It was bound to happen eventually, but NBC has finally pulled the plug on the little cult show that could, Community. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am upset and disappointed. It might have made more sense to kill the show after the lackluster fourth season, where series creator Dan Harmon had been fired, and new writers were brought in to imitate the thing he invented. Instead, they rehired Harmon for a fifth season, giving fans hope for the six seasons and a movie that they wanted. Community is my favorite show of all time, and it’ll take more than a weekend to process and react to what has happened, but here are my thoughts so far.
I first got into Community before it even aired. There was a commercial a few weeks before the show’s debut in 2009 (and that was maybe the last time I saw NBC do any promotion of the show) about a new show starring the guy from The Soup (Joel McHale), the British guy from The Daily Show (John Oliver), and Saturday Night Live‘s first breakout star (Chevy Chase) that was set in a community college. I was just about to start my sophomore year of college, transferring from UMass Dartmouth to Fitchburg State College (now called Fitchburg State University). It was the perfect premise for a show at that point in my life, and I would have watched it even if it wasn’t good, but it was very good, and only got better.
No writer, television or otherwise, has ever gotten my sense of humor more than Dan Harmon. He was this tortured genius who could write brilliant jokes living in a world where anyone who loved or hated his show could tweet their opinion right to him. He’s been an inspiration for anyone who wants to create in an era where the future of television, movies, and the Internet are at a crossroads. At times, it felt like he was writing the show just for me. On one hand, that’s what made the show so great, and millions of people agreed, but on the other, it was a show designed for a specific brand of humor and that’s why the show’s ratings were never great. On cable, or an online streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, the number Community would have been considered a hit, but network TV is so dependent on an antiquated rating system that is an even worse measurement of quality and originality than Meow Meow Beenz. The decisions NBC made about the show were all about money, and had nothing to do with the quality of the show. NBC is struggling, and Community would not have lasted as long if they had shows that came anywhere close to CBS’ success, but now the network is going in a different direction, much they way they ended 30 Rock and The Office and will end Parks and Recreation next year, but there is no good replacement for those shows, and TV is worse off for it. Glad I subscribed to Netflix when I did.
Community‘s greatest triumph was its ability to stretch the boundaries of what a sitcom can be. The way The Simpsons and South Park have used their animated medium to poke fun at larger themes, Community did with live action actors and the world’s most absurd college campus. They could pay tribute to everything from action movies like Die Hard and Star Wars, to zombie movies, to obscure movies about dinner conversations, and to the works of Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Kaufman, and Stanley Kubrick (and again in Season 5). It had sophisticated humor, and could just as easily juxtapose it with slapstick and fart jokes. Community went animated for three full episodes, once as a claymation Christmas special, once as an 8-bit video game, and once as a G.I. Joe cartoon from Jeff Winger’s childhood, and it was brilliant.
NBC didn’t know what they had, and it’s their loss. At least, we the fans enjoyed the last five years, even though every season felt like it might be the last. Community recovered a lot better from the losses of Chevy Chase and Donald Glover a lot better than Parks and Rec recovered from the departures of Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones. Chevy’s Pierce Hawthorne was replaced at the study table by former Breaking Bad star Jonathan Banks, and while they never really replaced Glover’s Troy Barnes, the increased screen time for Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, and John Oliver (who returned to the show for the first time since Season Two, and fresh off his stint as host of The Daily Show last summer) made the loss of Troy more okay. It wasn’t the same show that we first saw in 2009, but it grew and evolved better than most shows that go through what Community went through.
I would have liked to see more, and maybe someday I will. We live in a world now where wealthy family’s whose futures are abruptly cancelled find new futures on Netflx, but that still doesn’t happen overnight. It was seven years between Arrested Develops cancellation and it’s long awaited fourth season in 2013. In the years between, Arrested Development gained a bigger fan base thanks to online streaming sites, and Jason Bateman and Michael Cera became movie stars. With the Internet being what it is today compared to what it was in 2006, it could happen faster, but I don’t expect it to happen soon. For now, it was a good ride, and even the gas leak year that was Season Four was better than 90% of what gets put of network TV these days. It was never a show about a community college. It was a show about people. It could have gone on longer, and it’s a shame that it didn’t, but at least it was here.