By Curt Wagner, @ShowPatrol
4:44 PM CST, February 6, 2013
It's never easy to be the fan of a TV show that isn't in the Top 10 and gets shoved around more than a nerd in a locker room. But it's been a particularly bumpy ride for fans of NBC's "Community" over the past four years.
The zany sitcom about a study group of nontraditional students at fictional Greendale Community College is well-loved, but not by many. Low ratings have left it in the grip of possible cancellation since its first season. It suffered another indignity in October, when NBC pulled the Season 4 premiere at the last minute and shelved the 13-episode season (7 p.m. Feb. 7, NBC; 3.5 stars out of 4).
And that was only after last year's awkward firing of "Community" creator and showrunner Dan Harmon, which gave fans cause to fret that that his ouster meant the show would lower its freak flag to half-mast.
No worries, folks, the quirky campus comedy is as clever and edgy as ever. As the season begins, the study group engages in a "Hunger Games"-style competition to determine who gets a spot in Greendale's coveted history class. Apparently "History of Ice Cream" is overbooked, which prompts Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) to conduct "The Hunger Deans." The absurd competition gives the dean a few costume changes and a couple of buff, shirtless guys for backup, just in case he swoons too low when Jeff (Joel McHale) takes to the dance floor. (Yes, there will be dancing.)
Abed (Danny Pudi) can't even enjoy the contest, however, because he's nervous that this could be the gang's final year together. That prompts Britta (Gillian Jacobs) to suggest he go to his "happy place," which gives "Community" fans another awesomely trippy meta fantasy scene. This one involved a sitcom called "The Abed Show," complete with a laugh track, the Greendale gang as animated babies and a special guest star stepping in as Pierce. (Chevy Chase, who plays Pierce, isn't in the fantasy scene.)
So much happens in the episode--I haven't even mentioned Annie (Alison Brie) and Shirley's (Yvette Nicole Brown) prank-playing--it's worth a second watch to catch everything. The second episode sent for review, which revolves around Troy (Donald Glover), Abed and Britta (who still is dating Troy) attending a fan convention for "Inspector Spacetime"--the show's nod to "Doctor Who"--was even sharper.
The Greendale gang is back. Speaking for geeks everywhere, I hope it's not for the last time.
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