You know what a politically-focused site like The Daily Banter needs more than anything?
Episode recaps and analysis about an esoterically brilliant show that is already on its penultimate or final season!
But seriously, if I’ve eked out even a bit of your trust, believe me when I say that Community on NBC is one of the best shows on television and your life will be instantly improved if you give it a chance. The little show that could has persevered through more near-death experiences than the characters in the Final Destination films, but after countless off-screen dramas, the show has ultimately become the better for it.
To give you the elevator pitch, Community is a show which first aired in September of 2009 that revolves around a community college study group comprised of seven eclectic students played by Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino), Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Dunny Pudi. They all meet while attending the fictional Greendale Community College, and over the course of 4 seasons, they become a second family, relying on one another to traverse the increasingly absurd and hilarious world that writer Dan Harmon has placed them in.
Unfortunately though, I don’t think there’s anything I can say to convince you to watch the 30+ hours of previous episodes out there in time to catch up for these episode reviews, but what I can do is cater to the small sliver of Daily Banter readers that happen to already watch this show and provide them with thoughtful, introspective, and unabashed reflection on the new episodes.
However, I did decide to wait until they had aired a few of the new season to make sure everything was up to par after the “gas leak” Harmon-less 4th season debacle before I committed to writing these, but the first three episodes have exceeded even my lofty expectations. So throughout this weekend, I’m going to be posting reviews on those episodes, and from here on out, you can expect a weekly dose of Greendale coming at you every Monday (Community runs on Thursdays but who actually watches live TV these days?) until the goal of “six seasons and a movie!” has been attained.
NOW ON TO THE ACTUAL REVIEW!
Season 5, Episode 1:Repilot
And we’re back…
And thank goodness we — and writer Dan Harmon — have Abed.
The Aspbergian fan-favorite has always been a crutch to help Harmon explain some of his more abstruse concepts, but with the daunting task of basically rebooting a show mid-series, Abed has become a necessary narrative tool. That's because this first episode’s job, above appeasing the high-expectations of diehard fans, is to establish the new “reality” that Harmon has built for us so that we have a baseline to go off of for future episodes. As Abed himself metaarticulates (that’s meta-articulating #explanabrag), “Re-piloting can be intense. New people show up. Regulars shift roles or fall away.” With this episode, Harmon is asking us to make a few leaps of faith with him — and to even outright abandon logic at times — for the sake of creating a Greendale that we can continue to incubate in for at least another season or two.
Some of these leaps are easy to make (Pierce being banned from the school), others not so much; but Harmon knows they have to be made, and in his signature self-referential way, he finds a way to poke fun at the more unbelievable plot lines, even as he’s forcing them down our throat. The “insane,” “irresponsible,” decision to bring back “a teacher they fired for trying to burn down the school after being rehired as a security guard after being fired for impersonating a teacher” is one of the brasher, this-is-what-we’re-going-with moves on Harmon’s part, but he knows that if it means keeping Ben “El Tigre” Chang on campus, his sympathetic fan-base will let it slide.
And now the group is back at Greendale...except they’re not the group anymore.
We were always told The Darkest Timeline was a world where Jeff lost an arm and Troy ate a flaming troll, but as we learn about what The Greendale Seven has been up to these past three years, we discover that leaving Greendale and growing apart was actually their worst fate. It’s a bit depressing yes, but Harmon is doing to the show what Jeff does to himself to end up being hired as a teacher at the episode's end: painting his way to a corner where there is no other logical alternative than to go back to Greendale. We may have wanted to jump into a world with cartoon robot fights and Jeff Winger as a superhero like the intro scene teased, but that’s too easy and that’s not the Harmon way.
And at least it’s better than having Dr. Jack Shepherd screaming “We have to go back!”
Plus, Harmon truly shines in finding moments of levity when we might start to notice him squirreling a square peg into a round hole. When the 66-year-old elephant in the room, or more accurately out of the room, is addressed by Troy’s wondering if it was weird doing this without “……Magnitude”, it turns a heavy-hearted sigh into full belly laugh.
