Aug 14, 2014

[TV] Community: Season 5

Community has always been a guilty pleasure show. It's the classic geek underdog - a show with a highly vocal fan following but without the kind of ratings to make it a runaway hit in the minds of various studio executives. Over the past few years the show has puttered on just barely with the constant threat of cancellation. And with this final fifth season, the show finally ended its run on network television.

Of course that's not the end of Community's story - the show has been picked up by Yahoo! Screen for an online broadcast deal. And that solution seems just as good as any for a show like this given all of its eccentricities. Although this is the first such deal that Yahoo has made, so I'm not quite sure how it's going to pan out once it has been implemented.

For  now, let's take a moment to explore the fifth season of the show before we get ahead of ourselves. This season was a bit of a return to what made Community great, but it was also a season with a number of casting changes.

Synopsis: Community was originally an NBC sitcom created by Dan Harmon. This fifth season marks its last one on NBC and saw the return of Harmon as showrunner and the departure of Donald Glover.

Season 4 saw our intrepid little study group finally graduating from Greendale Community College and trying to get on with their lives. But starting with Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) coming back to research for a potential lawsuit against the school. Given the failure of his legal practice, he's open to pretty much anything right now. We eventually find that everyone really hasn't been doing all that well since their time at Greendale. But with the gang all back together, Jeff tries to salvage things by claiming that he's actually trying to save Greendale instead of bringing it down.

One thing leads to another and we have a new status quo that gives all of them a reason to be back at Greendale. Thus Jeff signs up to be a teacher at the college and thus meets Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks), who has been teaching for 15 years now. The rest of the study group pretty much take up other classes and come to terms with the prospects of Jeff as a teacher. And because this is Community, everyone eventually finds themselves as part of a student-teacher alliance to save Greendale - thus giving them an excuse to hang out together in the study room once more. With Pierce (Chevy Chase) gone, we find the void replaced by Hickey to some extent.

I don't feel too bad about Chevy Chase leaving the show - his character was badly written and was pretty much a troll. The antics of the fourth season outside of Harmon's influence led to some pretty absurd plotlines for him and I totally understand why he left. I'm not so sure we necessarily needed Banks to attempt to fill in the void, but to be fair he was pretty amusing. The true loss was Glover, who only appeared in about 5 episodes in this last season before he went full-time to focus on his Childish Gambino career.

Admittedly I felt that it took a while for the group to find their rhythm - and this includes Harmon once again taking the reins of the show. It's hard to totally forget the events of the last season, although definite efforts were done to sort of retcon some of the weird stuff that took place before. Things started to pick up by the 5th episode, "Geothermal Escapism" where Abed (Danny Pudi) manages to convince to get the whole school to play another ridiculous game - this time it was "The Floor is Lava." And Community really shines when it goes off the deep end like this and has all of its quirky characters (not just the study group, mind you) trying to adapt to some new paradigm set for the episode.

The premise behind "App Development and Condiments" that had the school basing their self-worth on the ratings of some social app was rather clever and quite in the Community spirit. But of course the fan favorites definitely had to include "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons " as the obligatory return to the group playing a D&D game on-screen and the phenomenally animated "G.I. Jeff" done in the style of the classic 1980's G.I. Joe cartoon. I'd totally invest money in any toys developed based on that episode.

But ending story arc was definitely a little odd and I can see how it was meant to wrap up not just the season but potentially the show in case things didn't go well. That didn't quite make it a good ending, but it certainly made sure that Community would go out with a bang. And I think I would have been okay had the show not continued on past this point. Now it's really anyone's guess as to how the show will adapt to going digital and whether it will find a way to be all clever and self-aware of the advantages and limitations of their new show medium.

Community is still a fun show all-around and the fifth season was more about going back to what made it good even though it didn't necessarily make it all the way to where it used to be. The show will always be a bit of an acquired taste, but once you get hooked, it's hard to leave Greendale. This fifth season gets a decent 4 favors that Annie (Alison Brie) needs to get done out of a possible 5.


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