Change is always scary and what television series has gone through more change and turmoil than Community? At the end of their third season, showrunner Dan Harmon, was booted from the show by NBC and replaced to create a widely panned fourth season, only for Harmon to ultimately return for the fifth. With declining ratings, Community once again went through a tough time as it was announced that NBC would not renew the show for a sixth season. There was a ton of debate about whether or not audiences would ever see Community rise from the ashes or if this was the final bell. Luckily, Yahoo picked up the reins and decided to renew the series themselves for a sixth season on their newest media player, Yahoo! Screen. At the end of the day though, is Community worth returning to? I’m happy to say that yes, yes it is.
Our first episode finds the gang almost the same as it ever was, with the unfortunate absence of Yvette Nicole Brown’s Shirley attributed to taking care of her elderly father, which is also true in real life. Though the show has had it’s fair share of departures with Shirley, Donald Glover’s Troy, and Chevy Chase’s Pierce to name but a few, surprisingly, the show manages to take these losses in stride and Shirley never truly feels absent from the proceedings. Shirley’s shadow looms over the group in a good way, especially with the final scene of the episode, which I’ll touch upon later. The intro must also be noted for the amazing opening scene wherein a frisbee is thrown onto Greendale’s roof, creating an avalanche, cueing a hysterical Garrett screaming and being consumed by a “frisbee avalanche”, only to cause Leonard to flash back to his younger days (“Like Tears in the Rain”). It’s a masterfully crafted, hilarious scene so it’s a great way to wrench audiences into this first episode.
In order to “fill the gap” Shirley left, we’re introduced to Paget Brewster’s Frankie, a stern, deadly serious woman who’s been brought onto Greendale as it’s new CFO to fix many of the problems the often collapsing public college has. Frankie acts as a nice new foil for the group as most hate her right from the start, but surprisingly Danny Pudi’s Abed takes a shine to her. In one of my favorite scenes of the episode, Abed and Frankie have a conversation that is particularly meta, discussing Frankie’s impact on the group, and in turn the show. One of Community’s greatest strengths has always been it’s ability to effortlessly and creatively break the fourth wall. Here, as Frankie and Abed go into detail about how Frankie’s inclusion is ultimately a good thing, Abed is not only convinced, but so is the viewer (which is arguable but hey, it worked for me!) In order to combat Frankie’s new reign, the rest of the group decides to open up an underground bar, harkening back to the prohibition days of the United States. It makes for a fun change of scenery, with a surprise cameo from Firefly’s Nathan Fillion, and then rolls into one of the most glorious scenes of the episode.
Frankie feels betrayed after discovering the bar and decides to leave Greendale, only to give way to every student taking this as an opportunity to get rip roaringly drunk. As things tend to do on the show, this act spirals out of control and comes to a head when the Professor of “Ladders” Class, a class which has something to do with ladders, shotguns a beer and tries climbing up one of the tallest ladders presented to him. Things do not go well. Realizing they need Frankie back, Jeff and Abed find her interviewing for a new position and are forced to not only give her an apology, but in a hilarious scene, give her a “montage” of apologies. Our episode concludes with, as I mentioned earlier, Shirley appearing and taking care of a crippled, alcoholic detective in the “swamps of Atlanta”, in a direct jab at NBC in a fake spin off entitled, “Butcher and Baker”. It’s a return to form for the show and definitely worth checking out.
The second episode isn’t as strong as the first, and the plotlines, while inventive, did tend to drag on for a little too long. The “A plot” focused on the Dean finding an old virtual reality machine that he uses to do prolific tasks such as delete files by drowning them in a fountain and use lasers to arrange folders into drawers. While this did offer a chuckle here and there with the Dean’s repetition of proclaiming, “Jesus Wept, for there are no more worlds to conquer!”, it got a tad stale as we went into our third and fourth return to this scene. Though I suppose this plotline was necessary in order to introduce the gang’s newest member, Elroy, played by Keith David of Gargoyles fame. Elroy is brought in, as inventor of the VR device, to snap the Dean out of it and get things back to normal…well for Greendale that is.
The “B” plot focuses on Britta living with Abed and Annie and coming to metaphorical blows with her parents, who keep treating her like a “child” as her life spirals out of control. While this did offer the chance to gain a better understanding on Britta, ultimately, it was another case of not delivering as frequent chuckles as the first episode had. There were great scenes sprinkled in here and there, such as Britta escaping her parents by stealing a young boy’s tricycle and pedaling away, but ultimately it fell a little flat. There was also the running joke of Chang having been bitten Britta’s cat, not able to find the nurse, and returning to the gang with a progressively worse wound on his hand throughout the episode. This was another running joke that didn’t have as much of an impact after it was slightly run into the ground.
Much like the first episode however, the best was saved for last as earlier, Abed, Annie, and Britta were watching a copy of “Portuguese Gremlins” entitled, “Knee High Mischief”. The episode ends with a full two minute trailer for the film, shot exactly how you would expect a Portuguese version of Gremlins to look with absolutely no budget. This got far and away the biggest laughs from me of the two episodes as the ridiculous rules for the gremlins were explained: “Holy water makes them no longer evil, BUT RAINBOWS MAKE THEM MORE EVIL THAN BEFORE!” It’s an utterly gut busting scene, especially with the original proprietor of the shop where the Gremlins came from proclaiming that he was their “only weakness” before unloading a shotgun at the devilish imps.
In summation, while the first episode was a return to form for the series and dispelled any worries I had with Community’s return, the second episode wasn’t nearly as strong, but was still a good showing overall. With more entries like these, we may finally be able to see Community not only reach the goal of “six seasons and a movie”, but also, see it go even further! “10 seasons and a sequel”, maybe? Good show, Yahoo.
Ratings: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
– Elroy: “Hell yeah I saw Lawnmower Man, I CONSULTED ON IT!”
– Chang: “Hey, do you guys know about Slenderman?”
– Jeff: “I’m never going to get out of here, am I?”
– Frankie: “Everyone here is a living fart from the back of a lower God!”
– Abed: “Britta’s still the worst.”