May 15, 2014

Finale Reviews: Community Season 5 / Series Finale

"We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year…"

A good friend of mine and fan of Community pointed out to me this week how poignant the show's theme song was on the day its cancellation was announced. Apparently, all the reasons NBC kept this show on the air one by one just faded away.

Consequently, "Basic Sandwich," which aired on April 17, 2014, constituted not only the end of the fifth season of Community, but will also (probably, although I suppose not certainly) serve as the series finale. Darkest Timeline, indeed, for a show to end just one season and one movie short of its catchphrase.

13 episodes does not constitute a full season in my book. And it's equally a shame that "Basic Sandwich," which stood alone on its air-night but so obviously should have been the second half of an hour long episode - will just have to do for a finale.

Not that the episode wasn't good. It was. Did it have some plotholes? Sure. Some frighteningly melodramatic moments? Absolutely. For example, take the conclusion. How does having Russell Borchert as Vice Dean solve all of Greendale's problems? Chang has diamond teeth now, so it isn't even as though they got his money. And melodrama? Out the wazoo. I mean, the emphatic shushing would have been expected from the Dean, but was overkill from the group at large. It did not elicit a laugh from this viewer.

But in spite of all that, it was a solid episode. And it spite of its worst episodes and its low fourth season, Community was (is? sigh.) a solid show. And it's a show I'll miss. Maybe not as much as I miss The Office a year after its finale, but I'll miss it.

Shirley, Hickey, and Duncan really drew the short straw on this episode, didn't they? Well, either that or they took one for the team. But honestly, keeping Shirley upstairs excluded her from Jeff's emotional, door-opening, life-saving, flashback moment. And that's a real shame, because the Shirley/Jeff dynamic that was solidified in the season 3 episode "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism" is one of the deeper, more meaningful connections I've seen on the show.

Speaking of Jeff's big moment, it was beautiful. Fantastical as the plot setup was, Jeff's experience of emotion was as perfect a conclusion to his character arc as we could hope for. Well, actually his speech at the conclusion of season 3 (found ridiculously in five parts here, here, here, here, and here) more accurately bookended his character by echoing but refuting his speech from the pilot. I still loved his emotional moment with his friends - his community - in the sealed off, dusty, forgotten Greendale Computery College. Even though Shirley wasn't there, and even though the audio flashbacks weren't quite as powerful as actual visual shots would have been. Despite what Abed says, I'll contend that this show really was about Jeff, and to see him grow to the point where his love can solve the problem instead of his arrogance creating it? That's beautiful.

Community ought to go down in history as the anti-TV show. Consider the finale episode's anti-love story between Jeff and Britta. They begin the penultimate episode of the season with a decision to be together forever, and in the critical moment of the adventure, Britta and Jeff don't grasp one another's hands, they let go. The friendships on this show are anti-friendships. Or at the least, unlikely. And not the kind of unlikely that sitcoms usually pretend are odd couples but are actually as common as bad reality shows on cable. This was a show about a group of authentic misfits. Moreoever, Community made fun of itself and of TV in a remarkably funny way. Honestly, the fact that it lasted five seasons is unreal and something to be celebrated.

Now, this post would not be complete without a shoutout to Subway. Oh, Subway. You have done so much for my favorite NBC comedies. You helped Chuck out when times were tough for the Nerd Herd, allowed your slogan to cameo with Ryan Howard on The Office, and now, allowed your company to be the villain of Greendale. I'll get a five dollar footlong this week just to say thanks.

So let's talk about Abed for a bit, and all his meta-commentary on what this episode and show are and mean. "This show, Annie, it isn't just their show. This is our show," he reassures her, and launches into a hurried analysis of spin-offs and sitcoms and all that we who love TV love to hate about TV. It was one of my favorite moments in the episode. But it wasn't the moment that had the most to say about the show itself. That award goes to Annie and the line, "We were driven down here by sellouts with crappy values. Since when do human beings decide which dreams are worthwhile?" If the sellouts doesn't accurately describe the network execs who'd cancel Community, I don't know what word would.

Of course, I'm going with Abed on this one. Community has ended because, in that universe, an asteroid has destroyed all of human civilization. That's canon. But Community will always be a show I can return to. And I will, if only in my head every time I hear "Roxanne." And now, every time I hear "Ants Marching."  Community has made an incredible impact on television, particularly network television. I'm convinced of that. It mobilized its fan base like no show before it, and it was always in on the joke. The NBC joke, the sitcom joke, the fact that it was the butt of the joke. Community was possibly the most self-aware television show there ever was. As evidenced by their credits roll coda "Coming Soon to NBC." After all, what airs always does depend on what fails. Sorry to see you go, Community. Whatever new show takes your time slot has a tough act to follow. Maybe now the networks will get better at taking the advice from that theme song

"So watch what you throw away; And be here to recognize; There's another way." 


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