In the strong latest – and possibly last – season of "Community," we've been treated to a cutthroat campus competition called "The Dean Games," a sitcom fantasy sequence featuring a laugh track and Fred Willard in Chevy Chase’s place, and a Sadie Hawkins dance starring Sophie B. Hawkins.
But compared to the first three seasons, this year’s outing of the NBC comedy, so far comes across as more whimsical than surreal – which, in the eccentric world of "Community," is perilously close to normal.
That's why we're looking forward to Thursday's episode, in which the Greendale Community College crew is transformed into puppet-like figures – offering “Community” a new chance to pull our strings.
To the uninitiated, buzz-worthy past season episodes – featuring a zombie attack, an epic paintball fight, a labyrinthine blanket fort and a secret trampoline where hours and worries bounce away – might sound, at best, like quirky gimmicks. But the devices helped give offbeat comedic life to creator Dan Harmon's vision of a school that's less a place to learn than for misfits to hide.
The very best “Community” episodes employ high-concept artifice to strike at truths. The Christmas Claymation installment from Season 2, which was really about pop culture obsessive Abed's (Danny Pudi) way of processing his broken family life, proved as oddly poignant as oddly funny. Ditto for last season's episode in which Chase's Pierce Hawthorne and his classmates become characters trapped in a 1980s video game as he virtually topples his rich, domineering – and dead – father.
Daddy issues, a thread through the show’s run, have played out in a more literal form this season, the first since Harmon's bitter departure
from “Community.” Joel McHale's fake lawyer character Jeff Wenger finally met his real father (portrayed by James Brolin) at a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving reunion. Bickering Jeff and Pierce, more alike than they’d care to admit, finally took steps toward a father-son-like friendship, bonding in an old-school barbershop.
Those grounded scenes offered fine and necessary character development, especially as the fan favorite with middling ratings
whittles down to what could be its last five episodes. If “Community” does return for a fifth season, it likely will be without Chase, who quit
amid complaints about a show that’s given him a platform for some of the most memorable performances
of his career.
In the meantime, we're primed for another “Community”-style strange trip, which, judging from the preview below, looks like “Land of the Lost” meets “Sesame Street,” complete with songs. Check out the clip, featuring guest star Jason Alexander as a mountain man – and Greendale alum – sprouting hair George Costanza would have quit the Yankees for:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.
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