If you've never understood Community's appeal, consider this: the show is like your best bro. You have a bunch of inside jokes together and you bust each other's balls a lot, but you still really care. And that care manifests itself in really awkward back pats undermined by more ball-busting jokes. At the end of the day, it's still nice to have him around because no one gets you like he does.

Now take that warm feeling you have inside right now and douse it with the thought of your best friend running off with a gang of miscreants who introduce him to meth, crack, and everything that leaves you fucked up. That was Community season 4. It was heartbreaking.

Without the guidance of seasons-one-through-three showrunner Dan Harmon, the sitcom had an uncomfortably foreign feel that left loyal fans doubting its #sixseasonsandamovie mantra and TV critics crying cancellation. Under replacement showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port, Community became a contrived shell of itself—its broad jokes stale and obvious and the cast as lost and uninspired as the show's direction.

Fortunately, noticing the backlash and the poor reception, NBC swallowed its pride and rehired Harmon.

 

And it worked. Community's returned to the niche, pop-culture-addicted roots that made it such a cult hit through season three. It's back to making you feel like you're in sweet conversation with all the other nerds on a Reddit thread, rather than in the middle of your high school homecoming rally where your teachers are doing the Dougie to relate to you.

The fifth season premiere, aptly titled "Repilot," kicks off with all the meta-humor you could want to neatly reunite the Greendale students who'd since split up after graduation last season. And they're all literally back to square one—Britta still delusional about psychology, Annie back on the pills, Shirley man- and job-less, Chang a reinstated teacher, Troy and Abed still directionless best friends, and Jeff a failed lawyer who takes a teaching job. The only difference is they're not just saving themselves. They're saving Greendale from getting sued for ill-equipping students and closing for good. 

Once the show gets the repackaging out of the way, the second part of the premiere, "Introduction to Teaching," brings on the bizarre. While the plot follows Jeff Winger getting a handle on being a professor, its Abed's course on Nicolas Cage that gets the episode going. The dude literally drives himself crazy trying to answer a question about Cage's talent, and Troy attempts to calm him down with a Don Cheadle and Holly Hunter reference. If referencing two random actors doesn't convince you to trust that the show will get delightfully weird again, then we have no idea what will. Actually, maybe this: spoiler alert, the conclusion Abed comes to, thanks to Shirley's help, basically likens Cage to Jesus Christ.

The scars of season four are there (no Pierce and a storyline that needs cleaning up), but it's showing no signs of relapsing into cancellation territory again. Perhaps it's a little premature to say, but it's nice to have our best friend back in rare form.

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Written by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)

[GIFs via Jest, AveleyMan, Burbanked, Madamenoire]