Community Season 5 Premiere Greendale Forever, Street

Community is back and there are no Ewoks. Creator Dan Harmon’s return does some serious back-bends to engineer a familiar status quo for the Greendale Seven (now Six). But both “Repilot” and “Introduction To Teaching” are surprisingly assured, character-focused and very funny.

The Players

  • Directors: Tristram Shapeero and Jay Chandrasekhar
  • Writers: Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, Andy Bobrow
  • Cast: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Bree, Ken Jeong, Jim Rash, Jonathan Banks, Donald Glover, Chevy Chase, Rob Corddry

Episode Title: “Repilot/Introduction To Teaching”

Jeff Winger’s law practice has failed and his old nemesis Alan (Rob Corddry) shows up with a proposition. He wants Jeff to sneak into Greendale and steal the records of a graduate who went on to design a faulty bridge. Alan wants to sue the school for ruining the man’s life by giving him a bad degree. Broke and tempted, Jeff gains access to Greendale’s archives by telling the Dean he plans to use alumni information to create a ‘Save Greendale’ committee. His initial call to Abed for help leads to the whole study group offering to join the fake committee. Graduation hasn’t been kind to anyone: Annie’s selling pharmaceuticals, Shirley’s marriage and sandwich shop collapsed, Abed has given up on filmmaking, Britta’s a bartender, and Troy is sadder than everyone else for reasons he’ll have to come up with later. Unfortunately, the Dean already shredded the architect’s files. Jeff realizes he can convince his friends’ to sue the school for ruining their lives. Even though Alan exposes Jeff’s ploy, the gang agrees to the lawsuit, leaving the fate of Greendale in Jeff’s hands. Jeff eventually relents on the idea, accepts a job as a teacher instead, and the rest of the study group re-enrolls at Greendale.

Next, Jeff’s first days as a law teacher are rough. His office mate, Criminology professor Buzz Hickey, introduces him to the faculty-side of life at Greendale, which includes cigars and the privilege to swipe Leonard’s meatballs. But Annie signs up for Jeff’s class in order to keep him honest, and motivates him. The rest of the group takes a course about the true nature of Nicolas Cage. The mystery of whether this actor is good or bad nearly undoes Abed, leads to a Cagian meltdown before the entire class, and almost ruins his faith in movies. Thankfully, Shirley restores it. A slip about the arbitrary purposes of grading ‘minuses,’ sets Annie and the rest of the students into an uproar. Jeff talks both teachers and students down, and the Dean appoints him chair of a student-faculty relations committee. This conveniently meets in the old study room with our entire group plus Hickey. The first motion is that the Dean not be allowed in the room.

The Good

  • Gimme The Hope to Run Out of Steam: Just hearing that opening theme is like coming home. Sitcoms have poles – North and Souths – that can shift over time but don’t stray far from the coffee shop, the hospital or the study room. Harmon’s return to Community adjusts the show’s compass. Thank Annie’s Boobs we’re done with Changnesia, both in terms of logistics and the character. But North is still North, Abed can still call television tropes a mile away and Jeff still has his Winger moves. “Repilot” acknowledges how sitcoms grow and how they never change. 
  • No Scrubs: Whatever ungodly sum was paid to access to Chevy Chase’s doomsday bunker, in order to film the holographic glimpse we get of Pierce, was worth it. Both Chase’s absence and Donald Glover’s immanent departure were dealt with deftly. They were addressed but not overdone, or done so loudly they broke the flow of the episodes. The comparison to Glover’s six episode stint this year with Zach Braff’s involvement in Season 9 of Scrubs pays off in a Braffian voice-over that’s funny on a meta-level but also adds value for the whole gang.
  • Introduction to Character Introductions: Welcome aboard Jonathan Banks! Fans of Breaking Bad shouldn’t have worried about him fitting in at Greendale. His delivery as Buzz Hickey promises just as much of a whupping as it has on more dramatic shows. His timing has the dryness and precision of a Tomahawk missile. But as the post-credits button proved, he’s absolutely in tune with Community’s brand of absurdity. Banks has already made inroads as a distinct foil for Jeff. None of that generic stuff.

The So-So

  • Check Minus: The Dean figures it might be unrealistic to eliminate riots, but the speed with which Greendale descends into anarchy over higher grades was more so. The property damage and our first “Pop Pop!” of the season are rewarding, but even Jeff’s speech about Greendale’s true purpose felt rushed. It gets us to the true reboot. The student-faculty committee that will stand in place of the study group of old. And now they have a gavel! But a setpiece that big, that fast couldn’t disguise the narrative necessity behind it.
  • Captain Corelli’s Manifesto: The B-plot of “Introduction To Teaching,” a two-day symposium on Nicolas Cage (Good Or Bad?), featured some of Community’s sharpest commentary on pop culture. It’s a subject Harmon’s wanted to tackle for a while and he knocks it out of the park. More importantly, the filmspeak was fleshed out into an odd, heartfelt conversation between Abed and Shirley about the media we use to create meaning. Plus, the importance of the unknowable and Hellraiser. But as good as Danny Pudi is, his Cage-inspired meltdown wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the Beautiful Mind state of Abed’s apartment during his research.

The Bad

  • iDEANity: These first two episodes had a lot of moving parts, but in “Repilot” the Dean got the short end of the stick. The running beat of his obsession with Excel hopefully won’t reach an Inspector Spacetime level of saturation. The humor is fairly easy, especially for this show. That said, his sad, musical musing at being left out of the study room (en francais, naturellement) was a delightful way to close out the hour.

Overall:

Hold on to your Clive Owen tumblrs, because if Community builds on this positive opening, we may get that fabled sixth season and a movie. Harmon has a lot of pieces to put in place and he does so in a way that’s, for the most part, graceful. The study table is gone. Long live study table MK. II! And the best joke of the night? Hickey’s cartoon duck. “His name is Jim and publishers are very interested!”

Rating: 8/10

Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Can you tell the difference with Harmon at the helm? Let us know in the comments.