It’s back…again! Defying all odds for the — how many times is it now? I’ve lost count. In any case, Community, the TV show that refuses to die, has cheated the Grim Reaper once more and is reborn online as a Yahoo Screen original series. Most miraculous of all, however, is the fact that in its sixth season Community is still funny as hell. The season’s first two episodes debuted this week, each introducing one of the show’s two new cast members, Paget Brewster and Keith David. I’m reviewing both “Ladders” and “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care” here, and will henceforth review each new episode every Wednesday, the day after it airs. So let’s get started!
We begin season six at Greendale (“Now ranked fifth on Colorado’s alphabetical listing of community colleges!”) with shout-outs and a reintroduction to the school’s heroes — Jeff (as lovably vain as ever), Britta (now apparently homeless, more on that in episode 2), Abed (ever the lone traveler between fantasy and reality), and Annie (the school’s OCD heart). Everything’s wonderful, with just one exception — an overload of rooftop Frisbees that starts things off with a ceiling collapse, the resulting tsunami bringing Leonard back to his Dazed and Confused days, when he landed the first of the flying discs.
Sadly, we soon learn that not everyone has returned… It was heartbreaking when Troy left last year, but at least we had closure. So it’s more disquieting to find Shirley simply absent at the group’s table. For the time being, however, Abed chooses to believe she’s in a spin-off show; and, as usual, we later learn he’s right (with a glimpse of The Butcher and the Baker, “now on NBC” — since the network doesn’t air comedies anymore). Everyone’s feeling a bit weird, since Shirley is, as they all recognize, the second of the show’s two African-American characters to leave. But the Dean soon brings in administrative consultant Francesca “Frankie” Dart — a.k.a. the hilariously deadpan Paget Brewster — to prevent any further roof collapses. The group scolds Frankie for taking their friend’s seat, and encourages her to take Pierce’s instead. Though Abed expresses concern that Frankie’s not distinct enough from Annie in terms of her purpose.
Yet Abed’s maturation can be seen in how quickly he goes from treating Frankie as a character on his “show” to accepting her as a friend. He again represents the voice of creator Dan Harmon (who scripted this episode) when he offers a possible mission statement for season 6 — saying things are becoming increasingly grounded as the group members ask themselves questions about real-world concerns like money and when they’ll get their degrees, and are moving away from such prior preoccupations as sanity and whether or not there’s a God. But Frankie wins him over by explaining that her boring qualities will allow his quirks to become “results.” To the point where he’s willing to, at least for a little while, drop out of the group.
Meanwhile, Britta is managing Shirley’s sandwich shop, rather poorly. So Annie joins the “restaurant within a cafeteria,” Jeff swings by for a drink, and in no time at all, they’ve opened a speakeasy. And even Abed is wooed back and winds up enjoying a celebratory drink (after he learns he must order “the Special”). Speakeasies are far from the most elaborate fantasy Greendale’s contructed. This is, after all, a show that has created entire worlds within worlds. But since the speakeasy is the product of everyone except the school’s biggest dreamer, Abed, it makes sense. It also gives everyone a chance to indulge in a lot more bad behavior than they attempted on NBC, enough to raise the ire of Frankie, and create a real need for her after the student body and faculty transform into a mob of raging alcoholics; including the ill-fated professor teaching the hands-on “Ladders” course. Facing rejection before another employer, she realizes that she, in return, needs Greendale.
But as Jeff asks, how much can you improve Greendale before it stops being Greendale? It’s a question the show must also ask itself this year. Since it’s already climbed unfathomable heights in the face of network television’s restrictions and limitations, can it find new territory to explore in the wild west of the world wide web? I for one can’t wait to find out.
— “Like tears in the rain.” Blade Runner FTW.
— Yvette Nicole Brown has said in interviews that, like Shirley, she really did leave the show, at least in part, to look after her father, since the work schedule for her new gig on CBS’ Odd Couple is apparently less demanding of her time. But her surprise cameo at the end of “Ladders” has me crossing my fingers we’ll see more of her as the season continues.
— I know Community doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to inter-group romances. Is it just me, however, or did anyone else see a few sparks fly between Jeff and Frankie?
— Nice to see Todd has now fully reconciled with the group and is also working at Shirley’s sandwich shop.
— “Alright. This is the first I’ve heard I’m a character on a show. I’m excited to be one. But I agree I’ll be a boring one.”
— “That’s the most interesting take on not being interesting that I’ve ever heard.”
— As adorable as Annie is, she’s even more adorable when narrating her own emojis.
— The cast is a great deal more relaxed here than we’ve seen them in a long while. Joel McHale actually smiles to himself when the Dean first fakes a phone call to avoid discussing Frankie’s authority level.
