Community: Beginnings, Goodbyes, and Dan Harmon
Will Neal | Saturday, January 25, 2014
Last January, I wrote an article celebrating the anticipated return of the NBC’s hilarious, under-appreciated, meta-cult-classic sitcom, “Community,” as its fourth season approached. I remember obnoxiously smiling as I typed the words “’Community’ is back!” on my laptop, believing that I’d be watching my same favorite show when the long-awaited premiere would finally hit the small screen. But I was wrong ¾ it became abundantly clear by the first episode that despite watching the same cast and setting, this was not the “Community” I knew, loved, and endlessly quoted. The show wasn’t just missing a piece of the puzzle, but rather the cranky, elderly woman making something beautiful out of the chaotic pieces. The reason? “Community” no longer had its unconventional yet beloved show runner, Dan Harmon.
I won’t go into the details or significance of bringing a series’ show-runner back from the grave (by which I mean it’s never happened before), but the return of “Community” to its fifth season this January also marks the return of Dan Harmon to his role as show runner. It’s kind of a big deal, people. After watching this season’s premiere, I can finally say, with the sincerest enthusiasm and certainty, that “Community” is back… it’s really back (a screaming “pop pop!” would be the most appropriate reaction).
“Community,” in every sense, belongs to Dan Harmon. From the very first moments of the premiere, a commercial featuring Jeff Winger in super hero garb battling a giant robot (“you staged a robot fight?!”), fans easily recognized the wonderful humor of Harmon’s behind the scenes presence. And while Harmon certainly didn’t ignore the, ahem, mishaps of last season (the characters covered it up as that “year with the gas leak.”) he decided it was time to bring the series to a new, yet familiar ground with the appropriately titled premiere, “Repilot.” With the firing of actor Chevy Chase (Pierce Hawthorne) and the departing Donald Glover (Troy Barnes… soon to be Childish Gambino full time), “Community” was in need of a change and, thankfully, Harmon accomplished and succeeded in the task.
Skipping over the specifics, the premiere brought back together the characters to Greendale despite graduating last season. After an extensive study-table discussion, the friends decided that their lives… well, suck, and that the only reasonable solution was to re-enroll at Greendale Community College… and have Jeff become a teacher. Sure it wouldn’t make for a logical decision in reality, but there’s a method to the madness. Taking Jeff from the role of student to teacher allows him to bring in a fantastic line-up of guest star “teachers,” from “Breaking Bad”’s Jonathan Banks to the return of John Oliver from “The Daily Show” (welcome back, Professor Duncan). These characters allow the void of Chase and Glover’s departure to be somewhat less noticeable, but more importantly, bring a whole new dynamic to the group. More importantly, the situations of Glover and Chase are not being looked over and, instead, are being incorporated into the humor. From Troy acknowledging an absence at the study table (“You guys feel weird doing this without… Magnitude?”) to Abed paralleling Glover’s departure to Zach Braff’s brief role in season 9 “Scrubs,” (Son of a bitch! After everything “Scrubs” did for him?), the lingering concerns were addressed with a heavy dose of humor. Even greater was Chevy Chase making a brief appearance on the show, and despite it coming in the form of a hologram, it was a blessing for long-time fans to see Pierce Hawthorne one last time.
Since the premiere, fans and newcomers alike have been treated to one outstanding episode after another. From “Introduction to Teaching,” which officially brought Jeff into his roll as teacher (and revealed the true nature of A-‘s), to the phenomenal David-Fincher-style crime drama, “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics.” The show continues to redefine its boundaries of what it can and cannot do (mostly can). What we’re witnessing this season is a change for our beloved Greendale band of misfits, as both the audience and characters themselves recognize that they are no longer the same people they were in the show’s beginning. The scripts this season are breathing new life into the show and are offering this talented cast of actors to show their true comedic chops. The stories are diving into absurd territories, from classes on Nicholas Cage (Nicholas Cage voice: “I’m a cat. I’m a sexy cat!”) to Ass Crack Bandits, and every moment has been pure gold. In fact, it’s going to be a challenge in the future to write these, “Community,” feedback articles without making them an endless stream of quotes from the episode (“Don’t tell me what I can’t do! What are you, Cosmo’s July quiz?”).
From here on out, I will be writing summary pieces for each individual episode starting with last night’s episode 4. It’s a pleasure to cover such a phenomenal series in their triumphant return, and I can’t wait to see what’s to come on “Community” this season. Welcome back, Dan Harmon. You were truly missed.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.