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American Television’s funniest, sharpest, most inventive half-hour of comedy, Community, is back and just as good as ever…yet not enough people are watching it. True, it’s a show that has struggled in viewership since it premiered back in 2009, despite holding onto a cult following that has if anything only grown more decicated, but the fifth season opener of Community scored 3.49 million viewers which is an all-time low for a season premiere of the show. It’s a real shame too, as this season marks the return of Community’s original creator Dan Harmon as showrunner, after NBC let him go for the fourth season. His absence was very apparent during that season, as the show became wonky and messy without his guidance, but through a minor miracle Harmon has indeed returned to the show, and the season premiere alone is enough to show that the show’s laurels have made an utmost return.

Still though…the show needs to up it’s ratings to get a better chance of scoring another season. Thus, it’s my duty here as a critic and self-proclaimed TV guru to lead you non-Community viewers in the right direction. Thing is, some of you might be a little wary on trying to catch up on the show’s previous 88 episodes in just a few weeks so that you can watch the currently airing one. Not to worry though, as season 5 is already looking to be a great jumping on point, albeit one that will leave one on the outside regarding a few continuity-related jokes and plot points. Here’s my thoughts on the matter about the negatives and positives both method have for tackling Dan Harmon’s meta-show masterpiece.

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Watching the Series from the Start:

Pros: Well, I think the best place to start is to bring up why Community is such a bright star over the network tv hemisphere. The single greatest trait about Community is that it’s a satire of network based sit-coms and their established tropes, while also being a great sit-com it’s own right. Right from the very first season the show makes it clear to the viewers how self-aware it is of being in the bubble of network regulations, but rather than give into cliches and limitations, Community revers in them. The show has a very tongue-in-cheek nature about things, and it parodies sit-com conventions such as bottle-episodes, clip shows, character romance arcs, but does it in such a sly and intelligent manner that it forgoes easy methods such as having characters break the fourth wall, which is a tactic that is frequently used to unfunny effect in Family Guy.

In fact, speaking of Family Guy, I feel that Seth MacFarlane should really take some nods from Community on the proper way to do a show that uses plenty of movie references and 80s nostalgia. Sure, you can tell that Dan Harmon spent a lot of his youth watching 80s television and action movies, but he reiterates these low-brow interests of his in a way that’s always intelligent and surprising. unlike Family Guy, whose writers appear to think nostalgia factor is a viable substitute for being actually funny. In fact, another brilliant facet of the show’s milieu is that this meta-logic is encased in one of it’s characters: Abed Nadir. This character (played by Danni Pudi) is a walking encyclopedia regarding movies, tv, and other forms of media, and in a very clever way he’s the show’s main character, as he is the single most consistent and all-knowing of the ensemble cast.

The show is also very complex regarding it’s characters. It’s an ensemble show with a cast of diverse and colorful characters. Of the central characters, the writing uses their differing views on topics like religion, sex, entertainment, morality and such to convey arguments between them at a degree that you rarely see on TV. Plus, these characters all change over time too, with each season carrying a theme that is explored through the character development. The first season sets up how the characters communicate with each other, the second sees them finally mold into their own unique fit, and the third season was about the characters realizing how they evolved so much over two years because of each other…shit’s deep, man.
So basically, watching Community from the beginning is the best way to get the full experience of the show (duh!). Also, while most of the episodes are self-contained, there is a good sense of continuity to the show, especially near the end of the third season which does have a serialized arc to it. With most episodes coming around just 20 minutes, you can find plenty of time to marathon the show, and get through it relatively quickly. Also, I might even recommend skipping the 4th season altogether.

Cons: Well, it’s a bit much for one to digest the show’s first four seasons (especially as the fourth one is fairly lackluster), and also you can tell that Dan Harmon sees this latest season as a rebirth of sorts. Newcomers may want to see a few episodes of this new-viewer friendly 5th season, before deciding on devouring the preceding ones.

Community -- Season 5

Watching the Series Starting With This Season:

Pros: The premiere of this fifth season is entitled Repilot, and it just fits that name in every way. Not only does it express that the show is going through a resurrection this season, but it also showcases that the show’s self-aware style has been nicely set back in place by Dan Harmon. The four episodes that have aired so far are all among the series best, as they’re funny, creative, and aesthetically appropriate. The fact that Abed has commented that everything is changing, yet also remaining exactly the same speaks volumes too. Hell, if any show on TV is demanding a new audience to jump on board for a later season, it’s Community. Also, I’m sure Dan Harmon and co. would appreciate it if the currently airing season got as many new viewers as possible and fast!

Cons: As said before the show does have a strong amount of continuity. Perhaps the most notable inference is in this week’s past episode that deals with the leaving of Chevy Chase’s character Pierce Hawthorne. The episode’s humor relies on the particular characteristics of Pierce that were established over the previous seasons, and it’s not quite as effective for those not familiar with him. Also, there have been numerous other esoteric curios sprinkled over these last four episodes that probably won’t mean much for the uninitiated.

Conclusion:

Well, you might notice that the pros section for watching the series from the beginning got the most words from me. I feel that a show this special really should be experienced right from the beginning, but it is still very enjoyable if you decide to only start with this season, as it still is an excellent one. Whichever method you choose, do it soon and fast though, as for I honestly feel Community is the closest thing to must-see tv right now. As much as I’m intrigued by True Detective, or eagerly await Girls each Sunday, I still can’t help but feel that Community is just too fresh, well-composed and genuine for me to not call it the best show on TV right now.