10 years after it premiered, Community is the perfect show for our moment
Today marks the 10th anniversary of Community’s premiere on NBC. Suffice it to say, the show had a strange decade. Perennially watched by too few people, Community was always on the brink of cancellation but somehow managed to run for five seasons on NBC. The network fired creator-showrunner-auteur Dan Harmon for season 4 and then rehired him for season 5, then finally canceled the show. The short-lived Yahoo Screen platform saved the series for one last season, and that was that. Along the way, Community built a passionate fan base, helped invent Donald Glover, and became yet another entry in the age-old critically beloved but low-rated canon of Arrested Development, Freaks and Geeks, Firefly, and countless others.
Community is the kind of show you could imagine thriving on a cable network or streaming service these days: a formula-busting comedy with a diverse cast and devoted fan base, requiring multiple rewinds within a scene to catch every joke. It’s interesting to note, then, that there’s been little serious talk of reviving the series. But Harmon’s a little busy at the moment, and while TV shows no longer need the kind of mass appeal they once did, programs with devoted but limited audiences still get canceled, and Community always seemed stubbornly unconcerned with expanding its viewership. This is a show that produced an episode-long parody of Ken Burns documentaries, for crying out loud.
Somehow, though, a decade after it premiered, Community finally feels like the perfect show for our moment, for reasons that have nothing to do with what people usually talk about when they talk about Community. Because when you look past the pop culture parodies, the hyper-referentiality, the structural innovations, and the showboat episodes, Community starts to look a lot more traditional at its core. Just look at the premise: Cynical, lazy, selfish ex-lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) starts attending a community college, where he quickly falls in with a group of misfits. Over the course of the series, Jeff starts to realize the value of friends, and of caring about people other than himself.
That’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff. But that central arc, which runs through the entirety of Community, is as integral to the show’s identity as its rapid-fire humor. It’s also what makes the show so perfect for 2019. So often, a new show or movie is hailed as “what we need right now” for offering an antidote to the bitter divisions and hostilities of our current climate. The beating heart that lies not so deep beneath Community’s spiky exterior is a story about people coming together to form a surrogate family, learning to love each other despite their deep-seated differences, and a story that believes in the fundamental goodness of people. What fits the bill of “what we need right now” better than that?
In all honesty, it’s probably a good thing if Community remains un-rebooted. Every time the show staggered on, it shed a cast member or two, and it’s had so many episodes designed to function as conclusions that any new season risks feeling — even more so than most reboots — like an unnatural, zombie-like extension. And most of all, the show that exists is a complete story, the story of a family, a story for people looking for a place to belong. All of Community is streaming on Hulu; go watch it, and see if you don’t come away feeling a little bit better about humanity.