Am I the only person who thought Season 4 wasn't that bad? It's clearly different and missing Harmon's voice, but some of the work on there was inspired - I especially loved the Troy and Abed switching bodies episode which was subtle, funny, and so deftly handled. The finale wasn't amazing but it was a lot of fun, it did "make paintball cool again," and it finally closed the door on the Evil Timeline story idea which had been lurking over the show and honestly wearing it thin. And most importantly for me, it was even keeled. It felt like the showrunners and cast/crew were doing their best with what they had and making some nice moments out of their situation.
Frankly I think this new season is a LOT more uneven. Troy's absence is really destroying a lot of the dynamic, and the "Save Greendale Committee" idea in general doesn't have the same charm as the banality of the study group. After one or two episodes where the single best thing about S4, Rachel, was brought back and used well, she's once again been forgotten. "GI Jeff" was smartly conceived but it was ultimately all over the place, the pacing was rushed (it felt like an incomplete 15 minute episode), and the message was so heavy-handed. And it was exceptionally out of character for Jeff to try weirdo remedies to cause his collapse to begin with. It was a really laborious excuse for a GI Joe episode, and the considering the conceit was virtually identical to the S4 finale (it's all in Jeff's mind), I don't understand why one is so great and the other is so ehn. And the other cornerstone of S5, Advanced D&D, for me was just a retread combined with stuntcasting. While it had great moments from Jim Rash who can make anything funny, Cross was woefully underused and the confident showoffy conceit of the show creating a magical world in the mind of the viewer out of what is essentially a bottle show was not as well handled here. The first one felt badass and audacious. This felt forced and unsatisfying.
While it's nice to hear Harmon's unmistakeable voice in the show again, Harmon isn't perfect and there's a lot about this season where he's simply trying too damn hard to recapture the magic. Maybe this two parter is his admission that it's no longer possible after losing both Pierce and Troy and after losing the driving conceit of the show, that they were all desperate students in this community college gone mad.
I can look at Season 4 somewhat objectively and appreciate it for what it is, and also look at Season 5 and know that even with Harmon back something just isn't right about the show. I don't know why more people can't do this.