A few weeks ago marked the conclusion of the fifth season of “Community” and perhaps the end of the show. But this is always a risk one runs when getting too closely involved with this heart-breaker. Since its premiere, “Community,” the wonderfully zany labor of love by Dan Harmon has been threatened with cancellation. The show follows Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) after he must attend a community college to receive the undergraduate degree he had originally forged. The friends he makes and their wacky adventures have for some time provided a formula for success.
“Community” has always been an underdog and it is extremely fortunate that we were even granted this season at all. Dan Harmon whose genius had acted as the show’s guiding light had been ousted for several seasons and the show lagged remarkably in his absence. But the quality of the show rose drastically with his return. His deft leadership allowed for a change in concept and casting without any major road bumps and somehow it became the wonderful, idiosyncratic ball of crazy that it was at its height.
The first challenge Harmon was forced to negotiate with was the fifth season itself. How were these students still at community college after five years? With a little clever writing, this was somehow justified; not perfectly, but enough to give our key players a leg to stand on. Another problem was the cast. Two of the key actors on the show—Chevy Chase, and Donald Glover. Harmon gradually fazed out these tiresome characters and added new blood to the set by bringing back John Oliver (“The Daily Show”) and Jonathon Banks (“Breaking Bad”). I hadn’t thought it possible to introduce a new character and make him as essential to the show as Jonathon Banks has become and John Oliver’s presence is always welcome.
Perhaps the biggest reason that drastic changes to the show’s dynamic work for “Community” is that the show is so self-conscious. It takes these abrupt alterations in form in stride and plays them off as show business shenanigans. “Six seasons and a movie” is an oft-repeated adage on the show, and maybe, just maybe that will actually happen. The fifth season was surprisingly strong and was made all the more impressive after considering the hoops the writers had to jump through to make it cohesive and rational.
The season finale, while entertaining, was a disappointment. With the high quality of episodes in the past few weeks, it was hard to accept this less than stellar finale. Perhaps what makes me the most bitter is that “Community” could be canceled at any time and therefore any episode could easily be its last.
While the new season broke some new ground with an interesting animated “G.I. Joe” themed episode, the majority of the episodes succeeded because they recalled the original episodes of “Community,” by mimicking old conceits and referencing stories from the first two successful seasons, the new season was able to remain grounded and concise.
It would be a shame for Harmon, who is now reaching his comedic stride to be removed again from his brain-child and to let the show flounder at the height of its revival. With a little luck, we will be treated to a sixth season, which will undoubtedly hold up the standard of excellence that we have witnessed this year and prove without a doubt that it deserves a place in the NBC lineup.