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5 Ways to Improve ‘Community’ in Season 5
Josh Kurp wrote an interesting article on Uproxx recently about his ideas for how the Community showrunners can fix their foundering show in its next season, including getting rid of Inspector Spacetime and four other ideas. His suggestions are well-founded, but could be better distilled to reach the heart of the issues he raises.
Community has its problems, but most are not irreparable. If showrunners Moses Port and David Guarascio take the time to analyze the mistakes they made in season four and develop a concrete plan for what they want the show to be and where they want it to go, they have the potential to deliver a consistently satisfying fifth, and perhaps final, season.
1. No more callbacks.
Yes, they’ve gotten stale; when Abed said in the season finale, “We finally found a way to make paintball cool again,” I wanted to reach through the screen to tap him on the shoulder and correct him. But more importantly, the new creative team can’t seem to do them right. Bad continuity is the bane of any television show, especially one that rewards repeat viewing and close attention to detail the way that Community did under Dan Harmon’s administration. In season four, Port and Guarascio tried to legitimize their vision of Community by anchoring it in the past.
The season’s fourth episode, “Alternative History of the German Invasion,” features a flashback to season two’s “Cooperative Calligraphy.” While the Greendale Seven scour the study room for Annie’s missing pen, a large crowd of students gathers in the hall, waiting their scheduled turn to use the room. As many fans immediately pointed out, this is impossible because everyone else on campus was attending the puppy parade at the time. “Heroic Origins” includes a number of scenes that similarly contradict the previous seasons. It’s true that we don’t need any more jokes about The Cape over two years after The Cape was canceled, but we also don’t need the writers to try to prove how well they know this show . . . by proving how little they know this show.
2. If you can get him, bring back Dan Harmon.
Just to be clear, there is no chance of this happening. Despite the circulating rumors to the contrary, that bridge has been burned. But supposing that Sony, NBC, and Harmon were able to reach an agreement, putting Community back in the hands that created everything we love about it could have only a positive effect. This is no slight against Port and Guarascio, but only the author knows how his story should end. Kurp’s advice to the new showrunners to make Community their own and stop trying to guess how Dan Harmon would have written it is without a doubt the direction the show has to go. It is perhaps the only item on this list that is an absolute necessity if Community is to improve and conclude with its creative integrity intact. It’s curious that Kurp is completely opposed to Harmon’s return, though, however unrealistic it may be. In general, Community would be better served by looking forward rather than back, but if looking back for just a moment would restore this show to the hands of its rightful author, the right choice is self-evident.
3. Go somewhere with the romances.
From Lost to Twilight to The Hunger Games, television and movie viewers are getting sick of love triangles. Dan Harmon brilliantly subverted the classic “will they or won’t they?” sitcom trope by having Jeff and Britta abruptly sleep together near the end of the first season, but the show has been stuck in a romantic rut ever since. Jeff and Annie have been making googly eyes at each other for four years without any measurable progression of their relationship. Every time they seem to make some breakthrough or arrive at a deeper understanding of one another, it is immediately forgotten by the end of the episode.
While it’s true that the romantic relationships are not Community’s primary draw, the fact that they do have appeal for large segments of the audience is undeniable, and the writers are unlikely ever to completely alienate that part of the fanbase before the end of the show. In short, they’re not going anywhere, so the writers need to do something interesting with them. While Troy and Britta’s season four relationship amounted to a complete nonstarter, Port and Guarascio deserve credit for finally putting them together after three seasons of tension, and for devoting one of the best episodes of the season to their inevitable breakup. Allowing the Britta/Jeff/Annie triangle to similarly progress in the next season would do much to alleviate the frustration of those fans who watch Community for its deconstruction of sitcom tropes, not its indulgence of them.
4. Acknowledge Pierce’s departure.
Even before Dan Harmon was fired by NBC and his show was revamped under Port and Guarascio, Community had already begun to commit one of the most egregious crimes of the second half of its run: the marginalization of Pierce Hawthorne, played by Chevy Chase. Pierce started the show as an aging Baby Boomer desperate to remain “cool” and “hip” in a world that he didn’t understand anymore. He was crude, out of touch, and often insensitive, but he had a good heart, and when the other members of the study group took the time to look past his politically incorrect façade, they found him surprisingly full of wisdom and experience. No matter how he might antagonize them, he was still on their side and always—well, usually—came through in the end, because they were his family.
Starting in season three, however, Pierce became noticeably sidelined, a trend that only increased exponentially after Dan Harmon’s departure. The fourth season completely abandoned the pretext that Pierce was a developed character with any kind of realism or complexity. No stories revolved around him, and he spent his drastically reduced screen time as the stereotype of a confused, racist old man. I understand that Chevy Chase quit the show before the season had finished filming, but that doesn’t justify the poor writing used to explain Pierce’s absence. In “Intro to Felt Surrogacy,” the study group abandons him in the woods while he’s high on hallucinogenic berries. In “Heroic Origins,” he’s the only character whose backstory is not connected to the rest of the study group’s, the implication being that he’s not really one of them. These people are supposed to be a family. They’re the Greendale Seven, not the Greendale Six Sometimes Featuring Chevy Chase.
Pierce’s exit from the show in the season four finale was baffling in its lack of both buildup and consequences. After doing nothing for the entire episode, exactly as he had done for most of the season, Pierce abruptly announced that he was graduating, then the story continued on as if nothing had happened. I half-expect Pierce to never be mentioned again, but this would be a mistake and only compound on the poor way his character was treated in the last two seasons. The study group needs to come to terms with the fact that, as much as he annoyed them, Pierce was one of them, and his absence has created a hole in their little family group that they won’t be able to fill. Trying to fill it (with Chang, for example) will only draw the audience’s attention to the fact that it didn’t have to be there in the first place.
5. End the show.
This is a hard one to swallow, but Community fans need to face facts. As nice a rallying cry as “six seasons and a movie” is, realistically there will never be a Community movie. There probably won’t be a sixth season. The show’s creator is gone, one of its leading actors is gone, most of its best writers and directors are gone, its seasonal episode order has been cut in half, its initial premise (Jeff’s graduation) has been completed. As phenomenally talented as its cast remains, Community has been reduced from the show it once was, and it just isn’t possible to become that show again. Port and Guarascio need to recognize these facts and end the show on their terms, not attempt to stretch out its demise as the seasons become less and less funny until finally the network pulls the plug and the show ends with a whimper.
The Community writers like to write season finales that they think could also function as series finales in case the show isn’t renewed. This game needs to stop. “Advanced Intro to Finality” was a bad episode in general and would have become even worse if Community hadn’t gotten its fifth season. The showrunners need to see this as what it is: a stay of execution. Unless they can broker a deal with NBC to secure a sixth season in advance, they need to take advantage of this opportunity to make season five the best they can, and then end it with a finale that everyone knows is the finale. Maybe it will be a bad ending. Hopefully it will be a good one. But at least it will be the ending that the show chose for itself; Community is at its best when it does things its own way.
Dan Harmon can always Kickstart the movie later.