End of Season Report: Community, Season 5

23 Apr

The Study Group, Season 5

While this season was Community was at times uneven, it was overall  a triumphant and welcome return to form.

There’s nothing that makes you appreciate something you like as much as, even more than its total absence, its replacement by a vastly inferior version. Rarely does television pull off that trick; usually a far inferior season of television is a symbol of a downward trend indicating that a show will never hit the heights it once did again. Community, fittingly, remains unique in this sense.

Everyone knows the story by now. Mercurial creator and show runner Dan Harmon was fired after the show’s third season. He was replaced by two well-meaning outsiders who attempted to capture what people loved about Community, but badly missed the mark. I’m not nearly as much o f a fourth season hater as some, but no matter what you think, it’s both not up to the quality we expect, and there’s something off about the show, like staring at a clone of someone you know well; externally it looks the same but it’s dead inside (that comes off as too harsh, maybe, but I don’t really want to use this space to defend the fourth season’s approach at mediocrity).

There were a couple of episodes that didn’t entirely put it together for me, but there have been some of those in almost every season. One of the consequences of Community’s sheer ambition to have everything at once means that when they miss they mark, they really miss it. Compare it to its Thursday night partner Parks and Recreation, another of the best comedies of the 21st century. While some episodes are better than others, Parks never has a complete swing as a miss, but it also rarely reaches the ethereal mind-blowing highs of the mega-ambitious Community episodes that manage to get everything right.

This season wasn’t the best in the show’s run, but it contained a couple of all-time episodes, several more solid wee-to-week classics, and easily more than enough to justify me being way more excited about wanting more Community in the future than I was coming into this season. Community fans went through a rough couple of years, and it was rewarding to see our favorite characters returned to their former glory, and to not end the show’s story with the ugly, metallic taste (the taste of the gas leak, if you will) of the fourth season stuck in our mouths.

Cooperative Polygraphy was this season’s moment of absolute brilliance. Community was graced with the presence of Walton Goggins, and the group were required to answer questions to a lie detector to determine who received gifts from Pierce’s estate. Part of the brilliance of the episode was that it felt as if Pierce was there, though he wasn’t. The episode just all came together; the high concept premise melded into truths about the characters and the group dynamics between them, and a course on the science of human relationships, which is what most great Community episodes are ultimately about.

First episode Repliot, Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality, and Basic Sandwich were the next tier of quality episodes, not merging every stray strand into genius like Polygrpahy, but delivering comprehensive and excellent episodes, both funny and pathos filled. The finale in particular, which might turn out to be the series finale, was excellent and felt right for the show, and a finale; it’s meta-finale could have taken it too far, but instead the looming emptiness of losing what all of the characters were holding onto was humorous and melancholy. The team came together and gave me lots of warm fuzzy feelings that a cynic like me isn’t supposed to be feeling very often.

App Development and Condiments didn’t work on as many levels but was one of the funniest episodes, and VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing featured what may have been the funniest single scene of the season, Abed and Annie competing in the VCR board game featuring cowboy Vince Gilligan.

Basic Intergluteal Numismatics was a high-concept episode that didn’t much work for me; the ass-crack bandit felt like a second tier version of many other similar episodes including the Law & Order episode; I got what they were going for, and stylistically it was right on in the manner of David Fincher and similar directors, but I don’t think the jokes were as good or the writing was as smooth.

Overall, though, the batting average was close to that of the first three seasons, if not equal, and reminded me why I loved Community so much and what the difference was between Dan Harmon and his replacements. I knew the replacement episodes were worse, but I was concerned that I was constantly biasing myself against them. I’ll never be able to be sure that I wasn’t, and I’m honestly pretty sure I was, but I feel more confident than ever after watching the fifth season in understanding what made the Dan Harmon episodes better and what made the fourth season feel like it was TV in Dan Harmon skin. Community, now, and forever, and let’s all cross our fingers for six seasons and a movie.

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