Judge Erich Asperschlager's shoes are untied, by British standards.
Our reviews of Community: The Complete First Season (published September 20th, 2010), Community: The Complete Second Season (published September 6th, 2011), Community: The Complete Third Season (published August 14th, 2012), and Community: The Complete Fourth Season (published August 6th, 2013) are also available.
"Oh look! It's Jeff Winger, fun police, here to pull over our smiles 'cause our mouths have tinted windows."
Sometimes I envy people who will discover Community years from now, after the series is done and available in its entirety on whichever online service wins the Great Streaming War of 2025. Those viewers will be able binge-watch all six seasons and the movie in a week, never knowing the pain and occasional elation of being a Community fan in real time.
The stress of loving a show on the perpetual bubble culminated at the end of Season Three with the firing of series creator Dan Harmon. Fans went through the five stages of grief during the so-so Season Four, accepting the series' demise just in time for the astounding news that the ousted Harmon would be back for Season Five. The roller coaster didn't end there. Great as the new episodes were, the excitement was dampened by Donald Glover leaving mid-way through a short season that ended with NBC canceling Community once and for all. Sadness gave way to joy with rumblings that the show would go to Hulu, followed quickly by sadness when those talks fell apart. As of now, the fanbase is at DEFCON "cautiously optimistic" thanks to the announcement that Yahoo! has picked up the show for a fabled sixth season. What will it be? Will it even happen? Time will tell. How better to pass the time while we wait for the other shoe to drop than with the totally real and in canon Community: The Complete Fifth Season DVD set.
Facts of the Case
Season Five offers up 13 episodes over two discs.
Community's fifth season might not be the best the show has ever been, but these baker's dozen episodes are proof positive that Harmon's neurotic genius is key to its success. Season Four ended with the study group graduating and moving on. Season Five finds a reason to bring them back in a post-graduate capacity, with Jeff as a teacher and everyone working to fix the school as the "Save Greendale Committee." The loose structure leaves plenty of room for the series staple genre-bending episodes, including "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"; this year's paintball equivalent "Geothermal Escapism"; the David Fincher pastiche "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics"; and a dead-on parody of '80s kids? cartoons in "G.I. Jeff."
The set-up also makes room for a newcomer to fill the grouchy middle-aged hole left by the departure of Chevy Chase's Pierce. After being one of the best things about Breaking Bad, Jonathan Banks is one of the best things about Community Season Five, as Criminology professor / frustrated cartoonist Buzz Hickey. It's not entirely clear why a hard-nosed former cop would join forces with the study group, but he creates just enough friction to generate laughs. It's almost enough to distract from the loss this season of two original cast members.
Chevy Chase left the series midway through Season Four, but his absence is made more permanent this season with Pierce Hawthorne's death. After throwing the group into turmoil one last time with a post-funeral polygraph test—administered by guest star Walt Goggins—Pierce paves the way for Donald Glover's departure by offering Troy the chance to become his own man by sailing around the world. The loss of Glover is a tough pill to swallow. His Troy and Danny Pudi's Abed were responsible for many of the series' best moments. We got a taste of them growing apart in Season Four when Troy dated Britta for some reason, but now it's really over. To the writers' credit, the show handles Glover leaving pretty well. "Geothermal Escapism" is a classic episode not only because it apes post-apocalyptic movies like Waterworld and The Road Warrior, but for the way it frames the campus-wide "hot lava" contest through Abed coming to terms with losing his best friend.
Some of the other genre episodes are more frivolous, but no less fun. "G.I. Jeff" perfectly emulates the cheaply animated G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoons and toy commercials, turning Jeff, Britta, Annie, Shirley, and Abed into G.I. Joe characters codenamed Wingman, Buzzkill, Tight Ship, Three Kids, and Fourth Wall. They are joined by actual characters from the '80s series, with some original voice actors reprising their roles. It's wild to see the Greendale crew going toe-to-toe (or should that be joe-to-joe?) with Duke, Destro, and Cobra Commander. It doesn't matter that the real-world explanation for the animated delusion is kind of thin. "App Development and Condiments" conceptualizes Jeff and Shirley's rivalry as a Logan's Run dystopia that envelops the campus during beta testing for an app that allows students to rate each other. Don't ask who paid for everyone's fake futuristic uniforms or Britta's revolutionary posters. Just revel in the thrilling cinematic storytelling, the incisive social commentary, and the guest appearance by Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz as party dude extraordinaire "Koogler."
