A long wait has built up much anticipation for the Community premiere, and unfortunately, those expectations were not met.
The season starts off at the beginning of the study group’s ‘senior year;’ where after a very long summer, the group has returned to start their year taking a class together called The History of Ice Cream. Abed, Annie, Britta and Troy (Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, and Donald Glover, respectively) return to the halls of Greendale and are greeted by Shirley (Yvette Brown), Pierce (Chevy Chase) and a huge crowd of students struggling to get into their class. Jeff (Joel McHale) appears from within the room and beckons the group in, letting the rest of the group sit in the seats he saved for them, which impresses Annie.
When Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) comes in and explains that there was a mistake in registration that allowed all those people who were standing outside to register, he brings the students to the cafeteria to compete for a spot in the class in a competition amusingly titled The Hunger Deans. When Jeff presses for the group to compete for their spots, he shocks them all after revealing that this class is the last one he needs to take because he wants to graduate early. Angry, the group splits off to do senior year activities, while Jeff looks to prove that he is a changed man by winning everyone in his group spots in the class.
The premiere, which had been originally slated to premiere on October 19, has been under a lot of scrutiny after NBC announced that it would be replacing original showrunner Dan Harmon with writers David Guarascio and Moses Port. Though NBC claimed that it would be keeping Harmon on as a consulting producer, Harmon affirmed that he had no idea these changes were happening and refused to return to the show. This caused many of the original writers, producers and directors to leave as well, causing even more doubt to be cast upon the return of the show. Regardless, Guarascio and Port assured a packed crowd at Comic-Con that Community would still be the show they knew and loved when it returned.
And on some level, they were right – the core group of characters are still the same bunch of misfits that viewers had grown to know and love. Abed has anxieties about the upcoming school year being his last one with his beloved study group friends; Britta, ever the savior, has taken it upon herself to become counsel to Abed after the events of last season’s finale; Troy is still the same childish goofball; Annie is still delightfully neurotic in dealing with her impending career/life decisions; Shirley, motherly as always, has opened her sandwich shop in the cafeteria; Pierce is Pierce (though slightly underused); and Jeff is determined to show everyone he is not the selfish asshole he used to be by being a complete selfish asshole. The cast is still as strong as ever, playing their characters with aplomb.
Their work, unfortunately, far outstrips the quality of the writing. While the individual character personalities are very much still intact, the handling of their interactions feels forced and unnatural. Splitting the group off so many ways for such small and disconnected storylines tied very loosely by the episode’s “change” theme only served to make the episode weaker in terms of cohesion, and the resolutions of said storylines were way less in-depth and comprehensive that former Community third acts. There was a show, then a show within a show, then a show within a show within a show, each with three different storylines that were loosely wrangled together with a half-hearted Jeff speech on the nature of change. The jokes also suffered as a result; at their best, the zingers and jokes warranted a chuckle, whereas ‘Community’ usually has numerous guffaw-worthy moments in every episode.
Worse, the premiere lost the inherent chemistry between the characters for most of the episode. Save for the Britta-Troy storyline, the rest of the work focused more on the characters’ common threads than on their strong relationships despite their vastly different personalities. Harmon has said that this show was based on his own community college experiences in a study group where he felt the group grow together in the same way, and that was part of its charm. The premiere lost that as soon as it paired the characters off, making it weird when Abed suddenly gave Annie life-changing career advice when, for most the episode, they had been in completely separated spaces.
Still, viewers shouldn’t let this first episode discourage their viewing. With the radically different writing staff, this episode should be considered a second pilot episode, and with strong writers coming up to write future episodes including one written by the en-Dean-ing Jim Rash, this season should pick up and get right back to strong Community form – and hopefully give viewers a satisfying series finale.