When Yahoo picked up Community, it seemed fitting that this weird little show would land in the most unlikely and random place. I hadn’t heard of Yahoo’s free video service, but I thought it was a smart marketing decision to pick up Community and boost Yahoo Screen’s numbers with one of sitcom television’s most outspoken and loyal fan bases.
Now the show’s 6th season (a milestone I honestly never thought the show would reach) is here. The first two episodes premiered today with new episodes made available each Tuesday. All of which are available on a free app from a site that gave me my first email address almost two decades ago.
The premiere episode (Ladders) quickly reintroduces us to the Save Greendale Committee by way of an “Abed-scripted” announcement from Dean Pelton (Jim Rash). Noticeably absent is Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) who’s written off respectfully. Also gone is Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks). His absence isn’t referenced but a character played by Keith David in upcoming episodes will fill his spot.
After the school’s roof collapses, the dean introduces the group to Francesca “Frankie” Dart (Paget Brewster), Greendale’s new quirk-free administrative consultant in charge of fixing the school’s problems. Her straight-laced personality soon puts her at odds with the group and forces her to find an ally in the most unlikely of places.
My main concern going into this new incarnation of Community was that it would seem strange and somehow lose the personality it cultivated through 5 seasons on NBC. Fortunately, Ladders feels true to the spirit of Community and brings with it some potential for new and exciting antics on Yahoo Screen.
The episode doesn’t take the expected (and somewhat easy) route of immediately lampooning its new home. Instead, Dan Harmon and his writers wisely spend the episode showcasing Paget Brewster and establishing the new group dynamic her presence creates. Pairing her with Abed (Danny Pudi) this episode helps ease viewers into what may be the most “normal” character in the show’s history.
It also evokes memories of the first half dozen episodes of the series. In 2009, those first episodes each featured main storylines that paired Jeff (Joel McHale) with one member of the study group. It was a narrative tactic that helped Community establish chemistry in its ensemble while simultaneously finding its voice as a series.
Ladders is funny with a few well timed “laugh out loud” moments and gags. Chang (Ken Jeong) is present but actively ignored throughout the episode. The humor in his brief struggle for relevance within the group is effective without being a nuisance. Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) incompetence in her new job running Shirley’s Sandwiches lightly touches on her activist past. Annie’s (Alison Brie) status as the straight-laced group member is threatened by Frankie’s presence. And Jeff seems to happily embrace what makes Greendale anything but normal.
The episode does stumble a little in the middle with a subplot involving the group creating a speakeasy that I wish would have been more prominent. That, in essence, is what the premiere is all about, though. Economic storytelling and brief reminders of character roles are what dominate this episode, for better or worse.
Above all, what stands out in Ladders (no pun intended) is how the feel of Community hasn’t been compromised. This feels like the Community we know and love, it’s just on a smaller screen. And I’m excited to watch more.