Not everyone is rushing to change the channel at the end of a show.
People don’t always want their station to hurriedly flip over to the next piece of programming and just get on with it.
Some people – in fact, I’d wager a lot of them – savor the extra pieces of comedy goodness that fall at the end of programs; the tags. Different shows will decide to use these little epilogues in various ways (if at all), but Community has always put a lot of thought into their tags. Community is certainly a series that’s undergone a tremendous amount of transition (Shifting Showrunners? Check! Cast changes? Double check! Transition to the Internet? You get the idea…), but one of the most unexpected, delightful changes that has occurred over the course of their sixth season is what they’ve made of their end tags. Because they’ve kind of been incredible, you guys.
Very early on the series learned that they had comedic gold in the pairing of Donald Glover’s Troy with Danny Pudi’s Abed. It’s a dynamic that was thoroughly explored within the show, but also one that worked so effortlessly that Community’s tags became a de facto breeding ground for bonus Abed and Troy vignettes. So when Donald Glover left Community, the series had to come up with a new battle plan.
Alex Rubens, a writer for the show, offered some insight towards what went into this season’s endings. “There wasn’t one single approach – I’m not even sure it would be historically accurate to say we ‘fell into it,’ [the setup of this season’s tags] which suggests a kind of deliberate pattern that we were aware of at least in retrospect. But tags are (or can be) essentially sketches, and if there’s one place where we can really do whatever we want, it’s probably those tags.”
When Harmon and Community found themselves free of the network system, their options for the tags opened up. Rubens says, “If anything was specifically different this season it was probably that we could let the tags be however long we wanted – and knew they wouldn’t be cut short by anybody’s DVR.”
Last season’s tags moved towards a new sensibility separate from the main cast, such as the trailer for the Koogler movie or when Professor Duncan ended up inadvertently accessing a secret military hotline while trying to order office supplies. These ideas have the DNA of what’s going on now, but still felt tethered to the show. This season the series has really been able to let loose and push all of this to its ‘roided out extreme. It only took a few episodes into the season for it to already establish a collective feeling of, “Alright, this is where their weirdest stuff is going to end up going.” Almost like the final half hour of Saturday Night Live where you see the more unrestrained pieces getting let loose. Now it felt like there was no formula at all for these bursts of comedy that had become deeply formulaic. Really the only thing that you could depend on is that the tag probably wouldn’t contain any of the show’s main cast, instead pulling back the layers and shining a light on the rest of this messed up world.
The tags this year have taken their biggest leap yet towards fleshing out not only Greendale, but this bizarro version of Colorado that these characters live in (which has been referenced this season more than any other), in almost a Springfieldian sort of way.
This feeling of Simpsons-esque world building gets hammered home even harder with running gags about fictional Community spin-offs and parallel programs. It’s the very reason why The Simpsons could pull off an episode like their “Simpsons Spinoff Showcase,” which banked on their supporting cast and accumulated history through the years. Community might not have put in as much time world-building as The Simpsons, but they’ve done enough that we can get a tag that focuses on Officers Cackowski and Warburton pontificating on the state humanity, one digging into the stage dynamics of Garrett and Vicki, or one that even gives a glimpse into the home life of Britta’s parents.
At the same time, Community wasn’t afraid this season to reach even further with their tags, some of which became brilliant wormholes into the unknown. Two especially great vignettes featured an extended look at the life of a mischievous Asian teenager, with another depicting the destroyed marriage of an overcompensating husband played to perfection by Matt Besser. Other closers this year have focused on writers for the series, Ryan Ridley and Briggs Hatton, providing a closer than ever look at all aspects of this show. Why does your new “Troy and Abed” need to even be people that are in front of the camera after all?
Briggs Hatton, who was “featured” extensively in one of this season’s more biting tags adds:
We’ll usually write a long list of pitches for possible tags for a given episode and then see which idea sparks the most laughter…We did, however, remark in the writers room that a lot of our tags this season feel almost like mini dramatic plays – plays in which the writers could explore ideas like: ‘Well, who exactly bought this giant fiberglass hand from Dean Pelton?’ Or: ‘What is this Tokyo teen’s home life really like?’ The tag for ‘Wedding Videography’ is so bizarrely meta I’m still surprised it moved beyond just being a room bit.
Community has always been a meta show (perhaps the most meta show there’s even been), but this latest season has taken things even further, turning the ends of their episodes into fascinating experiments. The meta joke is taken to its extreme in the season finale’s tag. Rather than presenting us with a spinoff to Community, we’re given a board game. Not only do we focus on a group of completely ancillary characters like in the rest of this seasons’ tags, they become self-aware that they are cogs in a joke machine. The fake father yells at his fake son, “Don’t you get it? This means we don’t exist. We’re not created by God, we’re created by a joke. We were never born, and we will never actually live.”
If all of that weren’t enough, the episode concludes with Dan Harmon acting as the announcer in the commercial, providing a legendary rant about the broken novelties of broadcast television as he self-mythologizes himself and his series. This goes even further when it’s alluded that Harmon needs this device to tell his loved ones that he loves them. This isn’t just an indictment of network television, it’s Harmon opinion on everything as we see the show acting as his connection to the world and people around him. A perspective that we’ve seen rooted in Abed for six seasons is brought to its apex.
While Community has maintained a very strong return to form with this latest season, it’s been a true joy seeing them realize the potential of these tags. If there does end up being a seventh season to the show, it’s exciting to think that they could just be getting started with this new experiment.