I have now seen the first two episodes of the new season of Community and honestly, I don't have too much to say. It's not great. It's not the show I fell in love with. It is instead a Bizzaro version of the Greendale world that resembles far too closely the traditional sitcoms it used to skewer so well, and even the actors, whom I adore, seem to be fumbling to find out who their characters are now that they're not a pure embodiment of Dan Harmon's neuroses.
Donald Glover is handling it the best; all of the even-approaching-funny lines last night came from him ("Things.") and he's such a brilliant comedian that's he's making the best of a difficult situation. Danny Pudi seems to be struggling to find the right tack to take - he's still playing Abed, but Abed is being written very differently now and you can sense his discomfort with the changes. The character faring the worst is definitely Britta, who was a delicate and complex balance of awkward to begin with and has now become clumsy and obvious.
But it's not just the writing of the characters that's off - it's the staging. Harmon knew when to pull out all the pop culture stops and when to scale back and focus on relationships, and these first two episodes try to mash it all together with very little success. Everyone on Twitter was talking about how the Valloween episode was "a REAL Community episode" but it felt hollow compared to "Epidemiology" or even "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps". Abed and Troy's Calvin and Hobbes costumes were a great visual joke that made me smile but were tragically never used or referenced to any other comedic effect. The Dean wearing a wig for his ring-girl costume just felt WRONG, like a joke from some other show. There was an attempt at a Clue reference that was hasty and half-assed and the big reveal of Hawthorne Manor wasn't anywhere near as exciting as the glimpse in to Joan Callamezzo's bedroom that Parks & Rec gave us last year. And the through-line of Jeff's daddy issues was painfully forced and completely inauthentic to his character. Remember in "Advanced Documentary Filmmaking" when Jeff straight-up BEAT UP PIERCE because of his anger at his dad (and, to be fair, at Pierce)? If the new Community insists on having a selective memory towards its characters' motivations, it is going to fail.
Surprisingly, one of the things I miss most about Harmon's absence is his skill at incorporating the right kind of music into a scene, whether it's ambient or the Dean's Abba/grocery playlist. Watching these first few episodes the scenes felt empty, like they were missing a character - the character of Harmon. I know that Community still has some of the same writers and directors, but, for me at least, every scene feels like an attempt to recreate a magic that simply doesn't exist anymore. It lacks the childlike joy that Harmon imbued into the entire show. Community has become The Thousand Acre Wood without Christopher Robin - a bunch of characters who like each other alright but are missing the one person whose imagination created and connected them in the first place.
I held out hope for the new Community, but the sad truth is this astounding show was so wonderful because it was hilarious yet bursting with heart - the heart of a man named Dan Harmon. Without that injection of honest and passionate emotion, Community is just another sitcom on a network that increasingly does not understand what young, intelligent viewers want to see. And even though Donald Glover can still make me laugh, the empty, unbearable sadness that blankets every Harmon-less scene has turned my favorite show into something I dread even having to talk about.
So I'm gonna go listen to some Harmontown and turn that frown upside down.
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