Jonathan Banks as Hickey, left, and Joel McHale as Jeff...

Jonathan Banks as Hickey, left, and Joel McHale as Jeff Winger in "Community" episode 502, "Introduction to Teaching." Credit: NBC

THE SHOW "Community"

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

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Life after Greendale Community hasn't worked out so well for Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), so when his devious former law partner Alan Connor (Rob Corddry) comes up with an evil plan, he's almost forced to consider it. Winger returns to Greendale where -- surprise! -- his former friends and classmates have also drifted back, too -- Abed (Danny Pudi), Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), Annie (Alison Brie) and Troy (Donald Glover). Not much has changed at Greendale, of course, but there is an interesting new forensic sciences prof (Jonathan Banks, "Breaking Bad"). This season, the fifth, marks the return of show creator, head writer and creative force Dan Harmon, who was ousted before the start of the fourth.

MY SAY The fourth season without Harmon at the helm was not an unmitigated disaster. It wasn't even a mitigated disaster. It was fine -- a perfectly OK approximation of "Community" in which the average TV fan hardly noticed anything amiss. (Ratings were about the same as always -- lousy.) But NBC learned long ago that "Community" isn't for average TV fans: It's for an odd humanoid species known as the "Community Fan" who is so finely attuned to the nuances of Harmon's voice that any deviation from that thrusts them into their own personal Darkest Timeline. And many were very bummed last season.

Yeah, it's all demented -- Harmon's voice, not the fans (so much) -- but there is something very specific and impossible to define about that voice and style, doubly impossible to mimic. Tonight's two-part opener sounds almost exactly right for this reason -- the non-sequiturs, word play, pop culture refs and absolute disdain for anything bordering on sitcom logic are all part of a mad dash through the mind of Harmon, and past all of the stuff he finds so gloriously idiotic. He's abetted by a cast that knows his rhythms in their sleep, and by newcomer Banks, who's just about flawless.

The first half-hour ("Repilot") is very funny. The second ("Introduction to Teaching") is simply hilarious.

BOTTOM LINE About as good a "Community" restart as anyone could have possibly hoped for.


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