In the wake of NBC giving Up All Night the multi-camera, live audience treatment after airing as a single-camera comedy series for a season and a half, it wouldn't be a surprise if the laugh track and cheesy tone that kicks off the season 4 of Community were a permanent change.
But new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port have taken this opportunity to simultaneously make fun of the concern fans have had about changes to the cult comedy series - especially considering their past work on shows like Just Shoot Me - and have fit right in with the series' meta comedy style and story elements. They even poke fun at the departure of Chevy Chase by having Fred Willard (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) play Pierce. But that's not all.
The writers have the convenient plot element of having everyone's favorite study group embark on their final year at Greendale, which is good since this could very well be the last season with all the rigamarole NBC has put the series through since season 3. But there's a problem. After taking some online classes over the summer, Jeff (Joel McHale) is trying to graduate a semester early with only one history credit left to obtain, and he's desperate to make sure the rest of the gang can take this final class, History of Ice Cream, right along with him.
Meanwhile, Abed (Danny Pudi) is worried about his time at Greendale ending, and thus we have the real reason for the cheesy sitcom opening, which takes place in his mind after Britta tells him to find a happy place. In his mind, the study group is starting their college education all over because Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) has misplaced their student records. What's simultaneously hilarious and disheartening is how dead on the writing is for the terrible sitcom version of Community that exists in Abed's head. It's almost like this is what the show would have been like on NBC in the '90s or on CBS today.
The plot in the "real world" takes aim at The Hunger Games as Jeff competes to secure everyone a spot in the History of Ice Cream class. Honestly, the parody of the recent book and film franchise feels a little too recent compared to the other pop culture references usually made on the show, but it works given the Dean's theatricality and overall outlandish narratives that every episode employs. Plus, the parallels between this world and the TV world inside Abed's head are written so well, complete with a new animated sequence paying homage to the Muppet Babies.
Honestly, any worries about this season losing the flare that Dan Harmon brought to the series have almost entirely been erased. In fact, I'm even interested to see where slightly progressed elements like the romance between Troy (Donald Glover) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) end up going.
However, not all was perfect with the premiere, as certain side plots, like the pranking antics of Shirley (Yvette Brown) and Annie (Alison Brie), felt weak and didn't really impact the episode as a whole. Additionally, the end of the episode where Chang (Ken Jeong) shows up somewhere with a sign that reads "Hello, my name is Kevin. I have Changnesia" was a fun cliffhanger, but seemed forced, but maybe that's because he's my least favorite character on the show.
In the end, the series premiere should give viewers hope that the series can live on, even with NBC playing these games with it. Maybe a larger audience will find the show this season, or NBC will keep it around if the reception is good with the fans it already has. Either way, for now, it's safe to say that if Community does go out with season 4, it won't go out with a whimper, but with a bang, and thankfully that won't be accompanied by a laughtrack from an audience watching the show from a soundstage...for now, anyway.
Community airs Thursdays @8pm on NBC.