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NBC’s little watched, oft canceled, but loved by its few die-hard fans, sitcom Community returned from the dead once more last night, bringing with it Dan Harmon, the show’s original creator. And while there has been a lot said about the show’s return, Dan Harmon’s return, and Donald Glover’s departure, the main question of whether the show would see a return to its season 2-3 form still remained unanswered. Even after NBC allowed viewers to do some post-holiday indulging by airing two of the thirteen episodes, that question still remains largely unanswered.
As the title for “Repilot” suggests, Community’s season 5 premiere was a rebooting of sorts. “Repilot” had the unenviable task of not just providing a Community-esque reasonable explanation for Jeff and the study group to return but also had to appease its diehard fans while hoping to win a few new ones. And while the last of those goals was probably the least successful “Repilot” still found varying levels of success in all of them.
Amongst the many individual callbacks – Abed’s “I see your value now” being the most prominent (although I personally enjoyed the Model UN peacekeeping score board) – “Repilot” at its core was one big callback where every character, aside from Pierce (Chevy Chase), had come to the same failures that originally brought them to Greendale Community College to begin with. Jeff was sent to Greendale because the lawyer who ratted him out for not having a legitimate undergraduate degree sent him to retrieve records for a case he was working. Shirley’s husband Andre left her again, albeit this time because it was her sandwich shop business and not his stereo business that was sucking their money. Annie was shilling mood altering drugs for a pharmaceutical company that she realized would attract “Little Annies” to use. Abed didn’t make it in film because he still wasn’t good enough interacting with people. And Britta just Britta-ed her post-Greendale life by immediately falling into a bartending gig, showing just how little she had matured and became lost in the shuffle of life.
And, in fact, “Repliot” featured the same type of story as the original “Pilot” did as Jeff called this group together for his own personal gain – hoping to file a class action against Greendale – and they blindly followed him which forced him to have to be the moral compass and make the right decision. It was a clever way to go back to square one with Community while also picking up exactly where the show left off. But despite the return of Community’s “wink-wink” cleverness there was something that felt off in “Repilot” – an absence of fun.
Understandably an episode that revolves around everyone’s post-Greendale failures isn’t going to be a lark through a dewy meadow but it clearly felt as though something had changed with the actors and the show. It wasn’t like the actors were going through the motions but more like they had lost their characters a bit. Perhaps that is what Harmon wanted but the characters all felt a little off – especially Troy although that is probably because of Donald Glover’s inner angst more than anything. Still, it felt more true to seasons 1-3 of Community than the color-by-numbers season 4 ever did, which in of itself is a feat.
By the end Jeff agreed to become a teacher at Greendale, the group decided to come back to school to pursue their real dreams or gain more expertise to succeed in them, and Pierce received the funniest moment as a hologram Jeff stumbled upon. Considering how much “Repilot” had to accomplish, any comedy and entertainment that could be mined should be considered a success and there was certainly enough to show its die-hard fans that season 5 wouldn’t be another elongated farewell tour like the latter portion of season 3 and all of season 4 was.
“Introduction to Teaching,” on the other hand, marked Community’s real return. “Introduction to Teaching” was crammed full with the madcap hijinks that the show is all about. Showing just how different Jeff’s interactions would be now that he was a teacher instead of a student was a smart way to begin the show. Now Jeff checking out a student was considered leering and his constant banter with the curmudgeonly Leonard was now abusive as opposed to allowed and justified. And while Jeff was initially worried about his teacherly duties he soon was under the wing of Professor Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks who played Mike on Breaking Bad) who showed Jeff the ropes of being a Greendale teacher.
And while Hickey was teaching Jeff to cut to the head of the lunch line and enjoy his time in the very raucous teacher’s lounge, Abed and the gang decided to take a film class simply titled “Nicholas Cage: Good or Bad?” And as always Community shined with its post-modernist commentary on film/TV production. Drama Professor Garrity made his return to teach the class and despite his warning to make sure to not over indulge in Nicholas Cage, Abed became determined to answer the question the class’s name posed. But unlike when Abed was able to find the real answer to Who’s the Boss?, Abed studied too much Nicholas Cage far too soon, which caused the episode’s most hilarious bit where Abed has a brief psychotic break and portrays all the distinct Nick Cage-isms in front of the class, to which Garrity says that the performance was brilliant.
But if that wasn’t enough, a riot breaks out among the students once Jeff tells Annie that teachers invented minus grades specifically for times when they didn’t particularly like the student. Eventually the riot reaches Jeff and Hickey in the lunchroom where Jeff tries to diffuse the situation with one of his patented speeches. Unfortunately for Jeff it doesn’t work showing another instance of how things were now different for Jeff as a teacher.
“Introduction to Teaching” felt like a much truer return for both Harmon and Community. Displaying much of the absolute ridiculousness that has made its fans love it so much. And if the main stories of the episode weren’t enough to tip you off to the show “being back” the post credit scene, in which Abed and Troy are camouflaged as a potted plant and an armchair as they overhear Hickey’s real world troubles should have hammered the point home nicely.
Community has been fully revived and will feature the same hilarious insanity while also allowing for moments of poignancy that has been the staple of the show for its entire run thus far.