March 18, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Community”


COMMUNITY:  Episodes 1 & 2 now streaming at Yahoo Screen

The first two episodes of COMMUNITY‘s Season 6 are less meta than you’d expect.  Make no mistake, they’re plenty meta, with montages about montages, and much discussion of whether Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown, now on The Odd Couple) has been “spun off” from Greendale Community College.  The singular event of the season, though, goes mostly unaddressed:  Community‘s survival post-NBC cancellation with a move not to any broadcast or cable network, or even to Netflix or Amazon Prime, but to the streaming environs of the previously little-known Yahoo Screen website.  (Note:  while the NBC network has cut ties with Community, its in-house studio Universal Television continues to be one of the show’s producers.)

In fact, aside from being around 5 minutes longer than NBC would have allowed, these episodes are entirely network-friendly, or at least as network-friendly as Community ever was.  They have act breaks and the commercials that go with them, and aside from the 2-episode burst of the premiere, they’ll launch on a weekly basis every Tuesday rather than ready for binge.  If anything, these initial episodes are rather muted, as though series creator Dan Harmon and his troops, now that they’ve made it onto dry land, aren’t quite sure what’s next.

The opening episode, written by Harmon and fellow Executive Producer Chris McKenna, and directed by Rob Schrab, is mostly concerned with the introduction of Frankie Dart (Paget Brewster), a new member of the Greendale committee brought in by the Dean (Jim Rash) who’s sort of like the efficiency experts who used to turn up in Mad Men-era comedies, all buttoned-up financial considerations and humorlessness, including her insistence on shutting down such time-honored Greendale classes as “Ladders,” which (inadequately) teaches how to climb one.  There’s some indication that she’ll soften over time, but she’s set up as an antagonist who doesn’t get the freewheeling Greendale style, particularly alienating Jeff (Joel McHale), and perplexing Abed (Danny Pudi), who complains that around her, things feel too “grounded.”  This being Community, it leads to the gang starting a full-fledged speakeasy behind Shirley’s sandwich shop, which is now being run by Britta (Gillian Jacobs), although Frankie does bring some groundedness to things by noting, when she busts the joint, that there was no conceivable way to hide the construction work that went into building the supposedly secret club.

Episode 2 is more fun, although still not particularly crazed by Community standards.  Harmon and his writer/producers have always have a weakness for defunct technology, and in this half-hour, the Dean spends school funds on an obsolete virtual reality system, which allows for some primitive animation and lots of bits where Jim Rash, wearing his heavy gear, mimes the exhausting efforts he has to go through to simply find the serial number of the unit in the “kingdoms within kingdoms” of the virtual land.  Another newcomer is introduced, the system’s inventor Elroy Patashnik (Keith David), who decides to join the school and the show.  The B story brings in another set of the show’s difficult parents, this time Britta’s mother (Lesley Anne Warren) and dad (Martin Mull), who infuriate her by having become supportive, after being stifling during her childhood years, and forming bonds with Abed and Annie (Alison Brie) which leads to Britta asserting her adult independence by riding away furiously on a Big Wheel.

The best parts of both episodes come in the ending tags, virtually free-standing parodies that expand on references in the episode proper.  These are the moments, especially the one for episode 2, where Community seems to be breathing its helium once again.  Otherwise, while it’s good to have the show still with us, the lack of Brown, Donald Glover and Chevy Chase is making Greendale feel a bit underpopulated (Ken Jeong is still on campus, but is still used mostly for punchlines), and after 5 seasons, even the show’s whimsy isn’t as jaw-droppingly inspired as it once was.

Community is a pop culture artifact that’s always been concerned (some would say obsessed) with context, and while the series felt astonishing on a broadcast network, it’s oddly comfortable as part of the general anarchy of online content.  Even as it marks new territory for a TV series that begun life on an old-time network, it feels less distinctive in its pursuit of  the last part of its #6seasonsandamovie destiny.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."