Community was a little bit of a nerve-wracking affair this season. The show was running the risk of this particular reincarnation being more like the Leech Child than the behemoth of brilliance it was before. The crippled cast, now the mere shadow of what it once was, the new ghetto-Netflix locale, and the fact that Dan Harmon seemed disinterested in the whole thing all made me incredibly nervous. For those unaware or previously uninterested in the details of Community’s precarious situation allow me to summarize. Due to a variety of factors three members of the show’s original cast have moved on – Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, and Yvette Nicole Brown. Each were a pretty key part of the show’s dynamic, and the characters introduced in season five to fill these gaps are also no longer a part of the show. Also a key difference this season is the format. NBC, ever on the verge of cancelling the show, finally pulled the trigger and committed to ridding their schedule of Dan Harmon’s cult show. In the flurry of negotiations after this cancellation, Yahoo decided to pick up the torch, hosting the show on their streaming service where it could be watched for free. The last tense aspect of this season was Dan Harmon’s mentality. At many points over the course of writing and filming the show he complained about how challenging he was finding it and expressed fear that this season would be bad. Part of what made him nervous was the lack of antagonistic studio meddling on the part of Yahoo. Harmon claimed not having someone to rebel against might hamper the show, but it also seems that letting him off the chain could potentially yield some interesting results.
So when the first two episodes of the show went live I was very excited to watch them. I didn’t expect great episodes; even without a challengingly changed scenario the show’s strongest episodes are never at the front end of a season. Essentially I was just hoping for two things: I wanted the show to be funny, and to still feel like Community. Well “Ladders” and “Lawnmower Maintenance and Post-Natal Care” delivered on both these things.
“Ladders” basically served as reintroduction to the remaining cast and their current situation. They all seem to have resigned themselves to staying at Greendale for an alarmingly long time. The show starts bringing the meta-commentary immediately, with Abed speculating about the nature of their show now so many of their friends are gone. He also references the sort of questions fans often raise, including his disappearing girlfriend and last season’s Pierce hologram.
Both episodes also introduce a new character, clearly an attempt to patchwork an ensemble piece more like the past episodes. The first episodes introduce a tough serious character named Frankie. She’s played by Paget Brewster and, while I’m not entirely sold on the character, she at least brings a much needed touch of incredulity to the first seasons. Something I felt the show kind of missed last year was that sort of “straight-man.” Abed, ever-meta, sums up some of the problems with Frankie’s slightly bland character. I hope continued episodes help alleviate this, without getting rid of her slight disbelief at the Save Greendale Committee’s proceedings. One of my favourite moments in the first episode comes when Frankie busts a speak-easy the gang builds in a basement at the school. Britta demands to know who tattled and Frankie can’t believe the question. She wonders how the group ever expected to keep such a major operation secret in the first place. “There was lumber involved!” She also busts the illegal bar with guys dressed in period police costumes, because she assumes that her actions will be better received if they stay thematic.
“Lawnmower Maintenance and Post-Natal Care” revolves around two stories: the Dean buying a virtual reality set up and Britta rebelling against her parents. The latter of these plot lines was rather inevitable. Given Dan Harmon’s fixation on the mythical ramifications of parent-child relationships and Britta’s already canonical bad relationship with her folks, it was only a matter of time before we got to see this. The fact that everyone else is so much more adult about the situation is pretty funny however, especially when contrasted with Britta’s mania.
Far funnier is the Dean’s storyline. Everything about this is pretty great, from his ludicrous hand gestures to Jeff’s complete inability to understand the appeal of the rudimentary and impractical system. “And Jesus wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer,” is a pretty great moment for the Dean. It’s not quite on par with last year’s freestyle or anything like that, but anytime the Dean get’s weirdly theatrical and angry it’s awesome. The plot line reaches its conclusion when Jeff gets Keith David, the designer of the VR headset, to help convince the Dean to move on. David’s been referenced a few times on the show before, mainly because of his involvement in the short-lived show The Cape. He narrated one of the faux documentary episodes as himself. Out of the two new characters he seems like the one with the most potential. David’s funny, as his stint on Enlisted proved, and his character seems interesting.
There’s definitely good set-up in these episodes. The extra characters are potentially a must-needed new element in this season. The show more-or-less still looks like Community. The Study Room set looked a little off, but that was pretty minor. The extra length the streaming format allowed for was generally well spent, allowing for a few notable longer bits. Britta moving in with Annie and Abed is a situation rife with comedic potential. Neither of the episodes were all-timers or anything like that, but neither of them were bad. Instead they felt like solid first or second season episodes. Small scale and character driven. It gives me a lot of hope for the show going forward.