By Justin Rawana
Community’s season six debut on Yahoo Screen begins with “Ladders”, which is telling because ladders do exactly two things: they help reach new heights while simultaneously giving us a better look at where we came from. Appropriately, the season six premiere is concerned with both these things. It shows us where Community’s been, and gives a good look where it’s heading.
Last season the study group formed the “Save Greendale Committee” and did just that. They cleaned up the paint, re-stuffed the pillows, medicated Chang (I assume), and transformed their disaster of a community college into something it’s never been before – functional. My main concern going into season six is that a school operating within normal parameters – enrol, go to class, graduate, move on – doesn’t make for the most engaging comedy. But Dan Harmon and crew are quick to point out that while the school itself is in good shape, the characters are still works in progress: Jeff can’t teach unless he’s liquored into oblivion, Britta is homeless, Annie lacks direction, and Abed’s meta-ness has nearly pried free the only foot he has in reality.
While all this is borderline tragic, Community has always been about these character’s relationships and need for each other. Promisingly, this season seems content simply adding to that premise.
And then, just for fun, the roof collapses.
Enter this season’s agent of change – Francesca “Frankie” Dart played by the always welcome Paget Brewster. Frankie or “new Shirley!”, as Dean Pelton announces gleefully, is Greendale’s new CFO. Officially, she’s charged with protecting the newly-balanced budget. Unofficially, she’s there to rein in the crazy.
Brewster does fine work providing the stern-sweetness usually supplied by Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown left the show for personal reasons) but thankfully the writers give her something more to do. Frankie recruits Abed with the purpose of using him as her “way in” to Greendale but softens when she realizes he isn’t exactly normal. This genuine concern for Abed’s wellbeing distinguishes Frankie from the usual sitcom-villain who’s sole purpose is to give the main cast someone to rally against. For the rest of the gang, though, that’s exactly what she is. In response to Frankie banning booze from campus, they open a 1920s-style speak-easy in the basement. It’s a great conceit and forcing Abed to choose between his friend’s usual hijinks and the grounding Frankie insists he needs makes for solid stakes. What the episode does best, however, is illustrate just how much Greendale needs Frankie to be there. It’s only a matter of time before things spiral into alcohol-fuelled chaos and poor Annie is carted off to the hospital. It serves as a reminder – this is GREENDALE. Sure it’s got a new coat of paint (and a new network), but much like its inhabitants, Greendale can’t function if left to its own devices. Not yet. There’s lots of growing up left to do and someone needs to be holding the fire-bucket.
God help you, Frankie.
Justin Rawana will be recapping Community season 6 in a week-by-week format here. He has also recently reviewed Harmontown.