It is a rare thing in life to get a second chance. Even more precious is that exceptional instance when you get a third chance to do something right. But here we are, eagerly awaiting this week’s re-re-premier of Community on NBC.
Once in a while a small but rabid audience can achieve the same results as a larger tepid viewership. Despite being cancelled, despite being put off as a mid-season replacement, despite internal conflicts and infighting, Community is somehow, someway coming back to NBC’s Thursday night lineup.
In case you’ve missed the story so far, Community tells the story of a group of students from a small community college in California. Originally, the show parodied a specific movie genre or theme every week. Then it veered into more of a straight sitcom format. Once Jeff (Joel McHale), a disgraced former lawyer forced to go back to school to earn a legitimate degree, was the prominent character from the ensemble cast. Later, he was shoved aside to make more room for the group to play more of a collective starring role. Smaller supporting cast members, like Ken Jeong as Ben Chang and Jim Rash as Dean Pelton, grew in prominence at the expense of McHale.
Change usually means death in the world of TV sitcoms. There is a reason that Jerry Seinfeld never changed apartments in all those years. Viewers like the sense of familiarity that they get from watching a known commodity week after week. Community went another road. A road far less traveled and often disastrous. A road filled with change, change, and more change.
It narrowed down the audience. There are no — or at least not many — casual Community viewers. The audience that remained through the twists and turns and alternate universes is a devoted, fanatical, cultish kind of viewership. The kind that couldn’t take the show’s cancellation lightly. The kind that mounted a successful letter writing campaign to bring the show back.
So here we are, starting Season 4 mid-year with series creator and former executive producer Dan Harmon nowhere to be found. A new creative team means more change, for better or worse. Nine months after we last saw the Glendale College gang, we’ll revisit the old gang and see if it was worth the wait. The one thing we can say with certainty is the show’s rabid fan base will be back. How long they’ll stay is a question for another day.