When Community creator Dan Harmon was fired after the third season of the ratings-challenged sitcom, faithful fans were disappointed but hopeful that the show would go on without him. Go on it did, but Community's fourth season frequently felt like a pale imitation of itsele. While substitute showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port tried to mimic Harmon's style, they just couldn't capture the peculiar mixture of joy, sadness and insanity that made Community special. After pleas from the cast, Harmon was re-hired for the fifth season and despite some interesting tweaks to the original concept, the show is already feeling like itself again.
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While season four haters may prefer that Harmon and his writing team jettison any and all plot advancements made last year, it's impossible to ignore that the finale concluded with with our zany band of Greendale students graduating from college. The opening scenes of the premiere find Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) working as lawyer again—now legitimately—and his study group partners have made their way into the job market, all with similar amounts of success. "Repilot," penned by Harmon and returning Community writer Chris McKenna's, manages to get the band back together in a very Greendale-esque manner, which means that the Dean (Jim Rash) and Chang (Ken Jeong) are also along for the ride. Once the new normal is established, the comedy gets back to telling the kinds of stories it always excelled at, including Abed throwing himself into a course examining Nicolas Cage's acting career and a delightful bottle episode that offers closure to Chevy Chase's abrupt departure from the show last year.
While the study group isn't reunited until several minutes into the premiere, the show feels like it's back on its feet again almost instantly. Meta jokes about Harmon's return and Donald Glover's eventual departure (the actor will leave after episode five) feel familiar and natural, not forced. Jeff, Chang and Annie (Allison Brie), whose season four storylines often took them into territory that didn't feel true their characters, feel like themselves again. Guest appearances by Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks and Justified's Walton Goggins are entertaining, without taking away from the core cast and bring to mind the kind of energy that Boardwalk Empire's Michael Kenneth Williams had in his season-three stint as a biology professor.
If you were anxious for Community to return to form, then you will be very satisfied. It's nice to have you back, Greendale.