The premiere of a new season of Community used to be cause for celebration. "We did it!" the Internet would cheer, because it truly was a group effort. Community's success was our success. The former NBC comedy wouldn't still be here, getting a new life on Yahoo, if it wasn't for the passion of its incredibly vocal fans.
But over the years the fight has changed. With each loss of a major cast member — first Chevy Chase, then Donald Glover and now Yvette Nicole Brown — the victory tasted less and less sweet. The chemistry between the original Study Group was always the secret to Community's magic. While the experimental narrative techniques creator Dan Harmon employed were fun and exciting, more than anything, they were inventive showcases to explore complicated relationships and feelings between these six people.
This season attempts to make up for those loses (along with the departures of John Oliver and Jonathan Banks), by bringing in two new faces to Greendale: Frankie Dart (Paget Brewster), a consultant hired to help shape up the college, and Elroy Patashnik (Keith David), a washed-up virtual reality inventor who enrolls when he decides he needs to change his life.
While Elroy immediately fits right in, brilliantly sparring with Jeff about the importance of '90s-era virtual reality, Frankie is another story. The exact reasons Dean Pelton brought her to Greendale - her rational sensibilities and no-nonsense attitude - are the exact same reasons why she feels so completely out of place there.
In the Season 6 premiere, Abed directly addresses these apprehensions:
"My umbrella concern is that you, as a character, represent the end of what I used to call 'our show,' which was once an unlikely family of misfit students and is now a pretty loose-fit group of students and teachers, none of whom are taking a class together in a school which, as of your arrival, is becoming increasingly grounded, asking questions like, 'How do any of us get our money?' How do any of us get our degrees?' and 'What happened to that girl I was dating?'"
While this wink-wink meta monologue is right up Community's ally, the first two episodes of the season failed to follow through on this bit of self-aware critique. Frankie feels just as out-of-place by the end of Episode 2 as she did when introduced in the premiere. The show does go out of its way to point out that Frankie's "normal" personality isn't actually normal at all; it just seems that way compared to Greendale's heightened absurdity. But being self-aware about a problem doesn't change the fact that it's a problem.
Brewster is an underrated comedic actress, and I'm inclined to give her and the writers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to whether Frankie will, in fact, discover her inner Human Being this season. But this goodwill can only extend so far.
For the past few years, I've found myself hoping for Community's renewal not because the show satisfies me creatively as it did in the beginning, but because it's satisfying to see the underdog get a win. I want Community to fulfill its self-prescribed destiny. However, there are times when I find myself wishing Abed had quipped #threeseasonsandamovie in that fateful Season 2 episode, saving us from the Harmon-less and off-brand Season 4 and providing the show an unquestioned entrance into the Cult Classic Hall of Fame. Then I remember Season 5's Ass Crack Bandit episode and I realize everything's as it should be.
Though it will never be quite whole again, I'm happy Community is back. Harmon and the writers spent a good portion of Season 5 earning back the viewers' trust after Season 4 (which really wasn't as terrible as many make it out to be). But by the end of the last season, Community had good momentum going. It wasn't the Internet crack Seasons 1-3 were, but it was consistently clever and one of the few sitcoms I went out of my way to watch. And now that Parks and Recreation is over and I've run through Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (twice), it's nice to know that there's at least one more source to get my weekly dose of quality comedy. (Sorry, NBC. Undateable just isn't cutting it for me.)
So do I need six seasons and a movie? No. But I also don't need most things I love. That doesn't change anything. As long as Community is on, I'll be watching. Even if the cast keeps shrinking until it's just Ken Jeong sitting around talking to a stuffed version of Annie's Boobs because it's 2025 and monkeys only live so long, I'll be there. For better or for worse.
Community returns March 17 on Yahoo Screen. New episodes will be released weekly.