Community: “Ladders” / “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care” Season 6 Episodes 1 and 2 Review

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Was Six Seasons and a Movie too ambitious of a goal?

Community‘s move from the small screen to the even smaller one didn’t come as much of a surprise. In the past few years, the television landscape has opened itself up to a plethora of changes, expanding our definition of what a TV show can be. With an increased variety of viewing options, it’s become fairly common for shows that can’t survive the network’s cutthroat ratings system to be given a second life somewhere else.

A change of location shouldn’t have any impact on a series’ quality, especially if the original writing team is still intact. Indeed, the production value of the first two episodes of season 6 does not appear to have changed from when the show was on NBC. What has changed, however, is the cast, and that can cause some problems.

Last season, Community gave excellent sendoffs for Chevy Chase’s Pierce and Donald Glover’s Troy, giving both of their characters’ departures real weight. The season 6 premiere has Shirley off working as a chef in Atlanta (we’ll miss you Yvette Nicole Brown!) and Professor Hickey simply gone (we won’t miss you too much Jonathan Banks, since you’re doing great things on Better Call Saul). The change is rather abrupt, forcing the majority of the episode to try and shuffle things around.

Enter Criminal Minds‘ Paget Brewster as Francesca “Frankie” Dart, an administrative consultant hired by the Dean to carry on the tasks of the Save Greendale Committee in a more efficient manner. Frankie’s no-nonsense attitude immediately clashes with the group’s quirky sense of adventure, initially making her an adversary until everyone comes to a mutual understanding.

Performance-wise, Brewster is easily able to hold her own against the comedic chemistry of the rest of the cast. Her matter-of-fact delivery works well, and I’m excited to see what larger role she’ll have in the rest of the season.

For now, though, her character’s purpose remains unclear. I enjoyed her scenes with Abed in which they discuss—essentially—what her purpose is going to be at Greendale. Still, it made me wonder how they’re going to further develop her. A character who just plays the straight man against everyone else’s craziness is a pretty one-dimensional concept. Frankie hints at having a more colored backstory, so I hope Dan Harmon and his writing team will use it to its full potential.

“Ladders” focuses mainly on introducing Frankie and setting her up as a new series regular. Jeff, Britta, and Annie set up a speakeasy in retaliation against her more formal way of doing things, and Abed ends up stuck in the middle. There’s a recurring joke about montages that, to be honest, got old after the second montage.

I was hoping episode 2 would be able start progressing the plot, but unfortunately it involved more housekeeping. Keith David’s Elroy Patashnik character is introduced by way of a cheap virtual reality machine that the Dean impulsively buys.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t too much to like about this plotline. 90s virtual reality film is a very narrow genre to spoof, and I think the specificity of it hindered most of the humor. Jim Rash is a gifted comedic actor, but watching him sort files through some low-budget version of the Oculus Rift became tiresome after a while.

Additionally, Elroy’s inception into the series felt a little odd to me. At first, he seemed like a one-off character that would disappear after the episode ended, but then Dean Pelton gets him to enroll in some classes. It’s not that I don’t think David will make a good addition to the show, but Frankie’s introduction felt much more natural to me. With so many cast shakeups in such a short amount of time, Community needs to hold on to some semblance of structure, at least when it comes to adding new faces.

What did work about “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care,” however, was getting to meet Britta’s parents. Martin Mull and Lesley Ann Warren are lovely together as George and Deb Perry, respectively. Really, though, this plotline served as an excellent growing point for Britta who, in my opinion, became the most interesting character in season 5. Getting to learn more about why she’s always “Britta-ing” everything up was exciting, and it also allowed for one of the episode’s funniest lines when Frankie references Britta’s confusing feelings about her parents as “Jimmy Fallon Syndrome.”

I’m sure many Community fans are over the moon about the show’s return, but these episodes have made me a little skeptical. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I don’t doubt that Harmon and co. are up to the task. Still, things ended on such a high note last season, that I almost wonder if season 6 might be overkill. Hopefully, I’ll be proven very wrong.

“Ladders” – Grade: B

“Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care” – Grade: B-

 

Some Other Notes:

– Welcome back to The Filtered Lens’ weekly Community reviews! I’ll be here for all 13 episodes, for better or worse (hopefully for better)!

– It’s painfully clear that this show has no idea what to do with Chang anymore. The downside to having more time to focus on each of the remaining characters is that you immediately see which ones are severely underdeveloped. I don’t think I laughed at anything he said in either episode.

– Did anyone else notice that the speakeasy had a picture of Harmon on the wall with “Do Not Serve This Man” written underneath it?

– Also, random Nathan Fillion cameo in the speakeasy scene. I’m always very intrigued, and slightly confused, by the way this show uses its guest stars.

– Britta’s parents, whom I love dearly: “If you were on Tinder, you would be the prettiest!” “The boys would all be swiping right!”

– I highly enjoyed the “Butcher and the Baker” tag at the end of the first episode. It was nice to see Shirley one last time. The Portuguese Gremlins tag during the second one was…meh.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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