NBC’s Community may have controversial creator Dan Harmon back as showrunner, but judging by the 3.4 million viewers who tuned in for the two half-our episodes—down 32 percent from the rather abysmal season four premiere—the audience may be slow to follow.
There are a few ways to look at this, and not all of them are pessimistic. First, it fared better than NBC’s other Thursday night comedies, so at the moment it shouldn’t be first on the chopping block. Second, Community is a show that benefits when DVR viewings are taken into account. Third, season four, when Harmon was gone, was such a mediocre self-parody that the original die-hards may need some time, not to mention some positive reviews, before they trickle back in to the Harmon universe.
The good news on that front is that reviews of the first two episodes (and the next two, for critics who received advance screeners) have been generally positive. Paste’s Sean Gandert called “Repilot” (a brilliant episode title, it should be said) “staggeringly brilliant,” adding that “the dark and cynical place it came from felt extremely honest.” If that consensus prevails, it’s likely that many fans will return as the season progresses.
The bad news, of course, is that the ratings are simply low, and Community tends to put up better numbers early in the season, meaning we’ll probably see a decline before we see any mid-season bounce. When you consider Dan Harmon’s contentious relationship with NBC, and the lack of patience the network has shown in the past, it’s not a very sunny picture.
There are 13 episodes schedule for season five, and the positive reviews may keep NBC from cutting things short this year. But unless there’s a significant growth in viewership between now and the finale, the prospect of a sixth season (much less a movie) looks rather poor.