Last week NBC announced that Community was dead — for real this time. Community was actually done, canceled, kaput. The show almost died once; when series creator and mad genius Dan Harmon was forced out after the brilliant but low-rated third season (arguably the most outrageous and postmodern of Community‘s five seasons), the show stumbled around for a fourth, zombified season, offering lame rehashes of running jokes and dishing out lifeless episodes that left an acrid taste in the back of the mouth, like a microwaved gas station burrito.
Community had a strange run, accruing a fervid following but never managing to rise out of the ratings doldrums. An abysmal fourth season didn’t help. There was just one decent episode in the fourth season, and it is, of course, a high-concept episode: the gang is depicted as puppets (a cloying gimmick that feels forced, but “decent” is better than “awful,” yeah?) as part of another poorly-conceived Dean Pelton plan, though this one feels more like something John Oliver’s psychologist would scheme. The gang trips on some psychedelic berries with Jason Alexander, and they all reveal fairly tame secrets to one another. It remains the sole memorable moment from the Harmon-less season.
Harmon came back for season five (yay!) and things got back on track, though enough irreparable damage was already done; Chevy Chase’s character Pierce Hawthorne was killed-off (Chase and Harmon famously feuded on set, with Chase claiming he didn’t understand the show’s appeal) and Donald Glover left after just five episodes. Breaking Bad alum Jonathan Banks does a good job in the new role of Professor Buzz Hickey, who bears traits of Pierce’s grumpy old man and the ingenuity of Banks’s Breaking Bad character Mike.
The first post-Glover episodes feel a bit off, but they should: The gang openly discusses how much they miss Glover’s immensely likable Troy. But the season, and the show, ends with a string of great episodes, especially a vintage-looking G.I. Joe episode replete with Harmon’s postmodern touches and the emotional wallop he always manages to slip in when we think we have his number.