And speaking of Troy, you can tell that Dan Harmon was sincere when he said he had no ill will towards Donald Glover for leaving the show because he gave Troy the strong majority of laughs on this episode. Scroll to the bottom of this article for a list of my personal favorite quotes from the episode and you’ll see Troy’s name dominate it. Glover delivered the “Clive Owen Tumblr” and “I’m much sadder than the rest of you” lines so well that it stung even more to realize we’ve only got a handful more episodes with him. However, even this was addressed with the most clever, witty line of the show, spoken when Troy berates Zach Braff for having left Scrubs.
And we’ve added some new blood…
Throwing Mike Ehrmantraut, I mean Jonathan Banks in as faculty member Buzz Hickey is an interesting wrinkle but, like he did in Breaking Bad, he allows our world to be expanded a bit more, only this time it can be new faculty members as opposed to meth dealers. Getting John Oliver back for this season is a huge grab as well since his star is going to do nothing but rise with his new HBO series. Hell, there’s a chance that the faculty could outshine the student supporting-cast this year, even if Jim Rash is still playing Dean Craig Pelton a bit too “gas-leak”ish.
On that downer note, it is really unfortunate to see Rash carry over his Season 4 overacting into this episode, but hopefully this is just him kicking off the rust after a season where he was leaned on way too heavily to “be funny,” which usually meant milking the “pansexual nymph" thing in an overt, kind-of-offensive-if-we-were-Salon way. He’s one of the more talented actors on the show though, so I’m sure Harmon will have him back to his subtle brilliance soon (#rationalizedoptimism).
And to help ease this transitioning process, Harmon threw fans plenty of easter eggs and callbacks into this episode. The "Geography of Global Conflict" Model UN wheel, the debate club trophy, Britta’s owl analogy, and the possibly incredibly self-referential “I see your value now” all helped make watching this episode feel like going through a memory box or scrapbook. Those old emotions and relationships with these characters couldn't help but come flooding back.
Even Pierce got a chance to say goodbye. And there's a real ironic beauty in letting the man that did all he could to kill Community off-screen be the one to help save Greendale and kick-start this new beginning. He could have been channeling Harmon, his mortal enemy, when he tells Jeff/the fans to give this thing another chance:
“Don’t turn your back on it….it’s a special place… a place that gives crappy people a chance to sort themselves out”
Jeff needs Greendale yes, but more importantly we need Community — and God knows Dan Harmon needs it — so that we can have this one little thing that might help us crappy people sort ourselves out a little bit. Because Community, like Scrubs, for as funny as it is, is a heartfelt show that tries to capture and evoke real human emotion. It tries to show that life isn’t always great or always terrible; there are a million shades of grey and that’s where life takes place. There are no alternate timelines. We have what we have to work with, and that's what we have to live with.
But in the end, Dan Harmon found a way to give us a Community that is very close to the one we've wanted but even closer to the one we need: Jeff is a teacher just like we all thought he should be, the study group is at Greendale getting themselves back on track, which is the convenient recent button that was needed, and Dan Harmon got to sever the group from the table like he always said he wanted to do if the show kept going — even if the cathartic bonfire was only temporary.
As the cherry-on-the-sundae Zach Braff narration brought it all full circle, we were left knowing exactly where we were at in the Greendale universe, and that’s exactly where we needed to be in order to move forward.
“That son of a bitch! After everything Scrubs did for him?! Sorry…” - Troy
"Do you guys feel weird doing this without…Magnitude?” - Troy
“I’m much sadder than the rest of you. I’ll figure out why later.” - Troy
“You found my Clive Owen tumblr...” - Troy
“You staged a robot fight?!” - Troy
“That’s like me blaming owls for why I’m bad at analogies.” - Britta
“I saw you once convince an arson victim he liked his house better burned.” - Alan Connor