Community: 10 Things We Expect From Season 5

Community returns for its fifth season this week, and we have a list of things that we know to expect, and a list of things we WANT to see.

A little more than half a year ago, I wrote a list of what I wanted from Season 5 of the NBC sitcom, Community. It was an article chock full of pessimistic gloom and misery…but for good reason! I had just barely survived a wasteland of a season that had attempted and failed, with spectacular ineptitude, to ape the fun, joy, heart, and everything that had made Community once so special to me. Season 4 was a bad piece of business, something that now feels safe to attribute to the firing of creator and showrunner Dan Harmon. Back when I wrote that article, a rumor had surfaced about Harmon being brought back for Season 5. I rather callously disregarded this rumor, because it was pretty much an unheard of notion for a creator to be shunned by a network for a year and then given an offer to come back. And for that said creator to actually say yes? Crazy talk! Nothing like it has happened before! The closest precedent might be John Kricfalusi being fired from Ren & Stimpy and then brought back to do an “adult” version of it for Spike TV, but that was a completely different show (not to mention a terrible one). Normally a showrunner is removed (a la Frank Darabont and The Walking Dead) or removes himself (Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing) from a show’s production, they stay gone. There were other skeptics like myselfThe A.V. Club published a snarky little piece suggesting that Deadline, who originally reported the rumor, did so for no other reason than nefarious click-baiting, preying on the hopes of a broken and battered fanbase. Furthermore, Dan Harmon himself assumed the rumor was at best the end result of Sony (who produces Community) teasing the idea of his return to NBC in an effort to wheedle a few more episodes out of the network, thus bringing the series closer to the 100-episode milestone, which is, for whatever reason, the magic network TV number that will allow the syndication deals to flow. Unprecedentedly, however, the thing that seemed like it never could’ve happened totally did: Dan Harmon is back for Season 5 of Community. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be exactly the show I first fell in love with. After all, Harmon was involved with Season 3, and the tail end of that had some definite missteps. Plus, I’ve been burned in the past by things going away and then making miraculous comebacks with the original creator onboard, only to turn out to be the worst crap ever made in the world ever and forever, a phenomenon known as “The Arrested Development Problem” (I’m prepared to fight all of you about this at any time, by the way). I also claimed back in my old article that Season 4 had “irreparably wounded” Community, but with all those months happening between then and now, that kind of feels like a different life where I was a surly malcontent, and now I’m back to being a naïve idiot.So, feeling so much more charitable as I do, here’s a new list of things we’re almost definitely going to see in Season 5 of Community (based on what’s been released about it so far), and things I have no idea about but sure would find peachy. Stuff that Will Be in Season 5 for Realsies  
1. Everyone is Welcome! Though Harmon was decidedly not a fan of Season 4, he’s stated that he never wanted to take the easy way out and start the new season by pulling some manner of “it was all a dream” nonsense. That said, it seems to some degree unavoidable to not be dismissive of Season 4. The tone and style were so different from what came before that it felt like a bad, alternative version from a dark timeline. It bore some of the markings of Community, what with being a comedy about a group of community college students involved in nutty situations that often parodied other genres. However, the characters acted like weird, flat versions of themselves, the parodies felt half-hearted, and none of it was very funny. So it only makes sense that the season premiere is called “Repilot” and angles to be just that. It appears that a significant amount of time has passed since Jeff Winger’s (Joel McHale) graduation, enough time for him to have set out on his quest to become an attorney who sticks up for the little guy, and then to have subsequently failed and found himself again returning to Greendale Community College. As a huge fan of Community’s first season, which put Jeff at center as an unscrupulous lawyer in an environment where he’s forced to grow a heart, I find this premise hugely exciting. I wouldn’t want (nor do I expect) a complete retread of previous storylines, but I always liked Jeff as a protagonist, and I’m happy to see where things go with him back in that role. Dan Harmon bases all of his narrative writing on the structure of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey,” which contains a step in which the hero must return to the place he started, so he’s probably doing this at least somewhat on purpose. On the whole, this is meant to be a reintroduction to the series’ fundamentals, so people who haven’t seen the show before or those who abandoned it at Season 4 (I call you “The Wise Ones”), shouldn’t feel lost. This seems showcased by a clip released from the premiere episode in which Chang (Ken Jeong) dismisses the entire Changnesia storyline from Season 4 in one sentence. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, just forget it.
2. Mr. Winger In my other “Looking Ahead” article, I pooh-poohed the idea of Jeff coming back as a professor as hackneyed and generally bad. Well, one of the first trailers NBC released introduced us to Mr. Winger, professor at Greendale Community College. Yet in all honesty, at the time I think I was swayed by popular irate opinion; there were a lot of fans that hated the idea of Jeff as a professor, dismissing it as a lazy way to get him back with the rest of the study group. Well, in retrospect, I kind of don’t care and I’m not sure why I did. If Jeff’s meant to have failed as a defense attorney, it makes perfect sense that the Dean (Jim Rash), in love with Jeff as he is, would throw him a bone. Also, I think the whole professor thing might be a clever ruse. The plot of the repilot is that Jeff’s old lawyering partner/nemesis (played by Rob Corddry) has convinced Jeff to try and coax his old friends into suing Greendale for psychological damage (again, somewhat reverting Jeff back to his evil ways at the start of the series). Seems to me that taking a professor position at Greendale might be a good method for Jeff to infiltrate the school in order carry out his real scheme.
