Community is back.
Or at least it feels that way. The first episodes of this season may have felt like a return, at least in contrast to season four, but this is the first episode where Dan Harmon convinced me that the show can live on through all the changes. Season five of Community is really a season of change – the creator has been fired and rehired, Chevy Chase is gone, Donald Glover is gone, they’re done school, Jonathan Banks has joined the show, John Oliver has returned, and many of the writers have left. The question hanging over this whole series was, “Could the show handle these changes?” In the wake of Troy’s (Donald Glover) departure, this question loomed, more important than ever.
I should’ve known we could count on Dan Harmon.
This episode made the smart choice to completely ignore Troy. Now obviously there’s going to have to be a lot made of Abed’s (Danny Pudi) mental state without his best friend there, but it felt like a good call to prove the show could function in its new state. “Analysis of Corked Based Networking” presents a stripped down ensemble piece that feels more like season one’s tone than the high-concept-filled later seasons. Not only that, it pretty much fixes the problems that have been present in other episodes – Britta (Gillian Jacobs) had lots to do, the script felt more polished, and it was consistently hilarious.
This episode revolved around the Save Greendale Committee, which I liked. It’s a nice reason to get them all back around the table. I do wish that the show made more of Jeff’s (Joel McHale) teaching. The few portions of this season that focused on him teaching were really enjoyable, and it seems like that focus would provide the new angle this season still needs. Every past season of Community has managed to keep the show fresh and introduce wildly new character interactions and concepts. Looking at Greendale through Jeff’s new lens could really liven this season up. Hopefully there’s teaching to come.
The C-plot of this episode is about Jeff, Chang (Ken Jeong), Ian Duncan (John Oliver), and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) trying to pick a theme for a school dance. They’re stumped, until Chang suggests “Bear Down on Midterms.” Everyone else is confused, to say the least, but when Chang starts crying and making accusations of racism, they agree. They fill the cafeteria with signs and cardboard bear cutouts – until they find out that a child’s birthday party was rampaged by a mauling bear that morning. They panic and rechristen it the “Fat Dog Dance.” They convince Annie that “fat dogging it” means to relax. She still doesn’t get it, and they turn Chang’s tactics against her. Of course later they get discovered.
The B-plot revolves around Britta and Abed. Britta has only just started the HBO show Bloodlines of Conquest (“they really get the incest right”), and when Abed spoils the appearance of dragons, she decides to read the books the show is based on and spoil something for him. Along the way, Abed, now sporting noise-cancelling headphones, befriends a deaf woman. “Are you gonna have another intense burst of compatibility with another girl we never see again?” Britta asks. Abed has connected on numerous occasions with female characters who are never seen again. There’s a girl in the billiards episode of season one. There’s the FBI agent in season two. And in season four there was Rachel, a character played by Brie Larson. After the deaf girl, hired by Britta, spoils Bloodlines of Conquest, Abed runs into and reconnects with Rachel.
The A-plot sees Annie (Alison Brie) and Professor Hickey (Johnathan Banks) trying to hang a bulletin board that fell in an earlier episode. Their quest takes them all though the hazy network of Greendale’s politics. The Janitors refer them to the Custodians. The Custodians (including Nathan Fillion and Kumail Nanjiani) want the porn filter lifted before they’ll move the bulletin board up the list. (It’s under “lower the flag for Reagan’s death”.) The woman in the IT department wants a better parking space before she lifts the filter. And the Head of Parking wants control of all bulletin boards to prevent car-pooling. In the Dean’s words, “That got Sorkin-y.” Annie almost goes through with all this before Hickey confronts her, questioning her ideals. In the end, he charges through the “Fat Dog Dance” and drills the bulletin board into the wall. Annie fights off security guards for him, and the bulletin board stays.
It’s a good episode. It features what will quite probably be the only plot thread Harmon will continue from season four: Rachel. And I assume returning to her character was more about getting Brie Larson back on the show than anything else. The whole episode feels simple; no crazy stakes, no high-concept, no sad departures. It’s a wonderful breath of fresh air that leaves me hopeful for the rest of the season.