A review of the “Community” season finale – which may or may not be the end of the series – coming up just as soon as I get a job through LinkedIn…
“TV defeats its own purpose when it's pushing an agenda, or trying to defeat other TV, or being proud or embarrassed of itself for existing. It's TV. It's comfort.” -Abed
Well, that wrapped things up nicely, didn't it?
Dan Harmon hasn't done any advance press for the finale, though he'll be taking questions at a screening later today in LA. And I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he said that “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” would be the last episode of “Community” ever.
At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if he talked of plans to keep Greendale alive, whether with the long-promised (including in the hashtag at the episode's end) movie, with another Yahoo season featuring a significantly revamped cast, or both.
But even more than the season 3 finale – which Harmon wrote assuming it was the end of his time on the series, if not the end of the series itself – this felt very much like the end of “Community” as we know it.
And if that's the case, it was a tremendously satisfying, and tremendously “Community,” way to conclude this version of the story.
“Community” began with Jeff Winger arriving at Greendale with the intention of getting in and out as quickly and painlessly as possible. By the time we got through “Introduction to Finality,” he had finally made peace with the idea that he would not only be here a while, but that he was happy here. One of the running themes of this season, though, has been Jeff struggling with the realization that he will always be at Greendale, long after Annie, Abed, Elroy, and everyone else have followed Troy and Shirley out the door(*). And “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” was about him accepting that reality, as well.
(*) Given real-life events – where Gillian Jacobs and Ken Jeong have other series to go to, while Danny Pudi's pilot wasn't picked up (say that five times fast) and Alison Brie's only other ongoing job at the moment is voiceover work on “BoJack Horseman” – it's kind of funny that Abed and Annie are the ones to leave town (even if both left open the possibility of returning), while Britta and Chang are part of the group still hanging out with Jeff. That's something that could obviously be played with if there is a seventh season – Abed could return from Hollywood disillusioned about the way the business actually works, and Chang could vanish again – but if that season remains purely hypothetical, then Abed and Annie were definitely the ones who most needed to move on. As Annie asks during one of the season 7 fantasies where she's still at Greendale, “Why is this a good choice for me? Why doesn't the audience feel sorry for me?”
The device of having different members of the study group (aka the Save Greendale Committee, aka Nipple Dippers) pitch a seventh season for the show evoked the multiple timelines of “Remedial Chaos Theory.” Where that episode was examining the role each character played in the study group (and thus how events and behavior would change in their absence), this was more filtered through each character's personality, as well as their gifts or lack thereof as a storyteller. So Abed's version is entirely characters speaking in meta code, Britta's is about her tenuous understanding of various political issues, Frankie's is boring (though she at least recognizes that it needs to be funnier and lets Chang fart), and of course Jeff's is all about his desire to never have these people leave him, no matter how sad that might be for the rest of them.
But eventually some people do have to leave, because their dreams have become too big for Greendale to contain anymore. And it's Jeff's two most opposite numbers in the group – sincere optimist Annie and socially unconventional Abed – who leave him here, with Annie first being the one to help him accept that he's getting older and that stability isn't such a terrible thing. And to make clear both that this is the end of something and that the two of them haven't been having a secret affair in between scenes this year, the two of them finally get to share a real, passionate kiss, right before the rest of the group enters.
There are certainly ways for the series to continue if Harmon and Joel McHale want it to, even if it's just Jeff, Dean Pelton and a bunch of newcomers. (Or perhaps the version glimpsed here where bench players like Garrett and Vicki get promoted to the starting lineup.) We saw with Frankie and Elroy this year, and with Buzz last year, that Harmon can effectively integrate new characters into the group, and it may be time for even more turnover, given that the newbies and their confusion about how Greendale and the group both operate gave this season a liveliness it might not have had if, say, Pierce and Shirley were still sitting in those chairs. This last trio of episodes were terrific, and you can look at the finale in particular as a way for Harmon, Chris McKenna and company to prepare the audience for the idea of the show continuing while most of our favorites have gone on to other things.
But six seasons (with a movie of some kind possibly to come) is also a remarkable lifespan for a show this weird and specific. There have been some bumps along the way (including almost all of season 4), yet it's finishing strongly. If this is all there ever is to “Community,” I feel satisfied. And if we see Jeff welcoming a bunch of newcomers to that table a year from now, and the show having to make do without Abed's self-aware commentary or Britta being the worst? Well, it's worth a shot.
Some other thoughts:
* Another way in which this had an air of finality: the creative team finally took advantage of being on Yahoo to let the characters curse, with both the Dean and Britta casually dropping F-bombs at various points. For the most part, the only way the show changed when it left NBC was the length of the episodes (which was particularly effective in letting those bizarre and often tragic episode tags, like the “Community” board game one here, play out until the joke had been fully explored), so this was new. Or perhaps this is yet another sign that the show means to continue, and that we should expect far more adult content (possibly involving Annie's Boobs) in any future movies/seasons.
* On the one hand, it's a shame Donald Glover couldn't/didn't come back for the pitch where the group has three African American members. On the other, the notion of a show casting a new actor as Troy (akin to the two Darrins on “Bewitched,” the two Beckys on “Roseanne,” etc.) feels very much like the kind of thing Harmon would enjoy playing with.
* Annie was the Ass Crack Bandit! I didn't love that episode, but now I want to rewatch it just to see if there are any clues to that twist in there.
* Jeff and Annie don't have a ton in common for two people as close as they've become, but they do share a very private feeling that the Marvel movies are underwhelming.
* One last dig at Port and Guarascio, as Chang explains, “I farted during the fourth one. Inside joke.”
* The song playing as Jeff drops Annie and Abed at the airport is “Ends of the Earth” by Lord Huron. We didn't hear what Jeff told them as he said goodbye, but all I could think was a far more sincere, “I see your value now, Abed.”
* That was Harmon's voice reading the board game disclaimer (“Some episodes too conceptual to be funny… consistency between seasons may be varied…”) as the family game to grips with their unreality, while Harmon's fellow “Rick and Morty” creator Justin Roiland was the voice of the claymation character in Chang's pitch.
What did everybody else think? If this was the end, was it satisfying? How many original castmembers would have to still be there for you to consider it to be “Community”?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org