'Community' Season 5 review: Everything you love returns to Greendale
Sure, I've only seen the first three episodes, but those episodes are everything fans want in their Greendale Community College experience. Fun jokes, strange setups and surprisingly touching moments are all present as "Community" dances its fine edge between silliness and the abyss of the insane.
Season 4? What Season 4?
While the basic plot points of last season -- graduation, the split-up of Britta and Troy, Jeff returning to law -- are present in the new episodes, the feeling of the show is different. All of the little things that made Season 4 feel off are gone.
The Season 5 premiere is, as the title suggests, a "Repilot." "Community" literally returns its characters to the study room and their starting positions: Jeff is a manipulative lawyer trying to keep his emotions from peeking through, Britta needs direction, Annie's talent has been diverted, Shirley has to redefine herself, Troy just wants to go with the flow and Abed brings them all together.
And then he decides that they're in a TV show again. Some things really don't change.
I won't give away the subtle dig made as a reason why Season 4 felt different though. It's too amusing to realize on your own what they're doing.
The Pierce of it all
One major change is immediately evident in this new season of "Community": Chevy Chase's character of Pierce Hawthorne is gone. With the actor's departure from the show toward the end of Season 4, this was an inevitable situation.
Season 5, however, handles it with incredible ease. Seriously, I was shocked at how well the transition works. There is more than one reason given as to why Pierce doesn't just show up at the study room table in the premiere episode, and those reasons make sense. The old guy is still a piece of the fabric, albeit a piece that's wandered off and won't be back due to circumstances that are entirely his fault.
The absence of Pierce is also helped by the inclusion of Jonathan Banks' Professor Hickey, starting in the second episode. If "Community" needs a "weird, older guy" character, then the show has us covered.
'Community' needs Dan Harmon
Thus far in the review, I have ignored the elephant in the room: Dan Harmon. That's probably because Harmon's renewed presence on "Community" is so pervasive, so ingrained into every word and emotion of the new season, that it's hard to pick out one or two easy things to say about him.
Most shows don't really need their creators to stick around, but "Community" has never been most shows. The contrast between Seasons 4 and 5 makes that frighteningly clear -- anything and everything you thought was missing last season can be summed up in Harmon. It's frightening and beautiful and hilarious, all at the same time.
But since those words can be used to describe "Community" at its insane best, this works.
"Community" Season 5 premieres with a double episode Thursday, Jan. 2 at 8 p.m. on NBC.