Greendale’s favorite diverse study group is back as Community returns for its third season of meticulously sharp writing and inspired story ideas. Unlike most comedies out there, and especially on NBC, this is one that genuinely has fun with its source material focused around the concept of college life. The premiere reminds viewers how things have changed since the series debut yet the character’s conflicting personalities still remain as strong as ever.
After last season’s terrific two-part Western/Star Wars spoof finale, Pierce humbly left the group after a year of lies, pills and jealousy that made him somewhat of an evil villain bent on destroying any happiness usually revolving around Jeff, and ultimately the group itself. The show’s writers have realized Pierce went off the deep end last season and want to bring his character back to being the narcissistic rude old man he originally was in the beginning. That’s what this episode was trying to reinforce, if you were excluded from the study group, how crazy would it make you become? Jeff learns this the hard way.
As usual, Community always has clever opening scenes before the credits and in the premiere, issues focused on the show’s cult following were addressed. During a dream sequence in song form, Jeff, Britta and Abed insist that things this year will finally be ordinary (boring) and therefore make them more appealing to society (viewers) compared to previous attempts. Once the three awake, you appreciate how Community enjoys being a constant inside joke among its loyal fans and is content with sacrificing widespread approval for originality. It’s a brilliant touch that fits in with the series’ attitude of sarcastic undertones.
The episode then gets us reacquainted with the study group after the summer break. Not much serious drama to unpack here but it appears that Troy and Abed are living together, which will most likely play a part throughout the season. The main plot device revolved around Jeff getting kicked out of Biology class, by Greendale’s first teacher who actually appears to know what he’s doing, and Pierce replacing his position. Annie also has a good bit where she hits Jeff with a dose of his own medicine, implying that they are still friends outside the study table.
As usual, Winger brushes this aside due to his over-sized level of arrogance and does his popular “I don’t need them” routine that Joel McHale continually nails. His antics trying to get back into the class and chasing Chang through the school’s air vents shows the desperate lengths someone will go to get back to normality.
Once Jeff goes off the hinges, his inner psyche is unveiled. The sequence in his mind is truly hilarious and unsettling at the same time (Jeff eating his phone). His attack on the table is a little unnecessary but it proves Jeff’s point that a piece of furniture can destroy the definition of friendship.
Things resolve themselves with Pierce acting as a scapegoat to get Jeff back into the group. Problems aren’t all fixed, but by the last shot in the episode it seems that things are back to normal for now.
The sub-plots this episode are interesting but don’t do much to evolve situations. Abed’s yearning for a new show to replace Cougar Town as his favorite pastime goes nowhere quick. While it’s initially funny, especially Abed’s creature-like squeal for comfort when he’s distressed (only Troy can calm him down), after a while, it grows old. Meanwhile Dean Pelton has his own continuing storyline too, as he gets in over his head when he takes on Greendale’s Vice Dean, played by the great John Goodman.
It’s fun to see the two square off, only for Dean Pelton to get whipped into submission once Goodman shows his true power of dominance. Having an actor of Goodman’s caliber added to the cast is a marvelous addition since he is someone who’s willing to be funny and extreme at any given time. The fact that Greendale has no money this season opens up a whole slew of doors for Community to enter with new ideas brewing on the horizon.
Chang, for example, appears to be the school’s security guard this semester, which will obviously lead to hilarity and countless moments of enforced chaos. Jeff’s remark after seeing him in full uniform pretty much sums it up, “this is the year we all die.”
Overall, it was a relatively somber episode that had more ups then downs. It was a gentle reintroduction for the study group while adding new elements that will grow over the course of time. Additions like Goodman and Michael K. Williams from HBO’s The Wire, as a former inmate turned science teacher, make the proceedings even more of a fresh viewing experience.
Community’s new season is off and running, so it’s just a matter of time before wittier movie parodies and more innovative filming techniques (remember the claymation episode from the last holiday special?) start popping up week after week. Fans of well-written and superbly performed comedy television can rejoice, Community has returned.