So, the NBC show Community ended its third season this past Thursday with a mini marathon of three new episodes. After having been jerked around this season (it was placed on “hiatus “ after the Fall, then brought back for the Summer after much speculation that it was cancelled), NBC has announced that Community is indeed coming back for a fourth season, but in Friday, the notorious “death slot”. NBC also fired show runner and creator Dan Harmon (all of the writers are off too – not fired, but some have left for other jobs, one quit over Harmon being fired). The head writers are not going to be David Guarascio and Moses Port, writers for Happy Endings – a show I really effing despise -- and creators of the frankly shitty Aliens in America (a concept done way better at the same time in this country with Little Mosque on the Prairie).
Ah, Community. For those who don’t know, I really love this show. I’ve see every episode since day one and own the first two seasons on DVD (I intend to get season 3 when it comes out). I love the characters (my favourite being Abed) but I also love all of the cleverly handled tributes and spoofs on all things pop culture. Dan Harmon himself is in his late 30s and he seems to have been influenced by the same pop culture references that I love. That said, mainstream acceptance and longevity seems to have been sacrificed for “gimmick” or “theme” episodes, of which this show has thrived on for episode after episode in seasons 2 and 3. While I love the Youtube episode (made of clips in the spirit of random Youtube fan clips), the all claymation Christmas episode, the Dungeons and Dragons episode in which the characters do a quest involving all of the D&D rules, the alternate reality episode and even this Thursday’s all 8-bit video game episode (in which most of the episode was entirely done in 8-bit videogame style), most people will not understand what the hell is going on. As well, even I admit to being tired of all of these strange theme episodes. The characters don’t seem to have a chance to grow and breath. Annie and Jeff’s characters (Alison Brie and Joel McHale respectively) looked like they were heading into a relationship with each other heading into season 2, but then their relationship was addressed sporadically, taking a back seat to all of the pop culture tribute shenanigans. Hell, the most they ever showed of this storyline was the alternate reality episode, and that part of the episode didn’t matter to the rest of the continuity. Also, Brita is impregnated by Chang (Yvette Nicole Brown and Ken Jeong respectively) in a Halloween episode none of the characters remembered because they were infected by a government-made drug that made them all zombies. Then, there are characters acting out of character. I loved the character of Abed (Danny Pudi) in season one. He was portrayed in that episode as a quite boy who appeared quirky and strange to everyone, but was really intelligent and in full command of himself, but just had trouble communicating to people. I loved that he loved watching movies and TV shows and had a full encyclopedic knowledge of all of it, but was still a cool, intelligent dude who had a calm outlook on life that elevated himself above the others around him who thought he was odd. I remember the episode where his simple notion that he should do a favour for a friend no matter what caused him to outwit a bunch of lab students being a favourite of mine, and I love one epidoe (I think it was the first Halloween episode?) where Jeff accuses Abed of not being connected to reality, and Abed giving a speech part way through the episode where he admits that he does know what’s real and what’s fake at all times, but chooses to view reality through the lens of pop culture. Oh, and I love the episode where in Jeff breaks down and lives life like Abed, spending his days watching TV shows and movies with Abed in his dorm room, until Abed realizes that isn’t eh life for Jeff and creates a plan for Jeff to stand on his own two feet – because Abed was fully aware of his surroundings enough to know what Jeff was doing to himself was wrong. Then what happened? Apply the Abed of those episodes to the Abed of season 3. Abed is nothing but a wack job now. He plays in the “imaginatorium”, he thinks he’s Batman, he has mental breakdowns of yelling fits when his favourite show is cancelled – WTF? I don’t know but, isn’t this out of character for him? Then Chang gets crazier and crazier, taking over the school and kidnapping the Dean. And speaking of the Dean, he becomes more and more of a crazy homosexual stereotype with every episode. Sure, the costume changes are entertaining for about a second when you see them, but that’s all the character is good for now. And all character arcs, from Annie, Abed and Troy (Donald Glover) sharing an apartment together, to Shirley having her baby are back-burnered while everyone does the Pulp Fiction episode, or the 40’s gangster film episode (you know, the episode with the chicken fingers). I can see why Community’s numbers aren’t where they should be.
On the other hand, NBC has done a piss poor job of promoting this show. They’ve run more ads for the obnoxious Whitney than they have for Community. For eff sakes, Joel McHale and Donald Glover are two of the most talented stand up comedians in the business, comedy legend Chevy Chase is a regular cast member on the show, movie star Ken Jeong (no matter whether or not you like him, he's popular among the young crowd and is a regular on the show), and for eff sakes Jim Rash who plays series regular Dean Pelton won an effing Oscar this past year and I saw nothing in the ads saying “starring Oscar winner Jim Rash”!! How the hell many TV shows this season boasted an Academy Award winner. And forget ads mentioning Jim Rash, I just didn’t see ads for Community. Could they not just mention the show just a little bit? I mean, Joel McHale promoted the show on his other series The Soup, and he was doing that on the E! network!!! NBC couldn’t parlay an all star comedy cast into a powerhouse marketing campaign!!??
So, what do I think of all of the changes to Community for the upcoming season? First of all, if this is a move toward telling stories that focus more on the characters, than I applaud that. And that’s about where my enthusiasm for these changes to Community ends. First, the Friday slot is usually a signal that a show is close to being cancelled. Much is being made of the fact that Community will now lead into Grimm, one of NBC’s only hits of the past year. But Community’s move to Friday with a measly 13 episodes looks to all the world like NBC just wants to order up a few extra episodes, in order to have an attractive syndication package in which to make really money on the show (the new episodes will push the total for the series to 80 episodes). As for the new show runners, hooo boy. As I said, I really hate Happy Endings, a show these two are really involved with (my Wife loves that show, btw). Everyone on that show is trying to act witty and funny with quick, zippy lines, but I don’t know if it’s just the bad delivery of the cast – everything is terribly unfunny. The jokes don’t seem genuine, just stuff that’s read aloud by the cast – none of the dialogue seems natural. Sure, characters in TV shows don’t talk the same way real people do, but you’re not supposed to notice that – and I do with Happy Endings. And let’s not talk too much about Aliens in America, a show that was supposed to explore Muslims living in America and coping with American customs in a “humorous” way – it was really short lived. And these jokers are taking over Community. If the new show runners will be moving away from the pop culture stuff to focus on characters, I guess that’s fine but they should know this – Community’s backbone has become that savvy deconstruction of all things pop culture that the show’s studio Sony, and the show’s network NBC seem so squeamish about. I don’t want this show to turn into Big Bang Theory. As much as that show is hugely, insanely popular (which I do want for Community), Big Bang got that way by skirting the line between pop culture (and so called “geek culture”) awareness and mainstream pandering. Big Bang did this by mainly positioning the jokes to laugh at geeks rather than with them. And sometimes, it kind of crosses a line and rings false (the last episode of Big Bang I saw featured a line where Sheldon disparaged the Green Lantern movie and I swear the audience moaned when he said it, knowing that it was noticeably out of character for Sheldon who would have probably thought the movie was awesome). Community does not laugh at geeks, but with them, in increasingly clever ways. I really hope they continue that.
Anyway, that’s my long winded rant on Community. I wish everyone involved in season 4 the best of luck. I’ll be watching.