For those of you who need a refresher: NBC’s Community lasted two and a half weird seasons before getting pulled from NBC’s schedule and entering a hiatus last year. It came back with a vengeance, and with Ken Burns pillow fights, and then had its heart broken again when, following an over-publicized “feud” with Chevy Chase, and less-than-ideal ratings, creator Dan Harmon got kicked out of the showrunner spot at the end of last season — a tragedy to die-hard fans, as he was the soul of the show. Then NBC said it would premiere on October 19th, slamming it into an unfortunate Friday timeslot where it seemed destined to die.
In its latest affront to all that is Community fans’ feelings, NBC pushed back the season 4 premiere to February 7th, today, ultimately a better timeslot (not Friday night) but an unfortunate move since all the holiday episodes no longer correspond to real-time holidays and dates as they have in the past.
Before you return to television for the season four premiere (or your boycott of television because you’re mad about Dan Harmon, or your continued non-interest because you don’t get the logic of a Community College where it takes four years to get a degree), there’s some stuff you should know, stuff you should accept, and stuff that can help you move on. Hopefully the new season will still be good. If not, we can try to see if anyone has a Hulu Plus account they’ll let us use, and at the very least can look forward to Community’s syndication on Comedy Central this fall.
Until then, the following what you can expect from the upcoming season of Community.
1. Some important players have left.
Community previously existed as a show deeply connected with the mind of its creator Dan Harmon. He is the one to thank for the intrinsic weirdness, and most of the Abed stuff. Whatever Harmon may have planned for the show’s fourth season (Harmon is, after all, a proponent of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in every way, and therefore undoubtedly had a planned ending for the show’s story cycle). But Harmon’s distinctive voice wasn’t the only one to leave before this season started.
“Remedial Chaos Theory” writer Chris McKenna and writer/Starburns portrayer Dino Stamatopoulos both left with Harmon (#RIPstarburns). The Russo Brothers stepped down as frequent episode directors and executive producers, and Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan, executive producers and namesakes of characters Fat Neil and Garrett, both left, too.
Actor Chevy Chase left the show but will only be missing from two of the final episodes.
Writer Megan Ganz (perhaps best known for the Law and Order episode, the bottle episode, and both documentary episodes, one of which was also a Heart of Darkness homage) left to write for Modern Family but not until the season was over, and not without a heartfelt note on Reddit.
2. Newcomers that aren’t so bad.
Replacing Dan Harmon as show runner are Moses Port and David Guarascio. Don’t recognize those names? The team created the short-lived but critically acclaimed CW sitcom Aliens in America and more recently served as consulting producers for a handful of episodes of Happy Endings, a show whose intelligence manifests itself in fast-paced and self-referential dialogue in the same way that Community has done so in character development and story structure. Still not sure about Port and Guarascio? Read a six page interview with them in which they carefully examine where each study group member is at in his or her personal journey and become more confident that these guys won’t Britta it.
3. A lot of the same people are still here.
Besides the aforementioned behind-the-scenes guys who have left, a lot of the writers are still present for this season of Community. That includes Megan Ganz, Andy Bobrow, Tim Saccardo, and more. Actor Jim Rash is writing an episode, which will be good because (a) he is the Dean and (b) he won an Oscar for writing, remember?!
Perhaps most importantly of all, the study group, always the show’s core, is still here — Jeff, Annie, Abed, Troy, Britta, Shirley, and Pierce. Aside from the two episodes without Chevy Chase, all the actors will still be present. The relationships are still part of the show, and no matter what direction the show goes in, nothing can take away what has been introduced. Which leads to…
4. The show, and what it’s all about, is still here.
In a Reddit AMA he did after he had been let go, Dan Harmon answered the question of what he wanted to tell through making Community, saying “I live as a person fundamentally separated from people. It’s hard to talk to them, it’s hard to be part of their lives. I wanted to tell the story of a guy like that who stops being like that, who becomes part of Something Bigger Than Him. And yeah, it worked pretty well. A little too well, n’est ce pas?”
Dan Harmon created something bigger than him, and introduced us over the course of three seasons to a diverse cast of characters that should be fun to play around in for at least another season. Because the show was risky, and because it expanded beyond the world of Greendale Community College and into the social lives, dreams and homes of the characters, the show is free to coast a little. I have confidence in Port and Guarascio, enough that I think they can do better than coast. Only time will tell how everything will turn out, but I remain optimistic.
In the meantime, tonight, I would like to wish Community a warm welcome back.