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A Fanboy’s Lament

January 27, 2014

NBC’s Community is a few weeks into its fifth season and that means my comments are overdue. Honestly, I’m proud but also a bit surprised the show has made it as far as it has; a fifth season, scheduled to run through the 97th episode of the series. What does this new season hold in store for its faithful?

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Community has been reinvented. A new slate. The new debut episode was even titled “Repilot”. The first few episodes have built a new veneer of promise thanks, in part, to the return of original show-runner Dan Harmon and his repertory writers and producers.

While this is certainly cause for celebration amongst the show’s die-hard fans (as if there were such a thing as a non-die-hard Community fan), NBC’s offbeat, little-sitcom-that-could finds itself in an unexpected position. Here it is, sitting on the precipice of 100 episodes (again, 97, unless a sixth season is in the cards), after facing seemingly-impending cancellation since season two.

If you have followed any of Community’s season-to-season renewal madness, you have likely heard about the unceremonious sacking of Dan Harmon following his public spat with star Chevy Chase in 2012. This led to a disappointingly directionless and merely decent fourth season.

With the return of Harmon (and his buddies Chris McKenna, Dino “Starburns” Stamatopoulos, and the Russo brothers), fans have reason to believe Season Five will mark a return to former glory. I have always been one to wave the Greendale flag, but I still have my reservations about the reunion of the show’s creative powers. Will Harmon be the same drunkenly destructive (and admittedly passionate) force he was in the past? If he is, it could very well mean a brilliant return to form, or just as likely, another canning and subsequent heartbreak for fans.

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The way I see it, the best case scenario for the legacy of Community has come and gone: full-on cancelation after the third season. I’ll mention it again; with the specter of 100 episodes looming in the not-too-distant future, even if Community never hits that mark, any comparisons to Arrested Development are long gone. After all, 5+ seasons and 100+ episodes would be a far cry from the initial 3/53 run posted by the Bluths (granted, Arrested has since been revived on Netflix).

In it’s early seasons, the Greendale Human Beings. made me laugh and cry with the urgency of a group that knew it all could (and likely would) end at any moment. Even the Harmon-Chase turbulence managed to serve as an appropriate meta-framing device for the decidedly dark turns of Season Three. And by “decidedly dark turns,” I mean that this was the single-darkest season of any television series I’ve ever seen, Breaking Bad be damned.

Maybe I’m just scraping the most curmudgeonly depths of my fanboy barrel, but at this point I feel Community really missed out on an opportunity to be the next great example of a show shamefully cut down in its prime, in the time-honored tradition of Firefly, Arrested, Deadwood, etc. Somehow, the possibility of joining those ranks always comforted me when I feared the inevitable doom. That comfort is now gone.

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I do think it’s a testament to the rabidity of the fan base that this show is always left sitting on the back burner, even if it’s depending on failures such as Whitney  to continue to leave the door open just a crack. Unfortunately, there comes a time when last-second orders of 13 episodes at a time just aren’t doing a show justice anymore. I have very real fears that this show simply wasn’t built to last well past the century episode mark. I mean, can you imagine Community having a 30 Rock-esque run? I just don’t see it as that kind of show. I love 30 Rock but I would be more comfortable if the two shows didn’t share this parallel. Community is every bit as good, but how does a show about disparate community collegians that otherwise defies categorization manage to last this long?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be able to spend more time with the best ensemble comedy cast to grace any television screen in the past five years. The beginning of this new season has been funny, and thankfully, a little lighter than Season Three. I hope it can strike something resembling the balance found in Season Two (the best to date) and I look forward to watching its criminally-short 13 episode order unfold. Jeff Winger and Co. are back, and while this can only be a good thing for the here and now, eventually you have to ask the question; Will Community  ever reach the point where we, as fans, would have preferred a brilliant burn out to a few gimpy final seasons? Here’s hoping the answer is a resounding “no”.

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