Community returns for its fifth season on Thursday night, a feat even the most ardent fans probably thought was unlikely given the show's showrunner issues and ratings challenges. But the NBC comedy had beaten the odds and become the little show that could (one more season and we get a movie, right?). Here are five reasons why you shouldn't miss tonight's Season 5 premiere — even if you weren't so hot on Season 4.
1. Dan Harmon is back
When news first broke back in May that erstwhile showrunner Dan Harmon, who was fired after Season 3, would be returning for Season 5, it seemed almost too good to be true. After all, try as they might to maintain Community's peculiar spirit, replacement showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port never seemed to get the tone of the cult favorite comedy quite right. There were a few decent Season 4 episodes (the season finale, "Advanced Introduction to Finality," would have made a perfectly good series finale if things had gone a different way), but for the most part everything about Season 4 felt slightly off.
But now the mad genius Harmon is back in the laboratory, and it's amazing what a different it makes. Community was always a strange bird, teetering on the edge of darkness while still remaining bitingly funny. The first batch of season 5 episodes are a fine return to form, and make me glad I stuck with the show through the rough patches.
2. Chang no longer has amnesia
By far the most irritating ongoing plot line of Season 4 was Chang's amnesia, which was equal parts stupid and unfunny. Harmon immediately dispenses with the Changnesia and explains away all other season 4 madness by referring to the gang's last year at Greendale as "the gas leak year." So THAT was the problem.
3. Crazy good guest stars
Jonathan Banks. Walter Goggins. John Oliver. Nathan Fillion. Those are just a few of the actors stopping by Community this season for an ongoing parade of awesome guest star arcs. Banks, in particular, is fantastic as criminology professor Buzz Hickey, who is basically Breaking Bad's Mike Ehrmantraut if Mike Ehrmantraut taught at a community college. And yes, Mike Ehrmantraut teaching at community college is just as funny as you're imaging it to be.
4. Pierce is gone, but his spirit lives on
Chevy Chase was fired at the end of last season, but Pierce's absence in the final few episodes was left unexplained. The third episode of Season 5, "Cooperative Polygraphy," finally explains Pierce's absence (no spoilers, but fans can probably guess), but still allows the character's prickly hatefulness to shine. Basically, the episode is a win-win for Pierce Hawthorne fans and haters alike, and also provides surprisingly touching insights into the study group members he has left behind.
5. Community seems to have found its heart again
Yes, Community can be inventive, bold, off-putting, and sometimes downright bizarre. But it can also be a tender and heartfelt story about how a gang of misfits can become a family. "Gas leak" explanations aside, the parts of Season 4 that felt the most off to me were the relationships between the characters and, on a deeper level, the show's core emotional heart. After watching just three episodes, it's hard to say definitively that Community's fifth season has found it's heart again, but things definitely look promising. Troy and Abed even made me tear up at one point.
Community premieres with back-to-back episodes Thursday, January 2 at 8/7 on NBC.