[Review] - Community, Season 5 Episodes 1 and 2, "Re-Pilot" and "Introduction To Teaching"

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television
First, let me say this won't be a regular thing. I find half hour comedies the hardest thing to review, which is why I don't do Archer reviews despite it being the best half hour comedy on TV right now. But with all the hoop-la surrounding Dan Harmon's return, and the anticipation to see if Community has returned to it's former glory, I felt that giving this hour long return to Greendale some focus was appropriate. Plus, I had nothing else ready to go.

Hit the jump for the brief review, which contains spoilers that would have accepted a week of meatball lunches without question as well.

It was apparent from the cold open that things were better off. The references were more obscure, the rejoinders wittier and the the over all tone just a little more crass and cynical. Which was something last year was sorely missing. If, like these episodes go to great lengths to establish, everyone at Greendale is the bottom of the barrel, that provides room to move up in the world. By holding a primarily cynical point of view, it also becomes a default optimistic one. No one can get any lower, so everyone can only get better.

It's no secret that Community is a repetitive show. Over the first three years, Harmon found what viewers responded to, what the writers responded to, and what provided the most potential for material, and went back to that time and time again. Season four took this tactic to eleven, but with none of the self awareness or clear intention that Harmon brought to it. So, upon his return, Harmon returned to the well. Re-Pilot reestablishes a framework for the series to operate under, returning the characters to a status quo that is similar, if not entirely like the one they were left in when Harmon was fired. Introduction to Teaching is just another "Jeff pushes back against the system" episode, like the first season's Physical Education. The subplot involving the Nic Cage class was another "Abed takes things too far" episode, which wisely named checked the very similar Whose the Boss plot.

What makes these seem less derivative is that Harmon appears to have returned to the series with fresh eyes. He's keenly aware of the retreads and faults that the series began to suffer in season three. Both of the plots in episode two find new footing by actually showing an effect on the characters. Jeff's rousing speech backfires completely, as does his scheme to get something for nothing. By accidentally seducing himself with the concept of teaching, he is at least open to the possibility of personal growth. Abed too, with yet anther emotional breakdown added to the tally, is very aware that not only is this behaviour unhealthy, it is strange. He would have recognized this back in season one, but in season one he wouldn't have cared. But perhaps the best example of Harmon's self awareness was Jeff's succinct breakdown of how the characters have been degraded into broad generalizations instead of complex characters, Britta especially. Maybe this hints at a willingness to make substantial changes to the characters over the next dozen episodes.

Of the two, I found the first episode stronger than the second. The humour seemed more focused, the characters more at ease, and the plotting more engaging. That being said, the introduction of Buzz Hickey, played by Jonathan Banks was great, and the character is just as screwed up as the rest of them, making him a fine addition to the group. Jeff has traditionally been the straight man of the show, but I think it'll serve everyone well to have someone even straighter to call the group on their oddness. The credit sequences of Teaching was proof enough of that. I'll wait to give a final verdict on the season until it ends, but it appears in these early days that Harmon's return means only good things, and that the aggressive mediocrity of last year has been successfully exorcised.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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