Community: Season 5 — a review

I’ve already been on record saying that Season 4 of Community was my least-favorite season of the series so far. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this was the season without Dan Harmon, who had been fired from the show he created. For some very good reasons, I feel compelled to add, but still—

It didn’t help that Chris McKenna and several writers left with Harmon, along with the multi-talented Russo Bros., who left to seek their fortunes in the MCU (found them, too). The result was Season 4. I’ll repeat: it’s been my least-favorite season so far. But, I did give it a grade of B, which means I didn’t hate it the way a lot of people said they did. The season just felt half a bubble off plumb, as my own grandfather might have said. It was exactly like a familiar cast of characters who were being written and guided by people who just didn’t quite get the show.

But, Season 5 corrects this problem.

Well, it corrects some of this problem. Dan Harmon returned as showrunner and executive producer for Season 5. Writer-producer Chris McKenna also returned as executive producer. Several of the show’s writers departed for other shows. Megan Ganz joined Modern Family.

Some of the issues I had with this season originated with the previous season and its showrunners, who were no longer involved with the series at this point. Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) had graduated at the end of the previous season, so a reason had to be contrived to keep him on the Greendale campus. Jeff returns as a teacher (unlikely, but we’ll whistle past that) and instead of a study group, the study room now provides the home set for a teacher/student “Save Greendale” committee.

Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase) has been written out of the series because of some off-screen drama, although he does have a surprise cameo in the premiere, as a hologram. This changed the dynamics of our group somewhat, but then they were changed even more when Troy Barnes (Donald Glover) also left the series after the first five episodes. Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks) joins the cast as another teacher, and Banks is always fun to watch. Plus, Professor Duncan (John Oliver) returns to the series, after an absence of one or two seasons. And, of course, we have Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown), Annie Edison (Alison Brie), Ben Chang (Ken Jeong), and Dean Craig Pelton (Jim Rash). So, the cast is shook up a little, but there are still plenty of familiar faces.

The list of guest stars is still impressive, to wit: LeVar Burton; Paget Brewster; David Cross; Nathon Fillion; Ben Folds; Gina Gershon; Vince Gilligan; Walton Goggins; Kumail Nanjiani; B.J. Novak; Robert Patrick; Brian Posehn; and Questlove, to name a few that I recognize.

The stories remain ridiculous and a bit on the surreal side, but they have been revived a bit by that touch of Harmon magic. There’s not really a season-long story arc, even though the last couple of episodes of this short 13-episode season try to make you think that the arc is about the possibility of the Greendale campus being sold to corporate entities (I think Subway, but I could be remembering this wrong). Between the first episode and the last, Pierce Hawthorne dies off-screen and Walton Goggins gets to read his will to the group. Then, Troy leaves, which kind of leaves a vacuum where the Troy-Abed dyad used to exist. We get an animated episode in the style of the G.I. Joe cartoon. David Cross joins the gang for another Dungeons & Dragons episode. Abed gets a girlfriend. And other assorted hijinks. We don’t care what our favorite characters are doing now that they are acting more like themselves.

After the series low point with Season 4 (although Season 3 wasn’t as good as the first two seasons. I’m just sayin’), it feels like the show is mostly back on firm footing. I enjoyed this season. I didn’t miss Pierce much, but I did miss Troy. Jonathan Banks was a great addition, but he has a different kind of energy than Donald Glover.

My biggest issue with Season 5 is that the premise change from a college study group to a teacher/student committee somehow changed the tone of the series for me. A little bit, not a lot. Up to this point, things weren’t set up for me to care about the teachers at Greendale. The show had been about the community college students. Any teacher who showed up on multiple episodes was likely to be a supervillain like Malcolm McDowell. I realize that the series has always been about the relationships between the characters, not the individual classes they take, but it seems like potential storylines have been eliminated by this change.

Community‘s fifth season was pretty well received by both the viewers and the critics. But, NBC still announced the show’s cancellation in May 2014. In June 2014, however, Yahoo! announced that it would carry the shows sixth, and final, season on its streaming platform, Yahoo! Screen, which was destined to close down completely in 2016.

Firewater’s I-Love-Scotch-and-Myself-I-Tolerate-Greendale Report Card: A-

I’m looking forward to Season 6. R.I.P., Pierce Hawthorne. Bon Voyage, Troy Barnes.

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