3. Chevy Chase is Gone and Nobody Cares That’s all there is to it. Well, no, not really. I know a lot of people hated Chevy’s character, Pierce, but I think that’s largely because you were kind of supposed to (at times). He was the villain of Season 2. And I thought he was an absolutely brilliant villain, so I’m personally sad to see him gone.However, after scaling back his villainy to appease viewers and then scaling back his character, period, to appease Chevy, it became clear throughout Season 3 and 4 that the writers didn’t really know what to do with Pierce. When Chevy unceremoniously quit the show in the middle of Season 4’s production, it meant Pierce would obviously have to be written out. But by that point, his role in the show had been so downsized that his departure was a footnote rather than a cataclysmic event. Oh well. I doubt he’ll even get much of a mention in Season 5. 
4. Donald Glover is Gone and Everyone is Sad Donald Glover’s character, Troy, is only going to be in the first five episodes of this season, after which point he’ll be written out somehow or another. Harmon has very candidly admitted to being bummed out by this, and the trailers released for the show thus far don’t seem to want to address it too much either, as Troy is all over them (though they do also include a hilarious, self-aware line from Troy criticizing Zach Braff’s departure from Scrubs). It’s not entirely clear why Glover left. People thought it was to focus on his rap career as Childish Gambino, because some of the world has mistakenly told him that is a worthwhile thing for him to keep doing (I’m prepared to fight all of you about this at any time, by the way). But some pencil-scrawled letters he posted to Instagram just vaguely claimed he wanted to be “on [his] own,” which I guess is why he’s doing another show for FX…? Anyhow, this is a loss that will definitely be felt. Glover is an amazing actor and his smart line deliveries allowed Troy to remain one of the funniest characters throughout the lackluster showing that was Season 4. Still, the sickly sweet innocence of the Troy and Abed (Danny Pudi) pairing was kind of getting run into the ground. It’s been a show staple for so long now that I can’t think of what they’re going to do with Abed sans Troy, but I’m willing to be open-minded about it. 
5. Britta for the Win! I’ve always loved Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and I was sad to see her character (starting back in Season 3) lose some of her depth and degenerate into kind of an idiot, shrieking misguided activist jargon. Happily, the new trailers display Britta as some kind of post-apocalyptic warlord in a Mad Max-style parody, featuring Star-Burns (Dino Stamatopoulos, who is also back), crying “All hail Britta!” I have no idea what this is all about really, but Britta must’ve done something right to have a legion of followers, and it’s great to see her character getting a plotline in which she gets some respect for once.   Other Stuff that Might Happen, But I’m Just Making This Up  
1. Everyone is Welcome??? Regardless of Harmon and Co.’s intent for the show to be accessible to those who never saw it, I just mentioned a Mad Max parody being one of the first things revealed as part of the new season. Also, Chang seems to be living in a box fort in the middle of the study room. These sorts of things indicate that Community is still a completely bizarre, high-concept thingy. I’m not against that; I love the paintball episode just like everybody else does. But I am typically happier when the show is a bit more grounded (Season 1 is still my favorite), and I don’t honestly see these opening trailers as being in any way welcoming to people completely unfamiliar with the series. The bottom line, however, is that I think those of us who were ever fans of the show, even if they ditched it during the previous season, will feel right at home. 
2. Put Shirley in the ShowThis is really my only holdover from my old list of Season 5 expectations. I continue to find Yvette Nicole Brown to be possibly the best actor on the show with an ability to instill the weakest lines with great hilarity. But her character Shirley has been criminally underused for way too long now. She gets relegated to the sidelines, much like Pierce, as the writers seem unclear what to do with her. But unlike Chevy Chase, Yvette Nicole Brown is cooperative and would love to have more screentime. So, I hope they find something for Shirley to do and I hope she’s presented as more than just a shrill Christian. 
3. The Characters Will Be Characters AgainI already said that Britta and Shirley lost depth and became amplified versions of one aspect of their respective characters, and that this stuff happened under Harmon’s watch, but the characters never collapsed into the mess that they were in Season 4. The problem there was that the writers appeared to forget almost entirely that the show had actually bothered to build and develop these characters and that they had actual arcs that should have continued to develop. Annie (Alison Brie) became little more than a love-struck chump with a crush on Jeff, and Abed was Season 1 Abed all over again, unable to separate television from reality. Yes, the characters are meant to be scaled back somewhat to how they were from the start with this “reboot” and, yes, some of Season 4 has to be quietly set aside, but Dan Harmon has always been very anal about having complex characters at the core of Community’s ridiculous world. So, I have some faith that the new season won’t forget everything that’s happened to these people up to this point and won’t be afraid to deepen them further. There’s some proof of this, actually. Alison Brie has remarked that Annie actually wears pants now. Pants! 
4. It Won’t Be as Good as Seasons 1 and 2 Look, I have high hopes, but they ain’t that high. The cast has been really bigging up this season with Ken Jeong remarking that he’s shot his favorite Chang moment of the entire series, and Joel McHale saying this is the “most excited I’ve been about Community in my life.” But you guys aren’t going to sucker me that easily! I’ve been burned before, and I’m not sure my heart can take it again. Two-thirds of Season 1, and most of Season 2, are some of my favorite television of all time. I just don’t see Season 5 reaching those heights. Although it could still have some of the series’ best episodes ever like how Season 3 had “Remedial Chaos Theory.” So it might have some really great moments like that. Or maybe loads of it will be great. Or maybe it’ll be true love all over again. Oh, my poor heart!