Comedy Community

Basic Introduction to DVD Reviewing: Community: The Complete Fifth Season

August 11, 2014Ben Mk


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Back to school...

Six seasons and a movie. For fans of NBC's Community, that became their mantra for the show's fifth season, the idea being that a strong and vocal outpouring of viewer support could spur the network to renew the beleaguered show for a sixth season (and, of course, ultimately lead to a feature film). It was a valiant effort, but alas — despite an acclaimed return to comedic form, spearheaded by the return of series creator Dan Harmon, who was M.I.A. for season four — season five of Community would prove to be its last... on network television, that is.

   

The Show By now, most of you are probably familiar with the story of Community: not the story of how a group of strangers — disgraced lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), anarchist Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), overachiever Annie Edison (Alison Brie), football jock Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), pop culture addict Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), mother-of-three Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown) and millionaire-slacker Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase) — came together to form a study group at Greendale Community College and became friends in the process, but the story of how the show managed to survive five seasons on the network TV "bubble", only to be cancelled and picked up for a sixth season, to be aired online via Yahoo! Screen.

You might also be aware that season four of the show was not exactly well-received, mainly due to the fact that showrunner Dan Harmon was given the boot after season three. However, season five marks Harmon's return, and with him, a return to the show's former glory.

To atone for the past season's atrocities, this season kicks off with an episode entitled 'Repilot', which serves as both a clever (and typically meta) way for the makers of the show to acknowledge that they Britta'd up season four — referring to it as "the gas leak year" — and to reboot the series anew, by finding a plausible way to bring Jeff (who graduated at the end of the previous season) back to Greendale. And they do so by making him a teacher, with Jeff initially returning to sniff out a potential lawsuit against the school but coming onboard as faculty after he has a change of heart about turning against his alma mater.

From there, the rest of the season unfolds according to the theme of "Save Greendale", with the always-flamboyant Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) calling for the formation of a student-teacher Save Greendale Committee to help bring order to the school, giving the old study group a reason to reunite (plus or minus a few members). Although the show's cast receives a shake-up for season five, with the pre-season departure of Chevy Chase and the mid-season exit of Donald Glover, it also gains a few new regulars, in the form of veteran actor Jonathan Banks as cartoon-duck-drawing Criminology professor Buzz Hickey and The Daily Show's John Oliver (reprising his role) as Psychology professor Ian Duncan, who also happens to harbor an unrequited crush on Britta.

Together, they embark on thirteen episodes of misadventures in continuing education as only Harmon and his team of writers — including Chris McKenna, Ryan Ridley and Tim Saccardo — can churn out, resulting in such classic Community moments as Abed's Nicolas Cage meltdown in 'Introduction to Teaching', Annie's attempt to bribe a school custodian (played by guest star Nathan Fillion) in 'Analysis of Cork-Based Networking' and Annie and Abed's face-off over a '90s interactive VCR game called "Pile of Bullets" (hosted by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan) in 'VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing'.

But of course, it's the one-off episodes — like season one's paintball-themed 'Modern Warfare' and season two's Christmas-themed 'Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas' — that make Community the stand-out comedy that it is. And there are a handful of them here as well, including 'Basic Intergluteal Numismatics' (which tells the tale of "The Ass Crack Bandit" in the style of a procedural crime drama), 'Geothermal Escapism' (in which the entire school goes full-on Lord of the Flies over a game of "hot lava"), 'App Developments and Condiments' (which turns the school population into a Logan's Run dystopia when a new social media app called "MeowMeowBeenz" is beta-tested on-campus) and 'G.I. Jeff' (a retro-animated homage to G.I. Joe and the most memorable episode of the season).

Audio/Visual Fidelity Community re-enrolls on DVD with a solid A/V presentation that's likely as good as the show will ever look this side of a hi-def release (note: none of the seasons are available on Blu-ray as of yet). For the most part, the show has a bright but realistic color palette, though on occasion cinematographer Gary Hatfield opts for a more stylized look, such as the teal-infused color scheme of 'Basic Intergluteal Numismatics' and the red hues of 'Geothermal Escapism'. But all in all, the disc's standard definition transfer handles it well, with strong contrast, pleasing black levels and excellent color saturation. The image is also fairly detailed and sharp, and there are no signs of macroblocking; however, sharp-eyed viewers might notice the extremely rare occurrence of very mild edge enhancement and vertical aliasing in some spots. As for the audio, the discs' Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does an excellent job at reproducing the series' front-loaded, dialog-heavy comedy soundtrack and the infectiously catchy theme music by The 88, but it doesn't falter either when it comes to more immersive sound effects such as the explosions and lasers that fill the air during 'G.I. Jeff'.

Special Features Sony's DVD release includes cast and crew commentaries on each and every episode, plus another 66 minutes of "uncensored special features". The extras are divvied up over the set's two discs, with disc one housing the commentaries for the season's first seven episodes, plus the 18-minute featurette Re-Animating the ‘80s (an in-depth look at the making of 'G.I. Jeff') and 6 minutes of Outtakes (in which they thoroughly justify the "uncensored" designation by dropping the F-bomb no less than 33 times). Meanwhile, disc two is where you'll find commentaries for the remaining six episodes, plus the 42-minute documentary Advanced Television Production: 5 Days, 2 Scripts, No Sleep, an exhaustive, fly-on-the-wall look at a week in the life of the makers of Community (specifically, the push to finish writing the scripts for 'Advanced Advanced Dungeons and Dragons' and 'Basic Sandwich' concurrently with filming).


The Bottom Line Those who may have abandoned Community after its disappointing fourth season owe it to themselves to rediscover the glorious comedic rebirth that is its fifth season, for it really is a return to form: thirteen episodes chock-full of the same witty writing and irreverent humor that made the show popular in the first place. And Sony's DVD release lives up to the same high standards, with a solid A/V presentation and hours of bonus features, making Community: The Complete Fifth Season one of the series' best DVD releases and certainly worthy of an A.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Show  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  








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