“Community” is back for a third season, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I install a banana buffet…
There is a lot of plot in “Biology 101,” which introduces so many characters, changes and potential conflicts that the show doesn’t even have time for a traditional Troy/Abed tag, instead using that segment to help wrap things up. And because the episode’s so busy setting the table for the season – while the A-story revolves around the study group’s beloved library table, no less – “Community” doesn’t return from hiatus at its funniest(*).
(*) This is an issue faced by any sitcom with significant ongoing storytelling. The “Parks and Rec” episode that follows this also has to set aside some of what would ordinarily be humor time just to deal with various cliffhangers from last season.
And yet somehow in the midst of setting up the school’s new fiscal crisis, introducing John Goodman and Michael Kenneth Williams to the Greendale faculty(**), we got oodles of “Community”-style weirdness and comedy, whether it was self-referential (the musical number that included the lyric, “We’re gonna have more fun and be less weird than the first two years combined!”(***)), character-driven (Chang’s desperation to get into the group, the Jeff/Pierce and Troy/Britta rivalries), or a mash-up of character and pop culture (Abed’s freak-out over “Cougar Town” moving to mid-season, which both gave Danny Pudi the opportunity to show that Donald Glover’s not the only guy on this show who can express distress in a hilarious way, but also set up the insanely brilliant idea of “Cougarton Abbey,” complete with a blacker-than-black ending).
(**) Unsurprisingly, Goodman the comedy veteran made a stronger initial impression than Williams. Excited as I was by the prospect of Omar/Chalky walking the Greendale halls, Professor Kane is a fairly sane, serious character, and while that makes an interesting contrast to every other teacher we’ve met (and most of the study group), I don’t think he was used to great comic effect here. Goodman, on the other hand, could play this kind of smooth, confident, but shouty when he needs to be character in his sleep, and yet he never seems like he’s phoning it in as Vice Dean Laybourn. Good to have him around, and I like seeing Pelton placed against such a competent foe.
(***) And, as a bit of fan service, the lyrics also tell us that Jeff (who’s dreaming the whole thing) very much would like to have sex with Annie.
For goodness’ sake, in the midst of all that plot, the episode’s emotional centerpiece was an extended homage to the final sequence of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” with the study room table standing in for the monolith – and all of it inspired by Jeff falling prey to a monkey gas attack. On top of the song’s lyrics, Dean Pelton tries to convince the study group (if not us) that this will be a saner year with far fewer self-referential shenanigans. But by episode’s end, he’s slumping back into the library to sadly admit, “I just came by to tell everyone that this year won’t be any different.”
And thank God for that. “Community” is coming off a pretty incredible, time capsule-y season, and I don’t want to see it change too much (other than in the ratings). I’m glad that Pierce is still trying to argue that he and Jeff are alike just as vehemently as Jeff is trying to deny it. I’m glad that Troy still hates Britta, and is still coming up with creative ways to describe her levels of suck. (“You are human tennis elbow. You are a pizza burn on the roof of the world’s mouth. You are the opposite of Batman.”) I’m glad Pelton is still, as Vice Dean Laybourne puts it, a happy, pansexual imp(****). (“I’m sorry. I forgot everything you said after ‘rectum.'”)
(****) In case you didn’t see it over the summer, I highly recommend (and not just because it brings the site traffic, but because it’s crazy-funny) my video interview with Joel McHale, Jim Rash and Yvette Nicole Brown, which quickly gets taken over by a reader comment about furries. (You can also see it by clicking on the Related Videos link embedded in this post.)
Mainly, I’m just glad to have “Community” back, and I look forward to seeing where the show goes with all the various stories set up tonight.
What did everybody else think?