Community Season 6 Premiere Review: “Ladders” and “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care”
Season 6, Episode 1 and 2.
Good shows change.
#SixSeasonsAndAMovie. #SixSeasonsAndAMovie. Six Seasons…and then what?
It’s a question that Community attempts to try to answer, but not one that it is able to get to the core of, at least in the first two episodes of season six.
It’s a question the show struggled with at the end of last season. With Greendale fixed, is it actually worth something? It turns out that yes, it is, with Yahoo resurrecting the show in the real world, after Subway’s failed takeover at the end of last season (a point which seemed odd to not mention at all this season).
And it’s that very struggle with reality, or at least the reality of the show, that the first two episodes – “Ladders” and “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care” attempt to bring into focus. What will Community look like on Yahoo Screen? What will the show become with Dan Harmon not having to answer to NBC executives? Fans have been asking for a sixth season for so long, but now that’s it is actually here, what will it feel like? The show that was always on the precipice of being cancelled has now been given carte blanche to finally answer some of these questions, without (at least, it seems) fear of being cancelled yet again.
And while Community did get the lucky break of being pulled from the grave by Yahoo, the show again had to deal with the departure of a cast member or two, this time with Yvette Nicole Brown leaving her role as Shirley (though not without a cameo at the end of “Ladders”), and Jonathan Banks returning to Better Call Saul, leaving Buzz Hickey also absent.
And as Chang (Ken Jeong) pointed out, it meant another person of color leaving the group, setting up what was probably one of “Ladders” best scenes, even if it was already mostly played out in the season trailer. The whole “Jeff as leader of the white people” and the Dean (Jim Rash) introducing Francesca Dart (Paget Brewster) as a the new Shirley is exactly the kind of in-joke that Community pulls off very well, while quickly addressing the staffing changes behind the scenes.
Frankie was brought in as Greendale’s new CFO (which the show didn’t really make crystal clear and instead relied on a joke to get out of explaining her role, which felt like a place where a little more clarity actually could be used), due to a ceiling collapse brought on by the abundance of Frisbees that had collected on the roof over the course of the school’s history.
Beside a really cool shot of the Frisbees breaking down the door (I’m curious how they got that one), the Frisbee bit was a giant wasted opportunity. Leonard’s (Richard Erdman) flashback was pointless, and the Frisbees were just a plot device to get things rolling instead of actually developing into something. Perhaps it was a disconnect between thinking the Frisbees would turn into some paintball level of Community gamesmanship and what really happened, but it just felt like an unnecessary throw away gag.
Instead, the plot focused on Frankie and Abed (Danny Pudi) pairing off against the trio of Jeff (Joel McHale), Britta (Gillian Jacobs), and Annie (Alison Brie). It’s a paring that the episode never manages to sell – Abed is still a student isn’t he? – so why he ends up being hired by Frankie is beyond me (either that or the being fired bit as just a throwaway line). I also don’t buy how quickly he would turn on the rest of the group, a group that really has continually supported and been there for Abed. It’s something he’s always seem to have known and understood, so to have him so quickly drop them for somebody who doesn’t even own a TV was quite out of character.
Frankie does give us an interesting view at just how weird Greendale is: When Jeff mentions that he can’t teach sober she immediately offers her help whenever he needs it if he actually has a drinking problem. That might be her best use the whole episode: using her as a foil to these characters we know and love and are used to understanding how they operate. We forget how the characters (and as an extension, the show) can be viewed to people who aren’t running around chanting the Greendale fight song, and Frankie is a opportunity to see some of these characters with a new light.
With Frankie trying to take over the committee, Britta, Jeff, and Annie rebel against her….just because? Because Annie didn’t like Frankie’s binder, because she implied she was a bitch, and because Jeff had his free alcohol in the teacher’s lounge taken away. Or something. It was a premise on thin ice as it was, but then the late-in-the episode speakeasy bit just felt rushed, and didn’t develop as organically as the normal bits the show pulls off. It might actually have been because the stint was pulled off without Abed, normally the one stretching the reality of the show. Instead we saw the (more) serious characters trying to pull of something that just didn’t really fit.
Within all these we had a series of montages focused on how boring the real world was through Abed. Him changing t-shirts in an attempt to make the montage more interesting was a good gag, and the show was desperate in the attempt to try to set up the whole “reality” of the show in the speakeasy and the reality of real life and office work. It just didn’t make sense why these push and pull was something that Abed was facing now, or why he was even rebelling against the antics and instead trying to take the boring and safe route with Frankie.
