[Warning: Spoilers, of course.]
The show’s creators gave little warning that the season 6 finale of Community is almost definitely the series finale. We haven’t gotten official word on whether or not there’ll be a season 7, but something feels prophetic about the “#andamovie” that appears at the end of the episode – maybe it simply indicates that the show has fulfilled the “sixseasons” part of its usual rallying cry, but it also seems to say that we’ll only see Community again in the form of a movie, if at all.
Throughout the finale, the characters dwell on a hypothetical “season 7” to an extent that it seems highly unlikely that the crew has any intention of making a real one. So having accepted this fate for the show, I’m less impressed by its quality, good or bad, and more by the very fact it exists. It’s 2015, and through the show has fought against cancellation since its debut in 2009, I’m only just now watching the series finale of Community.
As we’ve discussed on this very site before, maybe that’s not a good thing. If the show had been cancelled after season 3, I’d probably say without hesitation that Community is my all-time favorite television show. The quick-witted and hilarious dialogue, the ever-changing tone and character dynamics, the wholehearted commitment to every premise it tackled, the feeling of belonging and validation through its embracing of nerdiness – seasons 2 and 3 were the two seasons of television I never knew I’d been waiting my whole life to see.
After that, things got… shakier. With Harmon gone, watching season 4 was an experience of continuous denial, forcing laughter and trying to convince myself it was just as good as before, knowing all along I was watching the empty husk of a show I once loved. Season 5 was a huge step back in the right direction, and it got great performances out of John Oliver and Jonathan Banks, but it recycled too many jokes from previous seasons and left off on a strangely weak note.
On the whole, season 6 has been a bit weird. It’s remarkable that the show survived at all having lost half its principle cast, but survive it did, with the addition of new players Keith David and Paget Brewster. But at every turn, it was clear that Community was struggling. The Save Greendale Committee generated remarkably few storylines (when Frankie started this episode by proposing they change the name now that they’ve saved Greendale, I though, “When exactly did they do that?”); promoting bit players like Garrett and Todd to more prominent positions only revealed how one-dimensional they were; and with Chang no longer a teacher, a student, a security guard, or anything else, the show clearly had no idea what to do with him.
Metahumor appeared nearly to the point of exhaustion, whereas the classic full-blown genre parodies disappeared completely, besides yet another paintball episode. While it was still better than the 4th season overall, this one felt less like Community than any other in the show’s run.
All that being said, the finale “Emotional Consequences Of Broadcast Television” was undoubtedly the funniest, most earnest and most memorable episode we’ve seen all season. While early reactions have all been positive, I feel like it may become a rather divisive ending in the long run, especially among casual fans who tune in just to see how everything wraps up.
Many of Community‘s best moments throughout its run have been those where it seems to knowingly acknowledge that it’s a television show, but never before had they done so quite to this extent; after a certain point, the episode abandons any pretense that they’re doing anything but directly addressing the show’s audience. At parts it gets particularly shark-jumpy, with not just Abed but the entire cast openly dreaming about what “season 7” may look like, and those who aren’t in for the ride may claim that Community has climbed too far up its own ass.
But dammit, Community is the only show I own a single season of on DVD, and I own 3 of ’em, even though I can watch it all on Hulu. I made many of my best friends partially thanks to Community. “Daybreak” was my ringtone for a long time, “streets ahead” and “cool cool cool” have become part of my regular vocabulary, I dressed as Starburns for Halloween one year, and if Community is going to climb up its own ass, I’m climbing up there with it. Because “Emotional Consequences Of Broadcast Television” may be the closest us fans could ask for to a perfect sendoff.
For one thing, it’s a great final memory to have of the show, given it’s unlikely any of us will see an episode like it on any other show. The flashes to the various ways that the different characters imagine a potential group dynamic for the future, which they all refer to as “season 7,” are consistently hilarious, and each reveals something insightful and unique about how each character fits into the group and views the other members.
In that way it most closely recalls season 3’s “Remedial Chaos Theory,” often considered not only the best Community episode but one of the best television episodes ever produced, and it’s great to see the show end on a note that reminds us of what it was like at its absolute best. No other show would dare to take on a premise this strange and self-referential, let alone develop it with so much creativity and nuance. “Emotional Consequences Of Broadcast Television” could only be on Community.
And without losing its focus on this premise or on its characters, the episode also has twists and surprises that other great but relatively safe finales like Breaking Bad or Parks and Recreation lacked. Yvette Nicole-Brown makes multiple appearances as Shirley, and while it would have been great to see Donald Glover one more time too, her presence was a sufficient reminder of the glory days. Seth Green made a surprise appearance too, as did a talking ice cube with super powers voiced by Rick and Morty‘s Justin Roiland. Also Chang is gay apparently. And Dean says “fuck.” And good lord, that ending tag is a rollercoaster. Community at its best never lets you get comfortable, and this episode doesn’t either.
But the more important surprises were those on a character level. This is the first real progress made in a potential Jeff-Annie pairing since season 3’s “Virtual Systems Analysis,” where Annie says she doesn’t really love Jeff, she just loves “the idea of being loved.” (I’m ignoring when they undo all this character growth in Season 4, because so does the show.)
The way it turns out – Jeff and Annie still want each other in a way they don’t quite understand, and they kiss one last time, but it looks like that’s going to be the end of it – feels both satisfying and honest. It wouldn’t feel right for them to run off and get married, as Jeff briefly fantasizes, but they’ve been at an emotional stalemate for years. This was just enough to acknowledge those feelings have never fully disappeared without delving into an undeserved confession of love.
Then there’s Elroy, Abed, and Annie each going to live across the country, leaving Greendale for what looks like forever. This more than anything else seems like an assurance that there won’t be a season 7, especially since Ken Jeong and Paget Brewster also each have new shows starting up, so this doesn’t look like convenient ways to write out actors who want to leave as they did with Pierce, Troy and Shirley.
Jeff’s big fear all season has been that he’s never going to get away from Greendale, and Annie and Abed leaving brings that back with a vengeance. But in the end, being a part of Greendale isn’t so bad, because it’s become a part of him. Abed and Annie are still young and have their whole lives ahead of them, so they naturally couldn’t stay at their community college forever. They’ve been great friends to him all this time. That’s all he can ask of them.
Abed’s monologue around the halfway point of this episode seems to sum up everything about this show – the varying bonds between the characters, the countless adventures they’ve been through together, the palpable absence of his best friend for the last 2 years, and the experience of us watching Community through all of it.
“TV defeats its own purpose when it’s pushing an agenda, or trying to defeat other TV, or being proud or ashamed of itself for existing. It’s TV. It’s comfort. It’s a friend you’ve known so well and for so long, you just let it be with you. And it needs to be okay for it to have a bad day or phone in a day. And it needs to be okay for it to get on a boat with Levar Burton and never come back. Because eventually, it all will.”
Community, we’ve had our ups and downs, but you’ve been that friend to me in some way for the last six years. And movie or not, I’m going to miss that.