So Community’s back… and it didn’t suck!
So, straight talk time: I didn’t watch all of Season 4. This is a common occurrence, incidentally. The only season that I have seen every episode of is Season 1. The rest, I’ve cherry picked. We live in a world of wikis and little time. So if I want to get an idea of how an episode went, I go check out the Community Wiki. If there’s positive reaction to it, I download it. I have a good number of Season 2 and 3 stored up in my lofty iCloud account, ready for me to scroll down and watch whenever I feel like it.
But Season 4… I’d planned on watching the whole thing live. Or DVRed. Or off of On Demand. Yes, last year, it was the year that I would be plugged in to Community fandom again! Well, let me tell you, while I generally enjoyed what I did see, the fandom quickly turned me against it. I supposed you could say I should’ve shut off my internet and enjoyed it on my own terms. However, a crucial part to enjoying Community in the first place is the online community. I was introduced to the show through early screenings praising its concepts. I pretty much thrilled to each episode and chatted with other fans on online message boards through Season 1. I rediscovered episodes I missed over the two year span through Best Of recommendations and episode reviews.
And the backlash against Season 4… it was too much for me. It was an unintentional effect. However, it was a year, without Dan Harmon, where it felt like if you said anything positive about the show, you were an apologist and a hypocrite. And you know, it’s hard when the very people who recommended the show to you in the first place have turned around and told you that loving the show is wrong.
And so I was done. Around the time they did that puppet episode.
So why did I come back to Season 5? Well, Dan Harmon had something to do with it. Not necessarily because Dan Harmon is a god, but because the return to the show created a wave of super-optimism in the online community. It’s like… I don’t have to be ashamed of liking Community anymore.
Let’s pause for a minute and reflect on what the show’s accomplished so far, by they way. Way back during Season 1, I was convinced that this show was going to be a cult classic with only 13 episodes under its belt. The ratings were low, and the 13th episode, which had Chang reconciling with his wife, felt all the world like a series finale. And then… NBC ordered another 13 episodes.
And here we are in Season 5… the improbable season. Improbable… how? Well, after the fans turned on the show, there was a lot of talk that 4 had to be the last season. It was the year they graduated, after all, and Harmon wasn’t at the helm so what’s the point? (This is around the time I got sick of the fandom, by the way. There were so many “How dare the writers fail Community by leaving plot threads open when obviously there aren’t any more seasons to tell them?” posts that I had to step away in disgust. That and the online hounding of writers like Andy Bobrow and Megan Ganz.)
Yet, here we are. Everyone’s graduated, so how to we keep on keepin’ on about the story of a community college? Well, a million fanfiction writers out there can probably tell you what happens next: Jeff Winger becomes a teacher. Less predictable is that the rest of the cast re-enrolls in the college to pursue new degrees. (Given that the school’s already failed them in life, it’s easily the most unrealistic portion of the story. But what can they do? Glee, Community’s favorite whipping boy, is limping along with a new cast of high schoolers that no one gives a crap about.)
There’s some sniping about Season 4 (“The Year of the Gas Leak”) but it’s all in good fun. Especially since Harmon will shoulder the blame himself. He’s keen to note that he’s part of the problem, too. Tellingly, Jeff admonishes Britta, who went from an idealistic protestor to a cartoonish airhead. Yet that was a development from Season 3. (Britta in Season 4 was a little more mature, trying to get Jeff to open up about his dad and all.) So here’s the subtext I got: Harmon knows that there was a lot of disappointment from Season 4, but a lot of that was a direct result of the utter weirdness he planted in Season 3. The show’s been somewhat imbalanced since, and it’s focusing back on what made the initial premise so intriguing: it’s about a community college.
The old study table is destroyed and replaced by a Mark II table, and the cycle is begun anew: familiar, but with a slight twist. The gang’s going to do the same old school things (like Abed hamming it up in drama class), but there are going to be changes. The most significant of which is Jeff’s new status as a teacher.
“Introduction to Teaching,” the second episode, begins brilliantly with Jeff discovering that he can’t be the same old lazy bum coasting through class anymore. A sarcastic quip to Leonard, once a jab between students, is shot down as inappropriate. Instead, he’s introduced to a new world or crushed dreams and impotent power trips.
It’s a nifty reversal of the previous 4 seasons. Before, Jeff had to learn how not to be an opportunistic jerk. The lessons he learned never left him, but when thrust into the real world without the support of his friends he’s back to his old conniving ways. The first episode (“RePilot”) did a great job of illustrating that status quo. The rest of the group knew he had the ability to change, but because he didn’t, he let them down.
This time, though, he has to learn to be responsible. It’s like Jeff Winger has a angel/demon dynamic fighting for his soul now. One one side is newcomer Buzz Hickey, current replacement for Pierce Hawthorne. He’s a guy who thinks the battle is lost, and the only way to get through life is by wielding whatever little power you have. On the other end is Annie Edison, who’s back to being the voice of moral idealism from the early seasons. She’s here to remind Jeff that losing one’s moral compass has its consequences, namely hurting people he likes. (That’s not to say that Annie is necessarily a goodie-two-shoes. Her discovery of the true secret of an “A-” leads her to start a full blown riot.)
But, yeah… there’s a lot of Dan Harmon humor all over these episodes, which, I will admit, was missing from Season 4. Quippy banter, plot twists from out of nowhere (hologram Pierce?), and anarchic humor.
I’ve got to say, the most improved was Danny Glover as Troy Barnes, who seems reenergized from last season (just in time for his departure, sadly). Seriously, Danny seemed tired all Season 4, and I don’t know if it was because of his late work hours, or his depression, or his work with Childish Gambino. But here, in these two episodes, Troy had some of the best lines of the night. When called out by Jeff that he’s defined solely by his relationship to another man, Troy sullenly replies, “He found my Clive Owen Tumblr.”
God damn, we missed you, Troy.