(This is a review of the first two episodes of COMMUNITY season six, which are available now for cheap as free at Yahoo Screen via their website, an app on iOS and Android, or also through Apple TV, Roku and Xbox)

COMMUNITY has been dodging bullets Matrix style since its inception, with ratings lower than Greendale’s national academic ranking; from losing (but then re-gaining) creative overlord, Dan Harmon, to a steady trickle of original cast members graduating onto other ventures, including some sloppy behind the scenes drama, this is a show that has faced constant hurdles, taken out a bazooka and montaged its way through the destruction of every last one of them. This is the show that pisses off Britta’s escaped and bloodthirsty cat because it laughs at a feline’s measly nine lives. This is the show who Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” was written about.

Even last year when a bullet finally struck the heart, fired from the guns of top NBC brass, canceling the show after five miraculous and creatively explosive seasons (if we sort of forget about the Harmon-less Season 4), COMMUNITY rebuilt itself yet again, funded by Yahoo and its desire to break into the streaming TV biz that’s so in mode these days. Which, for the record, I’m totally down with.

Basically, this season six premiere (and beyond) shouldn’t exist. But the internet joke-turned-prophecy of #sixseasonsandamovie somehow has written this miraculous timeline into existence–where COMMUNITY gets allowed to continue years past it’s expected sell-by-date, darkest timeline be damned. So, is the show still any good? Is it still funnny? Is it still totally streets ahead?

Yes, yes and definitely yes. It is, however, a different show than the one it started out as.

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When newcomer Frankie Dart (Paget Brewster) shows up to the study-group-turned-committee as a hard-nosed administrator seeking to trim some serious fat and enact changes at the college, the rest of the group rears back in terror. Except for Abed, whom everyone assumes will take her ch-ch-ch-changes hardest; he’s the only one not to stamp her as an evil replacement of the recently spun-off Shirley (who, by the by, is down in the swamps of Atlanta now serving as the personal chef for a brilliant but troubled detective).

He and Frankie have a heart-to-heart in the first episode’s most meta moment where they both acknowledge that all good things, especially TV, have to change. The show realizes this is essential and the first episode back eases its characters into that realization as well, and, through that, it’s hoping the audience will follow suit. When Britta and Abed try to mimic Troy and Abed’s secret handshake, it brings zero joy to them and it shouldn’t to us viewers either. Everyone is moving on and into this new dean-mension of COMMUNITY–one that maintains the tone and creative insanity of its past life, but attempts to evolve around and beyond its circumstances.

The cold open for the first episode back, “Ladders,” is a little slice of genius in merging the old with the new. The cafeteria roof collapses after one too many frisbees are tossed up there–including the very first one by a long-haired Leonard when Greendale was dubbing itself a “Computer College”–and the whole place has to be renovated. First, it’s a plot device that nicely covers up the fact that the move from NBC to Yahoo meant abandoning all the old sets and reconstructing them in new spaces, which meant some slight cosmetic changes (ie: the cafeteria now has large beams in its ceiling). More importantly though, it highlights the history of this place, both fictional and real, and made me realize how much my heart missed everything about Greendale Community College.

Yes, I missed the characters–and I sometimes still pine for Donald Glover to return as Troy, if only because I want it for Abed’s sake–but while the characters we have loved from season one, episode one are huge portions of the show’s lifeblood, Greendale itself is the strange other dimension that draws these–as Frankie encapsulates the themes of the place–”weird, passionate and gross” people together.

And Frankie, for all her by-the-books boring-ness, manages to fit into Greendale just fine so far. With the rest of the cast growing more unhinged as the seasons have progressed, she is a nice balance of straight man and quirky misfit–a prerequisite to hang with this gang.

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As for the other new addition: Keith David’s Elroy Patashnik, who shows up in the second new outing, “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care,” also fits that bill. With only a few scenes under his belt so far it’s harder to make a judgement call on how he will slot into the group dynamic. At least his addition should help Chang rest easy after he voiced his concerns with, “Are any of you white people noticing what’s happening to this group?!”

I could go on from here and just list all the funny, brilliant bits from these episodes (“And Jesus wept!” “Jimmy Fallon syndrome.” “I’m Sorry” montage!)…but I won’t  I’m excited to have COMMUNITY back, but i’m ecstatic to find the magic is still in the wands of everyone involved. Also, you can take a class called “Magic Wands.” Because this is Greendale, and it’s a place not many people escape. But, really, why would you want to?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch some Portuguese Gremlins.

 

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