When "Community" last gasped back in May as Dean Pelton, clad in a wedding gown, handed Jeff Winger his diploma, the writing was on the board: "Six seasons and a movie."
That's as self-referential as you can get from a show built on pop culture-driven meta humor and a penchant for the surreal (zombie attack, anyone?). The NBC cult comedy, which plays with timelines and alternate realities, returns Jan. 2 for an unlikely fifth season, inching closer to its goal – even as its path is as uncertain as life at Greendale Community College.
In any case, we're in for a back-to-the-future season as "Community" goes back to school: Show creator Dan Harmon is in charge again after a year in exile. His off-screen nemesis Chevy Chase, who brilliantly played cranky college codger Pierce, is gone. Jonathan Banks of “Breaking Bad” fame is joining the cast.
Donald (Childish Gambino) Glover, a standout as super geek Troy, is phasing out – as acknowledged in a recent preview where TV and movie obsessive Abed mentions how Zach Braff left "Scrubs" six episodes into the hospital sitcom’s final season. “Son of a b----! After everything ‘Scrubs’ did for him?” Troy/Glover scoffs.
The only other thing we can tell for sure from the preview – which plays like a movie trailer cross between "The Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones" – is that Joel McHale’s disbarred lawyer Winger is back at Greendale as a teacher. Other than that, it looks like we're in for some weirdness (Britta’s in charge?) that’s over the top even by "Community" standards.
The preview promises this season will go “beyond the darkest timeline.” The trailer also repeats the "six seasons and a movie" mantra, which is the most optimistic timeline – one fans hope will hold together better than a certain blanket fort. Check out the clip below as we brace for a new year at Greendale:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.