⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 5 reviews.

tl;dr: Season one is a meta-humour comedy masterpiece, with an exceptional cast and so many inventive, out-of-the-box ideas it's baffling. From there, it's a bit up-and-down, but it stays just as loveable, exciting, and entertaining throughout. Plus, paintball... 'nuff said!

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

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.

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

In typically meta fashion, Abed bluntly states that he is hoping for their second "season" to be more about zany, one-off adventures (a la Paintball) than intergroup romances or more typical sitcom fare, and that's exactly what we get. I'd forgotten how much of a departure the second season was, in fact, almost feeling like a total reinvention at times. After an opening couple of episodes where we wrap up the Britta, Annie, Geoff triangle, relationships are largely shoved to one side and replaced with episodic homages to particular movies, genres, or pop culture moments. We get political drama satires, mafia outings, a direct parody of The Secret Garden, a space episode (brilliantly done), even a Lord of the Rings D&D outing and a Halloween zombie outbreak. Each is fun in its own way, and character growth does still happen around the edges, but it seemed a bit odd.

I don't know whether it took me a while to warm to the new format or whether the second half of the season is just better, but about halfway I did start wondering if Community had really been a one-season-wonder that just coasted on some initial good ideas. The "bottle" episode was a particular low point, even if that was the point, it still led to a fairly tedious affair. Following that, however, it really began to turn around. Whilst the second round of paintball isn't anywhere near as good as the first, the Western/Star Wars tropes were a lot of fun (also, Sawyer 😁), and actually allowed space for interpersonal relationships to flourish alongside shenanigans. The "never before seen" clip show was a genuinely clever use of a sitcom trope, whilst other later plots (like Shirley's pregnancy) just seemed to fit the characters better.

The exception to that was Pierce, who increasingly was given the cold shoulder and turned into a villain. Whilst I remember that of the show (as well as the real-world fighting that led to it), I had been pleasantly surprised how human his character could be in season one. That's all gone at this point; they reduced his character to such a low level that even the emotional punch of the final episode didn't really make me want him to return. It felt a little too heavy-handed, in other words.

At the same time, the show just didn't make me laugh as much. It's still funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny in the same way (or with the same pace, at least). It's somehow much less memorable, too, despite the upped antics and theoretically more impressive stories. Perhaps that just shows that character connections last longer, or maybe I just understand less of the references. Either way, I still think it's a great show with a brilliant cast and some exceptional out-of-the-box storytelling; it's just, perhaps, not quite as good as the first season set up had implied.

Season Three

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

The third season feels like more of a return to form in some ways, but overall hits some bum notes. On the one hand, the renewed focus on interpersonal character development makes it feel a lot more real and engaging, which is a real bonus. Episodes like Foosball are almost a return to the first-season narrative structure (even with slightly odd anime sequences), with characters like Shirley and Pierce getting much more rounded storylines.

Unfortunately, the opposite can be said for both Chang and Abed, whose characters are taken to their (il)logical extremes. Chang is now fully insane and whilst I did enjoy his rise to power, and the subsequent expulsion plotline, I think they could have got there with slightly less absurdity and more actual planning on his part. Compare the Chang that ends up dating a mannequin leg to the slightly-angry teacher of season one and... yeah, maybe a bit of shark-jumping has gone on here 🦈

Abed gets an even worse straw, flipping from neuro-atypical but high-functioning oddball to full-blow and serious psychiatric issues. Again, I enjoyed the conclusion of this arc, both his evil Abed hallucinations episode and his group-therapy clip-show callback, but the way we get there just feels forced and a massive disservice to what had been a deeply nuanced and really interesting character. Season one Abed is perfectly comfortable with social interactions and accepting of his own world views as different; season two is a highly capable individual consistently leading a normal life outside of the group; season three he has multiple breakdowns, panic attacks, and psychotic episodes. I liked Abed's character because he's never pigeon-holed into a specific "disorder": he's just him, the study group accepts that, and so does he. It's quirky and a little annoying at times, but not a risk, which feels real and allows the writers to make nuanced and interesting storylines around him without treading on the toes of a specific diagnosis or community. Unfortunately, season three throws a lot of that out of the window and turns him into either a punchline or an antagonist, depending on what the story currently needs, which feels self-serving and a little problematic.

Which is a shame, because at other times Abed's intellect and world views are used perfectly, like the amazing Remedial Chaos Theory episode that shows the parallel timelines and creation of the "evil universe". It's a great episode that still holds up (though possibly is a little repetitive on rewatch at times) and an ideal use of his character to tell a unique story. Similarly, the video game episode is just so much fun to watch! Not only is a really quirky concept executed extremely well, but the small details, such as Troy jumping everywhere, just had me in stitches. Perfection!

On top of which, the documentary episode about the Dean's new school commercial is excellent and highlights just how great Jim Rash is as both an actor and character by this point. The Glee homage is a fun Christmas take, the Law & Order episode is one of the best straight-parodies they've done in a while, the Subway-human character is brilliant, and I even enjoyed the bizarre air conditioning school/Troy is a messiah subplot that ran throughout, but it still feels bitty as a season overall because of the odd character decisions the show keeps making.

Still, by the end of things I did find season three more enjoyable overall than season two in some ways. Abed aside, the core characters all felt more human and like they had clear arcs; the romance between Troy and Britta was fun to watch evolve; and the individual episodes all felt like they had value beyond their specific window of run time. I also found it a bit funnier. Less meta, sure; less high-concept, definitely. But still, more jokes landed and I generally had more fun watching it as a result. A mixed bag overall, but still worth the time.

