The world is fixated on the future. Thinking, and worrying, about it is burned into our identity as humans. When we’re children, we imagine high school; likewise, in high school, we imagine college. Once college is over, though, and the great beyond of life hits us, we keep looking forward, hoping that things will get better—we pray that we haven’t peaked in life prematurely. For all the thinking we do, humans forget the one constant in all points of life: the group of friends one has at any given moment.
When I was in high school, I didn’t want to imagine life without my tight-knit group of friends. There were five or so of us that knew each other completely, a group of confidantes that regularly relied on each other. It was a strange group, but it was still a family of sorts. Once college hit, all of us went our separate ways, promising to stay in touch and remain close, but of course that didn’t happen. We still communicate, and see each other, but it isn’t the same anymore. It can’t be.
Letting go is frightening. Nobody expects to be removed from their support group, to be uprooted and forced to move on to life’s next stage. But one of life’s most bitter lessons is that we are destined to change, and grow, even though we want to believe that we’ll stay the same at our core—and more importantly, hold on to those close to us.
Such is the place we find the study group at the beginning of Community‘s third season. Summer break has healed the wounds that Pierce and paintball inflicted at the end of season two for everyone—except Jeff. Still angry and resentful towards Pierce’s actions, Jeff refuses to allow him back into the study group, concocting an excuse around the group’s full biology class. After being kicked out on the first day (more on that later), Jeff finds himself in the role formerly inhabited by Pierce, an outsider to his own surrogate family, sending him on a journey involving monkey gas and an extended homage to 2001′s finale. But nobody is reading this for recap anyway.
Before discussing the study group’s journey itself, I need to address the Omar in the room. Yes, Michael K. Williams is here as Professor Marshall Kane, the biology professor on his first teaching assignment after leaving maximum-security prison. Williams doesn’t exactly deliver; in fact, he’s more of a device used to spout the important lessons of the episode. However, I’ll give the writing staff the benefit of the doubt, and assume that there’s better things to come from him. After all the hype surrounding “Omar on Community,” maybe I expected more, but it’s about time the study group faced real consequences and a real antagonist from a teacher, instead of using a class as a simple framing device for the season. I’m more than excited to see where this goes.
Faring much better is the incomparable presence of John Goodman. Playing the Vice Dean of the Greendale Air Conditioning Repair Annex, Goodman is tremendous. He employs his comedic gravitas with a sinister air that is both terrifying and hilarious. His interactions with Dean Pelton are a highlight, and he’ll bring the kind of outside evil that Community has needed for some time outside of its City College episodes.
Jim Rash has finally been promoted to regular status, and it’s better late than never. Dean Pelton is going to be even more of a delight this year, as he butts heads with Goodman over the allocation of Greendale’s funds. As it turns out, the Air Conditioning Repair Annex is the only profitable part of Greendale (think of it like a Big 10 football program), and the sleeping giant has been awakened by Dean Pelton’s enforcer-attitude at the episode’s beginning. After declaring that there will be no more “National Lampoonery” at Greendale, the dean realizes that he is cuckolded by Goodman, and that “things won’t really be different this year—there’ll just be no money.” Innocent statement, or meta-commentary about Community itself?
A lot of people have been complaining about the opening musical number, which I just can’t comprehend. It was a great distillation of both the common complaints about the show itself, as well as a mechanism to show Jeff’s fantasies about a perfect life at Greendale sans Pierce— one that also involves bedding Annie. Consider me thrilled to see that story development!
Around the rest of the study group, Abed and Troy are moving into together, after an announcement that initially may have played as a coming-out. Britta has finally declared a major, *shudder*, Psychology, which she will utilize in the most terrifying and sour-faced way possible. Annie and Shirley remain on the sidelines this episode, save for the hints at more of a romance with Jeff. Chang is restored to a position of power, having spent the summer living in the vents with Annie’s Boobs. His new role as security guard will be one of the more fascinating through-lines this season.
But this is Jeff’s episode, and if the cryptic interviews from the cast are any indication, such will be the case with the season at large. Dan Harmon envisionsCommunity as a four-part story (fifth season or not), and this third year is where he says Jeff will face his demons and deal with the most dark of challenges. At the end of season two, Jeff had finally learned to love the study group, and accept them as his family. Now, though, they’re all drifting slightly apart, becoming comfortable and feeling secure.
Abed and Troy are slowly splitting into their own alternate reality, Britta is discovering something she truly wants, and presumably the rest of the group will begin to grow up as well. This season looks to be about discovering what life is really about, and nobody in the group will have a harder time discovering that than Jeff. He is a man who’s coasted through just about every obstacle, and he’s beginning to face true challenges without much of a clue how to overcome them without his friends. At this point last year, he was just discovering that he needed the group— now, he’ll begin to realize what life would be like without them.
The study group’s table being “magic” may seem like a stupid metaphor, but it’s a resonant idea. We cling to the items that remind us of those we love, be it a note, a movie, or even a table. Jeff as an outsider can’t bear to see the group, around the table and happy, without him. Finally being in Pierce’s role makes Jeff realize what would drive Pierce’s evil in the second season. This moment of clarity only comes after Pierce takes the fall for Jeff—an act of respect that would never have felt genuine in season two. But, a lot can change after one summer.
This season will be an enormous journey for everyone at Greendale, and it appears that the show’s crew is deadly serious about becoming more grounded while retaining all the ambition. While I’ll miss zombie apocalypses and paintball wars, it’ll be a wonderful ride to see where TV’s most unpredictable show will go next.
Oh, and Alison Brie is still as adorable as ever.
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