Falling In Love with Dan Harmon's 'Community' All Over Again
The fifth season of Community debuted last night, and though it doesn’t feel like the Internet juggernaut it once was — thanks to the lost year, the way it’s bounced around, and viewers’ irritation with the behind-the-scenes drama — the two episodes with Dan Harmon back in the showrunner chair felt every bit as good as Community at its best.
Harmon couldn’t not have handled the re-piloting of the series any better, acknowledging the gas fire season, working it in, and resetting the series a year after the events of the last year. The characters have graduated, and after coming to terms with the fact that they gained very little education from Greendale — but lots of emotional growth — they re-enrolled to actually learn something from their studies, in addition to gaining more character growth. Jeff Winger, meanwhile, has come back as a teacher in an effort to create a better school, and even there, Harmon perfectly subverted, mocked, and owned the student-returns-as-teacher trope.
We could not have asked for much more from the two-episode return of Community, and we can only hope that it’s not too late for the series, whose viewership has been eroding annually. There is so much to highlight about the re-pilot, but I thought it was particularly genius for Abed to acknowledge the redo, draw comparisons to the 9th season of Scrubs, make the hilarious parallel between Zach Braff’s role in that season and Donald Glover’s in this one (he’s only around for six episodes) and then end with Braff’s voice over narration, which never fails to make me feel wistful. It was all so smart, so funny, so heartfelt, and so perfectly Greendale that the urge to fall back in love with Community was almost impossible to resist. Having Chevy Chase return to tie a bow on the episode was just icing on the cake.
This exchange, meanwhile, felt like a peek inside the aching soul of Dan Harmon last year.
While this felt like a peek inside of Donald Glover’s. There was obviously something not right about Troy, or Glover; there was a bittersweet quality to his scant screentime.
Elsewhere, in the second episode, the series quickly filled in the void left by Chevy Chase, and they could not have found a better substitute than Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks, who gets to play, perhaps, the character that Chevy Chase wanted to play all along: He’s every bit the irascible grouch, but there’s none of the doofy racism and homophobia that characterized Pierce’s character.
The Abed subplot, meanwhile, was so smart, and so perfect, it almost hurt, and in addition to providing the funniest moment on Community since season three, it posed one of the universe’s most unanswerable questions: Is Nic Cage a good or a bad actor? This very site, actually, had a small role in that plotline, as the episode’s writer, Andy Bobrow, acknowledged o Twitter that our own Harry Hanrhan’s Nic Cage Losing His Sh*t video had inspired it.
Indeed, everything about the return of Community felt right, except the pall of sadness that seemed to follow Glover’s character around, and one other small ingredient: The enthusiasm for the show has waned over the last year, and the sort of communal vibe — the sense that I was watching the show with thousands of like-minded people, all at the same time — wasn’t quite there. Riding the ups-and-downs of this series has always felt like a shared experience, and I’m bummed that it doesn’t feel as shared as it once did. Hopefully, the return of Harmon, and the reinvigoration of the series, will bring back the excitement for the show again, and for half an hour on Thursday nights, a collection of like-minded misfits, nerds, geeks, and admirers of Alison Brie’s form can gather ‘round our old teevee sets again and transform episodes of Community into the communal events they once were again.
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