I have enjoyed revisiting this utterly brilliant series so much! I've never actually seen the Yahoo seasons, though I'm aware it drifted downhill a little towards the end, but this first season is still an absolute tour de force and some of the funniest TV writing I've found. Despite being almost a decade old, it still feels fresh and inventive, and the characters haven't really aged that much at all (far less than, say, How I Met Your Mother).
The biggest surprise was how quickly the characters slot into their routine. The first episode has elements of a pilot show, particularly with Troy's character, but for the most part it lays a foundation that is never really deviated from. As a result, there's much less "getting to know the characters" going on; if you've seen the show before, by episode two it feels completely familiar, which seems quite rare for an American sitcom and I think speaks to how tight the initial vision for the show was. If anything, I feel like the characters are a little more rounded in the first season than I remember: Pierce has moments of genuine empathy that makes him much more likeable as a character, Annie is already quite sexually manipulative, Abed is much more socially capable than I had expected. I found it fascinating as well that Troy and Abed's relationship is just taken as a fact. Whilst everyone else gets some kind of plot explanation for why they start to become friends, episode two just opens with these two as BFFs and doesn't even try to question it, which is great.
Beyond the characters (all brilliant, all perfectly acted), or the fact that Community introduced some exceptional comedic talents to the world, the first season also contains some absolutely exceptional standalone moments and episodes. The ending skits are fantastic throughout, Abed's ability to seemingly predict the future for a brief period, the meta humour, and of course the paintball episode. My god, it's genius. I must have seen it more than a dozen times already, but with a bit of distance I'd forgotten a lot of the smaller details and subtle moments. Jeff waking up in his car to an apocalyptic campus has strong 28 Days Later vibes; Abed's wall-jump Matrix moment; the bathroom-stall paint outlines; and of course, Chang's paint grenade vest 😂😂😂
Which is all to say that I think this is one of the finest seasons of comedy ever created and I'm incredibly glad to see that I find it just as brilliantly funny, clever, and inventive as I did when it first came out. The main plot may not be all that unusual, but the playfulness of the setting and the subtleties of the meta-humour really make it stand out. It just gets me, completely and utterly, and no matter how great the likes of Rick and Morty or The Avengers arcs are, I'm not sure Dan Harmon or the Russo Brothers will ever really exceed what they created with Community.