Tuesday, March 17, 2015

REVIEW: 'Community' - Abed Bonds with an Administrative Consultant While Jeff, Annie & Britta Resist Change in 'Ladders'

Yahoo Screen's Community - Episode 6.01 "Ladders"

Dean Pelton hires an administrative consultant to organize things at Greendale.

It certainly has been a wild and distinct journey getting to this point as Community has officially started its sixth season. It's rather miraculous really. Yahoo Screen swooped in at the last possible minute to order 13 more episodes. That brings the beloved comedy over the 100 episode benchmark and also means fans got the six seasons part of #SixSeasonsAndAMovie. It's still questionable whether or not a movie will come - or if Yahoo will actually order a seventh season of the show. But right now, it's important to just feel good about being back at Greendale again.

Greendale and the students, teachers and facility who go there certainly have changed a lot over the years. Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jonathan Banks and John Oliver have all left the cast now. That's disappointing because the show at its peak was about the wild adventures of this specific study group at a community college. And now, that group is changing yet again because several actors have moved on to other engagements. Brown left to care for her ailing father and is also a regular on CBS' new The Odd Couple while Banks and Oliver are doing phenomenal work on AMC's Better Call Saul and HBO's Last Week Tonight respectively. The gang is still going strong at Greendale. But now, it has to evolve.

Community has been no stranger to meta humor. "Ladders" definitely swings into that source for laughs for most of its running time. Surprisingly most of the meta stuff comes from the cast turnover and not the bigger move from NBC to Yahoo Screen. That intrigues me. Did the creative team only want to focus on one of those talking points because addressing both would just be too much? Shirley is now gone and she's the only one to be given an explanation over her disappearance. Abed wants to believe that she has been spun off to her own show. But that's simply not the case. In a case of art imitating life, Shirley has left Greendale in order to care for her father. Of course, things aren't that simple. She also has booked a new job as a private chef for a wheelchair-bound detective in the Louisiana bayou. That eventually builds to a fantastic tag sequence showcasing a highly dramatized story about Shirley's new life. It's fantastic and she got the spin-off that Abed wanted to give her. Sure, it likely won't last considering the concluding promo boasts an NBC logo (and NBC has no comedy brand at all at the moment). But that's besides the point because the parody of it all was fantastic and allowed one more glimpse of Shirley now that she's no longer around full time. Plus, Steven Weber is always a reliable addition.

Meanwhile, back at Greendale, school is starting up again and the group soon learns that they forgot one thing during their Save Greendale campaign last season - removing all the frisbees from the roof. That leads to the roof caving in on the cafeteria almost immediately. Greendale students really must learn how to play frisbee if they are going to be shown doing it all the time. But that's besides the point. The aftermath means that Dean Pelton has brought in a consultant on administration, Frankie, to help make Greendale a better community college. She comes in from the real world. She has no quirks and hopes to bring a sense of normalcy back to the school. Jeff, Britta and Annie worry that Frankie will remove the thing from Greendale that makes the school Greendale.

Frankie is also basically the polar opposite of Abed. The rest of the gang is most worried about him being unable to deal with the change she plans. That's just not the case though. Abed is able to get along perfectly with Frankie. He is able to work in the way that she needs him too while still getting the montage that he wanted from working on the school. Sure, it's different than the typical type of montage but it's still really funny. He gets along with her and she presents a better connection to the real world that is supportive of him and his point-of-view than the rest of the school community.

At this point, it's too easy for Community to call Abed the only wacky one. Everyone else has embraced the Greendale lifestyle. While Abed is working hard with Frankie, everyone else is creating a speakeasy behind Shirley's Sandwiches. Everything else has been a part of Greendale, so it feels about right that a speakeasy has finally joined the building. It's a fun atmosphere that helps showcase the comedic chemistry between Jeff, Annie, Britta and Abed. The cast changes have happened but it is still immensely satisfying to see these original members of the study group just having a good time hanging out with each other. They just fully embraced the speakeasy lifestyle and it was just fun and simple humor. Of course, the premise of the episode still has to kick in eventually with Frankie embracing the role as the police busting the place. She is simply a character who doesn't know what kind of environment she has just walked into. And yet, it's important that we got that scene showcasing that Greendale is the only place that would let her come in and basically be the leader of administrative change. She needs Greendale as much as Greendale needs her. That's the crucial part of her addition to the show. I still don't know if she's the most natural fit for the ensemble but she at least had a purpose and a character arc in this opening episode. Now, let's see of the season can get the momentum going.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Ladders" was written by Dan Harmon & Chris McKenna and directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo.
  • Dean Pelton over the intercom: "Welcome back to Greendale, now ranked fifth on Colorado's alphabetical listing of community colleges." Well, we just got confirmation that Greendale actually is in Colorado.
  • Okay, when is Diane actually going to show up? Also, what the heck does Diane do? Besides receive emails of course!
  • Despite the cast turnover, Ken Jeong is still around and still has no purpose whatsoever. Community stopped knowing what to do with Chang after Season 1 and he still stands out in a weird and awkward way.
  • Pelton using the phone call excuse in order to avoid responsibility was a solid comedic beat for the character in an episode with little use for him.
  • So, is Britta homeless now? Yes, she's still the worst but her living in a tent in front of Greendale is just sad.
  • How long is Annie going to be stuck in that neck brace?
  • Nathan Fillion also returns for a cameo appearance as the school janitor trying to bride Jeff into doing something for covert cleaning services of the speakeasy. It's weird but still fun.
  • Two episodes of Community's sixth season were released on Yahoo Screen today and this is only a review of the first one - in case you didn't catch that earlier. A separate post will go up on the second episode sometime tomorrow afternoon.