As in real life, time and change go hand-in-hand with the quirky college show Community. During season 4, Jeff and Pierce graduated from Greendale, new showrunners came in to take over the series, and the ratings continued to plummet. The show was in a more precarious situation than it ever had been before, but those sorts of odds never disheartened the dysfunctional study group nor its internet legion of fans.
Season 5 was a great reason to rejoice, starting with the fact that the show was picked up for another 13 episodes and going on to welcome back Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna after their absence in season 4. Even with the old writing/producing magic back, it’s a time of great change for Greendale, and instead of attempting to whitewash “the gas leak season” away, Community embraces the notion of change and grows from it.
Having failed at an attempt to be an honest lawyer, Jeff returns to Greendale as a teacher only to find that most of the study group has also floundered in their lives apart from the school. As broken as Greendale is, they — and we — realize that this is the home that binds them together and helps to stabilize their off-kilter lives. That’s why this season isn’t about the group attending a class together, but as a force to “save” the school from itself by improving it (and then later fighting against Subway, but I’m not going to go into spoilers there).
Chevy Chase’s departure after season 4 is actually handled well here, first with a surprising cameo and then with a much more somber conclusion. Also leaving after six of the episodes is Troy, who goes off on a world sailing trip, leaving Abed to grow as his person (he gets a girlfriend!). With the old Greendale Seven gone, a couple faces help to flesh out the group, including still-insane Chang, returning psych professor Ian Duncan, and new cantankerous fart Criminology Professor Buzz Hickey. It’s not the same dynamic overall, but it actually works and helped to overcome the holes left by the cast departures.
As with season 4, I’m really not a fan of the much-shortened 13 episode run. While Harmon and company do a great job packing in as much as possible, it feels as though we’re cheated out of a full year of Greendale. Concepts such as Jeff teaching are dropped almost as quickly as they’re introduced, simply because there’s no time to develop them.
That said, it’s a very strong 13-episode run, with very few weak spots in the bunch — the start and end of the season were the only disappointing bits. The crazy post-modern, self-referential, ultra-meta, pop culture-loving force is back, with a take on the movie Se7en, a mobile app that causes the college to fracture into a ratings-based society, a wild campus-wide “floor is lava” game, and the terrific G.I. Joe parody. These episodes continually make you realize that there’s nothing else like Community on TV, because while it’s bold and risky, it’s also smart in working these into the campus setting semi-logically.
I really liked Hickey (and his obsession with drawing cartoon ducks) as the new face of the group, since his ex-cop attitude is refreshingly different than Pierce’s casual racism. He and Annie have a terrific dynamic in an episode investigating Greendale’s multiple layers of corruption, leading to one of the most gut-busting hilarious lines in the show:
Dan Harmon is obviously pulling the best bits of his childhood out for all to see here, as I cannot believe that there’s a modern show on TV that decided to feature an entire plot around one of those old VCR board games (featuring Breaking Bad’s creator). And I definitely was cheering the return of Dungeons & Dragons.
And then the season ended, and with it, the show. In a funny nose-tweak to fans, Abed mentions that if they didn’t come back, then the college was destroyed by a meteor, “and that’s canon.” But at least we got to see the gang back together saving the one place that they truly loved.
But that wasn’t the end, for at the 11th hour in June 2014, Yahoo! announced that it would be picking up the show for a sixth season (and a possible movie) for its new video channel. It was a stunning development that sent Community fans cheering all over Reddit and Twitter, not to mention that it put a smile on my face that lasted a good four days. Yes, season 6 — which will lack Buzz and Shirley — won’t be the same, but neither was season 5 nor season 4. Time moves on, but at least it’s still going and we’re still there for the ride.