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Review: NBC's 'Community' returns for successful 're-vamp, do-over'

By Angela Atkinson     Jan 3, 2014 in Entertainment
Community returned to NBC Thursday for a fourth season with an episode called “Re-Pilot,” in which the now-graduated Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) and his fellow study group members reunite when they return to Greendale Community College.
In its original iteration, Community was probably one of the most underrated shows on television. Smart writing, hilarious actors with great on-screen chemistry and overall funny story lines. People who love smart comedy couldn’t get enough—and then NBC sent the show’s creator Dan Harmon packing after the show’s dazzling third season.
“…it was kind of a test case for the many-hands theory of TV,” writes Time’s TV critis James Poniewozik. “Yeah, Harmon conceived the show, wrote much of it, worried over its details with a jewelers’ attention. But the show would keep many of its writers on staff, the cast would still be the same, and the show’s tone and characters were well-enough established.”
So this explains why many fans found themselves feeling a little uncomfortable with the fourth season—whether they knew it or not, they were watching a show that was creatively…different.
“It's the restoration of what the show is and who the show was created by,” Joel McHale told IGN TV in an interview when asked about Harmon’s return. “The show is in Dan's brain, and that's why last year was kind of all over the place.”
When the show’s fourth season ended, Jeff had graduated and all of his friends were on their way out of Greendale as well. This meant that the first episode of the fifth season needed to tie up some loose ends and get the study group back to the school, moving into a whole new dynamic.
“…it just wasn't the same, because everything comes out of Dan,” McHale added. “Obviously, Dan's particular brand of comedy for Community is very distinct, and that was lost last year.”
Rob Corddry returns as Jeff’s former colleague-turned-nemesis—and it’s he who brings Jeff a Greendale-related case that causes him to return to the school.
As the first episode of this season sets up the group’s new dynamic, the return of Harmon (and the also-returning Chris McKenna, now his “co-showrunner”) can definitely be felt.
The old chemistry is back as Winger returns to Greendale College to investigate and reunite with his old friends. Pierce Hawthorne, played by Chevy Chase, returns in a holographic form to lend his support to the cause, but rumor has it he’ll be written completely out of the show by the third episode.
Though he wasn’t part of it, Harmon didn’t pretend the fourth season didn’t happen—he even dealt with the “Changnesia” issue in a rather amusing fashion. The core cast is reunited with hilarious results.
No “Scrubs”
“This could be like ‘Scrubs,’ Season 9. A re-vamp, a do-over. Jeff could come back to Greendale as a teacher,” Abed says, reminding us of his fascination with all things cinematic as viewers think they catch an inside joke—after all, Scrubs had a less than stellar final season that had very few of the original characters and even lead actor Zach Braff only appeared in six episodes.
Bottom line: two thumbs up
Harmon and McKenna and crew have managed to move the storyline along successfully and have even acknowledged the complications of last season.
As Jeff Winger puts it, “We went in as real people and came out the other end as mixed up cartoons.”
Donald Glover’s character Troy is rumored to be leaving the show, but if it’s true, he’ll be going out on a Seinfeld-esque high note—he’s still nailing his lines and getting plenty of laughs.
“Repilot,” in this reviewer’s opinion, was a success that looks like it’ll lead to even better things for the season—and it was done in a way that very few others have been able to pull off.
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