Two episodes of the sixth season of “Community” were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
“Welcome back to Greendale, now ranked fifth on Colorado’s alphabetical listing of community colleges,” Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) squawks over the intercom as Community kicks off its immensely promising and even more unlikely sixth season (#sixseasonsandamovie!!!!) on Yahoo Screen. That such a throwaway line is the first thing loyal viewers hear upon their re-enrollment at Greendale almost trivializes how hard Community‘s creators and Sony Pictures Television worked to find a new home for it after NBC gave the cult comedy a pink slip last year – and it’s all the more amusing for that. In spite of all the adversity this beautifully bizarre underdog of a series has faced over the years, it’s lost none of its cheek.
Indeed, season six of Community often feels like an old show made young again. The dialogue is as fizzy and free-flowing as it was in the show’s very first season (which aired back in 2009, can you believe that?), and the energy that the actors bring to their now-beloved characters is indicative of the excitement each of them must feel at finally having found a home where their brilliance is appreciated. Behind the camera, too, are Rob Schrab, then Rash and Nat Faxon, familiar faces you can tell are grinning broadly, not to mention showrunner Dan Harmon, the still mighty creative voice of the series.
Schrab’s premiere episode “Ladders” manages the unenviable job of repiloting with far more grace and dexterity than season five’s first installment (which was saddled with a similar purpose). Within its first few minutes, nothing’s clearer than that the show is well and truly back. Community has always been more about the relationships between its characters than any protagonist in particular, and season six finds the ensemble working like a well-oiled machine. The study group is up to its old tricks, the ever-ridiculous Dean dances around in the background with unbridled glee, and smaller players like Leonard (Richard Erdman), Garrett (Erik Charles Nielsen) and Professor Albrecht (David St. James) are still doing their best to ensure that Greendale stays weird.
The college perhaps hasn’t felt this good since the middle of season two (“Epidemiology” and “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” are two particular favorites of this reviewer), which is odd considering that the two provided episodes are far more in line with the less-acclaimed first season. Both “Ladders” and “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care” are quote-unquote normal episodes of Community, not reaching for the manic, homage-heavy heights of the paintball episodes or “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” though both offer some extended references that recall those theme episodes. Regardless, they’re still wildly entertaining, catching us up with the characters and ensuring that their latest adventures are as madcap as we’ve come to expect (the amount of brilliant stuff in the first two episodes is staggering – and it wouldn’t be fair to the show to spoil any of it here).
It must be said that Community is, despite its relievingly familiar vibe, a changed show at its heart. Yvette Nicole Brown (the nurturing Shirley) opted not to return for this season, joining the dearly departed Chevy Chase (who famously clashed with Harmon and had his character killed off), Donald Glover (who left to pursue a rapping and film career but could return), John Oliver (now on HBO’s Last Week Tonight) and Jonathan Banks (now on AMC’s Better Call Saul). When Abed asks with his typical meta flair if Shirley spun off, Britta replies that she “ended up taking a job as a personal chef to a brilliant but troubled Southern detective,” an explanation almost as pitch-perfect as Community‘s insinuation that Glover’s Troy and traveling companion LeVar Burton are currently being held hostage by pirates off the Gulf of Mexico (I smell a movie!).