NBC’s “Community” has returned to a Thursday night lineup with its creator, Dan Harmon, back at the helm. The creator was let go after season three, and his resurrection will surely excite old fans and hopefully bring back some of the show’s original spark. However, with Harmon’s return, Chevy Chase is exiting and Donald Glover is signing on for his last five episodes. The show’s fifth season premiered on Jan. 2. Since then, three episodes have been broadcasted and 10 more are scheduled to air. So before you plan out your Thursday nights this semester, we will use these first three episodes to answer one question: With a rare second chance, can Dan Harmon restore the magic at Greendale Community College without his original cast?
If only looking at “Repilot,” the season premiere, the answer is an easy no. However, the show had a tough job to do. Having to reintroduce audiences to characters who are in vastly different points in their lives leaves less room for quirky jokes in favor of a better-built story. And that’s not really “Community’s” strong suit. In that respect, the episode does its job in bringing the group back together and setting them back up for its classic study room meetings. Another key happening comes in the episode’s introduction when Chase’s character is replaced by Jonathan Banks (“Breaking Bad”). When his character, Buzz Hickey, takes Pierce’s spot at the table, he assumes the role of a very different character. Instead of the old man, incompetent and full of racist jokes, the character is a supplier of much drier humor. While these dry jokes are entertaining, they are most definitely lacking. By bringing a straightforward character to a unique sitcom, Harmon has given himself a tough task: making Buzz Hickey one of the Greendale Seven.
Luckily, “Community” premiered with two back-to-back episodes to get fans into the swing of things again. Like the third episode after it, the second helping felt a lot more familiar. Abed (Danny Pudi) becomes obsessed with Nicolas Cage, and Annie and Jeff face off just like old times. Episode three is an accustomed genre spoof that produces more minor grins than audible laughs. With these plots, it seems as if “Community” just may have gotten back on track. But something is missing, and it isn’t just Pierce Hawthorne.
What makes this series special is its top-notch use of its ensemble cast. They all work together and work together well. When the comedy began, it was tough to differentiate between who were the main characters and who made up the supporting cast. Losing Chase in no way broke the show; Glover’s leaving will most definitely leave a hole, but it isn’t the final blow either. Harmon needs to bring the chemistry back to the study room table. Joel McHale can’t carry a network show and neither can any other single cast member. They need their genuine, dysfunctional relationships to thrive once again and lead the way. The Greendale Seven may have returned to save Greendale, but their chemistry is really in Harmon’s hands.