Episode 13: Advanced Introduction to Finality
The Season Finale
By: Carlos Uribe
Community is a show about the senior year of a group of friends attending Greendale Community College.
The fourth season of Community ends and I call think about is what went wrong with this season. The most obvious answer is that Dan Harmon is no longer in charge of this show. Without his voice, it went from being an imaginative and ambitious comedy to a mere shadow of itself. The weirdness remained and the heart was still there but it lacked the grace to make it work. The narrative arc of the season was all over the place as plots were picked up or dropped with no rhyme or reason. The whole Chang pretending to have amnesia to infiltrate the school was suddenly thrown away because he was invited into the group. The last episode had ended with the cliff-hanger of City College seeking to shut down Greendale but it doesn't even get referenced this week. The emotional undercurrent that helped made all the weirdness is also gone. The genre episodes are still there and there's an attempt to have them mean something. Some were more successful than others but it all felt forced. There was some ambition this season (the puppet episode) but it felt obligated. In fact, I don't think I can name a single episode this season that I would qualify as “normal”. With the limited run, this might make sense but it basically diminished the specialness of each “genre” or “ambitious” episode that came along. It was an attempt for Community to recapture what it had under Dan Harmon but it was a large failure. Oh, I still think this is a good show but it's never really been able to reach the heights of the last couple seasons. I can't name a single episode this season that stood out from the rest and I would never point to anything that happened this season as to why I fell in love with this show. Why did this all happen? Some of it could be blamed on Dan Harmon leaving but not all. After all, the people writing this show are still professionals. They might not have his vision but they were clearly fans of it. No, I think that the problem with this season of Community is that it tried too hard to prove that it wasn't going to change from what Dan Harmon had done.
I mean, honestly, how else could you explain this episode? It basically played as a counter to how many references it could make to the past. The dark timeline becomes a part of the show when Jeff throws a dice. The “dark” counterparts come in to try and tempt Jeff into accepting partnership at his old law firm. There's a lot being made about the person Jeff used to be and the person he has become now but it was more of a “let's tell you” rather than a “let's show you”. So far, we have the dark timeline and their counterparts. Add that a Cape reference because in the dark timeline the show is on it's third season. I guess that means the timeline isn't so dark after all? Why? It's because of the whole six seasons and a movie claim that Abed made when he first watched the show. The way to defeat these dark counteparts was to use paintball guns that send people into the dark timeline. This is a clear reference to the paintball episodes that Community did. There's a line where Abed mentions that they found a way to make paintball “cool” again but it was really a way for the writers to put it in because it's something the fans used to like. There's jokes about how the Dean likes to make a lot of pageantry about events. Dean has always been known for his costumes in the last few seasons but this season really had that a lot. Basically the season finale was a huge fan tribute after a whole season intended to serve as that. I mean, come on: inspector spacetime convention, overkill of meta-humor, and doing a mockumentary episode all felt like they were added to please fans. An attempt to prove that Community would keep doing what it's been doing this whole time. I guess that the new showrunners proved that they weren't going to change the show's weirdness but I think they failed in their attempt. In presenting so much fan service, Community lost it's way in the plot and character development.
Take a look at the season plot and try to find it. Chang's “infiltration” of the school was basically a way to try and revive how he had taken over Greendale. Watch out for his latest shenanigans! When City College turned out to be on the other side of the phone, it once again felt like they were the villains because they've been Greendale's rival. The plots were picked up and dropped like kids playing with toys simply because the writers tried to incorporate as many elements into the show as possible. In other words? The serialized aspects of the season was in-itself a fan tribute that made no real sense because it was too busy trying to please fans rather than actually trying to tell a story. The character development was also the same way. Jeff dealt with his father issues by finally finding his dad. He deals with it and then it largely goes away. How did it change him? It doesn't seem like it really did except for a few times when the writers remembered it had happened. If anything, I feel like the only reason that moment even happened was because fans were waiting for it rather than because the writers were interested in telling a character arc for Jeff. Likewise, the group kept finding obstacles but they kept getting united because they're close and imperfect. The show kept reminding us of this because that's where the first three seasons put the group. All the fourth season did was confirm this over and over again. This whole need to prove to Community fans that the show was going to still be Community basically took over so much that the whole season was ruined by it. The showrunners missed the point of the concerns of many people. Oh, some people might have worried about the weirdness of the show. And it's good to show that the show isn't going to be more mainstream. I think most people were worried that the actual quality of the program would suffer and it did. The jokes weren't as sharp, the plots went nowhere, the character development random, and the group kept affirming it was united because that's where Dan Harmon got them to. The season really went nowhere because the showrunners were so busy trying to prove it wasn't going to change. In the end, the quality suffered.
The season ends with the natural development of Jeff graduating a semester early. Pierce also graduates because they needed to write Chevy Chase off the show. I guess it's nice that Pierce finally got to graduate Greendale but it's too bad they couldn't have developed his final arc more cleanly. I blame Chevy Chase for this but I also suspect that the showrunners wouldn't have properly been able to handle it because of fan tribute. They would try to give the best Pierce moments rather than an actual arc dedicated towards him leaving. Now that Jeff is off from Greendale, I wonder how the writers will properly integrate him into the plots. I get he's going to be in a small firm near the community college so he can drop in at any time but there's only so many times the writers can have him organically do this. I'm hoping that Jeff leaving Greendale will be what gives the writers the kick in the balls they need to get the show moving again. We get it: the group is together. What's next? What happens now? The fifth season can't just be another 13 episodes of the group talking about how they're imperfect and close.
I doubt the Community showrunners will ever read this review but I have the following advice: stop with the fan tribute. When the Big Bang Theory is having more character development than Community then you're doing something wrong. The first three seasons of Community worked because they all had some semblance of a plot but also because the character development and emotional undercurrents was strong. The show was going somewhere in those first three seasons. It was dedicated towards going to new places. The fifth season needs to stop trying to please fans and start doing something new. It needs to have a better constructed plot that goes somewhere new, character development that's charted throughout the season, and “normal” episodes that help ground the series. Basically: the fifth season of Community needs to stop pleasing fans and have an actual season of television.