— While a “Ladders” class is much appreciated, Greendale also has a “Magic Wand” class. I’d say its overdue for a Hogwarts-style makeover!
— “Good shows change. I assume. Personally, I don’t own a TV.” Touche, NBC.
“Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care”
Like speakeasies, virtual reality might appear to be a somewhat mundane subject for a show that has created its own dystopic systems of government. But it too allows for an intriguing character arc. In this case, the Dean has purchased a VR operating system for the tidy sum of five-thousand dollars from Keith David’s Virtugood entrepreneur, philosopher-scientist, and Winnebago resident Elroy Patashnik. In no time at all, he’s so smitten with the system he’s decided he’ll never leave its Lawnmower Man-like world, despite that it literally requires him to run around like an idiot simply to retrieve a serial code number. The animated universe he travels is nowhere near as elaborate as, say, the show’s anime and G.I. Joe pastiches. But the trip satisfies the Dean’s perennial longing for control and respect. Jim Rash demonstrates here — even more so than usual — a huge knack for physical comedy, especially when he’s miming the act of sorting through a colossal filing cabinet.
When we meet Elroy, he’s found his own form of self-delusion, selling yesterday’s lamer dreams and using an iPad to design a rip-off of Angry Birds. Jeff immediately gloms onto what he’s doing, since he himself was a professional liar before rebuilding himself as an unprofessional teacher. First-season Jeff would have outed Elroy and rescued the Dean, but this is Jeff 6.0. So he tells Elroy how much better it feels to deal in honesty. In the end, both Elroy and the Dean escape to the one place that accepts and understands them best — the home of the Human Beings.
Ah, but there are two stories in “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care”…
Britta has, according to Abed, “fallen on hard times,” and is moving into the cheap apartment he shares with Annie; though Britta still hasn’t quite mastered Abed and Troy’s trademark handshake. She’s positively distraught, however, to discover that her estranged parents — “Deb and George” — have secretly been in contact with her new roomies and the rest of the group for years, and are paying her rent and providing her with a sofa bed. Martin Mull and Lesley Ann Warren (Clue‘s Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet!) play the ex-hippies from whom she ran away at seventeen, an age at which everyone hates their parents. But the limited contact she’s had with them since has her convinced they’re still insane. To the point where she’ll steal an eight-year-old’s Green Machine to escape them — and a world that, in the end, proves as illusory as the Dean’s. It’s Frankie who inadvertently shows her there are much worse things than two people who, while they may not understand her, at least care about what happens to her.
On a totally separate note… It took me two episodes to catch on to what’s up with Chang this season. Ken Jeong is smartly playing his character — who admittedly has no real purpose within the group — as its most low-key member. He describes, for example, a cat’s claws digging into the bones of his hand in the same manner one might order a pizza. Though the recurring gag of his hand growing increasingly inflamed as the episode continues doesn’t really go anywhere.
But the epilogue — a trailer for Abed and Annie’s Portuguese ripoff of Gremlins (or “Knee-High Mischief from Martelo Estrada Filme”) is the season’s first flush of total genius. Not only are the “rules” of caring for the little critters hilariously lampooned, as if viewed by someone who doesn’t understand them at all — a rainbow causes them to become more evil — but even Gremlins‘ cinematography, dutch camera angles, and score are parodied.
— “Britta’s a rich genius with super powers and she’s gonna live on our sofa for no reason!”
— “You don’t know for sure that I’m not a veteran. And nobody can say for sure that this isn’t Veterans Day.”
— Paget Brewster, in just her second episode, has already assimilated perfectly into the show. She’s not as warm as Shirley, or as crusty as Jonathan Banks and Chevy Chase’s characters, but the voice of reason she provides is different enough to avoid any comparisons.
— “Relax, my little bean countess.”
— “I eat love, Britta. Hot delicious love that you were willing to wipe your ass with.”
— Did anyone else find Yahoo’s persistent pop-up attempts to make “#AndJesusWept” go viral more than a little annoying? I get that it’s a way to poke fun at the Dean’s hilarious new catch phrase by pretending he actually has seized control of the internet. But still.
— “I’ll go see if I can get the school’s money back. You keep White Morpheus inside the Matrix.”
— I love that even Britta’s parents think she could be a lesbian. Pierce Hawthorne’s legacy lives on.
— “Oh, come on. You know what you’ve done. You know how lame virtual reality is. You know the damage it caused mid-’90s cinema.”
— Hard Drive & Wing Man. Dead God, Dan Harmon, you really could conceive twenty TV shows before having a bite of your breakfast, couldn’t you?
Next week: Greendale’s past sins rear their ugly heads and City College again threatens our heroes.
What did you think of this week’s episodes? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).