As the new season of Community begins, all of our characters are yet again dealing with change: Shirley’s spinning off, a new consultant is hired to improve Greendale, and the show itself is moving from NBC to Yahoo. It’s not the show we loved at its peak, but it’s a fine return to form after a disappointing season four and a middling season five finale; in fact, the premiere itself is concerned with how exactly the show is going to deal with change, and as a result, it becomes a self-referential, thoroughly enjoyable ride that takes us back into the halls of Greendale. Welcome back, show.
“Ladders” is marked by a new character joining the cast: Paget Brewster’s Francesca “Frankie” Dart, who immediately strikes up a dynamic with Abed. “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-knit group of students and teachers,” Abed remarks right off the bat, and we see early on that “Ladders” is concerned with figuring out how exactly the show is going to navigate new waters. There are multiple nods like that throughout the rest of the episode, but the new guard-old guard conflict is also a nice way to integrate Frankie–as a fleshed-out character–into the cast.
Paget Brewster is immediately a great presence, and it’s very enjoyable watching Abed attempt to work within her boundaries; in particular, the “emailing Diane” montage is one of several hilarious montages throughout, and it’s clear that the longer running times are allowing the writers to play with extended sequences like these (they need to be careful, though, because time restrictions can sometimes improve quality). Plus, by the time the “I’m sorry” montage rolls around, Frankie’s become an even more enjoyable character, and Brewster’s comedic sensibilities allow her to deftly play the “stoic boss” role while hinting at something more, something that we’ll see develop throughout the season. For now, I’m perfectly content with her breaking a bit and going off on the group: “You deserve less because of your age! Everyone here is a fart!”
Of course, it’s not all “Frankie vs. everyone” here. In the second episode, she and Britta have some wonderful interactions together throughout, and it’s a pretty good Britta storyline in general; it’s another story that deals with the concept of change–just through a more character-specific lens–and it’s well played by all involved (Martin Mull and Lesley Ann Warren are excellent as Britta’s parents). Although it’s far from a perfectly written backstory, it’s still an interesting one that allows us more insight into why Britta is the way she is today, why she keeps running off. Frankie puts it best when she tells Britta that “there’s a part of us that tends to run away when confronted with the truth”, that her parents are humans and “not gods or demons”.
It’s these types of character moments that keep the show grounded, that shine through amidst the meta commentary and sharp jokes and unique concepts. Without the show’s understanding of its characters’ humanities, they wouldn’t be such interesting and fleshed-out people, and I look forward to seeing how they grow and change and stay the same in this new Yahoo era. Here’s to a great season six (and a movie).
GRADES: “Ladders” (B+), “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care” (B)
-The second episode’s Dean plot is a weak one that drags on for way too long, but there’s no denying that Jim Rash is excellent at physical comedy. In addition, Keith David fits in nicely as Elroy Patashnik, the creator of the VR system that the Dean buys.
– “Shut up, Leonard. I once mistook six people for you at a pharmacy.”
-“It’s called Tumblr, Dad.” “No, Tinder. It’s a dating app. And I think if you were on there, you’d be the prettiest.” “All the boys would be swiping right!” “Or girls! Whatever you prefer.”
-The entire speakeasy bit is really funny, especially given Todd and Nathan Fillion’s cameo and Britta bartending.
-Chang gets bitten by a cat, which is fairly amusing.
-Thanks, Yahoo, for letting the show film at the Los Angeles City College campus again. The outdoor scenes are really nice.
-No mention of Buzz Hickey? He was a pretty big part of season five, and although Jonathan Banks is obviously doing Better Call Saul right now, I hope he can fit in a cameo somewhere.
-Jimmy Fallon syndrome.
–The Butcher and the Baker, Hard Drive & Wing Man, and Knee-High Mischief? Sign me up for all of these; I’d watch them. Also nice to see Yvette Nicole Brown make an appearance in the first one.
-If this is a weekly thing, why is Yahoo releasing episodes this late (or this early)? It’s not a “releasing all the episodes at once” system, so it doesn’t make sense. Anyway, I’m not sure about weekly coverage as of now; it’s possible, but it’s far from certain.
Photo credit: Yahoo Screen, Community