'Community' Season 5: Dan Harmon is back - is the magic back too?
"Community" returns at 8 p.m. ET Thursday (Jan. 2) on NBC.
Let's get this out of the way: Does the return of Dan Harmon return the show to its former self?
This is something of a trick question, since even die-hard fans of the show can't all agree on what that "former self" truly contains. As someone who is far from a die-hard lover of the show, I'm willing to say that it more or less contains key elements that made up the first three seasons.
So it's great, is what you're saying?
Nope, though I can easily see why fans of those Harmon-led seasons will be thrilled with what they see in these early episodes (three released for review, with the third episode actually serving as the fourth of the season). "Community" has always come in three flavors: oddly boring, way too up its own posterior, and shockingly brilliant. The three episodes provided for review fall neatly into those categories.
Does the so-called "zombie season" get erased from existence now that Harmon is back?
Nope: it all happened, even if Harmon has to spend the majority of the first episode back working back towards something of a fresh start for the show. It's not a reboot per se, in that everything that happened in the show's world still happened. But there's very much a sense of stripping things down to basics, and a seeming acknowledgement that the excesses of the show's past often served those inside the show versus those watching at home. (That, or the budget on this show is now $11/episode, which is entirely possible as well.)
So no crazy concept episodes in those screened for critics?
Nope, and honestly, that flavor of show has rarely been my favorite. The fact that the show could do an amazing recreation of the production style and tropes of "Law & Order" was always an exercise that ended at the level of emulation. Those that saw character work in those types of episodes definitely saw something I didn't, which worked as homages but rarely as pieces of art unto themselves. If "Community" couldn't create solid character moments, I wouldn't care. But this is the show that also produced "Cooperative Calligraphy" and "Remedial Chaos Theory." So the show CAN do this. It just does it with disappointingly large gaps in between.
Will this season of the show change anyone's mind about it?
That's a big noooooooope. But I'm not sure that hasn't been the case since the middle of the show's second season. It's always had huge highs and huge lows, and a great number of episodes that flat out didn't work. But those that missed the show last season (even though it aired thirteen episodes) should be pleased, and those that never got the show can freely continue to ignore it. As for me, I think it just intersects with my personal passions intermittently, like a Halley's Comet of comedy. Then again, I've always liked my "Community" sad, which is why "Mixology Certification" is my favorite all-time episode. The brilliant ep in this early Season 5 bunch feels like a sequel to that episode, one long overdue. I'll keep watching, because the show gets it right enough times to keep me coming back. But I've long ceased being disappointed when it doesn't reach those heights. "Community" is what it is, once again. Take that as you will.