Cult comedy series Community returns to NBC's airwaves this week and chances are this'll be the last year for Greendale Community College's eccentric students and staff (though, network heads are refusing to rule out a fifth season just yet). Regardless, new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port - who replaced the series creator Dan Harmon last year - are pulling out all the stops with Season 4, judging by the trailer.
That includes Hunger Games-spoofery and other pop culture-themed episodes, an avalanche of meta-jokes about the changing nature of the show and characters - be they central players like psychotic Chang (Ken Jeong) or one-note Magnitude (Luke Youngblood) - over past seasons (or arrested development, in Abed's case) and setting the stage for the departure of Greendale's loyal senior citizen student Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase).
Community Season 3 ended with a comparatively low-key and character-oriented episode, since it wasn't clear at the time whether or not the show would get picked up for a fourth season. Hamon finished his run on the series bringing some closure to the dysfunctional lives of Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), Annie Edison (Alison Brie), Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown) and Pierce (Chase) after a crazy year that saw the seven friends expelled, Chang take control over the school, evil Abed from 'The Darkest Timeline' enter reality and now-deceased Vice Dean Laybourne (John Goodman) pursuing Troy to join Greendale's Air Conditioning Repair School.
Judging by the season 4 footage, Guarascio and Port are delving even further into the quirky Community-verse than Harmon did (and further away from the quasi-reality feel of the first two seasons). That approach includes featuring even more celebrity appearing in the roles of Greendale educational personnel and revisiting popular sideplots and incidents from previous seasons (see: Giancarlo Esposito returning as Pierce's half-brother).
Assuming this is the last season, does Community look to go out on a strong note? One hopes so, but Guarascio and Port seem keen on emphasizing the outlandish comedy aspects and concepts of the series, rather than the personal elements that make the show a clever and witty examination of modern attitudes about culture, diversity, education and everything in between. Personally, I'm a bit wary of taking Community too far in that direction (and I say that as a still-loyal supporter of the show) but, as always, we'll have to wait and see...
Community returns for season 4 on Thursday, February 7th, 2013 at 8/7c on NBC.