Season 4, Episode 1 verdict: Three stars out of five. Judging from the missteps of the first episode, there is something missing, and in all probability, it’s creator Dan Harmon’s vision. Episode one falls far from the heights of season three, and I have to agree with the verdict of many online fans: it’s trying too hard. Nevertheless, Community is still 10 times more innovative, daring and intelligent than your Big Bang Theorys or Two And  A Half Mens. One can only hope that things will get better from here.   

Now, you can blow up all your favourite Community cast members. Wait a minute....

Now, you can blow up all your favourite Community cast members. Wait a minute….

To recap: it’s been a tough semester for our favourite ‘weird and wonderful’ show, to quote new executive producers Moses Port and David Guarascio. Season four was shortened to 13 episodes, and creator and showrunner Dan Harmon got fired amid rumours of a rift with star Chevy Chase (you can read all about it here). This all led to a panel at last year’s San Diego Comic Convention before 5,000 fans, where Port and Guarascio repeatedly emphasised: “We’re not going to screw this up.” Which was, of course, then followed by the season four premiere being delayed till now  – leading to this awesome, awesome response from the cast.

But Community season 4 is finally here. And I for one, have missed it so. Re-watching previous seasons – from the paintball episodes to the horror movie deconstruction episode to the Crazy Town Banana Pants one – only emphasises just how unique and brilliant and layered the show is. But at this point, even if Harmon were still on board, one suspects that the audience might already be suffering from Community fatigue. Certainly though, without him, reviews of  the first episodes of season four such as this one by the New York Times, have generally not been favourable.

But how is the fourth season? One thing’s for sure – it’s as meta, self-reflexive and postmodern as ever.

Annie and Annie's Boobs get along real swell. ©NBC

Annie and Annie’s Boobs get along real well. ©NBC

It all opens with a sequence that looks a lot like something out of a real darkest timeline: a laugh track, a far more personable actor playing Pierce (Fred Willard) and our favourite meta cast spouting lame one-liners. It’s the hardcore fan’s worst fears about the show being dumbed down for a more mainstream audience come to life – before we realise that it is all taking place inside Abed’s (Danny Pudi) head. His ‘happy place’ fantasy even comes complete with pop-up on-screen ads for imaginary shows starring his friends, like so:

Jeff gives another one of his big speeches. ©NBC

Jeff gives another one of his big speeches. ©NBC

It’s all sparked off by Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) question to Abed: “You ready for our last first day of school?” For a show as self-consciously aware as Community, it’s a spooky precursor to what in all probability is the show’s last season. As Jeff puts it: “We’re gonna have to leave this place some time! Like an ice cream cone melting in the sun, our time here can’t last forever!” One might even say that this is the producers’ way of acknowledging that Community has already accepted its fate as the next Firefly.

But before that comes, there is still lots and lots of parodying, spoofing and self-reflection to be done. At the risk of giving too much away, episode one has a very funny riff on The Hunger Games, the beginnings of a deeper relationship between Jeff and the Dean (Jim Rash) and a (not-so) surprising new couple. It stumbles here and there, but there are still laugh out loud moments. For example, this exchange between Jeff and Dean Pelton:

“You smell like the floor of a movie theatre.”

“Yeah, but not for the usual reasons.”

In all honesty, it is tempting to say that Community has already lost its touch, that it won’t ever be the same without Dan Harmon. But there are 12 more episodes to go, and if nothing else, it’s clear that Harmon’s legacy is still very much well and alive. In my heart of hearts, I still believe #sixseasonsandamovie is possible. Or maybe I’m just in my happy place.

The Community cast wouldn't be here without your fake beards and blood sacrifices. ©NBC

The Community cast wouldn’t be here without your fake beards and blood sacrifices. ©NBC

So what did you think of the first episode of Community season 4? Cool cool cool, or darkest timeline?