NBC’s excellent but embattled comedy “Community” creeps toward a new season Jan. 2 with many noteworthy changes in personnel.
Among the departing are Donald Glover, who plays Troy, and Chevy Chase’s character, Pierce. Although Chase left the show in November 2012, shooting was almost complete on the 13-episode 2013 installment, so the new season marks the first without him.
On the flip side is Dan Harmon, the show’s creator, executive producer and tonal zen master. NBC booted Harmon for the show’s fourth year, but brought him back for the upcoming stretch.
Despite all of the behind-the-scenes drama, fans should be inclined toward excitement for its fifth season and not just because it inches them closer to its show-inspired hashtag battle cry #SixSeasonsAndAMovie.
As for Glover’s departure, he told Vibe in October that he decided to leave “Community” because he wanted more control over his work and that he didn’t want to have to report to a boss.
That includes taking a Harmon-esque role in “Atlanta,” a new FX sitcom with a music theme, as well as further efforts in his rap career under the Childish Gambino moniker.
As Gambino, Glover last week marked the release of his second LP, “Because the Internet.” The album is the culmination of a complicated multimedia project, including a screenplay to parallel the narrative of the record.
Also, in October, he posted a series of self-doubting notes on his Instagram account, saying he was afraid “Atlanta” would fail and that Harmon hated him for leaving.
While Glover will appear in several episodes of the upcoming year, Chase will not. Chase was a lightning rod for sparking off-screen drama during his time with “Community,” including well-publicized feuding with Harmon.
But it’s Harmon’s return that brings hope for fans of the show.
Harmon sat the fourth season out after bickering with NBC off and on throughout the first three years. Moses Port and David Guarascio took over as show runners and executive producers for the fourth season, a year for which critical and fan reaction was lukewarm. In the hands of Port and Guarascio, the show felt like fan fiction, a poor attempt to mimic Harmon’s style.
To date, only Harmon has shown the adroit ability to strike the proper balance between the show’s meta humor and its well-drawn characters. He has his finger on “Community’s” particular place in the pop culture zeitgeist and, as Port and Guarascio found, it’s an inimitable voice.
Despite the drawing power his name may bring to the show, Chase’s departure is almost meaningless. His character was given less and less to do because he was allegedly an unguided missile, so the creators of the show wrote him minimal parts that could easily be excised. His leaving will not reverberate throughout the show.
However, losing Glover poses a challenge, particularly because of his interaction with Danny Pudi’s character, Abed. The duo forms the nucleus of one of the show’s most integral friendships and could wound its future.
But this is why it’s a boon that Harmon has returned. If anyone is capable of finding the right tone for Glover’s leaving and absence, it’s him.
It’s an era when showrunners have unprecedented power over a TV program to exercise their singular vision. Look at “Breaking Bad,” “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos” or “The Shield.”
Cable network dramas may sound like an unusual basis of comparison for a half-hour, major-network, prime-time sitcom, but Harmon’s grasp of the universe earns comparison. Throughout the first three seasons, its characters grew and changed in believable ways, veering toward an unusual level of serialization for a show of its type.
Harmon has a voice that is distinct and confident. He’s crafted a group of characters who are flawed, but sympathetic. Even Chase’s curmudgeonly and vaguely racist Pierce still earned warm moments.
With Harmon back in charge, there’s reason to expect that aesthetic and the overall quality of the show will improve, giving fans hope for those six seasons and a movie.
To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.