It’s been a long wait, but Community is back, with Dan Harmon once again at the helm. We might have been a bit skeptical, but with “Repilot” and “Introduction to Teaching,” it feels like it might actually be possible for Community to reach its former heights. Granted, the first two episodes didn’t blow us away, but it was good to see the gang back together, all hanging out and having Nicolas Cage-induced breakdowns once again. The table might be new, but everything else is still the same.
In case you haven’t had a chance to catch up with your favorite human beings yet, we’ve broken down the highlights, lowlights, and surprises of the fifth season premiere.
There was something about “Repilot” and “Introduction to Teaching” that really did feel like we were properly back at Greendale. The new episodes were a bit darker than anything in Season 4, which, weirdly enough, may have been just what was missing. Despite that, there was still plenty of the weirdness and fun that we have come to love about Community, and there was definitely a lot to love.
The Jokes. Every single character got in at least one truly great one-liner in both episodes, although they were far and away led by Troy, who nailed every one of his jokes (from his Tumblr dedicated to Clive Owen to his confusion about the phrase “Et tu, Brute?”). However, his funniest moment of the night came when everyone was crying over the ways they have been changed by Greendale, and he declared that he was “much sadder than the rest of you. I’ll figure out why later.” We’re really going to miss both Troy and Donald Glover when it comes time for him to leave. Elsewhere, Britta managed to be funnier than an entire riot/food fight when she realized that she had run out of data minutes on her phone after promising to live-stream the riot on the Internet. And let’s not forget the Dean’s sad French inner monologue, which is both weirdly plausible for his character and the funniest gag of the night.
The Callbacks. It wouldn’t be a proper episode of Community without plenty of callbacks and meta references, so Harmon and Chris McKenna decided to stuff these two episodes full of them. From the moment that Jeff reacted to the arrival of his former study group with a forced “It’s the coolest…” through to the re-appearance of Dramatic Studies teacher Professor “Professorson” Garrety, there was more than enough for dedicated Community fans to recognize and appreciate. It might make it harder for new fans to come to Community, even after the new pilot, but it as a nice nod to the fans to include so many parallels and returning characters. After all, who hasn’t missed Magnitude pop-popping up to bring his one-man party all around campus?
Nicolas Cage. There are very few shows who would be willing to dedicate an entire subplot to Nicolas Cage, but Community took that challenge one step further, and turned the most confusing actor of all time into a poignant metaphor for understanding human nature. Abed’s had a lot of psychotic breakdowns over the course o the last five years, but Danny Pudi took things to the next level with his incredible Cage impression. If the Emmys don’t appreciate his “sexy cat”, then there’s no hope left for this show, because that was some of the strangest and best physical comedy on television in a long time. Plus, the sweet moment he had with Shirley at the end of the episode was one of the most surprisingly poignant scenes that Community has ever featured.
No show is perfect, not even this one. Therefore, for all of the things that worked on the first two episodes of the season, there were also some plots that didn’t quite work or jokes that didn’t quite land.
Jeff’s Flip-flopping. The show has spent four years establishing Jeff as a character who is fundamentally a good person, even when he finds it easier to be mean or shallow or lazy. While it was a nice callback to the pilot to have Jeff struggle against his old self and the way he behaves as a lawyer, he seemed to turn on his former school far too quickly. And then, after he had effortlessly convinced his friends to turn their backs on Greendale with him, he instantly flipped back to being a good guy, and became determine to save the school instead. It makes more sense for Jeff to save Greendale, but the way he kept switching sides over the course of he episode was confusing, and an obvious plot device.
Shirley’s Marraige Is Over (Again). It may have been a nice homage to where everyone started the series years ago, but it was disappointing to find out that Shirley and Andre have decided to separate again. After watching Shirley learn to forgive Andre and move past his cheating, and seeing them reconcile with a baby and remarry in the study room, it seems like a major regression to just throw all of that progress away. Shirley’s marriage was a major part of her character, and her learning to grow and be less judgmental over time, which is why it makes no sense to just get rid of it all. She proved that she’s retained that knowledge in her scene with Abed in “Introduction to Teaching,” so we’re hoping the end of her marriage doesn’t spell the end of character development for Shirley. Besides, we miss seeing Andre’s funky patterned sweaters.
Alan Connor. Don’t get us wrong, we love Rob Corddy as Jeff’s slimy co-worker, and him using a hotel’s concierge desk as an office was a great joke. But he never quite seemed to work in the episode, despite being the reason Jeff went back to Greendale. For someone who is continually bullying Jeff, he seemed to spend the whole episode cowering around him, and never managed to be properly intimidating. He’s been a great villain in past episodes, but something about his presence in “Repilot” just never managed to be particularly menacing.
In addition to the good jokes, and awkward elements, there were a few things in “Repilot” and “Introduction to Teaching” that managed to surprise us, just when we thought that nothing Community could do would shock us any more.
Pierce. Pierce returned! As a hologram! To dispense life advice! We knew that Chevy Chase wouldn’t be appearing in the new season, so to have him appear briefly at the climax of “Repilot” was a great treat. It makes perfect sense that Pierce would become a hologram, and even more sense that it he would mess up his touching advice with a homophobic jab at whoever helped him rig the whole thing. It was a wonderful way to have both the characters and fans pay tribute to Pierce’s absence and move on, and it also leaves the writers an opening to bring back his hologram any time they like.
Professor Hickey. We knew that Jonathan Banks would be a great addition to the cast, but we were surprised at just how easily he became part of the study group, and how natural it felt to have him there. The show also did a great job of not making it obvious from the start that he was meant to take Pierce’s place, but rather, allowing him to establish himself as someone who can provide both advice and conflict. And he draws cartoon ducks named Jim. What’s not to love?