One of my favorite TV shows of all time was NBC’s Community. Well, the first 5 seasons were on NBC, the 6th and final season was on the defunct Yahoo! Screen platform. So, because I’m a cheap-ass bastard and I’m not going to get tricked into buying a platform for one show, I had to wait it out and hang out on the library sidewalk until Season 6 came out on DVD.
Point is, I finally watched the finale a year after the fact and every day since I’m more upset than the day before, so let’s have a history lesson from the viewer’s perspective and try to sort out all this angst….
Debuting in the Fall of 2009, Community was a quirky, cleverly written show centered on Joel McHale’s character Jeff Fisher. What few people remember was, is that the show debuted at 9:30 in the 30 Rock timeslot, another very well-written show, and was moved to the 8 pm when 30 Rock came back. Going up against reality TV and dramas helped the little comedy that could crack the Top 100 shows in the Nielsen ratings. Though not a ratings winner, its beginning trajectory was not unlike NBC’s Seinfeld. Here is where everything started sliding off the rails:
I remember Joel McHale promoting the heck out of Community on his E! show, The Soup. I even remember other cast members like Alison Brie showing up, promoting other things (like Mad Men), then reminding the viewers about Community. I can only imagine the suits at E! were displeased, but we’re not talking about them. Just as buzz and traction and cross-promotion were all gelling, CBS announced they were moving Season #4 of the Big Bang Theory to 8 pm on Thursdays and Community literally ran into a screaming buzzsaw.
Despite Community getting better and better, the ratings dropped farther and farther as the Big Bang Theory, which was already in the Top 20 in the ratings, continued its ascent. By the end of Season 2 of Community, it was getting drubbed and losing viewers by the week. I believe it was between seasons 2 and 3 when Joel McHale, who was still hosting The Soup, came to Cleveland on one of his stand-up comedy promotional stops. McHale was funny and even cracked jokes about some stuff happening in the news that day, which was impressive to me, when in the world did he have time to write those jokes? At the end of the show, he thanked everyone for their support of The Soup and asked people to please tell their friends to check out Community.
At the beginning of Season 3, Community was back with FEWER viewers than the low rated first season. As cancellation rumors swirled almost from the get go, critics from across the nation had Community on their Top 10 show lists and many begged NBC to keep the show around. My anger was twofold: First at CBS, why did they have to put their comedy about college students against NBC’s comedy about college students? CBS could have put Big Bang Theory literally anywhere else. So a Pox on the CBS executive who made that decision. And second fold at NBC, when researching this little rant of mine, I learned that everyone involved with the show(except maybe Chevy Chase) was promoting the crap out of it, not just Joel McHale. As Community started to rake in the accolades and awards, NBC executives were proverbial deer in the headlights when making decisions about the show’s future, and I do not remember a sweeping tide of promotion from the network itself.
So when NBC decided to bring back the beloved Community, the fans were ecstatic, but NBC hedged their bets and decided to wait nearly a year between airing seasons 3 and 4, and also dropped the order down to a baker’s dozen of episodes. Even the old show business saying that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” didn’t help the show as NBC made the idiotic decision to fire series creator Dan Harmon, and (probably) the right decision to fire Chevy Chase. As season 4 drew to a close, its rock bottom ratings finally plateaued as network rivals the Big Bang Theory ended the year as the third most popular show on television. So after Season #1 magic, NBC basically made every wrong decision afterward in the show's handling.
The official death knell for Community was halfway through season 5. Despite bringing back Harmon, NBC again waited to air new shows to the next calendar year and only again ordered 13 episodes. Who I would love to sit down with and have an honest interview with is Donald Glover. I don’t know if he knew the writing was on the wall, if he was sick of the uncertainty, or, like his character Troy Barnes, he was just ready to move on. Once Glover left after episode 5, the wheels started to come off the wagon. Not totally off, like when Ron Howard left Happy Days, but maybe, say, a wobbly wagon. The chemistry was damaged and shortly after Glover left, NBC cancelled Community for good.
Which brings us to today, I’m not on Twitter, so I never participated in any fan driven campaigns. It seemed like every year was struggle to bring back Community. So when Community’s umpteenth campaign to bring back the show ended up with a sixth season on Yahoo!, I resigned myself to watching it on DVD after the fact and long after the eulogies had been written. Again, the trail off after mid-season 5 continued, now there’s no Shirley (I know, she had cameos) and no Troy, and despite the show’s writing and the acting still being spot on, the chemistry was a bit clunky and dark, which brings us back to that last episode.
…That last episode was so good I almost cried. Even though Troy wasn’t there, it’s like he was there, the rest of the crew talked about him the whole time. Like he was gone, but coming back, one day, probably, maybe. Shirley really did come back and the whole event was an exercise in painfully self-aware, meta hijinks, as if you could mix those words together in a sentence. Despite the sadness of the finality of it all, the writing quality was reminiscent of Season 3’s Remedial Chaos Theory. Which I think is where my personal frustration comes in. Instead of Season 6 of Community being Must-See TV, NBC is airing The Blacklist. Community should have still been on NBC. And more people should have watched. If more people would have watched, it would still be on. The ending wasn’t just bitter-sweet, it was a reminder of what could have been. I'm upset just typing up this blog, this is my article, and I don't want to talk about it anymore.
Personal Note to Dan Harmon: My theory is the Marvel jokes in last episode were a tweak at Big Bang Theory, is that true? And Big Bang Theory finally won at my house, both Big Bang and Community are re-run around midnight on the local Cleveland affiliates. I turn on Big Bang Theory because it helps put me to sleep. Don’t worry, I’m buying lots of Rick and Morty stuff.