REVIEW: ‘Community’ Returns With Mixed Results, But With Promise

 

Community; Season 6; Episode 601 "Lawnmower Maintenance & Postnatal Care"; Photo by Trae Patton/Yahoo/Sony Pictures Television
Community; Season 6; Episode 601 “Lawnmower Maintenance & Postnatal Care”; Photo by Trae Patton/Yahoo/Sony Pictures Television

“Community” will be remembered much like “Arrested Development” in that it was its fanbase that kept it alive through even the darkest of timelines. Both were also saved from the network grave by an online streaming service. “Arrested Development” was brought back for it’s fourth season via Netflix. Yahoo Screen through its hat into the online content rings by bringing back NBC’s cult-favorite “Community” for its long awaited sixth season.

“Arrested Development” took a chance with how the streaming service worked by making its fourth season jump around various story arcs and time frames, which sort of split the fans into a “like it” camp and “hate it” one.

“Community” on the other hand, has seemingly kept its basic format — for the most part. It feels like the show we all fell in love with (same feeling as season five’s “Repilot” which brought back showrunner Dan Harmon after the hit-and-mostly-miss of season four, where he was absent), and it looks like it, too. From what I saw from the first two episodes, the production quality is not different at all.

What does feel different is the obvious elephant in the room: Troy, Pierce and Shirley are no longer on the show, and Jonathan Banks’ Professor Hickey is gone too (he is on “Better Call Saul” so this is a forgivable absence). Ever in the “Community”-Dan Harmon way, they deal with it pretty much head on and through meta humor. Shirley went to Atlanta to look after her ill father (the reason Yvette Nicole Brown decided to leave the show). This was done before in season five when Donald Glover left and his character, Troy, set sail on a ship called the “Childish Tycoon” a play on his hip-hop alter ego, Childish Gambino, that he left the show to focus on. When new comer Frankie joins the study group/Save Greendale Committee, the group does not want her to sit at Shirley’s chair, but have no problem with her taking Pierce’s (RIP you Level Five Laser Lotus). It’s those little jokes that keep the show’s spirit alive.

EPISODE 1: Ladders

Like mentioned before, there is a new person sitting at the study desk. As Chang points out that the group is losing some of the minorities that were represented the group, Dean Pelton announces the new addition to the Save Greendale Committee: “New Shirley!” Actually, it’s Francesca “Frankie” Dart (Paget Brewster), an admin official set to get the community college back on track, after presumably years and years of pretty much total chaos.

Frankie sets out to actually saving Greendale from real problems, which automatically upsets the study group. They have been sucked into this school’s insanity for so long that anything normal is a threat to them.

What didn’t work for me in this episode was that everyone has become as insane as Abed, who almost becomes the voice of reason in this episode. I like that Abed’s character is finally growing up a little more, and I love the fact he points out that they’ve all been in community college for years, yet no one has really moved on (or graduated, minus Jeff). But it’s when the rest of the group gets together and creates a speakeasy on campus that felt out of place. Why are Jeff and Britta, who were originally the only voices of reason, now just as mad as the rest? This was the one part that didn’t really gel for me.

I did like Frankie’s addition to the group. She is as anal-retentive as Annie, and is at times as robotic as Abed. She plays along with Abed and the group’s fantasy to try to fit in. You can also sense her exasperation and intrigue at dealing with these maniacs, which worked amazingly well.

THOUGHTS:

* Seeing young Leonard and knowing he’s been at Greendale since the 1970s is both hilarious and frightening in that the school really does not allow people to escape.

* Frankie looking baffled when she sees there is a class simply called “ladders,” and we get to see the actual class later in the episode. The drunk professor falling on Annie an added bonus.

* Britta totally Britta-d Shirley’s sandwich shop.

* Why was Garret spying on the group, and why was Leonard spying on Garret spying on the group?

EPISODE 2: Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care

This episode introduces the next member of the group, though not until the later half of the show. This premise is the Dean bought a virtual reality machine, much to the chagrin of Frankie who is trying to keep the school within budget. She is not use to this madness, as seen by her reaction to the Dean, and Jeff basically going with the flow now. He can’t change Greendale, and has given up on being shocked or angered by it all.

The Dean goes mad with virtual power, not wanting to leave the machine (a funny play on the 90s movie “Lawnmower Man”). Which means Jeff is sent out to find the man who tricked the Dean into buying something so ridiculous.

The B-Story is Britta centered, and this is interesting. We find out that , over the years, Britta’s study group friends have been in connection with her estranged parents. When she confronts Jeff, he tallies up the thousands of dollars he’s lent her and reminds her that everyone in the group is poor. So how else could they afford to borrow her funds besides having her parents foot the bill? She is also moving in with Annie and Abed, which doesn’t really work for me.

The episode wraps up a little too neat for Britta and her family (she’s been rebelling against cool parents all her life, but her friends love her folks). The better ending was with Jeff meeting Keith David as Elroy Patashnik. What is refreshing is these two characters already have a decent chemistry between them. Like when Patashnik keeps claiming to have been the creator of a couple of popular catchphrases from the 90s, to Jeff’s disbelief. But the zinger is when the Dean gives Patashnik a check for $500, and Patashnik states he has no idea what to do with his life. When the Dean suggests the many classes at Greendale, and Jeff states he’s realized he’s never going to be able to escape, we see how Patashnik will come back.

THOUGHTS:

* Portuguese “Gremlins” sounded funny in theory, seeing the tag of it at the end made me want to see that movie.

* Patashnik: “You’re a clever young man.” Jeff: “I’m 40.”

* Chang being bit by the cat was a good running gag, with his hand getting more and more swollen each time we see him.

* Britta stealing that kid’s hot wheels toy, and then riding it away furiously was ridiculously funny

* Too much Dean wearing that VR helmet and babbling on about creating worlds.

* Chang on first seeing Patashnik: “Troy, you’re back?”

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