The cult TV show “Community” has been through a lot. Its showrunner Dan Harmon was replaced and then returned, and NBC canceled it after five seasons and it was finally picked up by … Yahoo. Well, it’s finally here. Yahoo isn’t going for the all-at-once release strategy that Netflix used — the first two episodes are online on Yahoo Screen, and the rest of the season’s episodes will be online in subsequent weeks.
“Community” is about a misfit group of students at Greendale Community College that deals with incompetent administration and each others’ issues. It’s also known for its meta-humor, and given the drama that led to its release, it makes sense that it would be addressed. Now, the core group is down three — Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) is gone, “spun off” to her own show, as it’s explained to Abed, purveyor of “Community’s” fourth wall. She has a cameo in the episode, hilariously as the star of her own spin-off show.
Shirley’s exit from the season follows that of Troy (Donald Glover) and Pierce (Chevy Chase) from previous seasons. When they left, the show experimented with replacing them with other characters, but mostly resorted to buffing up the roles of Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) and Chang (Ken Jeong), both of whom have a propensity for scene-stealing. This time, the replacement is more explicit, and seems to be more permanent. Shirley’s replaced by Frankie (Paget Brewster), who plays a consultant for Greendale.
Abed immediately notices how much Frankie doesn’t fit into the rest of the group — she’s too grounded, too unwilling to engage in the fantastic antics the rest of the school doesn’t hesitate to join. It’s her job to care about what’s going on in the real world. For her, quirks are a means of delivering results, not defining features of a personality. “Good shows change,” she tells Abed, but she doesn’t have a TV. One wonders if she’s the manifestation of the NBC executive, an adult in the room who didn’t understand the show’s sense of fun, telling Dan Harmon to calm down.
“Community” has never really had a “straight man” character. Jeff (Joel McHale) and Annie (Alison Brie) played the type in some episodes, but each one eventually gave in to the absurdity of Greendale, leaving the show gloriously untethered. In a normal show, the grounded characters would be the administrators, but part of “Community’s” premise is that the dean and professors are just as incompetent as the students are.
Frankie is the ultimate “straight man”: a bureaucrat. She’s not a killjoy or anything — well, her character is for a bit, but it’s good for the show — but we’ll see how long it takes until she really lets loose.
Otherwise, “Community” is the same as usual, and remains just as funny and full of heart as the previous seasons. The first episode, “Ladders,” has a proliferation of self-aware montages. And, as in a recent episode of “Broad City,” it proves that contemporary speakeasies are always funny. In the second episode, “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care,” we meet Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) parents, and learn more about the disagreement between them and Britta.
It took a while, but “Community” finally got its sixth season. Now we await the movie.