By Neal Justin Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Over the past 18 months, NBC’s “Community” has had to deal with a public dissing of the sitcom by its biggest star, Chevy Chase, who eventually left the show, and the unceremonious dumping of creator Dan Harmon, a mad genius who used social media once too often to throw his temper tantrums.
The behind-the-scenes hoopla may have plagued the show, but it also may have saved it.
“In a weird way, the drama behind the stage was sort of keeping ‘Community’ on people’s minds,” said Jim Rash, who plays the community college’s flamboyant principal.
Rash returned for the fifth-season, which premiered at 8 p.m. Thursday, as did Harmon, whose comeback once seemed less likely than another season of football from Brett Favre.
The survival of “Community” might seem inexplicable, considering its low ratings, but it kept getting a reprieve because the struggling network didn’t have anything else to put in its place.
There’s also motivation for Sony, the company that produces the show, because “Community” is just four episodes shy of 88, the unofficial total that makes a series viable for the highly profitable world of syndication.
Harmon’s Lazarus act is more of a head scratcher. This is, after all, a man who spent part of his hiatus comparing NBC President Bob Greenblatt to Darth Vader and describing his Sony bosses as inhuman.
Much of the credit goes to series star Joel McHale, who worked as chief negotiator over a series of lunches.
Then there’s the fact that the fourth season, under the guidance of David Guarascio and Moses Port (“Just Shoot Me,” “Happy Endings”), failed to capture what made “Community” so special: The ability to place relatable characters in a unique, often surreal world every week.
Under the temporary team, it was a pleasant sitcom. Under Harmon, it was the edgiest, most unpredictable program on network television.