The rest of the fifth season episodes focus on Greendale 2.0, as Jeff learns what it means to be a teacher and the group works tirelessly to make the school a better place—a job they end up doing a little too well. "Introduction to Teaching" is notable for Banks' debut, and for Abed's mental breakdown during a blow-off class that asks the question, Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad? "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking" sends Hickey and Annie down a bureaucratic labyrinth to get a bulletin board replaced, encountering guest stars Nathan Fillion, Kumail Najiani, Paget Brewster, and Robert Patrick along the way. The season-long arc to "save Greendale" comes to a head in a two-part finale complete with villainous administrators, hidden treasure, and Chris Elliott as the school's eccentric founder. Community isn't the first show to benefit from Subway product placement, but it might be the most brilliant at walking the line between shilling for sandwiches and mocking corporate culture.
I don't agree with fans who complained about the finale, but I can sympathize. On the one hand, a Dan Harmon-led Season Five is a gift and we should not complain. On the other, 13 episodes just isn't enough to contain and explore all of the characters and plotlines that are introduced. The genre entries are great, and are informed by character in ways they weren't in Season Four, but it's too bad getting an awesome animated episode means we don't see enough of Jeff coming to terms with teaching. At times, Season Five feels like a greatest hits collection of characters and parody styles. The overall effect isn't as cohesive as Harmon might have wanted (based on what he says in the commentaries), but every episode is better than anything else on network TV last season. Also, I like greatest hits collections.
Community isn't just the funniest show on TV, it's one of the best-looking. The 1.78:1 image in this DVD set does what it needs to showcase all the visual styles and sight gags, even if it's not in HD. The same is true of the 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, a mix that balances the rapid-fire jokes with the variety of music and sound effects.
Although Community: The Complete Fifth Season continues the series' streak of stellar bonus features, it feels a little light compared to previous sets. The result, perhaps, of waning support from Sony—who has never seen fit to release the show on Blu-ray—or a lack of space in a two-disc set. I can accept the lack of deleted scenes, but where's the complete "Ass Crack Bandit" song written and recorded by Ben Folds, or standalone footage from the fake VHS party game Pile of Bullets, starring Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan? The show is so packed with stuff, I expect the bonus features to match. Thankfully the extras that made the cut are all great:
• Audio Commentaries on every episode: The best bonus feature on previous sets is once again the reason to buy the set. A rotating ensemble of writers, directors, actors, and Dan Harmon engage in candid (sometimes too candid) conversations about the process of writing, shooting, and generally manhandling Season Five into shape.
• "Advanced Television Production: 5 Days, 2 Scripts, No Sleep" (42:24): This raw behind-the-scenes look at the writing process follows Harmon and his team through a crazy few days, as problems completing the Dungeons & Dragons episode snowball into a rush to write the finale. As with the commentaries, there's no puffery here—just sweat, desperation, and an inspiring dedication to quality.
• "Re-Animating the '80s" (17:36): A thorough look at the writing, design, animation, and toy design behind the brilliant "G.I. Jeff," featuring interviews with Harmon, director Rob Schrab, artists, animators, actors, and original G.I. Joe storyboard artist Larry Houston, who helped them nail the look and feel.
• Outtakes (5:58): Somewhere between a gag reel and collection of alternate takes.
Whatever you think of Community's fourth season, it was a clear step down from the first three. When it was announced that Dan Harmon was coming back for the fifth season, fans were excited—and for good reason. Season Five is a return to the experimental, character-based comedy that made the show indispensable to the small number of people who don't watch The Big Bang Theory. Sadly, that number didn't grow enough to secure another season on network television, but with a streaming Season Six on the horizon and The Complete Fifth Season available for (repeated) home viewing, Community fans have it pretty darn good.
YO JOEBRA! Not guilty!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2014 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.