With its meta nature and love for pop culture, Community was the last original comedy playing on network TV.
So an asteroid destroyed all of human civilisation, and with it a weird and wonderful community college called Greendale. That’s how, in its 5th season finale, Dan Harmon’s author avatar Abed explained away NBC’s decision to cancel Community. Five years is a pretty good run, actually. And if Community continued any longer then its reputation might have been further tarnished – it had already suffered for its ‘gas leak year’ in which the show’s creator/writer was ditched to appease Pierce the Insensitive.
Community was a special show because it explored how people use pop culture as a lens through which they understand the world
It doesn’t matter so much that Community lost a bit of lustre in its final two years, even upon Harmon’s return. This is a show that will be remembered, especially by TV geeks, because, perhaps moreso than any other show, Community was about television. It’s more than the fact that the students of Greendale took a class on who was the boss on the 80s sitcom of that name and another on the enigma that is Nicolas Cage. Community was a special show because it explored how people use pop culture, and television in particular, as a lens through which they view and understand the world.
Yes, this means that the show had a glut of popular culture references, and even a dozen (or more, probably) high-concept parody episodes. But these references were in service of character, and integral to the show’s observation of the TV generation. Abed, he who doomed his world to asteroid destruction, is the crux of this understanding of Community. Probably aspergic, Abed can only connect with others via movies and television. His first friendship, with a winning simpleton called Troy, was born of a love of geekery: B-movies like Kickpuncher, sci-fi series like Inspector Spacetime, and morning chat show Troy and Abed in the morning. TV was both the thing he loved most, and that which controlled him – his psychotic break was claymation-themed.
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But Abed wasn’t alone in this regard. The show’s ostensible protagonist Jeff was similarly raised by television, and consequently relied on pop culture as a guide in his development. In one episode, he holds a grand game of Dungeons and Dragons to potentially save the life of Fat Neil, who contemplates suicide. And in another deeply strange episode (strange especially for its lack of theatrics), Abed and Jeff talk about reality and what the hell it actually means. Jeff’s psychotic break is GI Joe-themed.
With Community goes the network comedy, or at least its last semblance of originality. There was nothing else like it
And because Community loved television so much, it would celebrate its history. All the glorious meta merely informed a series bent on preserving what was great about 20th century Americana – from MASH to Three’s Company. With it goes the network comedy, or at least its last semblance of originality. For Community was pitched somewhere between the traditional television of yesteryear and artsy postmodernism you find on cable and HBO. There wasn’t anything like it in mainstream America.
There have been murmurings that, like Arrested Development before it, Community might still pop up on Netflix, Hulu or any of these new platforms. I don’t see it happening. Dan Harmon is now deep into cartoonery – his Rick and Morty is incredible, and brimming with potential. Community, which was so great for three years, is well and truly gone. It lost two of its original cast members, its head writer, and even a bit of its zip, but God damn it was a fun show – a cracking loveletter to the tube that raised us.
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All images: NBC