We waited, we hoped, and we prayed. As Community fans, it’s been something of a harrowing five years in following the show. Forever on the edge in terms of ratings, surprisingly surviving year after year against all odds, NBC continued to give it life. It was never a mainstream hit and is likely almost inaccessible for all but the most hardcore of TV and movie lovers. Back in May, the sad but inevitable happened: NBC finally gave it a pass. After weeks of tenuous waiting in an eleventh-hour save, Yahoo! has stepped in to revive the show for a sixth (and possibly final?) season.
Had this happened a year ago, I know that I would’ve felt rather differently. While the first three seasons of the series were more or less brilliant, Dan Harmon was forced away from the show for a year and it shows. It wasn’t even so much a dip in quality as a loss in voice — David Guarascio and Moses Port did their best, but Harmon is the primary creative voice who drives everything that makes Community Community. Fourth season even ended on a note that could’ve well seen out the series — Jeff had graduated from Greendale and we could move on a bit disappointed, but happy, to have had the first four seasons at least.
The fifth season dramatically changed that. Not only did they find a believable excuse to reunite the cast back at Greendale, despite all having graduated and moved on, but we felt like we were watching Community again with the season premiere. We were once again watching the series with extraordinary amounts of meta and self-awareness. The one that accomplishes enough intertextuality to make any post-modern student’s nose bleed. The one that could use the best of its own exciting ideas, to say nothing for its love of TV and film, to examine the complex dynamic between our study group characters.
It’s for this reason that Yahoo!’s last-minute rescue is a boon to fans rather than a sense of dread for dragging out a has-been series which has long since lost its way. We saw it happen with The Office and we are still seeing it happen to The Simpsons, both comedy greats who have taken a slow slide in quality the longer they’re on the air, because a network continues to invest in spite of loss of creativity and audience. In this sense, what Yahoo! has granted Community is the same thing that NBC is thankfully offering Parks and Recreation next year: a chance to go out on its own terms.
The fifth season finale clearly spoke to a desire to continue to a pleading degree more than the previous two finales, both of which felt like they were preparing themselves for the worst. Jeff and Britta had their brief will-they-or-won’t-they hook-up that dogs sitcoms before major plot twists and then decided to leave well enough alone. Of course, Greendale was saved (in a real-world parallel almost last minute) and we could stay confident that maybe the series that had forever sat on the edge of ratings viability might be granted that illustrious sixth seasons fans had been pushing for ever since Abed coined the phrase back in second season’s Paradigms of Human Memory.
That finality is just as key to the renewal of the show as anything else. Ardent fans — because no other such kind of Community fans exist — know of off-screen troubles with the likes of Harmon and Chevy Chase. We’ve additionally lost Donald Glover to a music career with no indication if he’ll be returning. What’s more, there’s also the fact that the quality won’t last forever, even with Harmon back behind the wheel, and the show’s basic premise has already been stretched about as far as it can go without snapping. Anything beyond another season would feel like a desperate attempt to appease fans who have a hard time letting go and it would also feel like Yahoo! banking too much on an established property to get their competitive streaming service off the ground.
Since we know that Harmon has his mainstay of writers all on-board for this season, let’s hope they use these thirteen episodes well. While that may be somewhat of a depressingly short season, though it is the same as what Parks and Recreation is getting before it bows out, it’s certainly better than nothing. No show should be better primed for that final send-off than Community. No show, by virtue of its own structure and function, is better able to simultaneously demonstrate and comment upon what it hopes to achieve in its twilight years. Winding down final endings for all the different relationships amidst the study groups; the pairings, romantic and otherwise, and the elaborate give-and-take which occurs between so many. All before giving us one last goodbye because, even if they don’t part ways from each other, they should and likely will part ways from Greendale.
Last year, the show wisely moved Ian Duncan more into prominence and gave us Jonathan Banks’ Buzz Hickey, a grumpy curmudgeon of a professor who brought a very different and welcome kind of cynicism and pathos to the group. Add in Chang and the Dean, with liberal but not overuse of these characters, and even examining the line-up alone reminds us why the show has been as good as it is: even supporting characters around Greendale were memorable.
The movie (because Dan Harmon sure sounds like he’s planning one) can then serve as something of a tag. One final go at Greendale for everyone before maybe even closing the school altogether. It would be just the kind of teary-eyed nostalgic end to the show that it, via Abed, would comment on and then utilize all the same. Most of all, it’s just for the best that Community uses this — hopefully — final season the best that it can. Going out on your own terms is not only a welcome commodity that so many other cancelled-too-soon series were robbed of, but also a great chance to have the show end while we still love it. I don’t want Community to end after I’ve stopped loving it.