But the program that has endured perhaps the most difficult wait of all has only been gone about four months, but it was a long, fraught vigil for those of us who want comedies that are both smart and inventive to thrive on network television. The worry over the fate of "Community" -- which spent much of the last few months in a kind of TV limbo, with fans not even knowing when it would return -- isn't just about the future of the study group at Greendale Community College: It is part of a larger anxiety about whether comedies that are neither broad nor predictable will be able to make it on the biggest networks.
The jury is still out on that; be prepared for many tweets from beneath my desk, which is where I will have assumed the fetal position, should both "Cougar Town" and "Community" come to their respective ends this season. But let's not envision the Darkest Timeline quite yet. And let's face it, the absolute Darkest Timeline would be a scenario in which many smart dramas and smart comedies fail on broadcast networks this season. Goodness knows I love cable, but shouldn't there be such a thing as big-tent (but mildly niche-ified) television? Can't there be shows aimed at the mainstream that feature weirdos, endearing nutballs and Broadway singers? I certainly hope that's the case going forward, but the season NBC is having is making me sweat a little in that regard.
Having said that, we live in a world where both "Chuck" and "Friday Night Lights" -- both NBC properties -- got five seasons, thanks to some well-timed DirectTV financial assistance for "FNL" and some serious wheeling and dealing between the studio that made "Chuck" and the network that aired it. And as TV critic Alan Sepinwall has pointed out, NBC's perilous decade has ensured the survival of shows that would have been quickly canceled had they aired somewhere else. New-ish NBC entertainment president Robert Greenblatt may have righted the ship creatively, but he and the Peacock Network have sailed into a headwind of ever-increased time- and device-shifting (or perhaps, crappier viewer counting by Nielsen, which has yet to prove it can do a bang-up job of finding viewers who aren't watching TV in real time).
So, between NBC's fortunes and various interested parties' desire to save Greendale, some kind of assist might be in the offing for "Community" (returns Thurs., March 15 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC), but that's a possibility to ponder in a month or two. For now, let's just bask in the fact that the show is finally on TV again. Here are a few of my favorite things about Thursday's outing, which isn't necessarily an all-time classic, but should put smiles on the faces of Human Beings across the land (mild spoilers ahoy):
Meta much? Maybe a little. But after a long wait, "Community" is allowed to be self-referential, especially because, when it comes to its comeback, the show did not Britta it.
Check out my colleagues Maggie Furlong and Chris Spurlock's fab map of all the "Community" relationships, and take a look at Maggie's interviews with the cast of "Community," whom she talked to as they were making this episode.
Follow Maureen Ryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/moryan