TV review: “Community” is back in Harmon-y

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From the January 2, 2014 edition

Immediately after creator Dan Harmon was fired and wrapped up his time on “Community” with a pitch perfect narrative in Season 3, I felt the series should’ve ended. Then new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port showed they couldn’t capture what makes “Community” great in Season 4, and I pretended it did end.

Well, I’m glad it didn’t, because NBC hired Harmon back to run the show, and the first three episodes feel just like the “Community” I once loved. The fantastic humor and genuine heart is back. Most of all, the intelligence, in every aspect of the show’s production that was clearly missing without Harmon, is restored.

The first episode (of two airing the premiere night) titled “Repilot,” serves as a reboot for the series. All the familiar characters return but they’re living different lives without the study group. Once the group reunites, the rhythm comes right back while setting up new avenues.

“Community” quickly displays its meta humor. Troy (Donald Glover) bashes Zach Braff for only appearing in six episodes one season of “Scrubs” — “Son of a bitch! After all ‘Scrubs’ did for him?!” See, Glover will only appear in six episodes this season of “Community.” There are multiple references to the “gas leak year” at Greendale that’s clearly meant to dismiss, but not erase, the happenings from last season.

“Repilot” is a fitting, funny and smart way for “Community” to re-enter the Harmon era, but the next two might actually be funnier. When Jonathan Banks (“Breaking Bad”) shows up in the second as a tough-guy teacher, it’s clear he’s a great character actor — comedy or drama — and why he’s a regular cast member. The third episode is a bottle episode and we’ve seen the beautiful madness “Community” can do with those.

One of the slight changes in these episodes is a larger focus on Jeff (Joel McHale). He’s the lead name in the credits, but “Community” is really an ensemble. It’s not a quibble — McHale is really good — and Jeff is back as the grounding force, after being separated from or minimalized in the group a lot last season.

Photo courtesy NBC