Community - a text book example of a return to form
Dan Harmon's Community was one of the highlights of the US television schedules for its first two years - edgy, funny and wonderful characterisation coupled with layer-upon-layer of evolving relationships and continuity it was quite simply a treat to watch. The show wasn't without it's behind-the-scenes trouble though with Chevy Chase reportedly often at odds with Harmon; thankfully for the most part this didn't damage the end product.
By the time the show reached the third season it was clearly running out of steam - the joke hit-rate dropped noticeably and by the end of the year it was announced that the show's creator had been pushed aside by NBC and replaced with David Guarascio and Moses Port who had previously produced Aliens in America and Happy Endings. It later became obvious that NBC's involvement during the third season had been one of the reasons for just how patchy the show had become and the shortened season four order and extended hiatus suggested that Community was on very shaky ground; especially in the cancellation-happy US TV landscape. Season four, by any measure, wasn't good - it felt like a tribute act - it LOOKED and SOUNDED like the Community we knew, but it felt wrong. And then, to round off a bad year Chevy Chase decided to drop out before he'd finished filming the season.
There were few people who would have put money on the show returning for a fifth year; but Community isn't without its fair share of luck and NBC decided to pony up the cash for another thirteen episodes. The real surprise was they had realised just how big a mistake they'd made and brought Dan Harmon back on board. Suddenly things looked good...
What we didn't realise at the time though was just how good things would become. The season was off to a slow start - although this was kind-of expected given the fact that it had to show us a good reason to bring everyone back together, but by the third episode Community was back up to it's quickfire best. Even the first two episodes had some cracking moments - in particular Abed's Nic Cage impersonation must rate as one of the top moments of Community ever. However, things really shift into gear in 'Cooperative Polygraphy' which sees the study group undergo a lie-detector test to determine if any of them had murdered Pierce before his will is finally revealed. It's a literal cornucopia of in jokes and references - which to an outsider would be perplexing, but to a Community fan was pure heaven. Even better was the moment that each of the group find they've inherited a flask of Pierce's sperm.
From this point onwards, Community has been better than ever - the next episode, 'Geothermal Escapism' saw Greendale take on Mad Max and was easily as good as any of the previous paintball extravaganzas. This episode also acts as the perfect farewell to Donald Glover's Troy. Hopefully he'll be back; but for now Glover wants to pursue his music career.
The most-recently broadcast episode, 'Analysis of Cork-Based Networking', falls back on the trick of throwing in some unexpected cameos giving the cast a chance to rejig and find a new dynamic; watch out for the likes of cult favourites Nathan Fillion and Robert Patrick in walk-on roles. The episode also gives Abed the chance at romance - although initially it seems Britta may have ruined his chances.
Despite losing two key cast members, the show continues to be must-watch and has been helped by the return of John Oliver in a recurring role and the introduction of Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks as a new teacher at the college. Ken Jeong continues to be perfect comedy fodder too - he's far funnier here than in any of the Hangover films and Jim Rash's Dean Pelton becomes more outlandish in each episode and is a joy to watch. We're only half-way through the season, but it's clear that Dan Harmon has recaptured exactly what made the show great. He's done enough to erase the bad feelings we'd built up during his absence and has done the impossible by making season five the best so far.
Community returns to ABC for the second half of Season 5 on 27th November. The show has been cruelly ignored on UK television, but will be appearing on Sony Entertainment Television later this year.