When Dreams Become Virtual Reality

“And Jesus wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

-Craig Pelton

Dean of Students

Greendale Community College

The idea of Community ever getting six seasons and a movie used to seem as far-fetched as The Cape, the ill-fated NBC super hero show from 2011 that first inspired Abed Nadir to shout “Six seasons and a movie!” while cosplaying as the title character in the Greendale cafeteria, getting six seasons and a movie. I would say that stranger things have happened, but it’s harder to come up with examples than it should be. Let’s see: Two and a Half Men got a dozen seasons despite never being funny and having cast turnover that undermined the name of the show, J. K. Simmons is an Academy Award winning actor, but is still the marketing face of Farmer’s Insurance and the voice of the yellow M&M, and the Boston Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the NBA after trading away Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. These things can all be explained away by things like Nielsen ratings, the work ethic and mindset of a career character actor, the shrewd negotiating of Danny Ainge, and the top-notch coaching of Brad Stevens, but Community‘s survival on the brink of cancellation since the night it debuted in 2009 is a reflection of the world we live in today. Maybe that’s what Kevin Garnett meant when he said “Anything is possible!!!!”

Nothing lasts forever, but now it seems like Community might improbably challenge that statement. This is a show that NBC never felt comfortable promoting, that had its creator fired after three seasons, that was at its best accessible to a very narrow audience, but that audience stood by it through EVERYTHING!!! and now it has outlasted The Office30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and the countless bad sitcoms NBC tried to use to push out their last great Thursday night comedy lineup. It has outlasted once immovable fixtures in the sports world like Brett Favre, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Joe Paterno, and Martin Brodeur. It outlasted The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (for real, this time), The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and The Colbert Report, while David Letterman and Jon Stewart plan on getting out of the talk show game before 2015 is over. For a show that could have been cancelled before The Cape even when on its three month run, that’s really impressive.

I do not expect Community to become a multi-decade institution the way The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live have (and quite frankly, I would be worried for Dan Harmon’s health and well being if he had to keep putting in the effort he puts into this wonderful creation of his for an extended period of time), but there are definite parallels between the shows. The Simpsons thrived because the late great Sam Simon had the foresight to build an equally dysfunctional village of characters around Matt Groening’s hilariously dysfunctional family when developing the show. Community was as great as it was because it was about more than Study Room F. It extended beyond the Greendale Seven. Greendale Community College was a character on the show, and it was full of characters.

Like Saturday Night Live, critics have been ready to pronounce Community dead from the moment Chevy Chase left the show. Some things really don’t change in 40 years. SNL got by with the addition of Bill Murray and with increased emphasis on John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, while Community replaced Chevy’s Pierce Hawthorne at the study table with Jonathan Banks’ criminal justice professor Buzz Hickey, and when Donald Glover departed midway through Season Five, filled the void by giving more screen time to Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, and John Oliver. It’s a show about a community college, the kind of school most people only spend a couple of years before moving on, and if the TV landscape it was born into in 2009 had not evolved the way it had with streaming sites and hashtags, it might have been over by 2010, gone the way of Firefly or Freaks and Geeks, a giant “what if?” full of stars who moved on to bigger things. I can’t blame Donald Glover for moving on…or Chevy Chase (who doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. The way I see it, Community validated how bright his star was in the 70s and 80s.)… or Yvette Nicole Brown… or Jonathan Banks… or John Oliver. The cast keeps changing, but Greendale is still as weird as ever.

For me, Community was the perfect show at the perfect time. In the fall of 2009, I had transferred to Fitchburg State College (now Fitchburg State University) after a freshman year at UMass Dartmouth. It wasn’t community college, but it made me closer to home after not having a great year. It was a show about misfits at an underdog of a school, and it felt like Dan Harmon was writing a TV show for me, personally. Somehow a show with that narrow an audience was allowed to be on network TV, but then again, it was on a network that made Conan O’Brien move to Los Angeles to host The Tonight Show, only to give it back to Jay Leno seven months later, so they had bigger problems than the fact that the only people watching their Thursday night comedies were college kids the next day on Hulu.

We did it. The fans won the age old battle against the network TV system and ratings. I will enjoy Community as long as they keep making new episodes. It began on network TV and now only exists on the Internet. That’s the way things are going. Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Yahoo, interesting creative projects that never would have made it on television are thriving online. Last week, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tina Feys new sitcom, debuted on Netflix and was amazing. NBC could have had it, but it went straight to Netflix. Good shows don’t need TV, and TV never wanted Community, so the world now makes more sense.

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