The fifth season of “Community” arrives today on DVD. The season was the last one on NBC, but in true “Community” fashion, the show was revived yet again by Yahoo, and production on season 6 is scheduled to begin soon. It’s just another chapter in the ongoing saga of a show with one of the oddest production backstories in recent TV history.
Season 4 saw Dan Harmon fired as showrunner after three tumultuous seasons and replaced by David Guarascio and Moses Port. Episodes ranged from mediocre to terrible, and in an unprecedented move, Harmon was re-hired to oversee the fifth season in hopes of bringing the show back to its second and third season glory days. Unfortunately, this new season rarely hits the highs of the past.
That’s not to say it isn’t funny. The jokes are immediately recognizable as Harmon’s, sharper and more clever and occasionally too strained. The early season episode “Cooperative Polygraphy” is a series high point, which serves to say goodbye to Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase did not return after the 4h season) while also setting up the departure of Troy (Donald Glover, who seems checked out in the few episodes he appears in). The loss of both of those characters is acutely felt, and while Jonathan Banks is a welcome addition to the cast, the show loses much of its energy. The show tries to compensate with an abundance of guest stars such as Walton Goggins, Nathan Fillion, acclaimed showrunner Vince Gilligan and Mitch Hurwitz, Chris Elliott, the comedy duo Tim and Eric, and Brie Larson, and while the guests are often very funny, their presence isn’t enough to fill the void.
It’s not just the chemistry of the cast that suffers; the writing feels off as well. “Community” was always one of the best conceptual shows on television, doing pitch-perfect genre reconstructions while still telling a hilarious, moving story within the framework it had set for itself. Episodes such as "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics" feature lots of laughs, but the mash-up parody of David Fincher movies “Zodiac” and “Seven” feels off in a way the Harmon-led “Community” never felt before, hazily suggesting those films but minus the show’s usual purpose. That very well may be because of schedule and budget constraints, but that lack of polish is noticeable in several episodes.
The final two episodes end on a somewhat dispiriting note, with the energy and drama both feeling forced. Given the way the season limped to the finish line, it's surprising that everyone involved wants to produce more episodes. Hopefully Yahoo will rejuvenate the cast and crew, and bring back the spark that has been missing for a couple of seasons.
The 5th season of Community features excellent audio and visual quality (although noticeably a bit more drab compared to the earlier, higher-budgeted seasons), and the DVD comes with a terrific extra that follows Harmon and his staff as they try to come up with two scripts in 5 days (including the season finale!).
View photos of the “Community” cast and crew in the slideshow above.