Community: Repilot and Introduction to Teaching Review

After a very unambitious fourth season, tonight heralds the return of Dan Harmon to Community, and the final results might just be joyful.

Repilot The thing about Community at the beginning of each season is that things are always a little rocky. There needs to be some kind of explanation as to why we’re still here at Greendale. I don’t really mean this in the way that it seems unrealistic that these people have spent so many years of their lives in a community college. When it comes to sitcoms, most seasoned TV watchers are happy to keep their disbeliefs nice and suspended. As long as we get to watch our favorite characters wisecrack at each other some more, we don’t actually care that much about why they keep gathering in the same location to do it. I mean that if you think about Cheers too deeply, it gets pretty depressing. Those people have serious problems. No, the bigger issue for Community was always how so much stuff would happen during each season, and how characters would go through such huge emotional and interpersonal developments that, by the finale, one had to wonder if the writers could possibly right things again so that we’d continue to believe that these people would still be able to hang out with each other. In other words, it’s because Community is not content, as so many other sitcoms are, to maintain its status quo that ultimately drives it to work harder in legitimizing its more sitcom-y aspects. It’s because the season finales are so un-sitcom that the season premieres have to do so much heavy lifting to explain why we are still in a sitcom. Of course, the Season 5 premiere, “Repilot,” is a very different beast from the other premieres, but one that requires heavy lifting all the same. Season 4 was markedly unambitious compared to what had come before it. It felt more like a show trying to become an average, boring sitcom, but unable to fully make the leap thanks to the insanity previously set up by creator Dan Harmon. All told, Season 4 was a confused mess, and Season 5 is a reboot, bluntly articulated by the premiere’s title. Tidying away a mess of the magnitude (reference to running gag goes here) left behind by Season 4 and giving the characters and viewers a reason to come back to Greendale means that a lot of stuff has to happen in 21 minutes. And stuff it does! Basically, Jeff and the rest of the study group have all left Greendale and are at some of the lowest points in their lives. Jeff’s good-guy legal practice was a complete failure, Abed’s working in programming but not making much cash, Annie’s selling pens for a pharmaceutical company, Britta’s a bartender, Troy’s not… doing much, and Shirley’s husband left her after she put all their savings into her sandwich business. With everyone in a rut, they seize an opportunity, invented by Jeff, to turn on the school and sue it for making their lives worse than they were before they enrolled. However, it doesn’t take a lot (an unexpected appearance by SPOILER!!! Pierce) to turn Jeff around. He then decides to instead take the Dean’s offer to teach Law at Greendale and, seeing as the study group was just going along with what Jeff thought was right, they all decide to reenroll in Greendale to finish proper degrees. Because so much time is spent orientating us to the situation and climate of this new season, there’s not a huge amount of room for really incredible jokes. I chuckled occasionally more than really laughed, but I acknowledge the quiet brilliance of a lot of these jokes, like the way we quickly learn that Troy has a Clive Owen Tumblr, and the fact that there was apparently a whole year at Greendale lost to a gas leak. The show also gets to have its cake and eat it too, letting us know how cheesy it would be to have Jeff become a professor and then going ahead and doing it anyway. Abed also (as he’s supposed to) keeps things self-aware by framing the whole episode in the context of the Season 9 reboot of Scrubs, which is just stupid enough to work. Overall, for all the explaining it had to do, this episode is pretty grounded and straightforward. There’s really only one major plot going on here, as opposed to the incredibly manic Season 4 premiere, which tried to juggle four (or was it five?) meandering subplots in under half an hour. Still, “Repilot” is anchored by Community’s standards, meaning that it does not actually feel like an episode that would appeal to newcomers. It’s set almost entirely in one location (the study room) and is full of explanations as to why things are the way they are now. It’s also arguably more dramatic than it is comedic. But, for fans, this feels like a decent reorientation. Den of Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars   Introduction to Teaching So, Jeff’s a teacher now, which means a fun shift for his character. Where