After months of delays, cancellation scares, and false starts, the fourth season of NBC’s cult hit Community finally premieres this Thursday. The relentlessly meta comedy helped to alleviate fans’ fears following some high-profile staff changes and pushed already sky-high expectations even further when it released a Hunger Games-style trailer earlier this week. While the clip was clearly aimed at pleasing hardcore fans — Dean Pelton as Effie Trinket was a welcome return to cross-dressing form — it didn’t give much away in terms of what we can expect from the season ahead. So, in the spirit of Annie’s over-preparedness and Abed’s encyclopedic pop culture knowledge, we’ve compiled everything we know so far (including some minor spoilers) about what’s next for the Greendale gang.
Dan Harmon has left the building
In a post on his Tumblr (charmingly titled “Dan Harmon Poops”) shortly after Community was renewed for a fourth season, showrunner Dan Harmon, largely credited with the show’s ambitious, zany plots and reference-heavy sense of humor, announced that Sony Pictures Television had fired him from his own show. To make matters worse, Harmon also insisted that despite his title as “consulting producer,” he won’t actually be involved in the creative process in any way. Harmon will be succeeded by Happy Endings executive producers David Guarascio and Moses Port, who promised to maintain the show’s “weird, wonderful” vibe at 2012′s San Diego Comic Con. They’ve certainly got big shoes to fill.
Community‘s best remaining writer is leaving, too
Megan Ganz, who’s responsible for Community’s famous documentary parodies, as well as the show’s Law & Order send-up, is also saying her goodbyes. The good news is, Season 4 was written by the time she announced she was jumping ship for Modern Family, and Ganz penned two of the upcoming episodes.
We’ll only be spending half a semester at Greendale
Where the first three seasons of Community spanned 25, 24, and 22 episodes, respectively, Season 4 will air just 13 installments. The May 2012 announcement of a shortened season came just months after Community suffered a midseason hiatus during the 2011-2012 season that provoked a massive outcry from fans and culminated in an “Occupy NBC” flashmob outside 30 Rock. The show’s ratings were never outstanding and have slipped over time, but that doesn’t make the abbreviated season or its delayed release date (sorry, NBC, but every day is most definitely not October 19th) any less disappointing.
It’s senior year
As the trailer above confirms, we’re heading into the study group’s final year at Greendale (although if, by some miracle, Community is renewed for a fifth season, we’re sure they’ll find a way to stay longer). And we might see a little mischief out of Annie, who has vowed to give up her overachieving ways and “do senioritis.”
Pierce Hawthorne will still be around, just not as much
SNL alum Chevy Chase, who plays the geriatric, intolerant millionaire Pierce Hawthorne on the show, finally announced his departure from Community last November after a series of public feuds with Dan Harmon. Luckily for fans of Pierce, whose confrontation with his dead father’s legacy inside a giant video game was one of last season’s boldest episodes, most of Season 4 had already been filmed by the time Chase decided to call it quits. According to Deadline, Chase will be missing from only a couple of full episodes. He’ll even be around for the finale, because the season was shot out of order.
Season 4 will end on a cliffhanger
Speaking of that finale, TVline reports that it will include “a cliffhanger that leaves the fate of several characters up in the air — one of them being Pierce.” Although Chase’s departure hadn’t been confirmed by the time the episode is shot, the script apparently provides a convenient out for the character.
Jeff is graduating early
Well, supposedly. But not before he takes one last class with his study group buddies.
Dean Pelton has written an episode
Diehard fans know that Jim Rash, the actor who portrays Greendale Community College’s cross-dressing dean with a not-so-subtle crush on Jeff Winger, also happens to be an accomplished screenwriter. Most notably, Rash co-wrote the screenplay for Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, earning him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. So it’s not much of a surprise to learn that Rash wrote the as-yet-untitled tenth episode of Season 4; according to Vulture, the episode centers around Greendale’s alumni weekend. We can only imagine what kind of costume Dean Pelton has in store for potential donors.
There will be woefully ill-timed holiday specials
Since Community Season 4 was originally intended to premiere in October, the show shot no less than three holiday episodes — Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They’ll all air this spring. Sigh.