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Fans of Community are one step closer to their rallying cry of “six seasons and a movie.”
The comedy, canceled by NBC last summer, triumphantly returns for a sixth season on Yahoo Screen. During its first five seasons, creator and executive producer Dan Harmon was fired by NBC, only to be rehired subsequently. Before NBC killed it, the series was constantly in danger of demise. But Community is the comedy equivalent of the monster in a bad horror movie — it just won’t die.
And that actually turns out to be a great thing. Everything fans loved about Community remains — the first two episodes are chock-full of increasingly bizarre pop culture references (Portuguese Gremlins, anyone?) and meta commentary. The show has transferred seamlessly to an online venue.
Although some things are different. Yvette Nicole Brown, who played Shirley, has departed the series. “What happened to Shirley? Did she spin off?” wonders Abed (Danny Pudi). Brown, who now can be seen on CBS’ The Odd Couple, left the show because the rigorous demands of a single-camera comedy did not allow her time to care for her ailing father. In the premiere, Britta (Gillian Jacobs) reminds Abed that people don’t spin off in real life. She tells him that Shirley “went off to look after her dad in Atlanta,” before adding, “and ended up taking a job as a personal chef to a brilliant but troubled Southern detective.” The exchange is the perfect mix of serious and silly.
Senor Chang (Ken Jeong) points out that Shirley is the second character of color to depart the series (Donald Glover, who played Troy, left last season). “Are any of you white people noticing what’s happening to this group? Do Abed and I need to be concerned?” he wonders. Jeff (Joel McHale) deadpans, “You have my word as leader of the white people, there’s no cause for alarm.” It’s this kind of writing that has endeared the show to so many fans — it’s hilarious, while simultaneously commenting on what has happened behind the scenes. We all are in on Community’s inside jokes.
Jonathan Banks, who played Professor Buzz Hickey, also is gone (you can catch him on Better Call Saul), so the show needed to add some warm bodies. Paget Brewster comes aboard as administrative consultant Frankie Dart. She’s the no-nonsense voice of reason and happily tells Abed, “I, myself, am exceptionally boring.” Brewster so effortlessly fits in with the cast that when I went back to watch last season’s finale, I wondered where she was. In the second episode of season six, Keith David (of the gone-too-soon Enlisted) begins his recurring role as inventor Elroy Patashnik.
Also in the second episode (directed by Jim Rash, who stars as Dean Pelton, and Nat Faxon), Dean has purchased a virtual-reality system from Elroy. The contraption turns the simplest tasks — like saving a file — into a choose-your-own-adventure extravaganza. Community excels at absurdist humor that manages to stay grounded in reality. When Frankie outlaws alcohol from the faculty lounge, the gang builds a speak-easy. Frankie raids the speak-easy and Britta wonders who tattled on them. “In what world do you see this as covert enough to require tattling? You built a bar in a school. There was lumber involved,” says Frankie.
But underneath all the shenanigans (to use Abed’s favorite word), the characters and their problems resonate. In the second episode, Britta continues to rebel against her parents. “One of the most unfair lessons we are forced to learn is that our parents are human beings,” Frankie tells her. Who can’t relate to that?
Keep an eye out for a fun cameo in the premiere Yahoo and Harmon asked us not to reveal. And the tag at the end of the premiere was kept a secret even from critics. So Harmon is working hard to surprise viewers and reward loyal fans.
“Good shows change” Frankie tells Abed. Now that the show is free from the confines of network television, the episodes may run a little longer, and some of the vocabulary may be a little more off-color. But the heart remains the same. If you loved it before, you’ll still love it. And if Community wasn’t your kind of humor in the past, it’s not going to be now.
At the end of the second episode, Jeff laments: “I’ll never get out of here, will I?” Let’s hope not.
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