There were a lot of pieces of casting news that made me excited about the new season of ‘Community’. The news I was most giddy over was the addition of Jonathan Banks to the cast. I had questions: “How will they use him?” “Will there be Breaking Bad references?” “Is he going to replace Chevy Chase?” “Is he even funny?” Most of those questions were answered during the second episode of Season Five of ‘Community’.
Banks joins the cast as Buzz Hickey, Criminology Professor, whom Jeff shares an office with after teaching his “Fundamentals of Law” class. Jeff tells Buzz that teaching is a temporary way to make ends meet, which Buzz laughs off. Temporary? He’s been “temporarily” making ends meet for 15 years…and counting.
Greendale has a lot going on besides the Study Group, and Jeff is fortunate enough that his new office-mate is willing to show him the ropes of being a teacher. Jeff learns to cut in the cafeteria line, make Leonard give him meatballs, and show everyone that he has a big, red ass. Without a Dean to interrupt him (union rules, management can’t enter the faculty lounge) Jeff is ready to create a curriculum. With suggestions from Buzz, as well as Chang, Jeff learns that the key to teaching is making the students teach themselves by working in “groups.” Unfortunately for Jeff, when he applies this tactic to his class, he encounters a problem: Annie.
Annie schools Jeff on being a teacher. She tells him that he doesn’t know enough to teach, and gives him his own homework. While complaining to Buzz about his quandary, Buzz gives him sage teaching advice: “The Minus”. Giving a student like Annie a “minus” will drive her crazy enough to drop the class. Jeff doesn’t want to do that, but he does instead argue with her in front of the class, causing her to get flustered and leave the class. The rest of the students are amazed at Jeff’s argument skills (no one wins arguments with Annie), and he explains to them that they can, in fact, win an argument by allowing their opponent to argue with themselves until they win. Jeff doesn’t just explain it, he teaches it with diagrams on the board, and to his own surprise, he enjoys it.
Because Jeff wouldn’t give Annie a “minus”, Buzz delivers the “minus” instead, on a rat project. Annie, thinking that she has overextended her schedule, drops Jeff’s class. Jeff, knowing who is behind Annie’s grade, confront Buzz. Annie isn’t happy when Jeff tells her he got her grade changed, and rages when Jeff tells her that “Minuses are made up.” She leads a revolt in the cafeteria to protest teachers giving students “minuses” ever again. (Slow chant “SLIGHTLY HIGHER GRADES!”) The Dean decides that to fix the student-teacher tension, a real “Save Greendale Committee” needs to be formed, with the Study Group, and Buzz, filling Pierce’s empty seat at the table. The group accepts Buzz as soon as he pulls out his tube of shelter lunch, and Troy declares him “the coolest person in the world.”
Jonathan Banks as an addition to the cast works all-too-well, and I was pleasantly surprised. He’s able to keep a stone face while gruffly delivering some of the funniest lines of the episode. His character is not at all a replacement for Pierce. Where Chevy Chase relied on physical comedy and telegraphed lines, Banks’ entire schtick relies on his line delivery, and using that gruffness for the greater good of comedy. Buzz is a brand new character with new facets to discover, and a gateway that will allow Jeff to bounce back and forth between the Study Group and the Teacher’s Lounge with ease. I eagerly anticipate seeing how Buzz will fit into the Group, and how his interactions with them will grow.
The B story of ‘Introduction to Teaching’ won the trophy for best use of Nicolas Cage, in any entertainment arena. The writers of ‘Community’ had apparently been looking to do this storyline for some time now, and while on the surface it looks like an excuse to let Danny Pudi do Cage impressions, it ended up being a strong B plot that will be remembered and quoted. Abed takes a course called, “Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad”. Much like Season One’s episode in which Abed immerses himself in Who’s the Boss episodes, this Nicolas Cage course drives Abed insane. Abed only needs to view 5 Nic Cage movies, but even that many is too dangerous. Abed’s slow downward spiral into the question of whether Nicolas Cage is good or bad culminates with his full Cage-inspired mental breakdown in class (I’m a cat. I’m a sexy cat.) Danny Pudi shows the audience again that he is continually robbed of Emmy Nominations for Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Abed is a humor anchor on ‘Community’, always consistent and strong. This will be especially important as Donald Glover (Troy) will soon be making his exit from the show, taking his perfectly timed one-liners with him. Abed’s interactions with characters other than Troy will be important, so seeing him bond with Shirley, over Hellraiser of all things, was nice.
“Introduction to Teaching” was a strong follow up to “Repilot” (funnier as well) and I think it was great that NBC chose to air the two together. It gave viewers a great set up of what’s to come, and allowed us the chance to have the introduction to Bank’s role in the Group, which was not a part of “Repilot”. It’s encouraging to see that the characters are still working, even with the dynamic shift. Dan Harmon and his team are seamlessly rebuilding the walls of Greendale, and hopefully using better materials this time around. Six Seasons and a Movie might just happen after all.
Best Laugh Out Loud Lines:
Jeff: “Shut up Leonard. Nice earring. You look like the road manager for the California Raisins.”
Buzz: “Mr. Winger is a teacher. You know what that means? It means he gets your meatballs.”
Leonard: “Oh, please. It’s all I have.”
Buzz: (to Leonard) “Go get your earring, you piece of human garbage.”
Abed: “He’s a complex performer. He’ll give you The Rock, ConAir, and then Face Off, and you think you understand. But then The Wind Talkers, Guarding Tess, The Wicker Man, he begs you to stop watching, but you can’t.
Abed: “But is he good or is he bad? Every actor is something. Robert Downey Jr…good. Jim Belushi…bad. Van Dam, the good kind of bad. Johnny Depp, the bad kind of good.There’s a spectrum and Cage is on it. I just have to find him.”
Buzz:“It’s ONE duck, his name is Jim, and PUBLISHERS ARE INTERESTED!”
Magnitude: “Pop, POP!”
Britta: “The whole world is watching this! Oh, wait, I’m out of data minutes. The whole world will be watching this on the first of next month!”
Community airs on NBC on Thursday nights at 8:00pm.