Season finale review: ‘Community’ – ‘Basic Sandwich’

A review of the “Community” season – and hopefully not series – finale coming up just as soon as I rob your brain…

“The point is, this show, Annie, it isn't just their show. This is our show. And it's not over. And the sooner we find that treasure, the sooner the Jeff/Britta pilot falls apart.” -Abed

When I reviewed “Basic Story” last week, I said I almost felt as if I should wait to write a review until after I had also seen “Basic Sandwich,” since “Story” felt less like an episode than an extended prologue. And taken together with “Sandwich,” I find myself thinking more highly of “Story,” even as I wish both of these concluding episodes had been funnier overall.

Though Dan Harmon has done series finale-style episodes before, he used these two to comment on the very nature of sitcom finales, and of the sort of endless limbo that most sitcoms have to exist in until the finale comes. The latter phenomenon – where Gilligan has to keep foiling attempts to get off the island, or the Korean War has to be stretched out for 11 years, or Ted Mosby can apparently not meet his (doomed) future wife for years on end, or else the show would be over – was the subject of “Basic Story,” while “Basic Sandwich” turned into a running dialogue (mostly between Abed and Annie) about how sitcom characters often behave when the show is about to end, whether or not a spin-off is in the works.

As a potential last glimpse of the characters of “Community,” I think season 3's “Introduction to Finality” was the more effective episode – and not just because Troy and Pierce were still around – but if this winds up being the actual end (more on that in a moment), it felt appropriate that we would go out with an episode that was so acutely and vocally aware that it could be the last episode of a low-rated but beloved sitcom. And if Jeff thinking warmly about Britta, Annie, Abed and even Dean Pelton  to reboot the computer wasn't a surprising character moment at this point in the series – even he long ago stopped pretending that he'd rather be rid of this place and these people – it was still a touching one.

Because “Community” can be so many different things in any given episode or season, there have been these splits among fans who prefer simple college hijinks episodes(*) and those who love the high-concept Greendale dystopia episodes, or between those who love when the series comments on itself and other pop culture and those who wish the concept of “meta” had never been invented. But the last couple of scenes of the series – before a tag suggesting the spin-off won't be about Jeff and Britta getting married, but about Richie from the school board as the “Thought Jacker” – are a nice mix of many “Community” flavors at once. Jeff saves the day through his love of the group, Abed looks directly at us and promises a sixth season – “If not, it'll be because an asteroid has destroyed all human civilization. And that's canon.” – everybody dances to Starburns' beloved “Ants Marching” again, and the Save Greendale committee achieves its purpose, even as we've been warned that the school, like the show remains “unmarketable and still on the permanent chopping block.”

(*) “Introduction to Teaching” was really the only episode this season to fit into that season 1 mold, as Harmon set aside the back-to-basics approach fairly quickly in favor of experiments, sequels to past successes or (in the case of the MeowMeowBeenz episode) stories that were supposed to be simple before spiraling out of control.

Will there actually be a sixth season? Since I did that long interview with Harmon, there have been some reports that Sony is already planning a movie of some kind (which could be directed by Justin “Modern Warfare” Lin), and the only reason to bring back the already renewed “Parks and Rec” and not “Community” is that “Parks” is fully-owned by the network, while “Community” is not, but I imagine Sony can make it worth NBC's while one more time if need be. 

Looking back at my reviews of each episode, this was a more up-and-down season than it appeared it was going to be at the start (when I had seen the premiere, “Introduction to Teaching” and “Cooperative Polygraphy”), and the first half of the season was stronger than the second. But the highs (“Polygraphy,” Troy's farewell, the Jeff/Duncan outing) were so very very high that I'd like to see Harmon, Chris McKenna and company get the chance to come back for one last go-around, both to tell more stories – and, perhaps, give Harmon the opportunity to go back to his original plan of showing more of the group's life post-Greendale – and to turn that ridiculous running gag from the fake clip show episode into a reality.

Six seasons and a movie. It has to happen at this point, right? Nearly every piece of this show's real-life story defies logic, so why not that?

Some other thoughts:

* I didn't recognize Chris Elliott as Russell Borchert in the photo from last week, but he was his usual excellently weird self in this one, and Britta's demonstration of how enthusiastic dumb people had won was one of the episode's best jokes.

* Okay, “Goonies” fans, who wants to take issue with Abed's suggestion that the film's story doesn't track logically?

* Abed asks if anyone has any rope, and Buzz replies, “I'm offended by that question.” If there is a sixth season, I would guess “Better Call Saul” would make Jonathan Banks unavailable – at least to the extent he's been on the show this year – but Buzz has been an excellent addition.

* Related: I interviewed John Oliver for his upcoming HBO show (look for that near the end of the month), and asked if he'd be willing and/or able to do more “Community” if the show gets renewed. He said he'd really like to, assuming they can make the schedules work. (He wasn't in season 3 because it was a presidential election year, which consumed all his “Daily Show” time, and wasn't in season 4 because he had no interest in doing the show without Dan Harmon.) 

* Jeff and the Dean are swimming against the tide on the '70s sex symbol question, given how Elliott Gould was viewed compared to Donald Sutherland at the time. Here's Gould and Sutherland each in their best '70s hair, plus the two of them together in “M*A*S*H.” You make the call.

* I got a kick out of the songs for the opening and closing of the door to Borchert's lab. (“Specially timed to the duration of the opening process!”)

* Which of the fake NBC shows would you be most excited to see on a real NBC schedule?

What did everybody else think? Did this season make you want one more season, or will you be content enough in knowing that Harmon and company restored the show to something resembling its former glory?