And, on purpose or not, the “We’re sorry” montage just felt too similar to the BP “We’re sorry” montage that South Park did a few seasons back. The joke also probably didn’t need a fifth montage to sell it: Abed’s first two were clever, but the joke really hit the wall of diminishing returns with the school-wide binge fest (and did we really need to have Annie get injured?) and the sorry montage. Just because you have those extra minutes online doesn’t mean you need to devote them to the same joke over and over again!
After bringing Frankie back, though, the school seems to realize it needs somebody who can actually keep things afloat. I can’t figure out what Leonard and Garrett (Erik Charles Nielsen) were doing there at the end, and I’m still struggling a bit with the focus on the committee (as Abed pointed out, the only loose thread connecting these people still), given that the whole point of last season was that Greendale was saved already. And it was saved in real life too, so I’m not sure how long we can keep trying to save something over and over again.
I knew I was going to be on the fence with the second episode, and I’m still don’t think the VR plot was really a good topic for the show. It ended up winning me over – a bit at least – but it still felt a bit off and a tad unCommunity. Community doesn’t normally pick time-sensitive things to riff on, and it’s usually quite a bit smarter with what it does say, instead of repeating “VR is stupid and silly” over and over, which is pretty much all that plot amounted to. How funny would it be if the Dean just waved his arms around in a VR machine for an entire plot? Better than expected, at least.
In fact, the VR bit probably would have meshed, thematically at least, a bit better in the first episode, when put up against Abed’s own struggles with the reality of the group changing and the fabric of reality, it could have at least had some larger use than it ended up having. VR is cumbersome. We get it. Moving on…
It did, however, introduce us to Elroy (Keith David), who will be filing in as the last member of the group, and who fans will probably recognize as the voice over from the amazing Civil War episode. He wasn’t around enough to really get a read on his character or where the show will be taking him, but all the previews have shown him filling in that last spot at the table.
I’m also still not really sure why Britta moved in with Abed and Annie, or how much sense any of them living together makes anymore with Troy ( Donald Glover) makes anymore. The best line of thinking I can come up with is that Britta somehow got poor (er?) by running Shirley’s Sandwiches, and that throwing them all in together gives them another excuse for being together if the committee idea does go by the wayside.
Despite the fact her move didn’t make much sense, I did like her arc and meeting her parents, even if I felt it did take a little liberty with rewriting the past. Sure, it makes sense that Britta would be borrowing money from her friends, but Community is usually smarter than this and had a seed planted somewhere seasons ago (if they did, I can’t think of one) instead of just making it this inside joke that the audience hasn’t been in on this whole time.
The resolution was also way too forced. Years of resentment were all changed by a few words from Frankie, which felt more like a way to give her character something to do and have a meaningful impact before she really earned being able to influence the group in any actually impactful way. And Britta couldn’t have picked ANYBODY else’s car but Frankie? Not buying it.
The show tried to pull everything together – with the Dean’s nonsensical (but humorous) change speech at the end – but ended up doing so in only a cursor dip into the pool of depth that Community normally has. Looking at the two episodes neither had much to say on the topic, and sadly, doesn’t bring that many laughs along for the ride, either.
Both episodes were more clever than hilarious, but it does seem weird to have two episodes of Community pass by without breaking out laughing at least once. It was consistently filled with some good lines, but just couldn’t manage to tip itself into great or amazing. Community always seems to struggle out of the gate of each season, and there was enough quick wit here to not dismiss the season as a whole, but it’s not near Community at its best… yet.
Community releases every Tuesday at 12:01 PST, starting March 17, on Yahoo Screen.
Notes and quotes (episode 1):
-“She spun off.”
-“I’m going to name one of my sandwiches after her. My sandwiches suck.”
-“Are you sure she wasn’t being sweetly condescending?”
-“I second Annie’s movement.”
-“Blood oath to defy evil.
-“Don’t think of it as bad baking think of it as a crushing blow to gender stereotypes.”
“Britta is a rich genius with super powers and she’s going to live on our sofa for no reason.”
-“The cost to shenanigans ratio was too high.”
-“Are you strong or angry?”
-“And now you’re living in homes within campers within parking lots.”
-“Until arson is legal, sweetie.”
-Did anybody else have any streaming problems? I had a few sound sync errors (across two computers), so hopefully those get sorted out on the back end in the coming episodes.