Published on March 23rd, 2015 | by Vyctoria Hart0
Community Season 6 Episode 1 “Ladders” – Review
BEWARE SPOILERS FOR SEASON 5 AND 6 BELOW
When NBC announced the cancellation of Community in May 2014 things already looked grim for the students and faculty of Greendale Community College, with Donald Glover’s character Troy being written out of the show in season 5 and the post season departure of Jonathan Banks (Professor Buzz Hickey). However fans were given hope that their mantra “Six Seasons and a Movie” might become reality when Yahoo! announced that they would be bringing season 6 to their free online streaming platform Yahoo! Screen.
The fortune teller looked rather bare in the title sequence of “Ladders”, the first episode of season 6, with three empty slots rather than the expected two after Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley) announced her departure for family reasons after season 5 was complete. Abed explains her absence as Shirley having “spun off” which, combined with a very detailed welcome speech he had written for the Dean, sets the episode up for a lot of exposition, acknowledging the awkwardness in typical Community fashion rather than attempting to ignore it. Following a roof frisbee disaster involving a rather lovely Blade Runner homage we’re immediately introduced to the latest member of the group – Francesca “Frankie” Dart, played by Criminal Minds‘ Paget Brewster – who has been hired by the Dean to “assist” the planning committee, where she immediately takes total control. Since the advent of “Changnesia” Ken Jeong’s character has seemed rather lost amongst the background weirdness of Greendale, but it was rather satisfying for the audience when he asked if he and Abed should be worried at the replacement of the three previous diverse characters with another woman who is very similar to Annie and Britta.
Frankie is immediately set up as the straight woman of the piece, serious about her job and achieving many of the planning committees goals almost instantly, much to Annie’s consternation. When she challenges the financial viability of Shirley’s Sandwiches (being temporarily run by Britta) and removes the alcohol from the faculty lounge, forcing Jeff to teach sober, she becomes the enemy of the group. The committee is broken up on the basis that she is evil for trying to change Greendale so much it ceases to be Greendale. Surprisingly Abed is the most willing to deal with change, seemingly speaking for the shows producers when he acknowledges that reality isn’t generally as surreal and bizarre as he would wish, though he objects to being given tasks that can’t be represented by a satisfying montage.
In an attempt to spite Frankie, maintain the spirit of Greendale, and help the faculty avoid sobriety, Britta and Annie build a 1930’s style speakeasy in the basement of the school, complete with gangster and showgirl costumes, a lounge singer and a cameo from Nathan Fillon. The speakeasy is accessed via the very secret nudgenudge code of asking for “The Special” at the sandwich bar. Abed is relieved to find the bar as it gives him an opportunity to let his hair down after working to Frankie’s standards, via a “Drinking Montage. However, it soon becomes clear that Abed’s influence is already rubbing off on Frankie when she raids the speakeasy, but first kits out the security guards in old fashioned police uniforms (and a carrot, the costume shop ran out of police) to do so. Once again she is the voice of rationality, pointing out that the speakeasy, like many of the groups schemes, was never secret in the first place, they’d built a bar in the school – “there was lumber!” how could it have gone unnoticed? She then admits that she allowed the whole thing in order to keep the others out of her hair but she doesn’t want Abed to be dragged into it as he “doesn’t know better”. Frankie flees after this faux pas and Greendale quickly descends back into chaos as the drinking culture of the speakeasy spreads to the whole campus, with disastrous results when the Ladders lecturer mixes alcohol and heights.
As always lessons are learned (mostly by Jeff), Frankie returns via a begging for forgiveness montage and the committee are back in their room ready for their next adventure. The episode ends with a short clip of Shirley’s spin off crime fighting show “The Butcher and The Baker”, which tragically isn’t a real thing, but should become a proper series immediately.
It’s understandable that after moving to a new format and losing three major cast members in quick succession, one of whom might return, this season opener was a little unsteady on its feet. The process of Frankie’s introduction, transition into enemy and then back into friend seemed rather rushed by being crammed into a single episode. In season 5 Professor Hickey’s integration into the group was given more time and felt more natural. This may have been a by product of the need to replace so many regulars, but it seems like a wasted opportunity for future drama and character development. Paget Brewster admirably held her own amongst the established ensemble and I hope she can maintain the deadpan attitude and not become indistinguishable from the other girls.
The first two episodes premiering on March 17 online, whilst UK television viewers also got the chance to see them a day later on Sony Entertainment Television.