Let’s be honest—compared to the first three seasons, the Dan Harmon-less fourth season of "Community" was rather disappointing. The fourth season lacked the thoughtfulness that characterized the earlier seasons, and it felt as though the showrunners were too busy asking, “What would Dan Harmon do?” and trying to imitate him. After the messy fourth season finale, however, it was announced that NBC and Sony had rehired Dan Harmon.
Based on last night’s episodes, bringing Dan Harmon back was a great decision. “Repilot” and “Introduction to Teaching,” the first two episodes of the fifth season, are a welcome return to form: The meta-humor is sharp, the performances are great (see Danny Pudi’s impression of Nicolas Cage), and the study group is as heartwarming as ever.
The goal of “Repilot,” the fifth season premiere, is in the episode’s title. In the wake of the fourth season, Harmon and the writers wanted to approach this season premiere as a new pilot where the characters had new—albeit somewhat similar—reasons for returning to Greendale. Things have not worked out for the study group after graduating from Greendale, and they all realize that, while they may not be just as broken and lost as they were when they came to Greendale four years ago, there’s still work left to be done.
Jeff (Joel McHale) decides to accept a job as a teacher, while the rest of the study group decides to re-enroll in classes. Abed (Danny Pudi) hilariously compares Jeff’s return to Greendale as a teacher to the ninth season of “Scrubs,” which saw Zach Braff’s character become a teacher at the hospital.
The desire for a fresh start, or “repilot,” is expressed when the group burns the old study room table and builds a new one. Reaffirming the centrality of the study room table was a great decision on Harmon’s part because the show is always at its best when the characters are sitting around the table, bantering back and forth.
The introduction of Jeff as a teacher has changed the dynamic of the group in an interesting way, and has already led to some hilarious moments between him and the rest of the group. The writers cleverly acknowledge the behind-the-scenes changes. For example, when Abed mentions that Braff only appeared in six episodes of the ninth season of “Scrubs," Troy (Donald Glover) exclaims, “That son of a bitch! After everything ‘Scrubs’ did for him!” This exclamation references the fact that Glover will only appear in five episodes this season. In “Introduction to Teaching,” Jonathan Banks is introduced as Buzz Hickey, a criminology professor at Greendale who is rather apathetic when it comes to teaching. By the end of “Introduction to Teaching,” it’s clear that he’s supposed to be a quasi-replacement for Pierce, who was played by Chevy Chase.
Although, there is a commitment to moving forward and starting fresh, these first two episodes do not ignore the past. Rather, the show uses what has happened in past seasons to propel itself forward. There are also several allusions to “Pilot” in “Repilot,” including Abed's saying to Jeff, “I see your value now”—something Jeff said to Abed four years ago when they first met—as well as Abed's inviting the rest of the study group without Jeff’s knowledge.
By the end of last night’s two episodes, it becomes clear that the “Community” we grew to love is back and better than ever. Here’s to hoping that we handle Donald Glover’s departure in the coming weeks rather calmly.