A Wanker’s Literary Reaction: Community Season 6
A couple of years ago, I started watching Community. I’d caught a few episodes from the first series when it was first out, found myself ambivalent, and never tuned in, but a vague crush on Joel McHale joined with some idle Wikipedia browsing about what Chevy Chase had been doing recently led me back to the show. And I loved it. I showed it to everyone I knew, sparking off my own little study group of Community fanatics, head over heels for the fast-paced meta humour and Jim Rash in beautiful dresses (did you know Jim Rash has an Oscar for screenwriting? Every time he wanders on screen in another outrageous fantasy confection, my mind shouts “ACADEMY AWARD WINNER JIM RASH” at me and it becomes three times as funny). Then the fourth series spun around, and the loss of Chevy Chase weighed heavily on the show, even more so than the removal of showrunner and creator Dan Harmon. It still made me laugh, but it wasn’t as utterly memorable and instantly quotable as it once had been. The fifth series barely held my interest at all, with the incredible Donald Glover finding work elsewhere and only one or two episodes that I wanted to watch again-and some I could barely get all the way through. The whittling-down of the cast had me wandering the halls of Greendale Community College feeling a bit lost. Even Mike from Breaking Bad couldn’t save it.
So when I heard about the show’s cancellation, I wasn’t surprised or particularly disappointed- sure, it’s always a shame to see something you once loved go off the air, but I thought Community had it’s best years behind it. If it’s cancellation had saved something like Happy Endings or Suburgatory- both shows culled long before they went stale- I would have thrown Community on to the “out” pile in a second. But that didn’t stop a little quirk of interest when I heard that Yahoo had picked the show up, and would be producing the long-hoped for sixth season (#sixseasonsandamovie) and, like the good little drone I am, I watched the first two episodes when the came out in the middle of the night earlier this week. And I have some thoughts.
The first and most obvious problem is that the show is buckling under the weight of it’s own imagination. That hefty central cast that made up the first through third series-with seven main characters in all- helped the show bring all it’s crazy subplots and sub-subplots to fruition, because there were always people to throw themselves at whatever crazy shenanigans were sweeping the corridors that week. The show felt the loss of Donald Glover and Chevy Chase keenly and, with the amusingly-framed exit of Yvette Nicole Brown (the show’s secret weapon- her occasional bursts of darkness still remain the funniest parts of the early seasons for me),we’re left with only four of the original main cast as season six opens. Sure, in their place we’ve got Jim Rash and Kim Jeong stepping up to larger roles, and their characters are both well-written and superbly performed- but they’re not part of the group. They used to be there to roll by and spurt out a few lines of outrageous, plot-advancing dialogue (or occasionally stage keytar-themed takeovers of Greendale), and they’ve had a lot of the most jagged (and most entertaining) corners shaved off because they’re real-ish people now, people who need to carry plots and emotional arcs. I preferred them as unrepetent caricatures. Alright, I still did a spit-take the first time Jim Rash delivered a reverant “JESUS….WEPT” in the second episode, but it’s nothing on Dean Pelton having a Scorcese-inspired breakdown as he tries to film a new school commercial, or blackmailing Jeff into singing “Kiss from a Rose”. And that’s what my main issue comes down to with this season, and the couple that have preceded it; I never watched Community just because of the outrageous meta-commentary, I watched it because these were actually characters I liked and cared about and related to on some level (I hate to say it, but I’m somewhere between an Annie and a Britta, dating a Jeff-Abed crossover). Their chemistry was impeccable, and each time someone left a little bit of it was lost. This is no criticism to the remaining cast, but you can’t just pluck Monica and Joey out of the Friends group and expect everything to function the same- or be half as entertaining. The lack of cast- coupled with a longer running time of 27 minutes- leaves the show feeling a bit lost and a bit empty. There’s too much time to fill and not enough to fill it with, especially with A and B plots kind of being smushed together because there aren’t enough characters to separate them totally.
But that’s not to say that there weren’t some great moments in the show. Abed’s hilariously unsubtle listing of everything fans were worried about before the show came back was so on the nose that I had to roll my eyes and laugh along; Paget Brewster’s pragamatic Frankie was a welcome addition, a fun and surprisingly seamless entry into the Greendale world that proves they could probably pull off adding a few more characters to the show if they have the nerve and the willingness to piss off old, purist fans. Guest stars- although they occasionally clutter things up a little- were deployed well here, especially a glimpse of the lesser-spotted Nathan Fillion (also, guys, did you know Matt Berry is going to guest-star in this season? Hold on to your fucking hats, because it’s going to get SHOUTY AND FULL OF INNUENDO IN HERE) in the premiere. And, when it comes down to it, I did laugh a few times during these two episodes- the heartiest came at Ken Jeong’s calm description of a cat under a couch which was chewing it’s was through his hand, closely followed by the glimpse we got of Alison Brie’s folder. And while I found the plots less emotionally impactful than they once had been (the one with Britta’s parents was particularly “whaa?”-worthy), there were glimpses of the heart Community seemed to have lost over seasons four and five. Look, what I’m saying is that this might not be the old Community, and it might not even be the new Community they tried over the last couple of years, but maybe this new-new Community will be something to look forward to. Here’s hoping for six good seasons (and a movie).