before he was a charming playboy, female students now think it’s creepy when he leers at them. Similarly, ragging on students (Leonard) is viewed as inappropriate behavior. However, behind the scenes in the teacher’s lounge, Jeff learns that the instructors blow off their class prep and party all the time. This suits him just fine until Annie enrolls in his class to put a stop to this and make him act like a real teacher. At the same time, Abed (and Britta and Shirley) take a course called “Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad?” Abed, trying to find an ultimate answer to this unanswerable question, goes kind of crazy a la Nicolas Cage in one of his bad (or good?) movies. The joy of this episode is in how it feels comfortably like another episode of Community. With the premiere out of the way, it’s already kind of settled into itself without too much fuss. Playing Annie off Jeff the way this episode does feels completely accurate for those characters. Abed’s class is right up the show’s alley and is, in fact, an episode idea Dan Harmon wanted to do before he got fired. It’s kind of great that one of his first acts as reinstated showrunner was to make such a ridiculous concept happen. This episode is decidedly funnier than the premiere. The Dean has a gag plot running through the whole thing, which is that he’s trying to learn Excel. It’s that simple, but his struggles with the program and his failed attempts to get Jeff to learn it with him are both hilarious and endearingly sad. We also get properly introduced to Professor Buzz Hickey played by Jonathan Banks. First presented as a completely sour, almost evil bastard, it’s eventually revealed that he indeed has a heart. At the end of the episode, he’s blatantly, yet cleverly, slotted into the position in the study group vacated by Pierce. Yet even if he may be another old guy, he’s a very different, much darker, sadder character that’s played with a total straight conviction by Banks, making him sincerely awesome right off the bat. In terms of problems, things arguably still go a bit too far too quickly (an issue emblematic of much of Season 3 and 4). When the study group learns from Jeff that minuses are just a tool that teachers use to show students they hate them through grading, a riot quickly breaks out, which seems a little much. However, this is somewhat legitimized by the Dean making note of how often riots seem to happen at Greendale in general (he hopes to reduce them by 40% this year). Abed also has a Nicolas Cage-inspired breakdown that’s awfully extreme, but that’s sort of unavoidable when it comes to Nicolas Cage, and it made me laugh, so I can’t complain too much. The main issue I’m struggling with so far with these first two episodes is that they have been focused almost exclusively on Jeff (and also Abed in “Introduction to Teaching”). I do like seeing Jeff as the protagonist again and love the concept that his charm isn’t what it once was (the moment he delivers a Winger speech that fails to connect is great). But I still feel as though the gang hasn’t yet had a chance to interact with each other in the ways that produced the really sweet moments that made them so endearing in the past. I’ll admit that these episodes didn’t leave me giddy and as ravenous for more as the show did in its prime (latter-period Season 1 and Season 2). But the jokes are picking up, the tone feels pretty right, and now that Professor Hickey is in the study group, I’m excited to see things really get rolling. Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5 I have faith that the emotional side of the show will pick up too. One of the core elements reintegrated into Community as a result of Dan Harmon’s return is its darkness. “Repilot” is visually and thematically dark. The Greendale campus has never looked more tragic, full of dimly lit settings with the study room being used for storage and the cafeteria in disarray following the removal of Shirley’s Sandwiches. The characters too are at possibly their lowest points ever. “Introduction to Teaching” ends with a tag that is kind of anti-comedy, as we just get to hear Professor Hickey making phone calls sorting out his medical conditions and the burial of his father. There was this buzzword getting thrown around by the suits at NBC back in Season 4 about how that season would have more “heart,” which translated to more schmaltzy moments without the emotional legwork done for them to properly land. But under Dan Harmon’s direction, Community always had loads of heart, and it felt real and earned. This was because it wasn’t afraid to go extremely dark as well as really sweet. You can’t have the light without the darkness. With these two episodes teetering on the edge of the abyss, the rest of this season could end up being downright joyful. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!