Season Four

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Unpopular opinion incoming: season four was a return to Community form in my eyes 😬 I know, I know: it's the season that they replaced all the main writers, producers etc. to appease Chase and a few execs, before losing Chase anyway and writing him off the show in the latter part of the season, so it does have a slightly stilted vibe. But still, I enjoyed it a lot. Was it quite as inventive? No. Did it finally give the characters a bit of breathing space? Absolutely.

Abed is back to being Abed. Annie is less over-the-top. Piers (whilst around) shows some likeable characteristics. Britta is still a bit dense, but even she gets thrown a bone or two. Heck, they even managed to get Chang back into a position where his character is manageable again, whilst tying together some stranded plot points from previous seasons. And it does all that whilst still being fairly creative. The Inspector Spacetime convention is great (plus some amazing cameos, particularly a pre-Doctor Who Matt Lucas 😁), the haunted-mansion Halloween episode is a lot of fun, the dinner party where they tie up the History teacher, the puppet episode in the woods: all brilliant. And then there's the Freaky Friday mashup, which is just such amazing acting from Donald Glover (particularly) and Danny Pudi; easily one of the top episodes ever.

The only big negative is that the show just... stops. It doesn't feel like a season-ending, really, and certainly not a character arc ending for Jeff. It's fun in some ways, but I'm also not convinced the evil-timeline/paintball plot works. Don't get me wrong, the Matrix moment Jeff gets is great, but it falls apart at the same time. Bizarrely, I think the plot works best whilst it's actually happening, before you find out everything is in Jeff's mind. It certainly takes a great moment away from Abed, but it also doesn't quite make sense. Jeff ends up imagining parts for characters which he can't know, such as the fact that Abed hallucinated/met his evil version already, yet which play out to be pivotal plot points. As I say, fun, but ultimately a bit of a reach and feels like they were just desperately pulling ideas out of earlier seasons without much scaffolding.

Which I think is a fair criticism of the whole season: it borrows too heavily from earlier episodes and arcs. I didn't need the Germans to return (and they missed the obvious World War jokes which that storyline should have had), or another paintball thing, or some of the other small parts. But an origin story was more unique and Abed's double-date was fun and, well, overall I laughed a lot, enjoyed it whilst it lasted, and would have been happy to see more.

Season Six

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

So Greendale has gone to Yahoo!.. and I'm not sure if it was worth it. Let's start with the good: what remains of the OG cast continue to feel more rounded and less like self-parodies (a la season three); new girl Frankie (Paget Brewster who is bizarrely recognisable given I only know her personally from a bit part in Friends as Chandler's early girlfriend) is great and allows the show some new angles; and new guy Elroy is fun enough, neatly filling the Pierce-shaped hole. In many ways, I wish Frankie and Elroy had been characters from the start, as both feel grounded and interesting.

From a story perspective, I really enjoyed the episode where the Dean gets invited onto the school board as a "token gay" but then battles with "gay" being too closeted for his own lived experience, whilst Chang goes on to star in a breakout performance as Mr. Miyagi in a community theatre version of The Karate Kid. It treads the line between character development and ridiculous antics really well. I also thought the resurgence of Paintball as an underground, semi-illegal game was fun, and made better use of the tropes otherwise a little wasted in the first episode's "speakeasy" gags.

But, you could tell that the continued loss of cast members was taking its toll. Shirley gets a brief but fun cameo in a recurring bit about the show being on cable (as opposed to the normal closing bits, a change that was fun but reeked of Interdimensional Cable, which I personally think is fairly weak sauce), but both Hickey and Duncan are just never heard of again. That's a particular shame, because season six still heavily relies on the "save Greendale committee" concept, only now with Jeff and Chang as the only teachers.

The result is an increasing reliance on leaning on the side-characters around the edges, with several being given far more by the way of speaking roles, and even having a whole episode centred around Garrett's wedding. On the face of it, that's fine, but it never really lands that well. We also see them desperately reassigning character quirks from the missing group members, mainly into Britta and Annie. The latter gets off feeling quite fun and I enjoyed seeing her and Abed become increasingly close friends, but by this stage Britta is just annoying. The decision to reveal her parents and have her home life be incredibly normal just makes her feel even more ridiculous and less likeable. Plus, the show has firmly given up on allowing these characters to have proper redemption arcs, instead just seeing Britta and Jeff effectively give in and accept they're stuck now. I guess, in its own way, that's an ending... but it isn't a particularly fun or memorable one.

Personally, I'd have loved them to bring back Troy for an episode (particularly seeing as it seemed to be heavily teased right at the start, with a rare moment of brilliance around Frankie's steel-drum solo) to provide some kind of closure to the group, but alas no such luck.

The result is a fun, perfectly enjoyable final season, but not one that feels necessary viewing, even for high-level fans. Despite some genuinely excellent cameos (Matt Berry, Jay Chandrasekhar, Jason Mantzoukas) very few of the bits feel all that innovative, and once again the recycled gags like paintball and the Subway mascot-man feel the most interesting. I think it's safe to say that Community had a solid run and now that run is over. I'm still hopeful for a movie (#sixseasonsanda) but I'm no longer sure I need one.

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