Jim Rash and Joel McHale
This class will not be easily dismissed. "Did you know you can major in antics?" marvels Troy (Donald Glover) as NBC's class-act sitcom underdog Community returns from a too-long recess for an odds-defying fourth season (8/7c). There are new showrunners taking over from the show's ignominiously ousted creator Dan Harmon — prompting many a meta in-joke about change — and a palpable sense of nothing-lasts-forever mortality as the study group prepares for "our last first day of school."
But even with all the behind-the-scenes turmoil (reflected in a devastating joke aimed at soon-to-depart Chevy Chase), Community is undimmed in its marvelously inventive wackiness. Trippy as ever as it continues to send up sitcom conventions with surreal zeal, the season opener finds time to spoof The Hunger Games, with Jeff (Joel McHale) taking on all challengers to gain admission into Greendale's latest ridiculous class, while sending us deep into the pop-culture rabbit hole of "Abed TV," which is where Abed (Danny Pudi) flees, in denial over the finality of senior year.
The wide-ranging gags are too good to spoil, including fake pop-up ads for shows too awful even for NBC, but even if you end up wondering, like curmudgeonly Pierce (Chase), "Can someone tell me what the hell we just did?" you'll have to concede that Community is still acing the whole "antics" thing.
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THE WHITE HOUSE MESS: Need a break from your binge-viewing of Netflix's absorbing, addictive political thriller House of Cards? Consider a detour into the melodramatic madhouse of ABC's Scandal, which takes its sexual and criminal presidential intrigues so far beyond over-the-top in this pivotal episode (10:02/9:02c) that you may not know whether to gasp or laugh. Either response is acceptable when a show's having this much fun.
Characters bare their souls, and at times their clothes, as confessions prove to be less good for the soul than bad for one's potential longevity. Among the burning questions addressed: Who paid to have the president shot? How far will U.S. Attorney David Rosen go to uncover the election-rigging scandal, and can Olivia's crew stop him? Can the grand jury force former reporter James to testify against his chief-of-staff conspirator husband Cyrus? And then there's Olivia, torn between the Speaker and the President, who declares she can't do "normal and simple and easy ... I want painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary." There's nothing remotely normal about Scandal, and that's even truer than usual by the end of the hour.
MORE HIGH DRAMA: Look who's back on USA Network's Suits (10/9c), stirring up more trouble at the embattled firm: the exiled Daniel Hardman (David Costabile), causing more legal headaches for his former partner Jessica (Gina Torres). ... It's a clash of the geniuses on CBS' Person of Interest (9:01/8:01c) when Finch and Reese try to protect a tech mogul (Jimmi Simpson) whose abilities could end up exposing them. ... No time delays expected for CBS' Elementary, which returns to its regular time period (10:01/9:01c) with Sherlock reuniting with his former drug-dealer (John Hannah, late of Damages and Spartacus) to find his kidnapped daughter. Which begs the question: Was Holmes a better sleuth when he was still under the influence? ... The CW's The Vampire Diaries (8/7c) sends most of its main characters out of Mystic Falls to a remote Nova Scotia island to find the secret of the cure. Needless to say, they're not all happy campers on this trip. ... If you liked what you saw of NBC's Do No Harm (10:01/9:01c), enjoy it while you can. This historically low-rated medical thriller returns (but for how long) with an even sillier second episode, as Good Doc Jason (poor Steven Pasquale) wakes up from his Bad Boy Ian nap in a panic, because he finds he's driving hot new wheels he doesn't remember purchasing. Worse, there's junk in the trunk belonging to a murderous drug dealer. This whole show's like a bad dream.
THE THURSDAY GUIDE: Everything about this episode of CBS' The Big Bang Theory (8/7c) sounds funny: Sheldon and Leonard fight, affecting their relationships with Amy and Penny. And Raj tends to the thankfully unseen Mrs. Wolowitz when Howard goes away. ... Nothing about this episode of CBS' Two and a Half Men (8:31/7:31c) sounds funny: Jake brings a 36-year-old girlfriend home. OK, it helps that the cougar is played by My Name Is Earl's Jaime Pressly. Still, file under ewwww. ... It's "Diva Week" on Fox's Glee (9/8c). Isn't it always? ... While FX's very funny late-night show Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell (11/10c) welcomes David Alan Grier as a guest, the network's very annoying BrandX With Russell Brand (11:30/10:30c) expands to a full hour — the horror! — in a new live format.
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