Halftime Leisure

The Case for Community: Part II

April 24, 2014

The following article is the second part of The Case for Community. The first part was posted last Tuesday and can be found here.

Welcome back to “The Case for Community,” an online series in which I go through the history of the show to answer the age old question: should Community be renewed for a sixth season. The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

Last week we talked about season one and season two, which set the golden standard for Community moving forward. This week, we’ll discuss seasons three and four. Next week, I’ll consider season 5 and finally answer the question.

Let’s get back into it.

Season 3 (Fall 2011-Spring 2012)

When Community’s writing staff convened in the spring of 2011, they faced a supreme ordeal. How were they going to move forward from what had been one of the best seasons of television comedy in recent history?

Their solution was actually fairly simple. Season two had succeeded by continuously placing its talented cast in increasingly absurd situations, while also constantly referring to itself and the rest of the pop culture world. Season three, the writers decided, would do the exact same thing, just on a marginally bigger scale.

This strategy ultimately paid off for the writers, as season three is one of Community’s most consistently funny, containing many episodes that build upon or reinterpret the events of an episode from season two. The ludicrous underlying narrative of the season of the struggle between Greendale Community College and its Air Conditioning School annex frames the season nicely, while still allowing for the development of innumerable sub-plots within it.

One of these sub-plots is the emergence of evil versions of each of the characters, from what Abed refers to as the “darkest timeline.” This occurs in “Remedial Chaos Theory,” which is centered around the housewarming party for Troy and Abed’s new apartment. When their pizza arrives while the gang is playing Yahtzee, one person must go down to meet the delivery person and get the food. Jeff devises a strategy to pick this person, which involves a roll of the dice and causes Abed to fret. “Just so you know, Jeff,” he says, “you are now creating six different timelines.”

The episode then goes through what would happen depending on which number is rolled, before Abed snatches the dice from the air before giving an impassioned speech on how too much in the world is random that eventually how Jeff contrived a game that would ensure that he would not have to get the pizza.

However, the real implications of the episode, which is one of the seasons best, comes in the tag, where the study group is seen in an alternate timeline, where Troy went to get the pizza. Pierce is dead, Shirley is an alcoholic, Annie is infirmed, Jeff is an amputee and Troy has lost his larynx. At the end of this tag, “Evil Abed” declares that the characters must find a way to travel to the real universe to take the place of their normal counterparts.

This concept is just incredibly silly. Jeff in the tag says it best, “SHUT UP WITH YOUR SCI-FI CRAP! I LOST MY DAMN ARM!” Okay, maybe not best, but the sentiment is there. The idea of different timelines and alternate universes are absolute hogwash usually reserved to cannabis-inspired musings. But here, for some reason, probably because of the episode’s stellar dialogue, clever reiterations and quick-paced editing, it works.

The third season gives rise to the problem that there are only so much of these ridiculous situations that we, as the viewer can take. As the season comes to a close with in a strange, and varied, three-part finale, the intrigue and novelty of the show’s innovation begins to wear off, even as the acting and writing continue to be impeccable.

Notable Choices: “Remedial Chaos Theory,” “Regional Holiday Music,” “Pillows and Blankets”

Season 4 (Spring 2013)

In May 2013, Dan Harmon, Community’s creator and showrunner, received a text from his agent as he landed on the tarmac of LAX. He had been fired.

The decision, from the leadership at NBC, was not a complete surprise, as Harmon was not exactly the easiest person to work with. His scripts were consistently late, he missed days of work without reason, and his alcoholism made him incredibly difficult to work with. On top of all this, he was often brash and mean and once got his entire crew to chant expletives at Chevy Chase, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Many writers had stated that if Harmon was to stay on for the four season, they would leave.

So, Harmon was fired and the new writing staff, to be headed by Moses Port and David Guarascio, faced the same problem they had faced in the previous season, on top of a very uncooperative NBC who pushed back the season’s premiere to February. What were they going to do to make the fourth season better than the third?

Their solution? Pretty much the same thing. Put the cast in increasingly odd and strange situations and watch them react in exactly the way we expect them to. But unfortunately for the season four writers, this strategy doesn’t really cut it.

There are a couple reasons for this, the first being that the writers try to accomplish this goal by leaning on established jokes and ideas from previous seasons. An example of this comes in the season premiere, where we are introduced to “Changnesia,” which what all of the characters officially call the amnesia that Chang has. This joke, of Chang constantly inserting his name into random words, has been extremely funny before. However, here, when all of the characters just accept that Changnesia is a thing, it just feels sloppy.

I think this can pretty easily be attributed to the lack of Dan Harmon in this season. Despite being an often terrible and problematic guy, Harmon is truly a master of comedic writing, as evident not only by his work on Community, but also by his work on The Sarah Silverman Show and Rick and Morty. His absence is very apparent as the new writers try and fail to utilize his characters and jokes, which consistently fall flat. And it was this consistently solid writing that allowed all of the crazy scenarios to actually work. Without it’s humor, these episodes are just plain weird.

For instance, take the season finale, “Advanced Introduction to Finality.” The episode contains homages to both “Modern Warfare” and “Remedial Chaos Theory,” as the evil versions of the characters traverse to the real world to fight their real versions with paintball guns that teleport their target to the other dimension. Yeah. It’s the kind of story that just looks absolutely ridiculous, but that the show might have been able to pull off in a previous season. But here, it is an outlandish mess.

Yes, by the end of season four, the only thing Community had going for it was a rabid and active fan base who wanted another season and wanted Harmon back. And luckily, our wishes were granted as Harmon was rehired and the show was renewed for a 13-episode fifth season. Though we would be losing Chevy Chase, who left the show after an incident on set, and the characters would all have graduated, season five showed promise and would prevent the series from ending on such an awful note.

Notable Episodes: “Intro to Felt Surrogacy,” “Herstory of Dance”

Photo: IMDB

Daniel Varghese
Daniel was an editor at the Voice from December 2013 to November 2016. He loved it. Follow him on Twitter @drvarg01 for his thoughts on Global Health and Kanye West.

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