COMMUNITY returns to the NBC schedule at 8PM on Thursday, March 15.
WHERE WE WERE: Greendale Community College, of course! Where the school mascot is a Human Being and the Dean (Jim Rash) is to be seen in outfits intended for any and all genders and species, a place of air conditioning repair secret-police cults, magic trampolines, a statue of famed alumnus Luis Guzman, and the occasional paintball massacre and zombie uprising In short, the altogether strangest and most surreal place of higher learning in television history. Where a motley gang of study buddies (Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Chevy Chase, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Donald Glover) and one wannabe (Ken Jeong) bicker, protect, scheme against and occasionally hook up with one another, while pop culture references rain down unrelentingly on all their heads.
WHERE WE ARE: Still Greendale. Any fear that Community‘s time off the NBC schedule was spent altering the show’s unique DNA can be quickly laid to rest. The March 15 episode “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts,” screened at tonight’s PaleyFest salute, lacked writing and directing credits, but was thoroughly in keeping with the Community all of us–well, a tiny, tiny portion of us, but so far enough to keep it on the air–love.
Actually, “Urban Matrimony” is a little different from most Community episodes, in that something actually takes place with effects that will presumably go beyond the given episode: Shirley (Brown) and ex-husband Andre (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) decide to remarry. While this causes the expectedly unexpected, as Britta (Jacobs) discovers her deeply hidden inner wedding planner, Abed and Troy (Pudi and Glover) determine that they need to be “normal” for the occasion, and Jeff (McHale) has to give the toast (always remember: a toast that starts “Webster’s Dictionary defines…” is the Jim Belushi of toasts), it also gives rise to some genuine emotion, and a less abstract superstructure than the show sometimes provides. Meanwhile, Shirley and Pierce (Chase) pitch a college sandwich business to the Dean. Also, there’s a cameo appearance from one of the series’ most especially beloved recurring characters, which I won’t spoil.
Community is what’s good about NBC’s wretched standing in the ratings. On any other broadcast network, it would have been canceled halfway through its first season, but terminal ratings at CBS or ABC still allow for renewal at NBC. (In fact, it did just as well in its timeslot this season as its replacement, the television royalty that is 30 Rock.) It’s a show that, for better and worse, the bulk of the network audience will simply never get, nor want to. Let’s face it, either you care to watch a half-hour of television devoted to a conceptual joke about the 1981 cult-indie classic My Dinner With Andre, or you don’t.
There will always be ups and downs to Community, as gasp-inducing inspiration is followed by tiresome eccentricity for its own sake. (Or as show creator/showrunner Dan Harmon put it at PaleyFest, sometimes the show goes very far up its own ass.) But that inspiration stuff is awfully heady, and network television would be a markedly less accredited place without Community.