Rejoice Human Beings, for Community’s Darkest Timeline (Season 4) is officially at an end and Dan Harmon is back. Community had a back-to-back two episode premiere last night and overall things are looking good for Greendale once more.
Community is many things to many people – a pop culture reference ship in a bottle, a thematic homage vehicle that sends us across genres without even noticing or maybe to some Community is just a live-action cartoon where the possibilities are near-endless. Without Dan Harmon, Community had lost its soul and its heart. That is the most noticeable difference in the fifth season’s first hour.
Jeff Winger has been nothing if not an analogue for Dan Harmon’s characteristic grumpy holier-than-thou mentality, and the first scene of the premiere resonates that so very clearly. Jeff is a broken man who has lost everything. Upon graduating from Greendale he set out to be a lawyer who helped people and it backfired on him. Like Jeff, Harmon believed that he did what believed was the right thing to do and was punished for it. Since that road took Jeff nowhere besides bankruptcy, he has decided to return to Greendale and do what he does best: being a conniving son of a bitch.
The season 5 premiere is truly Community’s “Dark Night of the Soul.” It stings a little to see that the characters we have grown to love and root for have failed after leaving Greendale, but it’s clear that Harmon needed to break things apart to put them back together again. The episode is very distinctly dark visually, having the study room abandoned and decayed before Harmon decides to inject life into it again. Jeff takes a moment to ask each character (and the audience) what exactly happened to these people that has left them so far off from where they began in Season 1. It’s a nice moment where Harmon pulls a mea culpa for letting some characters and ideas get away from him; similarly appropriate was the very non-specific jab at season 4 being described as a “gas leak year.”
Harmon has stated in several interviews that given the many changes to Community on and off-screen, it was best to approach Season 5 as a new beginning, aptly-titled “Repilot.” The first two episodes of season 5 certainly feel like a re-piloting of the show, intentionally mirroring the early years of Community. There’s a scene in particular in the second episode (that calls back to the second episode of Season 1) where Jeff is walking through the halls cool and confident; only this time it’s as a teacher in his element instead of a student.
The first episode is a necessary evil of exposition and transition. That being said it is still highly enjoyable to see these characters under Harmon’s guidance once more. Abed’s introduction is the meta wonderfulness that you would hope for, with a touch of Harmon sincerity. The second episode is a return to “business as usual” at Greendale, with a very Season 2 vibe – most likely because of the return of Kevin Corrigan’s Professor Sean Garrity. Danny Pudi also gives us one of the best Abed performances to date, as he channels his inner Nicholas Cage (a callback to Jeff “Goldbluming,” perhaps?)
There are a lot of wonderful things going on in the first hour of Community. Jonathon Banks’ Prof. Hickey is a welcome addition as a “Mike Lite” from Breaking Bad, and Harmon even managed to shock audiences with a “REALLY??” surprise guest-star cameo. The only complaint that could be made about the first two episodes is that there seems to be a lack of motivation for the majority of the study group besides Jeff. On the other hand, lines of dialogue have been peppered in as a kind of mission statement for each character, so there’s a good chance we’ll see that material fleshed out.
Bottom line: Community is back (for real this time) and I am happy.
Community Season 5 Premiere Grade: ★★★★ 4/5 Stars