Community never came home drunk. Community never forgot me at the zoo. Community never abused and insulted me. It’s Community. It’s comfort. It’s a friend I’ve known so well and for so long I just let it be with me.
by Thom Yee
This past Tuesday, the thirteenth episode of the sixth season of Community aired. Or more correctly, it was released On Demand and geo-locked to American audiences, forcing those of us trapped outside of American borders who still care to resort to piracy. Whether or not you genuinely believe in the inevitability of a Community movie or if you’re willing to admit that that whole meme was just a meta lens meant to comfort us through our darkest timeline, there’s no guarantee that Community will ever be back. How would a movie work? How could that movie possibly support a full theatrical run? Would it be broadcast instead? And what else is there to say?
There’s a very real chance this is the last thing I’ll ever write about Community. And that terrifies me. I hastily started writing my review for this past week’s final episode, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television”, just after watching it, but eventually I realized I just couldn’t do it. I agonized over every sentence, every word, as I tried to fit more and more into a review clearly not structured to contain all of my concluding thoughts on a series that’s meant so much to me.
It was never any one thing that brought me to Community. At first it just looked like a funny TV show, and it more than lived up to that title throughout its first season, but even then it was just a funny TV show. Better than just about anything else on TV at the time, to be sure, but still just a TV show. There was even a brief moment early in the second season when I considered dropping it after “Basic Rocket Science” left me wondering if the show had actually regressed since season one’s “Modern Warfare”. I stuck with the show, however, both out of a recognition of what the show can be and because what else was I going to do, start watching The Big Bang Theory? Soon enough my patience would pay off as episodes about lost pens, uncontrollable Christmases, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and documentary filmmaking appeared, funnier, faster, more self-aware, more ambitious, and more brilliant than just about anything I’d ever seen on TV, and a, to-this-point, lifelong devotion formed.
And now it looks like it’s just about over.
Of course, this is far from the first time Community has, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be dead. There was the first time in the middle of the show’s third season when NBC left the show off of its spring schedule. There was the firing of series creator and showrunner Dan Harmon soon after. There was the #RenewCommunity campaign at the end of season four and a genuine cancellation at the end of season five. Community is one of the few TV shows that’s successfully converted fans from observers to admirers to ardent supporters, but now even people like me have to admit this is at least very near if not the end.
So I’m going to try to express a little bit about what it was like to watch Community over the last six years, but first, here’s my review of the last episode ever, ever.
GR Dailies: Community – Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television
6×13: “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television”
The school year’s over, Greendale’s still together, and the only business left is to rename the Save Greendale Committee, because Greendale’s finally saved. Even though it was last year. And they had already moved on to being the Greendale Activities Committee. But really most of what’s happened this season hasn’t made that much sense.
In concluding this six-years-long Community saga, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” essentially takes a different tack in filling out its half-hour run time by almost completely giving up. In what’s undoubtedly the most meta moment of a series defined by its meta-narrative structure, our remaining Greendalienites pitch their individual concepts for a theoretical season seven even as the prospects of that seventh season appear to dwindle with each new story. Among them, Britta’s sees our group ensconced in the broadest of political turmoils, Chang’s sees the addition of an animated mascot with magical powers, the Dean’s and Frankie’s both show an essential lack of understanding of our group and story structure, and in one of the most haunting of all, Jeff finds himself totally abandoned, with only Leonard, Garrett, Vicky, Todd, Dave, and newcomer Scrunch (played by Seth Green) left on Jeff’s Sustain Greendale Committee.
There are a couple of key reasons as to why the episode works beyond the fact that it’s one of the series’ funniest. It remembers and honours our cherished memories of the show, with several shots, musical cues, and locations from some of the series’ key moments, including the first time the study group came together as a community. It continues to play with the outer boundaries of the show, with the show’s opening recurring several times throughout, an open questioning of the show’s original concept, and an entire passage that breaks the show’s structure down from scripted words to structural dialogue elements (Jeff: “I have a placeholder so setup it makes analogies look like punchlines.” Britta: “My setup lacks awareness, but my punchline doesn’t know.”). The entire scene is so stunningly, shockingly meta and so instantly laugh out loud that you forget that it’s essentially a lack of writing.
Most important of all, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” lets everyone grow up, off into their own worlds, and it all feels true to who these characters are. All season long Jeff has been resisting the increasingly likely notion that he’ll be the only one left, and it’s only in this episode that he fully acknowledges that everything that’s happened to him at Greendale isn’t the unwanted deviation from his previous life as a lawyer, it’s what’s set him on the right course. Annie and Abed, the last of the youthful contingent that made up our original Greendale Seven are finally allowed to grow up and move forward into the first phases of their adulthood, while Britta is still left to find hers may simply be to stop rebelling.
As most likely the last episode of the series, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” is easily the least new-viewer friendly episode of the series yet for obvious reasons, but thankfully the main reason it’s so impenetrable is that it pays off most of everything left to resolve in the most emotionally satisfying way possible. It’s a joyful, effortless, and fun episode of what I would call one of the best and most important TV shows of all time, and I wasn’t prepared for just how good it would end up being.
Community “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” final score: 10
Items of Note:
- First full swears!
- Justin Roiland as Ice-Cube Head!
- I knew Annie was the Ass Crack Bandit!
- God I’d hate to have Todd in my study group. I don’t think I could ever grow to like him.
- Abed’s dad didn’t see him off?
- We never, even met Annie’s parents?
- Y’know, Jim Rash really doesn’t get enough credit for staying in noticeably good shape.
- So that’s two cancelled series in as many months for Allison Brie. Coincidence or curse?
- What was with all the Marvel digs? Is it because of the Russo Brothers? The knowledge that many fans of Community are probably also Marvel fans?
