There is skill to it. More importantly, it has to be joyful, effortless, fun. TV defeats its own purpose when it’s pushing an agenda, or trying to defeat other TV or being proud or ashamed of itself for existing.
It’s comfort. It’s a friend you’ve known so well and for so long you just let it be with you, and it needs to be okay for it to have a bad day, or phone in a day.
…and it needs to be okay for it to get on a boat with Levar Burton and never come back. Because eventually, it all will.
With hundreds of options, it’s not hard to find a TV show that distracts you from life; something that makes you smile, shrug a worry or two, or make going to sleep a little less stressed. Rarely, though, does a show come along that not only strips away inhibitions of life, but delivers you unfiltered entertainment, escorts you through the best of what television can offer, and does it all while remaining intelligent, hilarious, and truly beautiful…enter Community.
Since this is my second time watching the series, I thought I’d just review it as a whole. This way, I can gloss right over Season Four and just talk about the best parts of the entire show. For the uninitiated, the behind-the-scenes information is almost as fascinating as the show’s canon but don’t worry, I’ll go over both in this essay.
Community is a show created by Dan Harmon, whose work you may already be familiar with via Rick and Morty but while the two share a creator, I’d say that there are more differences than similarities between the two. For one, Community still disguises itself as a situational comedy while Rick and Morty does everything it can to be as weird as possible. Community offers comfort in familiarity as it presents characters to you; characters that you already know due to their stereotypes but that grow and change into people you genuinely appreciate, admire, and adore.
Season One is one of my least favorite seasons because it takes a few episodes for the characters to find their unique voices; I’d say this show sort of goes in the opposite direction of most shows as they go from single-note caricatures to three-dimensional humans. If you look at a show like Family Guy (another tongue-in-cheek sitcom) you can see how the characters went from being fun and unique to one-note caricatures…
While this picture is 10 years old and uses words I may avoid, the idea is still true: Family Guy characters are now exclusively made to be the butt of the jokes they’d previously tell themselves.
Community is the exact opposite: the characters start out as these jokes but morph into people with perfections, imperfections, quirks, aspirations, and stories to share. It doesn’t try to hide this, either; the first episode introduces you to these stereotypes as a selling point, in even the first few minutes…
We have Jeff Winger, the cocky womanizer who is also the center point of the show because he’s the voice of reason as the straight, white male. Britta Perry, the young social activist who is also the love interest as the hot blonde. Troy Barnes, the dense comic relief as the black athlete; Shirley Bennet, the religious mother-figure as the middle-aged black woman; Pierce Hawthorne, the creepily sexual man as the old white guy; Annie, the naïve overachiever as the young white freshman; and Abed Nadir, the meta Arab with Asbergers. While all of these characters still stick to those descriptions, they start to grow beyond them a few episodes in.
Jeff starts to show chinks in his armor and gains humility, Britta proves she has a heart instead of being a stone-cold reality-check, Shirley becomes respectable instead of simply annoying, Troy loses his “bully” behavior and becomes one-half of the best “buddy cop” dynamic in TV with Abed, Annie becomes the darling sweet-heart of the show, and Pierce… well, Pierce is still Pierce which makes his dynamic feel comforting juxtaposed with the changes everybody else goes through. Even supporting characters such as Dean Pelton and Seńor Chang become huge parts of the show since they grew into such lovable oddballs.
This continues throughout Seasons One, Two, and Three which also gets increasingly wild and fresh. If I were to summarize the first handful of seasons, I’d say that Season One is where the show finds it’s footing as far as characters and style go. Season Two is a capitalization of what made the first season so great; it amped up the goofiness and emphasized the characters, and it was great fun throughout. Season Three stuck with that trajectory and took everything to a whole new level, but becomes a little too wacky at times. Still, Season Three is a blast and the balls-to-the-wall elements make for some wonderfully entertaining episodes. Then, we have Season Four.
This season is a wreck and, save for one single episode, marks some of the dullest character arcs in television. There are a few main reasons for this but the biggest ones are the lack of Dan Harmon and the Russo Brothers. Yes, Season Four didn’t have Dan Harmon. The behind-the-scenes news is that Sony Pictures Television fired Harmon a week after it was announced that Community was renewed for a fourth season. The reasoning for this firing is rumored to be his unprofessional work ethic which included alcohol intake, falling asleep while writing, not getting along with Chevy Chase, and laziness that got in the way of his perfectionist visions. Unrelated to that, Joe and Anthony Russo (who helmed some of the best episodes of the series) were hired by Marvel Studios to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier and did not return to Community in order to direct the sequel to that film as well.
I swear, if I ever have to hear the words “Changnesia” again, I’ll punch somebody in the throat.
If Seasons 1-3 allows the one-note characters to grow into three-dimensional people, then Season Four stripped it all away and made them into goofy shadows of who they once were. While there are still good ideas in the show, it struggles creatively and lacks much of the nuance of the earlier episodes. There is no subtlety here at all and the decisions that the writers made (like Chang’s entire character, or the relationship between Britta and Troy) became relentlessly annoying extremely quickly. Season Four is something I dread watching now.
Furthermore, Season Four marks the fourth year that these characters have attended this community college (save for Pierce), and fittingly decides to end their community college careers and send them off on their own directions. This was a touching finale but a finale to an entirely underwhelming season that made the end feel like it was missing something important…quality.
Then, we have Seasons Five and Six. These are what I refer to as the “comeback episodes” since not only Dan Harmon returned, but the show sort of returned to its roots. It becomes about a Community College again and erases most of the stupidity of Season Four; even having it’s first episode titled “Re-Pilot.” However, these seasons also see the end of Pierce, Shirley, and Troy as the actors decided to go their separate ways for different reasons. Donald Glover (Troy) left to pursue his music career as Childish Gambino, Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley) left to take care of her sick father, and Chevy Chase (Pierce) left due to unhappiness with the direction his character was going in, amongst other reasons. To replace these characters, other actors were brought in to try to fill the shoes with other characters and while many of them were refreshing, the dynamic of the first three seasons was gone.
That being said, Seasons Five and Six are my two favorites of the entire show. It takes the best parts of all previous seasons and makes it feel more human. The characters struggle, the relationships strain, the story deepens, and the show improves because of it. The creativity that pours from every episode of the final two seasons is undeniable; Harmon and Co.’s ability to send off a character after little warning and fill that empty spot with somebody else that works perfectly well for different reasons is simply awe-inspiring. Jonathan Banks, Brie Larson, Paget Brewster, and Keith David are some of the actors brought in that made the biggest impact on the show; they each brought a character that fit so well into the mix that it felt completely natural as if the show was always destined to have them pop up.
Because there’s no better way to summarize the show than the way the show did itself, here is the final clip of the final episode of the final season of Community…
And there you have it: the greatest show that was ever on television.
As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon 🙂