Any fan of Community knew that the show had a lot to do — and make up for — coming in to season five. Chevy Chase had already left the show and could not contractually return despite having apparently mended fences with Dan Harmon. Donald Glover’s departure loomed heavy, as Troy was a beloved and seemingly necessary presence on the show. Nobody expected Dan Harmon to return without having to address these issues — along with the “gas leak” that was season four — and I don’t think anybody could have expected the showrunner, his writers, and his cast and crew to handle everything as well as they have. And as good as most of this new batch of episodes has been, there has been a lingering sense that there was housekeeping to be done. Last week, we saw Troy get sent off in a fitting game of Hot Lava, and we got to see Abed come to grips with it, as far as he is able.
I was a bit worried that tonight would be more Abed analysis, that we’d have to do more work with him to understand Troy’s absence, and I was very relieved that that wasn’t the case. Naturally, Abed has a void to fill, so he’s a bit more outgoing, at first with the deaf student and finally with Brie Larson’s returning coat-check girl (once the first one proves to be Britta’s ultimate spoiler weapon; well played, Britta). I’ll get back to that in a bit.
Community achieved something tonight that I didn’t think would be possible in the fifth season of any show: It actually felt new, like a new version of itself. “Analysis” had the same flavor — essence — of the first two seasons, which I suppose is appropriate, considering the first episode of the season was literally titled “Repilot.” Sure, there were a lot of guest stars (Criminal Minds’ Paget Brewster; Robert Patrick; Nathan Fillion [right on the tail of Chang’s celebrity crush confession, no less]; Brie Larson), a move typically reserved for struggling shows looking for a bump and/or renewal consideration, but they weren’t too flashy or pointed (I don’t think a single one of them claimed more than a minute of screen time). But this episode felt crisp and rejuvenated … and damn funny.
I’ll start with the main plotline: Annie’s desire to get the bulletin board restored to the cafeteria, and, with Hickey in tow, discovering the depressing realities of political maneuvering and favor exchanges that comprise the sausage-making that is Greendale behind the scenes. Alison Brie had some amazing moments in this episode, from schmoozing with the custodial staff to her negotiations with Brewster’s IT admin (“What do you mean by everything?” “EEEVERYTHING!” Hilarious.). The custodial cocktail mixer was absurd (was that a highly decorated … janitor?), and I loved the dude so quickly dismissing Annie’s attempts to shmooze him with small talk about the family: “Daughter, soccer, yes, thanks for coming.”
It’s a rabbit hole that Annie is happy to go down, because she feels like she’s at least accomplishing something, but when Hickey finally calls her out in the Dean’s office (over margaritas, naturally), it’s actually pretty biting, so much so that even the Dean catches on: “My God, Annie! What kind of a labyrinth have you created? Certainly not the magic kind with puppets and macho rock stars.” Hickey may be a new addition to the Community ecosystem, but Jonathan Banks is selling him like a beast, and he also provides a father figure that Annie has traditionally needed quite desperately. “I thought better of you, young lady.” “Maaan, this got Sorkin-y.” Hee!
Annie’s story wasn’t the only one with some good chuckles. I thought Chang’s insistence on the “bear down” idea was really great, if only because I think we all know what it feels like to have a strong idea that we know we’re just not conveying correctly. Even further, only when the group actually does all the work with the bear theme and actually can see it visualized do they realize that dance themes are usually quite stupid and based loosely on a phrase that may or may not have anything to do with what the dance is serving to celebrate. Then, of course, Neil has to come in and kill everyone’s buzz with the bear massacre story, so they have to come up with the even more half-assed “Fat dog” idea, which definitely yielded some genuine belly laughs from this guy. Look, I’m a big fan of Garret shrieking almost anything, but when he yelled “It’s a Bear Dance!” in horror, I was grinning ear to ear.
Back to Abed. His story didn’t yield many hearty guffaws this time around, but I did find it interesting that he does seem more genuinely social and less esoteric. His seeming (or actual) connection with the deaf student was cute, and whereas we’ve seen Abed hit it off with the ladies in the past, it was either to satisfy his friends, or not really a focal point (like Abed’s background delivery of a baby a while back). But, now that Abed’s “single” (er, Troy-less), and since he essentially dealt with Troy leaving by … well, pretending to die in hot lava and get cloned, I guess it makes sense that he’d move on and actually seek a connection with someone. However — and I’m not sure what to make of this — I was definitely not expecting that someone to ultimately be a character that was introduced in Harmon absentia, namely Rachel, the coat-check girl from season four’s “Herstory of Dance.” Maybe Harmon is ready to Fat Dog some of the less horrible ideas from the gas leak season after all? Time will tell, I suppose.
Some other highlights:
- Definitely enjoyed the Game of Thrones ripoff stuff. Some of the names (Stevarios, Vogadash) sounded so Martin-esque, it was hard not to giggle.
- Sandles! Sandles!
- Really loved how the whole dance party commission used Chang’s crying tactic to get Annie onboard with the Fat Dog idea. Classic. “Annie, it’s decorating! You pick an idea, and bear down on it.” “Really poor choice of words, Ben. Too soon.”
- “To the spoiler goes the victory.” Glad to have worst Britta back. She’s the best. Britta’s ruse makes Abed realize even more that his pop-culture obsessions are preventing him from actually connecting on a meaningful level with any actual humans, and is a clear catalyst in his decision to ask Rachel out then and there. Again, curious where this lands. (Also, when Abed leaves Britta at the dance, she cries, “Let’s be fat dogs about this!” So good.)
- I’m happy to see Brie Larson on the show. I’m generally a fan. I like that she started the coat-check “without permission.” She might just be weird enough for Abed.
- How fitting that all of the records of Hickey’s failures as a cop and a man were pinned to — what else? — a bulletin board. Perhaps a bit on the nose, but the character’s got some catching up to do, so I’ll allow it. It was sweet to watch him lumber in all surly to screw the bulletin board to the wall and sock it to the Greendale bureaucracy. Nice moment for Banks and Brie (um … police buddy comedy spinoff?), especially when all each has to say is “thanks,” and the rest if fully understood.