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Community, Ep. 5.01-2: “Repilot” struggles, but “Introduction to Teaching” saves the day

Community, Ep. 5.01-2: “Repilot” struggles, but “Introduction to Teaching” saves the day

Community S05E01 promo image, "Repilot"

Community, Season 5, Episode 1, “Repilot”
Written by Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna
Directed by Tristram Shapeero

Community, Season 5, Episode 2, “Introduction to Teaching”
Written by Andy Bobrow
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (EST) on NBC

This week, on Community: The study group gets back together (mostly), Jeff transitions to teacher, and Nicholas Cage breaks Abed

Community makes its triumphant return this week for its fifth season (and given NBC’s current comedy slate, we may actually get a sixth- who would’ve predicted that four years ago?). After the uneven, Dan Harmon-less fourth season, fans are understandably excited for not just the show to be back, but the creator as well. “Repilot” addresses this, referencing a “gas leak” year, but it quickly moves on, more concerned with justifying how the gang will get back together. Harmon and co. are in a tough spot with this- if they keep the group apart at least somewhat and build toward their re-enrollment, they sacrifice the group dynamic that the show is based on, and if they plop the group right back together, their graduation and the growth that led to it is undermined and their post-graduation lives are cut off as potential story arcs.

Harmon and Chris McKenna go with the latter option, understandably, but it’s not particularly satisfying. Of the various offscreen developments, only Britta’s bartending and Annie’s job as a pharmaceutical rep feel particularly believable. Shirley has given up her children, seemingly without a fight? This is not the character we’ve known over the past four seasons. Jeff, once a successful lawyer, has failed immediately upon returning to the workforce? Then there’s the episode’s arc. Jeff once again reverts to the Dark Side before seeing the light in the last act of “Repilot” and, as one might imagine, this is no longer an interesting or in any way compelling story beat. It’s been done to death and even lampshaded by the show- it’s no longer a viable narrative option, at least as far as this viewer is concerned.

Too much of “Repilot” is bogged down in meta commentary. Abed’s breakdown of repiloting is a solid two minute gag- it’s not enough to sustain a full scene, let alone an entire episode. If there were any sense that the group would follow through on their suit or that there would be any fall out whatsoever, this might be a more compelling episode. Instead, Jeff pulls the group’s strings, they dance, and in the end, his heart grows three sizes and he does the right thing after all. It’s a disappointing, forgettable start to the season.

Fortunately, it’s followed by “Introduction to Teaching”, which gets just about everything right that “Repilot” gets wrong. It sets up the new season efficiently and humorously and establishes the show’s slightly altered dynamic, introducing Jonathan Banks’s entertaining Professor Hickey in the process. The episode also gives Abed and Annie interesting things to do (Troy, Britta, and Shirley are less fortunate) while never forgetting to be funny. Banks is an incredibly promising addition to the ensemble; hopefully he’ll be back more frequently than the series’ other guest professors. Speaking of, Kevin Corrigan returns this week to give another delightful assignment, breaking Abed in the process. It’s great to have a professor seemingly get Abed. Garrity’s early warning to him and later appreciation of his genius is a nice change of pace. The episode as a whole works wonderfully to counteract the premiere, leaving viewers laughing and eager for more adventures with the study group; with “Repilot” getting the strained self-aware commentary out of the way, let’s hope we have more episodes like “Introduction to Teaching” to look forward to this season.

What did you think of the two-episode premiere? Anyone else appreciate Abed’s mastery of colored-string data organization? Pierce’s cameo left me cold (though I loved Zach Braff’s)- did it work for you? Which professor are you more eager to see return, Hickey or Garrity? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick