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TV Review | ‘Community’ returns with quirky humor

Community

Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 03:01

 Despite cancelation rumors and a lengthy hiatus, “Community,” the quirky NBC comedy, is back for a fifth season featuring new characters, typical fourth-wall humor and the departures of two key members of the study group. After a disappointing fourth season in which the show’s creator Dan Harmon was conspicuously absent, “Community” makes a decent comeback in its most recent episodes, with Harmon at the helm.

The show chronicles the lives, exploits and shenanigans of a study group at Greendale Community College. Honest, sweet, hilarious and often ridiculously self-referential, the seven main characters embody the typical tropes of students attending a junior college. However, instead of offering trite caricatures, “Community” has produced characters that are human and relatable. With long-running gags and real heart, the show’s signature style includes mocking well-worn television cliché豠to great effect. Because of this winning combination, the fan base of the show is powerful if small — these same fans are undoubtedly the reason the series was renewed for its fifth season.

Jeffrey Winger (Joel McHale), a lawyer who scammed his way to a law firm without a college degree, is sent to the small community college to fulfill his requirements as quickly as possible. In the newest episode, Winger comes back to Greendale as a law professor, bitter after failing to secure clients in his recent attempt to return to work as a lawyer. 

Other cast members include Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), the psychology major and anarchist, Annie Edison (Alison Brie), the obsessive-compulsive, overachieving former Adderall addict, as well as Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) and Troy Barnes (Donald Glover) whose friendship often produces great jokes and sentimental moments. 

But the actor Glover, who is pursuing his music career, leaves the show in the most recent episode. This heart-wrenchingly and funny tribute to Troy and Abed humorously revolves around a giant game of the-floor-is-lava with — in typical “Community” fashion — a giant $50,000 prize to the winner.

Fans will remember a similar episode from the first season’s paintball episode, “Modern Warfare” (2010), where prize money turns a fun game into a deadly comedic match of alliances and betrayals. Expertly delivering spoofs, hidden storylines and a barrage of likeable characters (or in some cases, characters so unlikable and realistic that they are completely lovable), “Community” treads on thin ice with two of the main cast members leaving. 

Fortunately, Harmon and his team are making the best of the situation, often capitalizing on the changes by making thinly veiled in-show comments about the casting changes and return of Harmon himself. For now, viewers will have to wait and see how the next episodes play out with both Pierce (Chevy Chase) and Troy out of the picture — the result will either make or break the season as a whole. 

In light of these departures, “Community” welcomes a newcomer in Jonathan Banks, who is best known for playing Mike Ehrmantraut on AMC’s hit series “Breaking Bad” (2008 - 2013). His character, a professor of criminology named Buzz Hickey, is wisecracking and rebellious. Hickey shows Jeff the proper way to prosper at Greendale, which also opens up a new avenue for Harmon to explore: the dynamics of the Greendale teaching staff. With returning characters such as Dean Pelton (Jim Rash), the master of entrances and daring fashion choices and Chang (Ken Jeong), the former Spanish teacher/security officer/false victim of amnesia, the fifth season of “Community” promises to be almost as good as its first and — reassuringly — is already much better than the last.

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