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When I think about what causes people to stay with a certain television series for years, at a point well beyond the initial marketing that drew them in or any acclaim that may have heard for the show or the manic thrill of discovering something new and appealing, I think about classic television series at their imagined highest potentials. Star Trek, for all its nerdy, basement-dweller trappings, is vehemently supported as an optimistic hint of what we all hope for. The Wire is a thought-provoking sociological study of moral ambiguity. Breaking Bad shows us how far a normal, even extraordinary man can fall when things don’t go the right way.
Unlike those series, however, Community is a network comedy, a format that can be comparatively shallow. Shows like Two and a Half Men and 2 Broke Girls can attest to that shallowness (along with also being racist, mean-spirited, and just overall horrible), but what makes the best comedies different is the deep emotional foundations at their core. I’ve always said that what sets a show like The Simpsons apart from a show like Family Guy, other than better, less lazy writers, is that the Simpsons are a family, they care about each other and we care about them. The same can be said about Community, which is, at its core, a show about broken people searching for acceptance.
Season two of Community was a revelation in recognizing, celebrating, and ultimately breaking conventional storytelling conventions after a more traditionally structured but no less intelligent first, and by the time we’d gotten halfway through season three I’d become a huge fan of the show, a true enthusiast and a vocal supporter, and I’m not usually all that vocal about anything. I talked about Community to whoever would listen, wrote about it, spoke in front of crowds about it. In a lot of ways I felt I had to, and so did many of you. Back then we couldn’t be sure if we would ever get a full third season, let a lone an abortive fourth, a triumphantly returning fifth, and a web-broadcasted sixth, and so the Save Community! Banner became a rallying call for a very particular set of fans.
So after so many seasons of tumult and constant fights for survival, what does it mean to continue watching Community six years later? Honestly, I’m kind of relieved it’s over.
At least for a Dan-Harmon-headed season, season six has been a bit of a disappointment. For as many strong episodes the season has had, there were just as many mediocre ones. Many of the episodes cried out for a reason for being, but in the end the thing to keep in mind about season six is that it’s a season where things were clearly falling apart all throughout. The show could survive the loss of Pierce, millionaire racist, it could even survive for a time without Shirley, the cloying, or Troy, Troy, the Wonder Boy, but not without all of them at once. Even excepting for its post-secondary roots and only the most tenuous of educational curriculums, seven years would a lot of time to spend at even the toughest community college for even the dimmest of students, and so like any group without a reason to stay together, it’s only natural that the series’ protagonists would drift apart and never come back. Well, probably never come back. Maybe.
By now there are almost no strings left from the series origins, the least of which seemed to be actually earning a diploma or degree.
Remember when Jeff started the study group as a fake Spanish tutor to get a chance at Britta?
Remember when Britta was the mother figure of the group?
Remember when Shirley was getting back together with her ex-husband?
Remember when Shirley thought she might be having Chang’s child?
Remember when Annie had that huge crush on Troy?
Remember when Troy had more in common with Pierce than he did with Abed?
Remember when Pierce was a voice of wisdom?
Remember when Britta thought she was in love with Jeff and Jeff was caught in a love triangle with himself, Britta, and Michelle Slater?
Remember when the whole group’s biggest worry was passing Chang’s Spanish 101?
Turns out that all of those running storylines, the lynchpins and underlying support structures of the show, had no legs, all long ago resolved and moved well, well past. For a brief moment at the end of season five it seemed like there might still be something between Jeff and Britta, but that was a red herring. Probably the most enduring single storyline of the entire series has been the will they/wont they between Jeff and Annie, and in the end it turned out that even though Jeff may have been in love with Annie, he knew and Annie knew that that probably wouldn’t be right for her, and that’s actually a really mature ending for the show and their relationship.
By now and the end of season six, Community is almost nothing like the show it was first billed as, and that’s a good thing. It’s an extraordinary thing, especially for a network sitcom.
No matter its failings and gas leak years, Community has been and will continue to be one of my favourite TV series of all time. In fact, of all the the things in my life, from people to places to abstract concepts, it’s probably in the top fifteen. I’m under no illusions that anything I’ve written here will convince you of its meta, innovative genius, this is just all I have left to say about it, at least until a movie comes out. But until that day, till all are one, I’ll close with my personal list of the five best shows in the series. It probably won’t look anything like yours, but the important thing isn’t that we agree, it’s that you have one.
If so, you’ve just stopped being a stranger.
We’ve become a community.
“Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations” (4×05)
This may be a gas-leak-year episode and the B story may not be all that, but seeing Jeff confront his father issues was one of the few moments in season four that felt genuine and real and not a misstep. Plus, that seventeen cards still kept in a box underneath his bed twenty-two years later thing was way too specific to be made up.
“Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” (5×03)
By far the most successful of the procedural concept episodes, “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” gets the tone exactly right, is still extremely funny, and introduced us to the Ass Crack Bandit.
“Comparative Religion” (1×12)
Most people probably don’t remember this one, and those who do probably consider it the lesser of the first two Community Christmas episodes, but for me this is a classic and is, along with Die Hard, one of the things I like to watch again every Christmas.
“Critical Film Studies” (2×19)
The first time I saw this episode I was staggered by the sheer care involved in making this episode a success, one that speaks to me even though I’ve never seen My Dinner with Andre.
“Paradigms of Human Memory” (2×21)
An incredibly innovative episode that turns genre conventions like clip shows on their head. It’s extremely self-referential, incredibly rewarding to watch, and it has the balls to call itself on its own sh*t. It’s like someone took the best clips of an entire season and mashed them altogether into a story that still makes sense and still says something on its own.