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John Oliver resumes his ‘Community’ tenure

John Oliver says there’s “fantastic explanation” about why his character has been absent from “Community.”  |  NBC

John Oliver says there’s “a fantastic explanation” about why his character has been absent from “Community.” | NBC

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Updated: February 3, 2014 3:07PM

NBC’s “Community” is inching one step closer to its goal of “six seasons and a movie,” as the quirky comedy returns this week for a fifth (7 p.m. Thursdays, WMAQ-Channel 5).

Among the guest stars will be John Oliver, returning as the snarky, alcoholic Professor Ian Duncan for a six-episode arc beginning Jan. 9.

Oliver last appeared in Season 2, as a psychology professor at Greendale Community College . After taking over an Anthropology 101 class (in which he showed YouTube videos and drank shots with students), he ran off once the dean (Jim Rash) discovered it was a blow-off class and Duncan was fabricating exams.

“Professor Duncan has such a vibrant relationship with alcohol that it’s entirely possible he simply blacked out two seasons ago, and doesn’t realize that he’s missed anything,” says Oliver, a fill-in for Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” over the summer who has an HBO talk show in the works for next year. “The truth is that there’s actually a fantastic explanation for his absence that makes simultaneously complete sense, as well as no sense whatsoever.”

The cast is thrilled to have him back, says Joel McHale, whose character Jeff Winger was once a friend and foe of Duncan, though he reveals they are now equals.

“I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s like having a childhood friend all of a sudden move into your apartment building and you guys are 25 and can party every night,” says McHale of Oliver’s return. “He’s a good person and you want to be around him, but on top of that, he’s one of the most intelligent people around. And on top of that, he’s the funniest guy in the room.”

“Community” fans gave a lukewarm reception to last season amid behind-the-scenes drama. Cast member Chevy Chase left before shooting was complete, and creator Dan Harmon — fired after the third season — is making a comeback after replacement showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port (“Happy Endings”) left.

Harmon is “basically calling it a re-pilot of the show, where he’s re-establishing all the characters and grounding [them],” McHale says. While it’s not a total reset of the series, it picks up one year after the Season 4 finale, in which Jeff finally graduated from Greendale.

So does being a lawyer work out for him, or will Jeff become a Greendale Human Being again? Although McHale can’t say, he promises it’s “one of our best seasons” and the show is “as sharp as it’s ever been.”

Oliver agrees: Harmon “has taken this season to a whole new level,” he says. “I really hope that people watch, it’s going to be great.”

Gannett News Service

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