It’s weird that after returning to blogging after two year break, and coming up with the name “Lord of Blog’s End,” that My first substantial posts are about things I love (possibly) ending. Earlier this week it was about the Boston Celtics, and the jury is still out on what they will do this summer. Tonight could be the last new episode of Community we will ever see. NBC may still renew the show for a fifth season, Comedy Central, who owns the syndication rights to the show, may pick it up if NBC does not, and renew it like TBS did with Cougartown last year when ABC decided to go in a different direction, or Hulu might order new seasons a few years down the road the way Netflix did with Arrested Development. For now, all we can do is enjoy the fourth season for what it is as the Greendale Seven prepare to graduate from America’s most absurd community college.
This is as good a moment as any to look back at Community‘s body of work and appreciate what the show accomplished in spite of the lack of ratings success, network support, and award recognition through four seasons. Dan Harmon took a premise loosely based on his own experience as a jaded community college student in his thirties and transformed it into a commentary on the human condition bigger than any college curriculum. He had to fight NBC and Sony to keep his original title because a show called Community College had many more limitations that would prevent him from taking the show where he wanted to take it.
In an age where Jersey Shore, Two and a Half Men, American Idol, and The Big Bang Theory ranked among the highest rated shows on TV, Community developed a following with a new demographic of TV viewer: the Internet audience. While shows that appeal to the lowest common denominator gained the favor of the networks for their success in the antiquated Nielsen ratings system, more complex, inventive, and provocative shows sparked the fervor of bloggers, podcasters, and technically inclined viewers around the world. Community will be remembered along with Arrested Development, Mad Men, Louie, Breaking Bad, and The Wire as one of the truly great works of art ever to come out of the television industry, but were dwarfed in the ratings by lesser formulaic shows. Of the shows I just mentioned, Community and The Wire make an even smaller category of well done shows with intense Internet followings that never won an Emmy Award. It seemed that the only place the show was winning support was among the legions of Internet savvy fans who made sure the show was trending on Twitter every Thursday night, even if the show was on hiatus to show NBC executives how much they wished they were watching their show, and won nearly every “favorite show” poll from TV Guide to Hulu.
I am proud to say I was a fan of Community from the night it first aired. It’s one of the few pop-culture trends I can honestly say that I was in on before it was cool, and I will be proud of that as long as I live. I first tuned in because I saw and ad (probably during an early September NFL game or a rerun of The Office) for a new pilot featuring SNL original cast member Chevy Chase and The Daily Show‘s John Oliver. Naturally I was intrigued so I tuned in to find out that the show also starred “that guy from The Soup (Joel McHale),” “Pete’s wife from Mad Men (Alison Brie),” and “that guy from Derrick Comedy (Donald Glover).” The pilot episode is not an episode that fans typically rank in their top ten, but having rewatched it several times, I appreciate it a lot more than I did back then. Dean Pelton’s incompetence is available on the surface, but so was his wedding ring in that episode. His character has really changed since then. Danny Pudi’s Abed Nadir showed us the potential the show had from the beginning. He remarked on the parallels between their situation and the movie The Breakfast Club and even channeled his inner John Bender when things got tense. Abed also performed a brilliant impression of Britta before we even heard Britta speak. Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger was the focus of the episode, a jaded ex-lawyer who needed to earn a legitimate bachelor’s degree to avoid getting disbarred. He asks his tenured professor drinking buddy/ex-client Ian Duncan (Oliver) for the answers to every exam in an effort to do what he does best: fake his way through life and get by on good looks and charisma. When that falls through, Jeff is forced to seek help from the fake study group he created in an attempt to seduce Britta, and the stage is set for a group of misfits to join together and brave the storm that is higher education….and it only got better from there.
Season four has been an interesting one to say the least. NBC and Sony fired Harmon from the show he created after three brilliant seasons, then they cut the number of episodes to 13, then they announced a premiere date of October 19th, then they pushed it back to February a week before October 19th was supposed to happen. The new episodes were shaky at first, but midway through the season, they hit their stride. It’s still the same study group at the same campus with the same Dean, and as long as there are new episodes, I will love it. They are graduating from Greendale, but the show was never really about community college; it was about the community they found while they were there. They have been through so much that they can’t just break up because they don’t have classes anymore.
My prediction about Community‘s future is that whether it goes four seasons, or five, or six and a movie, people will discover it after cancellation, like they did with Arrested Development, and say “why didn’t they make more episodes of this great show?” Whether it ends tonight or this time next year, I’m glad I was there for it. I’m sure I’ll have more to write about it soon. The show is streets ahead. If you have to ask what that means, you’re streets behind. There’s magic in the table. I won’t be able to stay away forever. Thank you, Dan Harmon. Thank you, Greendale.