Tonight, for the first time since May 17, 2012, Community fans will get a new episode overseen by Dan Harmon. (Two back-to-back ones, actually.) It used to be that new Community seasons were anticipated with jittery impatience from devotees, but it feels a little muted this time, like the last, Harmon-less season of pod-people Community has sucked some of the joy from the experience; once you’ve seen your favorite characters technically acting the same but being less funny while doing so, a little magic fades. So to fully rinse the taste of last year’s faux-munity from our mouths and get excited again, here is a thirteen-point reminder of why only Dan Harmon can do Community. (And as Matt Zoller Seitz said in his review of the new season: “Ahhhh. Now that’s more like it.”)
1. He used parody for a reason.
When people mock or belittle Community, they say stuff like, “Isn’t that show just a bunch of spoofs and meta-ness?” In reality, when Community was at its best, the show’s parodies and cultural references were fundamentally used to get at something emotionally true. Maybe the best example of this was the season-two Christmas episode “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” Done in the style of Rankin and Bass’s stop-motion Christmas movies, it used the language of the format to explore Abed’s repressed feelings over his mom not being there for his own Christmas. In contrast, last season, Abed narrated the Thanksgiving episode’s story in the style of The Shawshank Redemption for no reason other than it was a popular movie to play off of.
2. He’s bringing back Chris McKenna.
Dan Harmon won’t be running Community alone this season, as he’ll be joined by Chris McKenna. A writer for the first three seasons who left to work on The Mindy Project, McKenna wrote some of Community’s absolute best episodes, including “Remedial Chaos Theory” and “Paradigms of Human Memory.”
3. He embedded running jokes just for fans.
4. Playing with form.
Beyond the use of parody, Harmon seemed always on the lookout for new ways to tell stories in the traditional sitcom format. Like the story about a pregnant woman that he told completely in the background of the main action.
5. He understood the real darkest timeline.
Last season’s finale involved characters from the darkest timeline crossing dimensions to mess up the study group’s lives. However, Harmon understood that the true darkness of the show came not from this sci-fi mythology, but rather in the real moments of the main characters. Season two’s “Mixology Certification” was quite possibly the show’s darkest episode, showing the characters drunk and at their weakest.
6. Attention to detail.
Season two’s “Cooperative Calligraphy” revolves around the study group fighting over who took Annie’s pen. It’s eventually revealed at the end that the monkey Annie’s Boobs took it, but Harmon made sure to stick in a little hard-to-notice moment at the beginning of the episode where we see the monkey subtly snatch it while behind Dean Pelton. It may seem like a small, even unnecessary inclusion, but its presence signifies not just Harmon’s obsessive need to make sure everything in a story makes sense, but also the need to reward and respect viewers who would go back and look for that kind of thing.
7. This scene.
The chloroform scene from season two’s “Accounting for Lawyers” is oft cited as one of the show’s funniest. It’s not a parody or meta — it’s just super funny.
8. It was at times so, so, so weird.
Beyond all the playing with format and references, Community also found time to be legit weird. For example, if it wasn’t weird enough to do a My Dinner With Andre episode, Abed’s pooping himself monologue was maybe the weirdest thing to appear on NBC since Fear Factor went off the air.
9. His Britta was really the worst.
Dan Harmon has called Britta his favorite character, which is why it was so hard to watch her last season, as she seemed like the one character the new showrunners couldn’t really get ahold of.
10. He gave the people what they want.
And that means occasionally putting Jeff and Annie in as little clothes as possible.
11. He created legitimate sexual tension.
When Community debuted, people complained about the lack of romantic chemistry between Jeff and Britta, so Harmon built their chemistry out of their lack of chemistry. The result was actual sexual tension. Just compare the below scene to how flaccid Britta and Troy’s failed relationship was last year.
12. Speaking of sexual tension …
The incredible karaoke scene:
One of the most exciting parts of Community is how its fans reacted to it and created their own art from it (God knows we’ve posted a ton of it). And frankly, it was sad to see that missing when Harmon left. Fans who love the show were too loyal to Harmon to ever get too excited last year. And Community just isn’t Community without its diehards who obsess over it and put it up on a pedestal.