After a purgatorial Summer of speculation on how to keep "Community" fresh, the season premiere of the kickoff to Thursday night's NBC comedy block was a curveball right out of the gate. Thankfully, the early gimmick simmered down to a familiar format and pacing, albeit with a gathering of developments that should prove interesting for the coming school year.
The gang of unlikely cohorts returns to Greendale for another semester, and the show opens on Jeff flying through the air and singing about how this is going to be the best year ever. Cut to Shirley and the dean in matching Dreamgirls gowns, and a full-on "Glee" musical number that finds everyone promising to be less weird than the first two years combined. Promises of things both good and bad for the year to come – including Jeff and Annie sleeping together (you make your own call which column that one fits in).
See for yourself:
Now for the developments: Chevy Chase's Pierce Hawthorne character is gone… or is he? Troy & Abed finally announce that… they're moving in together. Not what everyone was expecting. Except wait, Pierce is back, much to Jeff's chagrin. The perpetually self-aware Hollywood lawyer cannot bear the thought of another year vying for attention with a geriatric, so he devises a scheme in which he claims they're friends now, not just a study group, and uses that logic to abandon their elderly counterpart. It backfires, however, when he's kicked out of Biology class for his annoying phone and the class moves on without him – because of his own "evolved" friends principle.
Oh, and Chang is living in the ventilation shaft, with no job and no home. Welcome back!
Dean Pelton has apparently grown a large set of cajones along with his new facial hair, making an enemy in the vice dean of Greendale’s air conditioning program, played by John Goodman. The dean's new confidence only lasts long enough for Goodman to have his loud, forceful way with him, however. Soon he is reduced from this newly arrogant shot-caller to a smooth-chinned wheezy man of misfortune, as we remember him.
Abed's heartbroken because "Cougartown" has been moved to midseason, which is never a good sign. Britta found him an old 90s British show called "Cougerton Abbey" that served as the inspiration for his favorite show, but it only lasts six episodes, so he's back at square one when all the characters drink hemlock and kill themselves. This rattles our strange little ant-man. His nerves are settled, however, when he's introduced to the ancient "Inspector Space Time," a ridiculously terrible show Abed considers to be "the greatest thing I've ever seen." Crisis averted, and harmless subplot quota filled.
Jeff gets dosed with monkey gas while chasing Chang through the vents, and proceeds to trip nightmarishly before coming to his senses. He returns to the group with his damning evidence of Pierce's meddling, hoping to get him kicked out of the group once and for all, but again this backfires – and leads to some racial finger-pointing in the process. Surprisingly, Pierce lies to save him, which rekindles their… awkward acquaintance.
Somehow, this giant intertwining series of surreal rabbit-holes ends up with Jeff driving an axe through the study table, and Chang becoming the school's new security guard.
"So this is the year we all die." Jeff quips.
Maybe, but it could also be the year that "Community" wins an Emmy. No promises, but the producers/writers/talent's dedication to breaking outside their own box and establishing an invigorating start to the season is highly promising. Really looking forward to next week's episode.