NBC’s Community returned on Thursday in fine, familiar and funny form — but would you deem Dan Harmon’s return to the helm worthy of an A-minus?
Upon my initial viewing, the first of Season 5’s two episodes left me a bit cold. It seemed dark. And quite plotty. But as I revisited it this afternoon, I better appreciated the burden it shouldered, taking the ball from Season 4’s interim showrunners and scrambling back to the old playbook. (Like Britta, I’m lousy with analogies. I blame owls.)
Thus, a “reset” — or repiloting, as when a TV series reinvents itself midstream — was called for, in this case framing Community as the story of a lawyer who returns to his alma mater as a teacher, reuniting with his study group friends who also are seeking a “second chance” at becoming who they want to be.
But first, Jeff Winger’s motives were far less noble, embedding himself at Greendale to get the skinny on an engineering grad who went on to build a doomed bridge. Dean Pelton was too happy to have his Jeffrey back in the ranks, though, and soon enough Abed, Annie et al had reassembled to “Save Greendale” — if only because their post-grad lives didn’t live up to expectations either. (Annie’s pushing sketchy pharmaceuticals, Shirley’s husband left and took the kids when she spent too much time/money on her sandwich shop, Britta is practicing psychology as a bartender and Abed’s writing code for a social media app, when he’s not directing one of Jeff’s cheesy commercials.)
When stealing his client’s records proves futile — the Dean had smartly shredded them — Jeff plots to coax the study group into filing their own suit against the diploma mill, to “get something back.” But wouldn’t you know it, a visit from Pierce (or at least his court-ordered hologram) inadvertently advises Jeff, “Don’t turn your back on Greendale.” And as a Scrubs-like voiceover narrates the final montage, Jeff gets hired on as a law prof.
The second half-hour followed Jeff’s begrudging foray into the world of teaching, warding off student requests for “syllabuses” and such. His office-mate is Annie’s criminology professor, Buzz Hickey (Breaking Bad‘s Jonathan Banks), who laughs heartily at Jeff’s proclamation that teaching is a temporary gig. Buzz proceeds to show Jeff the perks of professorhood — bullying Leonard for his meatballs, for example — and clues him into the “A-minus” secret, by which problem students merit demerits. Abed meanwhile enrolls in Professor Garrity’s “Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad?” course, and enthusiastically ignores the assignment to watch “just five” of the Con Air hero’s flicks. Instead, Abed winds up going all Beautiful Mind with a string map plotting the actor’s career and choices — and then goes full Cage during a classroom presentation.
At episode’s end, Jeff uses a monologue to quiet down the students’ “We deserve slightly higher grades!” uprising and heads up a student/faculty committee to, in fact, Save Greendale — with Hickey filling Pierce’s seat. The tag: Troy and Abed in camouflage in Jeff’s office, laying witness to a so-sad phone conversation ‘tween Hickey and his pharmacist.
Now, some notable quotables, and… poll!
“That’s like me blaming owls for how much I suck at analogies.”
“I didn’t like the [phone] number — 555. It’s derivative.”
“Relaxafrex doesn’t make you give up on your dreams. That’s just a side effect.”
“Do you guys feel weird about doing this without… Magnitude?”
“You’re not worth the monologue. Give me your tie.”
“Don’t blame it all on the gas leak year!”
“…the Pierce Hawthorne Museum of Gender Sensitivity and Sexual Potency.”
“A real psychologist….”
“You look like the road manager for the California Raisins.”
“It means he gets your meatballs.”
“[Nicolas Cage] begs you to stop watching, but you can’t.”
“She needs to be taken out… of your class.”
“No, this is my witness intimidation project.”
“Et tu, Brute? Am I using that right?”