Why 'Community's renewal hurts so good
Here’s to some more time in a dream. Community was picked up by Yahoo Screen yesterday, rescued from cancellation after its original home, NBC, declined to give it a sixth season. Dan Harmon is back and so is the cast, whose contracts were set to expire Monday night.
Yahoo’s 13-episode order puts the show that much closer to fulfilling its fans’ perpetually hashtagged mantra—#sixseasonsandamovie, a quote from Abed’s season-two love of NBC’s now-cancelled The Cape. But even as it’s time to pull out the old hashtag (and invent new ones—#sevenseasonsandasearchengine, anyone?), Community‘s renewal reanimates the painful something that makes Abed’s original line funny: the absurdity of being a diehard fan, of loving something blindly and too much.
Community inspires epic levels of enthusiasm. The fanbase is so passionate that it’s hard to write about the show’s renewal without drifting into a sort of democratic “we”: We did it! We saved Greendale! This is us right now. For diehards, Community is less a show than a language, a sort of forum-friendly, paintball-splattered lingo of the the web-savvy. The show’s moments are easily gif-able (have you seen Annie’s Christmas song?), and there’s nary a Reddit thread that lasts more than 100 comments without knotting around this exchange.
The fans’ enthusiasm is reinforced by the show’s central conceit, the fact that Community is about forming a community (duh-doy). It’s the story of Jeff Winger, dispassionate lawyer who slowly realizes that the people he’s stuck with are the people he actually likes. The embryo, as Dan Harmon might put it, of Jeff’s basic plot then mutates into those of the other members of the study group: Annie needs to break out of her shell; Troy needs to see himself as more than a football player; Shirley needs to exercise kindness, not guilt disguised as it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Jeff, however, is Abed, the overenthusiastic consumer of pop culture from Kickpuncher to Inspector Spacetime. A less wise show would make Abed the brains—the Spock or Sheldon Cooper of the operation—but Community paints Abed’s nerdiness as a whole-hearted, smothering love. He’s odd and distant not because he dislikes the people in front of him, but because there’s something, somewhere out there, that’s better.
In some of its best and darkest episodes, Community digs into the fault lines of that passion, exploring the way fantasy fissures across reality: In season two’s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” and “Critical Film Studies” Abed gets comeuppance for his escapism, in season five’s “Geothermal Escapism” his inability to part with a friend becomes a natural disaster, in season three’s “Regional Holiday Music” his desire for literal glee triggers some body-snatching horror. Abed’s disappointments are usually corrected by a group dance and some heartwarming music at the end of the episode, but they’re never made to seem easy. The world hasn’t lived up to the way it could be.
Abed would be a fan of Community (he loved Cougar Town, after all), and he’d be thrilled about the show’s renewal. He’d ignore Annie’s concerns about whether the budget would be enough (it’s the same as it always was!) and how much smaller an audience it would pull online. Shirley would mention that college is only supposed to last four years. “We solved that last year!” Abed would reply, speaking over Jeff’s cynical grumble that this is just a ploy from a lagging media giant that wants to be in on the game. Abed would even pull through when Britta, the queen buzzkill, reminds everyone of Community’s Harmon-less fourth season and Arrested Development‘s return to Netflix, both of which tried to reengineer perfectly calibrated joke-delivery systems and ended up with occasionally funny, nearly momentum-less Rube Goldberg machines.
Abed is right; the sixth season of Community will probably be very good. The fifth season was a return to form, and if Dan Harmon continues to probe the pathos of the study group as well as he has before, there is only more to explore. But something seems unstable about getting more time in Greendale. It’s as if someone just extracted matter from antimatter and soon physics will have to correct itself. Because the very existence of a sixth season of Community violates one of the basic premises of the show: that obsessive love won’t be fully reciprocated—that obsessives will eventually, painfully have to learn.
Maybe we will learn, but not this year.