Community Season 5 Review: Back to Basics

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Dan Harmon’s return this season proved that sometimes things are better off in their original state.

At this point, I think it’s time we put the drudgery of Season 4 behind us. The 13 episodes of Community that aired this year have completely reinvigorated my interest in the show. I’m hesitant to call this season Community 2.0, simply because it really feels like Community 1.0. As it turns out, all that was really needed to make the show good again was to go back to the way things were. It’s like the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t replace the showrunner.

Still, this season had its work cut out for it, and it’s pretty amazing that it passed each of its obstacles with flying colors. With Pierce gone, Troy leaving, and the remaining characters coming back after failed career paths, the story started out in a rather dark place. Luckily, Harmon knows how to draw humor from even the saddest of situations, and used these bumps in the road as opportunities to prove just how great the show can be.

The over-arching plot of the season was the creation of the Save Greendale Committee. Really, though, it served as a way for the characters to save themselves. Aside from getting the group into several hilarious shenanigans, it allowed for a great deal of character development. We also got introduced to Jonathan Bank’s Professor Buzz Hickey, who was a welcome addition to the cast. At first I thought he would be simply filling in for Pierce, but he ended up standing all on his own, while still fitting in to the chaotic world around him.

Speaking of Pierce, the episode “Cooperative Polygraphy” provided the perfect sendoff for Chevy Chase’s polarizing character. Following the format of one of their signature bottle episodes, it forced the gang to play off each other in harsh, but ultimately important ways. Despite the interesting pair-offs that happened this season, there really was nothing better than when everyone got together in one room. Not only does it give way for growth, it’s also pretty hilarious.

This fitting goodbye to Pierce led to another fitting goodbye for Troy, who left after a game of Hot Lava in “Geothermal Escapism.” This episode worked as a way for Abed to make peace with the departure of his other half, and used the high-concept plot wisely. Troy matured a lot over the beginning of the season, making his sendoff feel justly paced. Should the show continue on for another year, I’m sure he’ll make a guest appearance.

Community is probably most known for it’s concept episodes–paintball (twice), a fake clip show, an homage to Law & Order, etc. To me, however, it’s always been a show about a group of people making a family for themselves as they try to figure out their place in the world. Sometimes I think the concepts overwhelm this idea, but this season they meshed with the characters very nicely. Aside from the aforementioned Hot Lava episode, we also saw the gang encounter an “Ass-crack Bandit,” a futuristic dystopia, the cartoon world of G.I. Joe, and Dungeon’s & Dragons once again.

These episodes were a whole lot of fun, but the reason they worked so well is because of the motives behind them. “G.I. Jeff,” one of my favorite episodes of the season, used the cartoon as a deflecting mechanism to deal with Jeff’s age. “App Development and Condiments” saw Shirley and Jeff once again butting heads, and further expanded upon their complex friendship. I love watching the gang explore new worlds together as much as the next Community fan, but I love it even more when they’re working toward a common goal. This season, each concept had some solid reasoning behind it, making the fun stuff even better.

There weren’t too many low points this season, save for a few subplots that didn’t play out too well. “Basic Story” was easily the weakest episode, but it was actually just one half of a two-parter. “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” wasn’t especially entertaining, but it was still charming enough to make for a solid entry in the series. It’s a testament to Harmon’s dedication to the show, that his biggest slip-ups this year are easily forgotten.

I don’t know if I have a favorite episode of season 5, but there are definitely a few standouts. As I said before, “G.I. Jeff” was both a perfect parody of 80s cartoons and an intriguing look into Jeff’s troubles with aging. “VCR Maintenance and Education Publishing” didn’t have any high-concepts or meta humor, but was more of the lovable cast being their lovable selves. The finale, “Basic Sandwich,” was a terrific way to close things off. Community is much more confident now, and I like that it chose to end things in the hopes it will be returning. I hope it does too.

I will say, however, that I definitely had a favorite character of season 5. Britta, usually relegated to the one-off joke of screwing everything up, got a lot more screen time this year. Whether she was forcing Abed to face his fears about Troy leaving, having an existential crisis herself, or rushing into a marriage with Jeff, Britta certainly became more multifaceted than she ever has before. She also was given some of the season’s best one-liners, including this gem from “Cooperative Polygraphy” where she defends being high at Shirley’s son’s Christening:

“How else do you expect somebody to sit through something like that? At least with a bris there’s a moment of suspense!”

Overall, I was highly enthused by this season’s comeback. It’s rare to see a show make such a major upswing and turn things around for the better. The uncertain fate of the series makes me nervous, because now, more than ever, I can definitely see myself sitting through six seasons and a movie. Grade: A-

 

By Mike Papirmeister

 

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