The Return of ‘Community’

There are not a lot of shows that have endured the rollercoaster of setbacks and blow ups like NBC’s “Community.” Just within the past year, it lost its creator and the biggest name of the program’s ensemble cast.

It’s no surprise to see Chevy Chase, who for three seasons played the crotchety elder of a study group at a community college, to leave the show. He has a rich history of being a brilliant comedian and an intolerable person to work with. His clashes with the show’s creator, Dan Harmon, became cannon fodder for Internet chat rooms.

Chase left with only a few episodes left to shoot. He went on to higher and more artistically motivated vehicles like those Old Navy commercials, reviving Clark Griswold of the “National Lampoon Vacation” series of films to sell sweaters.

Which seemed odd, but who am I to judge? Chase, who hadn’t been relevant for more than two decades, was revived when he joined “Community.” He played the role of Pierce Hawthorn brilliantly. There is no denying his comedic talent. But there is also the fact that his disruptions and attitude certainly did not help a show that was struggling anyway to find its core audience.

For me, there has not been a show as cleverly written and executed like “Community” in a long time. The closest that comes to mind is “Arrested Development” in terms of subversive humor. And like “Arrested Development,” “Community” has followed in the footsteps of a lot of clever shows down the path of fighting to stay on the air.

But last week, the fourth season began. While it still is better than 99 percent of what’s on the tube these days, the lack of Harmon and obvious whittling down of Chase’s character appearance certainly showed.

The writers certainly seem like they are nailing this down as the final go. This was kind of the arc of the first episode, with one of the characters trying to deal with this being their final year in college.

That is another problem for me (and has actually been brought up in the show). Four years at a community college is not realistic. But this is TV, and especially with “Community,” reality goes by the wayside. They have had a stop animated Christmas episode, an episode based in an 8-bit videogame and many other surreal moments.

There is no doubt this will be the season most nitpicked by the fanbase. And that is kind of ironic since it was this fanbase that rallied so hard to keep the show alive. For this season alone, NBC axed Harmon, pushed the premiere date back a few times and had to deal with other problems.

Sure, the first episode did feel different. But I think that feeling is more about the cloud that hung over this show for the past year or so. Knowing the creative force is no longer there, and there will be a few episodes without Chase, certainly gives me, personally, a different way to look at the show.

But with 13 episodes left, I will not judge too harshly. NBC certainly did not have to give the show another go, and the fans should be happy with what they are given. It may feel a little different, but if we can get a decent send off, that will be fine.

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