Change is hard. No one wants his or her favorite show to end, but then, no one likes to watch a loved one suffer either. So it is with Community, whose fourth season ends tonight. This time last year, most people thought Community was a goner. Then it got renewed — yay! — but without the guidance of creator and ex-showrunner Dan Harmon. This season has been a mixed bag; never quite as dazzling as the previous three, but not utterly worthless either. But what’s a fan to hope for? Is a compromised Community better than no Community at all, or is it time for everyone to graduate and go their separate ways? Vulture writer Margaret Lyons and Community recapper Josh Gondelman get to the bottom of their feelings about Greendale.
Margaret: So, Community ends its season on Thursday, and even if this weren’t my most-favorite collection of episodes, I will be very sad if this is the end of the road for the show. Yes, this season was not as good as the first three. But it also wasn’t some worthless pile of stank — and revamped shows can take a little while to find their footing. The fifth season of The West Wing really and truly sucked, but the seventh season was pretty darn good, just as a totally different show with a different energy and style. I believe that there’s still a good show, and maybe even a great one, to be found in Community. I’m not ready to be done with these characters.
Josh: This season of Community has had its highlights, for sure. No one is going to sit either of us down at gunpoint and make us rewatch the season’s less successful episodes, and there are definitely some that were terrific and worth revisiting. So there’s definitely the chance of the show finding a more consistent stride during a hypothetical fifth season. My big issue is that because there was so little continuity of plot, I find myself caring about the continuation of Community exactly as much as I enjoyed the previous week’s episode. The most consistent narrative arc (Changnesia!) has been the least enjoyable for me, so it’s basically been “she loves me, she loves me not” from week to week. After last week’s origin-story episode, I’m reinvested in the characters again, but I’m worried a season finale that’s all about evil twins and time streams (that’s not executed perfectly) might send me into the off-season ready to wash my hands of the study group forever.
Margaret: I hate Changnesia, too. I was never a huge Chang fan in general, though, and I think maybe that speaks to why I’d love to see more Community: because I’m not as attached to it as its superfans. Oh, I like it a lot, and find it very clever and ambitious, but I didn’t ever find it to be this unimpeachable beacon of comedy genius. A good show! Sometimes a great show! But also a show with a few serious flaws, like the weird, cruel undercurrent of how the other characters dealt with Pierce, or the creep factor of Jeff and Annie’s mutual attraction. The highs outweighed the lows, though, and I still feel that way.
Josh: I hear you on highs versus lows. I don’t know if this resonates with you, but to me Community is kind of like the Ludacris of sitcoms. Ludacris albums are all over the map in terms of overall quality, but as a rapper, he tops out as a hilarious, charismatic guy with a singular voice. So even though his body of work doesn’t put him in contention for Greatest of All Time (or G.O.A.T., as LL Cool J would put it), a Ludacris greatest-hits album would have a ton of hugely successful and enjoyable songs. Community might be a greatest-hits-type series. Ideally, I’d have watched this season the way I watch SNL, the day after, when more devoted friends say there was something worth seeing. Maybe it would work better as an HBO-style show, with fewer episodes and a tighter focus. But do we need more? This season threw so many balls in the air that were either dropped (Abed’s love interest, Jeff’s dad) or remained suspended in the sky for an awfully long time (Troy and Britta, Jeff and Annie). And you’re right about the Pierce stuff. It never reaches the self-parody of how Jerry is treated on Parks and Rec, which is clearly meant to be a hyperbolically harsh reaction to his genial buffoonery. Pierce is kind of a sad old man, and the abuse he got delivered to his face was way out of proportion. But he’s gone now, so that point, I guess, is moot. I wish there were more leaning into the weirdness of the Jeff/Annie dynamic instead of just taking it as a given. I’m wondering if all of the interpersonal dynamics within the group have run their course after four seasons of frantic combining and recombining.
Margaret: You — and Ludacris — have pretty much convinced me in theory that more Community is a bad idea, given how stagnant the character development seems and how many stories that had legs (like Abed’s crush) got dropped, while something sort of obnoxious like Changnesia got played to death. But I’m greedy! I want more Troy and Abed. I want to see Britta succeed in something, and for Annie to play that FBI agent again. I’m still worried about Fat Neil, and I want Todd to get PTSD counseling, and I want Leonard to update his vlog. I’m not ready to graduate!
Josh: Honestly, I agree with you that there’s more to explore. I want Dean Pelton to find love in a hopeless place (Greendale). I want to see the semi-triumphant return of Starburns. I want Jeff to take more petty revenge against his nemesis at the law firm. There are so many peripheral characters that we never really got to see interact. Season four was a mad dash to cram every conceivable thought into thirteen episodes. Maybe if the show were given extended life, the writers could let things breathe a little more. Do you think we could get the showrunners to pinky-swear they’d stop screwing around with long-running sci-fi narratives and just let Greendale be Greendale? Sorry to turn this point/counterpoint into a point/point, but it appears you and I are not so different after all.