'Community' review: Never fear, the gang's all here

"Community," with Joel McHale as Jeff Winger and

"Community," with Joel McHale as Jeff Winger and Jim Rash as Dean Pelton. (Credit: NBC)

THE SHOW "Community"

WHEN | WHERE Season premiere Thursday night at 8 on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT After last year's firing of show creator Dan Harmon, a couple of scheduling delays and reasonable fan doubts about the show's future, cult fave "Community" finally returns for a fourth season with an episode titled "History 101" -- a sly homage to Harmon's short-film festival, Channel 101.


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Everyone is back for senior year, igniting a deep-seated separation anxiety in Abed (Danny Pudi), who is advised (or "therapized") by Britta (Gillian Jacobs) to go to a happier place in his mind. He does. Meanwhile, Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) is especially eager to graduate from Greendale Community; Dean Felton (Jim Rash) is especially anxious to have him stay. Annie (Alison Brie), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), Pierce (Chevy Chase) and Troy (Donald Glover) are all wondering about life after Greendale, too. Leonard (Richard Erdman) is not. Fred Willard guests.

MY SAY NBC politely asked that not a single detail be released about Thursday's key sequence, Willard's character, Señor Chang (Ken Jeong), Abed's brain or the animation within. So, politely deferring to NBC, I will say only that elsewhere there are references to ice cream, Instagrams, red balls bitten by Dean Felton, "The Hunger Games," a "Shut Up Leonard" gag, chocolate hot dogs, cook swordsmen, men dressed as unicorns and a wishing fountain where Troy advises against wishes using the word "all."

This should go a little way toward allaying fan fears that "Community" without Harmon has turned into "Friends." It has not, and could not even if it wanted to. If anything, new show runners David Guarascio and Moses Port have overcorrected. "Community" remains adamantly, defiantly disconnected from anything else on NBC, or on TV for that matter. Super hard-core fans may still hate it, if only because Harmon is gone. But they probably should know that some links to the past -- besides the entire cast -- remain. One of those includes British comedy director Tristram Shapeero, who is still with the show, and directs the Feb. 21 episode, "Conventions of Space and Time," about a visit to an Inspector Spacetime convention. Fans have gotta love that, right?

BOTTOM LINE Still defiantly "Community," still good and still uninterested in adding new viewers.

GRADE A-

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