TV Review: "Community" 6x01/02: "Ladders" / "Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care"

Considering Community is my favorite non-animated comedy (which is just to say it's my favorite comedy that isn't Futurama), I haven't talked much about it here. I made this post when season four began and I was convinced the show was fucked beyond repair (I never followed up on it, but thankfully that season, though by far the worst, was never as bad as its first episode). Then I talked a little about how great season five was in my 2014 wrap-up, but that's about it. I might do a best episodes listicle.

There aren't enough of those, are there?

I started watching season six, picked up by Yahoo! in a surprising move, with the same dread I started watching five; it was a coin in the air, and there was a fifty-fifty chance it would be bad. I was relieved to see that despite massive changes in production logistics, the departure of yet another beloved cast member (Yvette Nicole-Brown, whom we loved as Shirley), and a new broadcasting format, it felt more like season five and not season four.

"Ladders" begins with an accident in Greendale which just makes a lot of sense in the context of Greendale (because where else would there would be a lost frisbee avalanche). This begins what looked to be a seasonal arc, as Greendale needs to change in order to be 'saved', and this involves bringing in more grounded people to keep it on its feet. This means Frankie, a self-declared boring person who needs to exist so non-borings can be non-boring. She also comes with one hilarious joke from Chang ("Should Abed and I be worried?").

That is the kind of meta I appreciate in Community, or anything else, really. Abed blurting out some "We're characters in a show!" bullshit is not. I like meta, but even as far back as season two this show has made me cringe a couple of times with its hamfistedness, and Abed's conversation with Frankie was exactly that. Frankie almost saved it because she turned out to be really well written and Paget Brewster does a great job, but it's still something fundamental about the show that's always bothered me. I'm glad it doesn't happen so often. I worship Community's self-awareness when it's clever, which is most of the time, but I hate it when it's not, and 100% it's not, it's because of Abed.

The character dynamics are as good as ever, as is the dialogue, even if some of the humor was sometimes going in a more traditional Happy Endings/New Girl direction (though this might have been self-aware; I really don't know anymore). It's remarkable how much of a gap Shirley makes despite not being many's favorite character; it turns out she's an extremely important part of the gang mainly because in her maturity she's always been in a better place than the rest of the characters. Frankie's brought in for to re-create that balance ("New Shirley") but it looks like writing balanced dynamics will be more of a challenge because, though she's taking her place, she's in the most literal sense, not Shirley.

The bit later into the episode when the characters engage in an old timey bar scene was great (until Abed almost ruins it by yelling "This is the show!"), and made a big point about the show's current standing, not to mention better establish Frankie's role in the cast. I for one welcome our new Frankie overlord, but I still think writing her in this efficiently throughout the season will be a challenge.

This is the interesting part: the show seems to be flowing perfectly well. Unlike the beginning of the fifth season, this is picking up from last season's momentum and doesn't feel like a rebirth at all; it really shouldn't be so concerned with itself. Everything is working fine, guys, the switch wasn't so dramatic. Fucking relax.

I gotta say though, that the couple of surprise cameos made me crack a huge smile, and the stinger at the end of the episode is one of the greatest things Community has done. I will not say another word because it's both unexpected and sweet.

But the most important thing, which I haven't really made clear: it was funny. It was very funny. It gave me more actual loud LOLs than most shows ever do. My favorite bit was probably Abed not comfortable with C-H-A-N-G-E.

As far as "Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care", the flow was mostly the same (which is to say: good). The episode wasn't really a "Part Two" so it seems weird that it aired at the same time as part of a season premiere. This second episode was a bit more unfocused than the first, but it felt a little bit more Community.

It made some of the best use of the Dean and Chang I've seen in a while. The Dean becoming drunk with power in a totally 90s terrible and overcomplicated Virtual Reality world was hilarious, but Chang walking around the school doing absolutely fucking nothing except show an increasingly swollen hand, result of allergies, just completely destroyed me.

I need to make clear that I'm no longer going to praise or condemn the show for being or not being itself; it is itself. We're past that uncertainty.

The real focus of the episode was Britta, and sadly it didn't work as well as I would've hoped. Last season's opening made a point about how Britta had changed from the hot smart girl in season one to the butt of every single joke, and a joke in herself. She seemed to be growing past that role last season, so seeing her regress to the epic mess she was disappointed me. Mainly because I don't feel there aren't many jokes left to make. Some of my favorite jokes in the series are on Britta's expense but we had already moved on. At least the episode kind of wraps it up, and I'm glad it did. Also the shot of her pedaling away on that kid's kart was hilarious.

I liked the introduction of her parents, and that it settled her in a new groove with Abed and Annie. Though "Oh boy! New roommate!" is the stuff of regular sitcoms, I do like these characters enough to be interested in the new dynamics (if there are any).

Another gripe I had was the introduction of Keith David into the cast. Don't get me wrong, despite being totally tainted for me forever after Requiem for a Dream, he had a great role as Anderson in Mass Effect so I'm contractually obligated to love him. My problem was the way in which the show wrote him into the story. By all accounts I don't understand what he could possibly want from Greendale (though I'm willing to wait and see the show explore the character). I kinda liked the "Greendale Effect" line though. It felt like the first time ever that the show respected the Dean's intelligence.

Oh and once more: the stinger at the end was also lengthy and a highlight for the episode. I hope this is a thing now.

Overall, I'm relieved to see that the show will have another season and another chance to end with some dignity. It makes me sad that the main cast has been growing increasingly small in the last years, and that makes it impossible for the show to be as good as it was in seasons two or three. Still, all things considered, it's crazy how much quality they can squeeze out of the circumstances. I'm glad Yahoo! gave it another chance, and I will personally bite the guts off of anyone who watches with AdBlock.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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