The first episode of the season, History 101, was not as strong a return as I would have hoped considering how long we waited, but it was a good episode overall. There was a lot of concern, of course, for those who have been following the behind-the-scenes troubles of the show.
To summarise, for thos who don’t know, the series was at risk of getting cancelled, but a new season was finally ordered, with less episodes, but ordered, at least. Dan Harmon, the creator of Community, was fired from the show, so that certainly created fear in the minds of the very loyal fan base of the show, that the ship would be steered in the wrong direction without its fearless commander. Certainly the new show-runners, Moses Port and David Guarascio, have very, very big shoes to fill. And of course, there are the off-screen antics of Chevy Chase, who has long expressed his distaste of working on the show, and especially working with Dan Harmon. But despite Harmon’s firing, Chevy was still whining, and has now left the show after a mutual decision between himself and those involved in the show’s production. Unfortunately, he left before the season was actually finished filming, so we’ll have to see how that plays out.
So, with all that in mind, I (like many others, I’m sure), approached the premiere episode excited, but with some amount of trepidation. Straight off the bat, the jokes were incredibly cheesy, and there was a fucking laugh track! Thankfully, this was just a fantasy playing out in Abed’s head, a fantasy that was taking a not so subtle dig at some of Community‘s bitter ratings rivals, like the awful, awful The Big Bang Theory that it airs against on Thursday nights. In Abed’s fantasy, too, the part of Pierce Hawthorne had been recast as Fred Willard. A joke that I’m sure existed before Chevy leaving the show, but one that plays out even better knowing what has happened.
The core of the episode featured a neat The Hunger Games parody, with Dean Pelton hosting “The Hunger Deans”, a series of games to win balls that would grant the winners access to the only History class the college was offering, the History of Ice Cream. Seeing the previews for History 101 before its airing, one could be forgiven for thinking that the show had become what many feared with the departure of Dan Harmon, a series of silly pop-culture references without the heart which the show is really best at capturing. Thankfully, “The Hunger Deans” weren’t as heavily focused on as one might have thought from the previews, with the games being used a backdrop for the story itself.
Jeff had been taking extra classes during the break, and only needs one more History credit to graduate, meaning he would be leaving the college earlier than the rest of the study group. But his intent is to win a ball for each member of the group, so that they could all take the class together. If he can’t win 7 balls, then he won’t take the class. But he gives his all to get those balls, including dancing the tango with the Dean, in a brilliantly crafted scene. Meanwhile, Abed is trapped inside his own head, living in a world of a shitty multi-camera sitcom, where fuck-ups at the college mean they will all be staying there indefinitely, fulfilling what Abed really wants, for the group to stay together forever. This leads to a great joke where the fantasy Abed begins his own fantasy where the study group is realised as a cartoon, Greendale Babies, an excellent Muppet Babies take-off.
The cast is still just as strong as ever. Jim Rash as the Dean had a lot to do in this episode, and is as wonderful as ever. As is Joel McHale, a strong leading man who holds the show together well, and will hopefully continue to get great parts once Community is sadly gone. The rest of the cast didn’t have a huge amount to do here. There was a strong scene between Britta and Troy making wishes at a fountain, but the focus was on Jeff, and Abed’s fantasies. The tone of some of the episode was surprisingly dark, which I enjoyed. The Greendale Babies material was well executed. The jokes involving Pierce trying to find the perfect ball joke fell a little flat, but not everything is going to work when you have new guys calling the shots.
All in all, a good start to the season. Not great, but good. Hopefully, it won’t be long before the show find its feet and becomes the great show we know and love again.
Greendale Babies for life! And hopefully Chang (or “Kevin”) overcomes his Changnesia.
3 1/2 out of 5