No, we’re not moving over to Fridays. This week’s Flicks On ‘Flix has been delayed because it is an extra special one. At least it is to me. This week we’re looking at Community. Beloved by few, if Nielsen Ratings are to be believed, Community has become a cult hit since it began six years ago, taking the tropes of other TV shows and movies and spinning some hilarious meta humour at them. Its career is a storied one and it looks for all intents and purposes that it has finally come to a rest with this most recent sixth season. Season 1 – 5 are available on Netflix and there is no better time than now to binge and take in the wonderful nugget of comedy that was Community.
That this show ever got off the ground on a large network like NBC is something of a miracle, and the status it carried through its five network seasons wasn’t surprising. Dan Harmon, creator and showrunner, came from a relatively obscure but respected background. He co-wrote the animated feature Monster House, as well as creating and producing several shows for Channel 101. NBC were taking a punt and the pilot episode, premiering in September 09, showed great promise with regards to viewers. Then it all started to slip. From that first episode on, Community started to lose viewers week on week and by the end of its first season it had already become what it would thrive on, the show most deserving of cancellation that just couldn’t be killed, at least in the eyes of executives at NBC. Big followings are nothing compared to passionate followings however and so it survived. Come the end of the third season the routine was familiar – last show renewed in the upfronts without fail. Then came the shocker – we were getting a fourth season, without Dan Harmon. Now, I don’t fall into the category that hated Season 4 but there’s no denying that without Harmon’s influence Community slipped into far more generic territory. Harmon returned for Season 5 (no room for awkwardness in Holly-weird) and there was a somewhat “nothing to see here” attitude taken to the fourth season. Then, finally, NBC pulled the plug. There would be no sixth season, a fact made all the more tragic given the adopted slogan of #SixSeasonsAndAMovie that was applied to the show from Season 2 onwards. Then Yahoo! swooped in to the rescue and granted us this one, seemingly final, season available on their Yahoo!Screen platform (though not in Ireland, viewers here should head to the Sony channel or pick up the box set.
Anyone else exhausted? Yep, its a complicated timeline this show runs on. On top of everything else listed above, Season 3 was put on hiatus halfway through the season and Season 4 didn’t premiere until February 2013, same too for Season 5 which arrived in January 2014. That we got as far as a sixth season is nothing short of miraculous. Anyway, some actual show and plot related information. Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) is a lawyer, but just barely. As he puts it himself, he has a degree from Columbia and now he needs one from America. In order to do so he enrolls in his local Community College and, in an effort to sleep with one of the other freshman students, sets up a fake Spanish study group. Just like the real-life experience Dan Harmon based the plot on, what begins as the somewhat cool character alpha male surrounded by freaks and geeks soon becomes a close knit group of friends, each one as madcap and crazy as the other whilst also being exceptionally endearing at the same time. The big hinge of the group turns out not to be Jeff however, as it is the emotionally limited film and TV buff Abed who becomes the lynch pin of the show. Abed serves as the direct voice of Dan Harmon quite often and the majority of the parodies and plays on tropes come directly from him, the rest of the characters playing into his concepts more and more as the seasons go on.
I never like to openly say parody when describing Community as it can seem like a cheap word and imply sketch comedy style puns. Make no mistake, there is none of that to be found here. No instead the show runs down one of two lines – parodying a redundant or over saturated genre/franchise or lovingly paying tribute to one, whilst also deriving laughs from certain aspects. Notable examples are Season 1’s “Contemporary American Poultry” and the two part Season 2 finale “A Fistful Of Paintballs/For A Few Paintballs More”. The former is a brilliant episode long homage to Goodfellas, wrapping up with a Sixteen Candles tribute because, why not and the latter spends the first half riffing on every Western ever made and the second half producing an excellent ode to Star Wars. In the midst of all these themed episodes and familar arcs from classic film comes plenty of knowing humour, referencing other works for in-jokes as well as the show being incredibly self referential. For example, due to Harmon being booted off the job Season 4 is regarded as a bit of a write off. Harmon’s solution to retcon this? A hallucinogenic gas leak on campus, something that never happened during said season but if you ask anyone involved in production, that is the only explaination to the difference in tone and style. So far I have probably given you the impression that you need to be the king of pop culture in order to find any enjoyment in this show, trust me when I say you don’t. I would consider myself to be far too knowledgeable for my own good when it comes to film and TV trivia and such but even I get left in the dirt at times by Community. Sometimes it’s due to the joke being in reference to a classic piece of American media or entertainment, sometimes its just a well buried in joke that doesn’t sink in with me until later. As well as all this, it is still a comedy show with an absolutely fantastic ensemble cast who are all accomplished comedic actors from minute one. I can’t stress the importance of the cast enough really, from Gillian Jacobs to Chevy Chase and priceless combo of Pudi and Donald Glover, you watch this and you love the characters. You care about them. The writer deserves credit, but this is nearly entirely on the cast.
If this sixth season is indeed the last, then it is a bittersweet goodbye. Unfortunately, as stated above, Netflix didn’t swoop in so at present Yahoo!Screen is our only option for repeat viewings after binging the first five, but you need to watch this alternative final season should you choose to go down this road. With the end very clearly in sight and seemingly more slack on offer from Yahoo!, Dan Harmon has produced one of the finest seasons, including a finale that would make a grown man cry (after he has laughed hysterically for twenty minutes that is). Maybe this show was just a little too weird to survive a “normal” run, or maybe it was always going to be better as the outsider, but the fact is that it has gone on for at least twice as long as it had any right too but unlike many other shows, it never felt like it was running out of ideas. Ideas were all this film had, taking concepts that would normally be considered “too much” and taking them all the way to the finish line. Problem is, Community never made it as far as the bank. But you have five seasons there all lined up and ready to go, without the agonising beginning to the summer as you wait for the renewal notices like myself and many others did. If you want something different, yet welcoming at the same time, this is the show for you.