Despite some clever jokes and a hint of the classic Harmon-charm, the show still isn't back up to its best, and with its returning cast-members apparently dropping like flies, it's possible that it never will be again.
Somehow surviving certain death yet again, Dan Harmon’s cult-favourite sitcom stumbles back onto screens this week, with a double-helping that looked to see the show falling back into the classic blend of self-referential humour that made it so well-loved in the first place. The result however is something a little less impressive, although still solidly entertaining.
It’s no secret that the unquestionable genius of Community’s early seasons was very much down to a considerable group effort: the perfect marriage of writer and cast. Without Harmon, their resident wordsmith, the scrambling fever-dream that was the show’s fourth season totally crumbled. Now, sadly, despite his return, it’s the cast that are gradually fading away, taking the unmistakable charm at the very core of Community with them.
Following in the footsteps of former scene-stealers Chevy Chase and Donald Glover, Yvette Nicole Brown’s quietly loveable Shirley becomes the latest key cast member to depart the show, leaving the original head-count at a mere 4, unless of course you count the barely present Ken Jeong, or the increasingly central – if a little tired – Jim Rash. Twin this with a central narrative that’s still fiercely trying to claw back some sense of purpose (despite the show technically already having ended at least twice before) and the outcome is something incredibly muddled. Harmon’s trademark wit is still present, the remaining cast still have a ball, but one ultimately just can’t seem to escape the feeling that Community has become nothing more than a lighter version of its former self.
The opening two episodes see an expected return to Greendale for the remaining few, and fans will be reassured to see that the college’s endless range of pointless classes remains in tact, even if they may be less than thrilled to see the introduction of a few newbies to even out the mix. In place of the apparently absent Jonathan Banks and John Oliver, 90s-favourite Paget Brewster joins the gang as a no-nonsense pen-pusher, whilst a bizarre appearance from the somewhat legendary Keith David seems to hint at regular appearances from him also. Whereas neither of the two particularly shine, little can really be expected from characters so blatantly formed to simply fill space, and the same can unfortunately be said of the episodes’ themselves overall too. Although the narratives echo hints of Community’s original creativity, ultimately they feel a little empty; filling time until something bigger comes along, which for an opening seems somewhat worrying.
The frequent mantra among fans of the show, ‘#SixSeasonsAMovie’, started as a mere slither of hope: a joke that reflected the chance that maybe, in the face of its troubles with the network, Community would somehow continue. But now, as it finally begins its much fabled sixth season, the show honestly feels too tired to carry on. As if its constant revival has simply been to serve the growing possibility of fulfilling a once ridiculous-sounding demand. Harmon is just killing time: giving the fans what they want, but not necessarily what they deserve.
Community’s sixth season doesn’t begin poorly, but nor does it go back to fulfilling the show’s aging promise, of breathing new life into the gradually decaying sitcom. Devoted fans will be amused, but no one will be amazed – here’s hoping there’s still some bite left further down the line.
Community is broadcast on Wednesdays at 10:00pm on Sony Entertainment Television.