t's been a rough three-and-a-half months for fans of NBC's cult hit Community. The network unceremoniously put the compulsively quirky sitcom on an "indefinite" hiatus in December, inciting a fierce backlash among its small, yet passionately vocal fanbase. Community finally returned Thursday night with an episode that revolved around the impending remarriage of wholesome-and-bubbly Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) to her ex-husband Andre (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), and the nuptuals' effects on her community college study group. The episode, the most watched of the season, delivered a 47 percent ratings increase over the show's most recent outing. Was it worth the wait?
It was brilliant: Community's "triumphant" return exemplified the sharp writing and the "manic imagination that sustains the show," says Hank Steuver at The Washington Post. In one of the best moments, Andre barges into the community college's food court with an entourage dressed in '90s-era Boyz II Men outfits and proposes to Shirley: "Babygirl, I have loved you since there was a Soviet Union and only one Damon Wayans." The line demonstrates the mix of highbrow-lowbrow humor — "the language of the permanently-distracted Generations X, Y, and whatever" — that defines the show's brilliance.
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But still too weird for most people: One character delivered a line that could double as a comment on the series, says Bill Brioux at The Star: "It's almost too conceptual to follow, but I love it." True, the signature "mash-up of meta comedy and pop culture references" that was on full display Thursday surely delighted the show's loyal fans. But it likely drove any new viewers absolutely nuts. The ratings jump suggests that a new audience was sampling the show, but the episode may have been "too weird for the great unwashed who just want to see [Two and a Half Men's] Ashton Kutcher with his shirt off."
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It was a let down: This "wasn't Community's finest moment," says Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly. Shirley is a character best served in small doses, so focusing on her storyline wasn't the wisest move. But the rest of the side-plots didn't deliver in the typical Community fashion, either. Having Troy and Abed, the show's most absurd characters, pretend to be normal for Shirley's wedding should have been funnier — and weirder — than it was. The offering was hardly "Community at its most dexterous."
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