As formerly exiled showrunner Dan Harmon’s soft reboot of Community inches closer to its return and a surprising position as NBC’s possible Thursday night savior, the network has taken a curious tactic with the show’s promotion. Released just two days ago, NBC gave fans a short peek into the reasons behind Jeff Winger’s return to Greendale following graduation; unraveling this likely key starting plot point within the bounds of a trailer for something called Mr. Winger that seems like a non-specific homage to quirky back-to-school comedies.
It was a clever move that contained throwbacks to the irreverence and bite that made up the show during Harmon’s original run while also hinting at a fair amount of necessary growth (and then not) for Winger’s character. However, after seeing the all-new full length trailer, titled Beyond the Darkest Timeline (above), it’s quite clear that that initial look was tame in comparison.
Doubtlessly piggybacking on the success of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the promotional blitz for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the latest Community trailer embraces the fantastical luster that powered some of the show’s most beloved episodes while also sneaking in a meta Scrubs joke and the return of Star-Burns – who shows up in a glorious Zardoz costume.
Unlike the Mr. Winger trailer, this trailer doesn’t really seem to lay much track for the coming season. It’s red meat for Community fans, pure and simple. A demonstration that the high concept brush strokes of the Harmon era have returned after a fourth season that was not un-watchable or lacking in high-concept moments in his absence, but nonetheless felt like an homage in and of itself.
While it always makes sense to dance with the ones that brung you, catering to the vocal legions of Community superfans that have helped carry the show over threshold after threshold, some may wonder if a trailer such as this may turn off potential new viewers that the show needs in order to make its future less uncertain for the first time. But at this point, does it really matter?
In its four seasons, NBC has desperately tried to un-tap the show’s potential with young advertiser coveted viewers while trying to turn the show’s ample buzz into real live viewers. In that time, the show has had its creative ups and downs, endured the loss of Harmon, and miraculously survived to reach the syndication motherland while never qualifying as a mainstream hit.
But as season 5 looms and Harmon holds the keys once more, one has to wonder if it’s possible that a trailer as unhinged as this latest one can stand as evidence that NBC is finally comfortable with Community‘s ceiling and that they have freed Harmon to make “his” show. After all, isn’t that the one that reliable Community fans demand?
We’ll have to wait till January to find out about that, but if it’s any consolation, we do know for certain that Mike from Breaking Bad (a.k.a. Jonathan Banks) is going to rock a steampunk gas mask at some point, and that ain’t nothing.
Community returns to NBC for its one-hour season 5 premiere on Thursday, January 2nd 2014 @8pm.