One By One They All Just Fade Away: Why Community doesn’t need a fifth season

I’ll admit, I was late to the Community game. I only got into the show about two years ago, during the summer before the third season. But about halfway through the first season, I knew I loved it. I knew it spoke to me in ways few shows had before, and few have since. It’s probably the second most important TV show in my life (behind Lost, which will always be the show that made me love and appreciate television). I follow the cast like a hawk, keeping an eye on any and all new projects they’re working on. I’ve been an active participant player of the “Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne” game on Reddit. I will argue violently that “Remedial Chaos Theory” is the best-written episode of television comedy ever. And yet, despite all this, I can’t help but feel that tomorrow’s season four finale, “Advanced Introduction to Finality”, needs to be the end of the series.

In case you missed it, in the tumultuous time following season three, the Community fanbase grew to a rabid beast that no mere NBC or Sony executive could ignore. While the idea of TV fandoms have been around for a while, often attributed to huge commercial successes like Glee or era-spanning cultural definers like Doctor Who, you can thank the Human Beings (the name members of the fandom have given themselves) for helping to push the idea strongly into the forefront of the cultural consciousness. So while live ratings continue to plummet (though not a problem exclusive to Community or even its network, the flailing NBC), it seems the fandom is more huge and rabid than ever. So, only naturally, there has been a large push for NBC to renew the show for a fifth season (at this time, NBC has not renewed any of its current comedies).

But what exactly fuels this renewal mania? Obviously, if you become emotionally attached to a show, the natural inclination is to want it to run as long as possible. The never-ending cries from fans of beloved cult shows like Pushing Daisies or Party Down are more than enough proof. But Community exists in a more bizarre situation: after all that caterwauling for a fourth season, very few actually turned up for the premiere (and even less showed up for subsequent weeks). I’ve read more internet comments and Tumblr posts than I care to count about how “it’s just not the same”, or the more malicious “Community is garbage now!” “Community is the biggest disappointment on television,” etc, etc. An astounding number of those same fans who clamored for this new season have become dismissive of the show under its new showrunners, yet still show up every week to watch, undoubtedly to better fuel their tirade of jokes on Twitter. (Funny enough, the last time I remember a season of television being this divisive among fans was Lost.)

And yet, here we are again. On the eve of the season four finale, a massive movement has broken out online, including a contribution from the big dog itself, Sony, to watch the season four finale live and live-tweet the show as a message to NBC that they’d better renew the show for a fifth season. And while I find it admirable, I have only one question: Why? Dan Harmon, the show’s creator, has said time and time again that the show was never meant to run longer than four seasons (it is a show centered around a college degree, after all). Even the most ardent spoiler-avoider must be aware that “Advanced Introduction to Finality” will deal with Jeff and the study group’s completion of their time at Greendale. It’s the main narrative thread that’s driven the entire series. There’s no real reason the show has to stop, as there will always be stories to mine from the characters and their relationships, even without the titular community college to bring them all together, but it’s just not the right direction for the show.

For as much as Community is about the personal relationships forged between its main cast, the show works best when built around Group Study Room F. Part of season four’s uneasy oddness can be directly traced to a lack of study room. Group Study Room F, and in a larger sense, Greendale Community College itself, is essentially a character in the show, much like The Simpsons‘ Springfield or Parks and Recreation‘s Pawnee. Like those, Greendale is filled to the brim with eclectic and entertaining characters that almost seem to inhabit their own show when they’re not floating in and out of ours. Be it the screechy-voiced Garrett, always in need of saving, the party-starting Magnitude, whose dialogue consists almost entirely of the phrase “Pop pop!”, or one of Greendale’s more tragic figures, Todd, a war veteran that the study group sees as an enemy, but is really just a guy with a child trying to make something of his life after returning home. And that’s not even mentioning Greendale’s wonderfully zany professors and faculty, of which two have become series regulars in the form of Jim Rash’s Dean Pelton and Ken Jeong’s Ben Chang.

To pull Greendale from Community‘s formula would be the equivalent of losing a main cast member, which would be especially problematic for Community. Chevy Chase, who plays Pierce Hawthorne, has already exited the show, and his split from them was messy and, by the accounts of cast members, writers, and Dan Harmon, extremely mean-spirited. Chase has a long history of being difficult to work with, so none of that was necessarily surprising, but it left the show in a hard place. His arc through the second and third seasons saw him wrestle with feelings of inadequacy amongst the study group, at times becoming the show’s antagonist, but his redemption at the end of season three, especially in the penultimate episode “Digital Estate Planning”, left the character open for a challenging and fulfilling arc in season four. However, Chase’s exit forced the show to sideline Pierce, instead reducing him to rehashed jokes from seasons past and entire episodes where his name is barely mentioned.

Which is all to say: can Community survive a fifth season, especially when losing not only a main cast member, but also the character that is Greendale Community College? On some level, yes, it could. This season, like many a season four before it, has seen the show shift from a forward thinking, challenging invention of a mad whacked-on-pills scientist to a show that just wants to please its fans (which, let’s be clear, is not a bad thing, and trust me when I say that it’s happened to at least one of your favorite shows). But this isn’t just any old show we’re talking about, this is Community. The show inherently has a built-in narrative structure that would make it difficult to move past Greendale, even if it hadn’t become the rich world it is now.

And most of all, is it worth it to try and extend the life of a show, especially a comedy, beyond its natural endpoint? One simply needs to watch one of Community‘s night-mates, The Office, to see a show that has been pumped so full of drugs to keep it going that it’s literally falling apart at the seams. The Office reached a natural endpoint in possibly its most moving and poignant episode, “Goodbye, Michael”, yet NBC insisted on keeping it around for two more years. Community, like The Office, has a rich supply of supporting characters to keep the show afloat, but not even The Office risked leaving its Scranton, Pennsylvania office park for any extended period of time. So I say, let Community go on its terms. Everything about “Advanced Introduction to Finality”, from the episode description to the title to its mere existence, reads “End of Series”, and I can’t help feel a fifth season would barely be able to bring much, let alone closure. To quote Nietzsche: “The end of a melody is not its goal: but nonetheless, had the melody not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either.” Community has reached its goal; it’s time for us to accept it, and say goodbye.

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