Community Season Six premiere review/ recap
One half of “Community” creator Dan Harmon’s promise/ campaign at the end of the program’s third season finally happened. Harmon’s #sixseasonsandamovie concept never faded from Abed Nadir’s (Danny Pudi, not missing a beat in the latest season) memory despite the fact that Abed was really concerned with watching the failed NBC superhero drama, “The Cape” reaching such an arduous feat. (Speaking of “The Cape,” David Keith joins the cast in the sixth season’s second episode.) Harmon indicated that Yahoo! Studios stepped up to assist the cult series and save it from cancellation “in the eleventh hour” according to several interviews. On St. Patrick’s Day 2015, the free Yahoo! Screen application made the first two episodes of “Community’s” sixth season, “Ladders” and “Lawnmower Maintenance & Postnatal Care,” available at no-cost to stream. For the first time, the show is without three of their original cast members (Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, Yvette Nicole Brown), and four of their main cast from the series’ fifth season (Glover, Brown, Jonathan Banks, John Oliver). While the new cast members play their parts well, the group dynamic of the Study Table/ Save Greendale Committee has yet to take form and find a groove.
The sixth season begins in “Ladders” where a classic Dean Pelton (Academy Award winner Jim Rash) announcement reintroduces viewers to the cast: Greendale law teacher Jeff Winger (Joel McHale- Ted, “The Soup”), homeless protestor Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs- Choke, Hot Tub Time Machine 2), pop culture savant Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi- Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Knights of Badassdom), crazy teacher Ben Chang (Ken Jeong- The Hangover, The Penguins of Madagascar), and studious, overachiever Annie Edison (Alison Brie- “Mad Men,” The Five-Year Engagement). Annie finds out that the study group neglected to solve the Frisbee problem on the roof of Greendale’s student union/ activity center, causing a cave-in that consumes Garrett in a wave of old and new hard plastic disks.
This roof collapse causes the Dean to hire Francesca Dart (Paget Brewster returning in a different role) to solve the problems brought on by the Frisbees (and years of his own selfish neglect) as an administrative consultant. “New Shirley,” the Dean calls “Frankie” after Abed learns of Shirley’s absence, which he suspects to be a spin-off of his own community college group situation as if his life were, once again, a movie or TV show. Jeff, Britta, and Annie each quickly turn sour on Frankie, reluctant to change, and drive Abed away from the group.
Abed returns to the study room where only Chang and Frankie wait for him. He explains to the newest cast member (as Jeong’s Chang has a conversation all on his own) that he disagrees with his friends’ reluctance toward her and believes that she will genuinely improve Greendale and its students. Meanwhile, Jeff retaliates to Frankie’s ban on liquor and facilitates a speakeasy bar in back of Shirley’s Sandwiches, now operated by Britta in Shirley’s absence. When Abed comes looking around the sandwich shop for the group, Todd hints that Abed better check around back where he discovers the speakeasy and a very-needed and welcome Nathan Fillion cameo as Head Custodian Bob Waite, leaning on Jeff Winger with a measure of blackmail. Before he knows it, the gang adorns Abed in thirties gangster garb, and a rekindling montage of drinking among friends starts. Garrett and Vicki contribute to song and dance in the club much like they did in Pierce’s saloon during the second season’s paintball adventure.
Frankie notices that Abed starts to slip in his duties as part of the Save Greendale Committee. After a long night, Abed excuses himself from her early for lunch in order to regain protein after a long night. He returns to Britta’s speakeasy where the compound eventually gets raided by Frankie and her goons. The gang scares her away from Greendale and all Hell breaks loose—even the recently-cancelled “Ladders” course quickly returns to the campus schedule and alcohol flows freely once again. It really feels like Harmon anticipated the fan trepidation of the new cast members so he devised a plot where everyone except and especially Abed acts averse to change. Abed is the most terrified of a different scenario and his ability to accept the situation encourages the viewer to follow his example.
The Ladders professor falls while drunk like everybody else on campus, injuring himself and Annie. Immediately, the need for Frankie’s unrelenting normality and structure becomes apparent. Jeff and Abed hunt Frankie down to a job interview, interrupt, and beg her to return to Greendale to whip it into shape in an “I’m sorry” montage. She agrees to return and takes her seat at the table by episode’s end. While the gas leak of season four thankfully wasn’t apparent, the lack of a story beyond introducing Frankie didn’t create much of a humorous dynamic, either, as the funniest scenes did not include her. The Fillion cameo as well as the return of familiar background faces (like Leonard’s Frisbee flashback with “Sweet Emotion”) made “Ladders” an optimistic beginning to a season looking to recover from serious cast losses. However, the Shirley spin-off with Yvette Nicole Brown and Steven Weber boosted the episode into something special for fans. Like the fifth season premiere of the Pierce ghostly hologram featuring a Chevy Chase cameo, Brown was kind enough to appear for fans.
“Lawnmower Maintenance and Prenatal Care” had more of a plot and more characters than “Ladders,” so it felt more enjoyable. Plus, Rash directed the episode with filmmaking partner Nat Faxon. The episode follows the premise of Rash’s Dean Pelton investing $5,000 of Greendale’s money into a virtual reality operating system resembling the effects rendered in The Lawnmower Man, called the VirtuGood. Amenable to most everything possible, the Dean quickly finds himself addicted to a console that Frankie and Jeff must return to get the necessary money back for Greendale. A fan of movie and Biblical references, the Dean exclaims, “Jesus wept!” every time he finds himself in a self-perpetuated state of awe. As if he were Hans Gruber or Alexander the Great, there are no more worlds to conquer.
Britta moves in with Abed and Annie due to her homelessness and sees a new sofa. She quickly surmises that her parents are financially involved and sniffs it out. In true Britta fashion, we find that there’s nothing wrong with her wealthy, supportive parents played by Martin Mull and Lesley Ann Warren in guest roles. However, Britta cites childhood traumas that her parents own up to, which is the reason they seem so supportive in the present day.
Jeff finds the inventor of the Dean’s obsession, Elroy Patashnik (Keith David- The Thing, Requiem for a Dream), and requests a refund. Elroy lives in a Winnebago where he makes living inventing things. He denies Jeff’s request, but then quickly returns to help Jeff and Frankie conquer the Dean’s addiction. Once the Dean is removed from the device, Elroy hands over a return check, however, Dean Pelton gives him a check of $500 which the inventor uses to enroll at the school.
Britta finds help in the unlikely place of camping out in Frankie’s car and then startling her for advice. She decides to take her time in accepting her parents as fellow people capable of making mistakes after a discussion with her new friend. Britta then spends the night with Annie and Abed watching Portuguese Gremlins knock-offs. Two storylines converged in an episode that didn’t focus on introducing Elroy so much as he cantankerously joined the fold. He never felt forced on us because he wanted nothing to do with the situation until the need to do the right thing overcame him.