Friday evening, after mentally water-boarding (#POPWHAT) us for two and a half days, NBC announced that they had picked up Community for a fifth season. Of course, then NBC turned around and left us (YES US) off the fall schedule, but quite frankly, that was to be expected. As I said on Twitter, at least they are being upfront about keeping Community on the bench, as opposed to having another October 19th debacle. Still Community, along with Parks and Recreation, survived a comedy bloodbath at NBC that could only be compared to The Hunger Games.
(I think that makes us Katniss Everdeen: scrappy, a bit abrasive and standoffish and a symbol to the downtrodden everywhere. And Parks would be Peeta Mellark…media savvy, affable, and easier to embrace. Yes. I like this comparison. )
I can admit that Season Four of Community was a mixed bag. It was the first season without the voice and guiding hand of Dan Harmon, and I felt the show tried a little too hard to STAY in the Harmon voice, which is a bit of an impossible task without him. I compare it to season five of The West Wing, which was the first season without creator Aaron Sorkin. Season Five was tedious, y’all. It tried too hard to maintain the Sorkin-ese. I had to force myself to get through it, and half watched many of the episodes. But then something happened. The show found itself again in season six and especially season seven. I couldn’t STOP watching it…and not just because I was hurtling towards the end of a loooooooong marathon. Taking the show on the campaign trail revitalized it, and while it wasn’t QUITE the same as the first four years, it was JUST as compelling. That is my hope for season five of Community: that the show finds itself able to step out of the shadow of Dan Harmon and reinvent itself into a show that is its own. Community is NEVER going to be the same without Dan Harmon. We discovered that in season four. But that doesn’t mean the Guarascio-Port years can’t be good in their own right. Hopefully they are able to look back on season four and see what worked and what didn’t and improve from there. There is still a lot of good left in Community…they just have to embrace it.
That being said, let’s take a look at what I think did and didn’t work this season (four points each, for symmetry!), and what I would like to see in season five…
– The character growth for Jeff Winger:
The Thanksgiving episode where Jeff confronted his father was quite possibly the best episode of the season and it featured a hell of performance by the VASTLY underrated Joel McHale. While there were some episodes where it seemed Jeff slid back into his season one asshole-ish behavior, you can’t say that Jeff hasn’t grown as a person, and for the better. Season one Jeff couldn’t WAIT to get out of Greendale and back to his life as a lawyer. Season four Jeff was AFRAID of leaving Greendale. Season one Jeff would have just laughed off Shirley’s dark secret while season four Jeff made everyone else reveal their secrets so Shirley would feel better. Season one Jeff would have NEVER organized a Thanksgiving dinner for his real family, the study group. This is the year where Jeff fully embraced his love for his friends and acknowledged how they had changed him. His love for them is immeasurable, even when divided seven ways. I’m curious to see what exactly they do with Jeff in season five, now that he has graduated, but if he keeps going on the same path he has been on, I can only see good things for him.
– Giving Annie a new career path: She was never suited for hospital administration anyway. Plus her new career as an investigator will be great for the eventual Law Firm of Winger and Edison spinoff. #pathological
– The use of Pierce: It’s sad that they finally figured out how to play Pierce in Chevy’s last season of the show. He moved away from being the antagonist of the group and became almost a bumbling benefactor. His storyline with Jeff at the barbershop and the way he stuck up for Britta in “Herstory of Dance” were among some of my favorite moments of the season.
– The use of recurring characters: Community has always used the student body of Greendale effectively, but seeing the study group through the eyes of Garrett, Neil, Vicki, Todd and Leonard in “Alternative History of the German Invasion” was a real highlight, especially as they flashed back to moments from “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”. As was seeing the very first “pop pop” and seeing this whole lovable gang of misfits gathered for Jeff’s graduation.
What DIDN’T Work
– The Class/Professor of the Year Selection
This actually was a (much smaller) problem in Season Three…why bother making a big deal about what class they are all taking if we rarely see anything to do with it? I appreciate the need to get the characters outside of Greendale, especially considering we will likely need to do it more now that Jeff has graduated, but it definitely felt like they did too much away from Greendale this year (even though I look at the episode list and see that only 5 of the 13 episodes were ENTIRELY off campus, it certainly FELT like it was more, no? Even many of the ones on campus had NOTHING to do with classes). There was so much they could have mined with them taking History and the fact that it was supposed to be senior year for most of them. It just feels like a lost opportunity, and one that can probably be chalked up to the shortened season.
Additionally, I know it is super cool to book name actors like Malcolm McDowell and Michael K Williams as the yearly professors, but if they can’t be used to significant impact, why bother? Look back at seasons one and two and the impacts Chang and Duncan had. In fact, Professor Chang has been the best way that character has been used. And I miss Ian Duncan EVERY EPISODE. I would love to get back to that feeling, even if it means casting a lesser known name to do it. The professor needs to feel like a constant presence.
