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It’s been more than seven months since we last got to see a new episode of Community, but that all ends tonight in a fairly big way. With Dan Harmon once again taking the helm after being announced as the returning showrunner this past summer, the NBC comedy will be kicking off its fifth season with an episode titled “Re-Pilot” that changes just about everything we know about Jeff Winger, Britta Perry, Abed Nadir, Troy Barnes, Annie Edison, and Shirley Bennett. Some big changes are underway at Greendale, but it all suggests some new and exciting things coming in the future of the series.
Having had the chance to watch the first three episodes of the new season, I’ve become fascinated and excited by the new direction of the show, which has more than a few things working in its favor. What exactly are those precious things? Read on to find out?
Pierce Hawthorne: Gone, But Not ForgottenAfter disputes between Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase became way too public back in 2012 it became very clear that the actor and the folks behind Community were not getting along too well, so it was no surprise when it was announced that Chase would be leaving the series after the end of the fourth season. This has led to a good deal of speculation regarding how the show would handle the Pierce’s absence going forward. The great news is that the show appears to be handling it perfectly.
There’s an inside joke early in the season premiere that suggest the writers would just be ignoring the elephant in the room that is Pierce Hawthorne’s absenteeism, but by the end of the third episode the moist towelette heir is not only repeatedly mentioned, but also shown to still have a significant presence in the minds and thoughts of the study group. It’s hard to say how important he will be – if at all – as Season 5 continues, but it’s clearly not something that the show is conveniently sweeping under the rug.
The Community College Setting Actually Starts To Make More SenseBack in the early days of the show when it was revealed that a full season of Community would cover a year of classes for the study group at Greendale, fans began to ask an important question: what happens after the fourth season? Most bachelor degrees are completed in four years – and the reality is that the majority of community colleges only have two year programs. Now that the show is beginning its fifth season it is not only addressing the issue, but actually somehow making the setting more meaningful.
Building on the concept that was hatched at the end of the second season when Pierce revealed that he had been a student at Greendale for 12 years, the fifth season of the show finds the lead characters no longer just hunting degrees, but now actually taking classes to try and learn more about what they love and try to become better people (it’s a bit hard to explain without being too spoilery, but you’ll know exactly what I mean after you watch the first episode). Of course, changing the significance of a setting is going to affect everything that exists within it, which leads us to…
Everyone In The Group Has New And Affirmed Goals That They Are Trying To ReachIf you go back and watch the original pilot for Community you’ll discover that the show’s characters have changed to an extreme degree over the last five years. Part of this is certainly a result of the writers figuring out works and what doesn’t in the early days and evolving from there, but the truth is that the study group has undergone some batshit stuff during their time at Greendale and it has significantly changed each one of them as people. A big part of that change is figuring out what they actually want to do with their lives.
As the title of the episode suggests, “Re-Pilot” is a new beginning for the cast of Community, and the biggest part of that is discovering what is really important to all of the characters as individuals. Some look back to paths that they left behind for the sake of convenience, and the others look at new opportunities. A certain arc isn’t set up as well as the others due to developments that occurred between seasons, but it’s handled well enough that you can understand and move past it.
The Group Itself Has A New And Affirmed Goal As WellAs season five starts there is a significant enough change in the Greendale 7 (err 6)’s relationship to the college and to each other that it actually winds up changing why the group gets together in the first place. The show began with Jeff, Britta, Abed, Troy, Annie, Shirley and Pierce getting together as a study group because they all shared the same classes, and that pattern has continued for the last four years with just the school subject changing. That’s no longer the case.
I have absolutely no interest in spoiling anything from the first three episodes of the season, but I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the six lead characters are no longer all taking the same class together. Instead, a new opportunity comes up that allows the gang to work together on something that all have in common and care about. You’ll just have to watch the episode to find out what I mean.
The Show Is Still Not Afraid Of Letting Things Get DarkAs wacky and ridiculously funny as Community is, one of its greatest strengths has always been its lack of fear when approaching the blacker material. All of the show’s main characters are rather tragic individuals, each equipped with their own train-wreck history that led to them enrolling in Greendale. Harmon and his writers have always been gifted at finding the light in the dark stories without cheapening their darkness, and that tradition seems to continue in season five.
Watching the three newest episodes I found myself regularly laughing until I couldn’t catch my breath, but at the same time I was kind of amazed just how dark things were. The season premiere has all of the main characters at the lowest points in their respective lives, and this is even illustrated through the show’s cinematography, as every scene is seemingly filmed with the dimmest light possible. The stories that play out in all three episodes include themes of betrayal, self-doubt and deception. The fact that we can still laugh in the face of all these serious ideas is a testament to just how funny the show really is.
The first two episodes of Community’s fifth season will air tonight, January 2nd, on NBC at 8pm EST/ 7pm CST.