Also, Professor Cornwallis was creepy to the max.
– Romantic Relationships: Look. No matter where you fall on the shipping scale, you have to admit that the one thing Community has constantly failed at is the depiction of romantic relationships. I understand that Community is not a show about relationships, but are we honestly supposed to believe that all of these people are perpetually celibate? It has felt like they have been so afraid of alienating any one particular shipping fandom that they have ended up alienating EVERY SINGLE shipping fandom. Look at the way Troy and Britta were handled. They had such a lovely and believable build-up to their relationship in season three and (aside from a few throwaway moments) it was virtually ignored in season four, up until they broke up. And it felt like they broke them up for no good reason other than keeping Britta open as a possibility for Jeff (which is a MAJOR disservice to the character of Britta Perry. And I’ll touch on my feelings for Annie later).
Basically, if you are going to pursue romantic relationships on this show, it needs to go for an all or nothing mantra. Stop listening to the shippers, stop listening to whatever Dan said in season one (I know. Sacrilege. BUT these characters are DIFFERENT than they were in season one. Refusing to acknowledge that is doing wrong by the history of the show) and start listening to what the character arcs are demanding. And maybe all the writers should sit in a room and DISCUSS it, cause it definitely felt like each episode had a different agenda when it came to romance.
And for the love of GOD if Jeff and Annie are never meant to happen in any REAL timeline (and let’s be honest. They should have at least had some hot sex by now, just to get it out of their system. Who do they think they are? Josh and Donna?), then PLEASE give notes to Joel and Alison to stop looking so lovingly at each other. Because HOLY HELL there is a disconnect between what is being said and what is being seen on-screen. And that’s all I have to say about that.
– Changnesia: As Jenn and I were just discussing, the problem with Changnesia is there were zero stakes to it. We knew he was faking the whole time. The jokes got old very fast. And then the storyline was wrapped up way too quickly (Chang just changes his mind about it cause Abed invites him for fro-yo? Really?). The show really needs to find an effective use for Chang, because as I said, he really hasn’t worked since season one. He worked okay as a student at Greendale, so why was that abandoned?
– Relying too much on old tropes and storylines: Not that I didn’t think that the use of The Darkest Timeline to demonstrate Jeff’s fears was great. And we can all admit that Evil Study Group was effing HOT. But it’s time to let that storyline rest, along with paintball. To quote Jeff in “Regional Holiday Music”, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. It all goes back to what I said at the start of the post. It’s time to step out of the shadow of the brilliant “Remedial Chaos Theory”, out of the shadow of Chris McKenna, and out of the shadow of Dan Harmon. It’s time to come up with NEW tropes that have the fans clamoring for more. There’s a difference between making callbacks to past episodes and using past episodes as a crutch. Season Four leaned the latter way a bit too much. It’s time to trust that the audience is ready for new stories.
What I Want For Season Five
– CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT FOR ANNIE EDISON
Annie is now the most under-developed character on the show as Shirley has gotten some real meat in the past 2 seasons. It has felt like Annie has mainly existed to be cute and moon over Jeff Winger lately. It’s a shame as they have one of the most formidable (word choice intended) actresses in comedy right now in Alison Brie. USE HER APPROPRIATELY. Annie is a smart and driven WOMAN. That’s right. WOMAN. Stop treating her character like she is still supposed to be an eighteen year old girl. There is so much potential in Annie’s character, and it was REALLY wasted in Season Four. I’m sure there are going to be new writers hired as so many of the vets moved on in the hiatus, so maybe seek out some people who get excited about Annie (and Alison), okay?
– A unified agenda in the writer’s room: Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE our writers. They are brilliant and more funny and more articulate than I could ever be. But this season felt more disjointed as far as voices this season. Maybe it was from working entirely in a bubble with new showrunners, but the changes in tone felt a little too jumpy this year.
– Less Dependence on Gimmick episodes: The puppet episode, while a great idea, was the episode that left me the most cold this season. Maybe it was because of the dark reveals at the end that had their impact lessened as they were delivered by puppets? I hate to make a comparison to Glee, but much like the music on that show no longer serves the story in a logical way, many of the gimmick episodes on Community this year felt the same. Want to do an all puppet episode? Make sure it serves the story and that you’re not just doing it to be wacky, okay?
– The Return of Ian Duncan:
Like I said. I miss him all the time!!
Whew! That felt good. I still loved Season Four. A sub-par season of Community is still better than most things on television. There WAS a lot of good in this season, and I hope they build on it for season five…whenever it airs.
Just think…one more season after this and we can have our (kickstarted) movie! I am so proud to have fought this fight for season five alongside all of my fellow Human Beings. We’ve earned a nap before we start fighting again!!