For a show that embraced absurdity like conventional structure didn’t exist, few shows struck chords of familiarity quite like Community. At its best, it understood the nuances of every level of adulthood, be it just coming of age or looking back and wondering where the years have gone.
It is with a heavy heart that I write those words in the past tense. Community, the show that defied death time and time again, has finally succumbed to its perpetually low ratings. Its yearly dance with cancellation has gone on for so long that it feels shocking that it actually happened. It’s easy to forget that shows only dance with death if there’s a real chance that it’s their last dance.
It’s not a surprise that Community never found a mass audience. It was never a punchline generator, a show you could keep on in the background and glance up every once in a while to chuckle. Even its simpler, “low-concept episodes” (ie. the ones that actually focused on the characters’ college lives) required audiences to pay attention to the stories, to get invested in these characters. The show worked best when we knew these people well. Not many people got to know them in the first place.
And that’s a shame. Whether it was doing spot-on imitations of Ken Burns documentaries and Law & Order, or just quietly letting the characters linger on their deepest anxieties, Community was uncommonly insightful for any show.
Every Community fan no doubt has a moment when they realized how special this show really was. Common choices I’ve seen include Troy and Abed’s wonderful rendition of “Somewhere Out There” in “Environmental Science” or the still mind-blowing brilliance of “Modern Warfare”. My choice is a bit different. About midway through season 2 we knew Community was one of the best comedies on TV, as capable of delivering on a straight sitcom premise as it was taking the most out-there concept and running with it as far as it could go.
But it was the one-two punch of “Mixology Certification” and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” that showed me that this show wasn’t just something special, but something honestly, earnestly great. “Mixology Certification” was a sad little number, showing these characters wrestling with their personal demons in ways that comedies rarely address without either a snarky reminder that they don’t really care or a pleasant resolution where everyone’s problems are resolved in 22 minutes. Every character faces some of their biggest anxieties in this episode, and only Troy emerges with any significant resolution. It ends on a sweet note, Troy offering Annie some support as she grapples with her crippling self-doubt, but that’s just hint this side of the bittersweetness that comprises the rest of the episode.
“Mixology Certification” reminded us that comedy comes from painful places sometimes, and that knowing the other side of what makes characters funny doesn’t kill the joke. Instead, it makes the entire experience richer.
It also served as a prep for what might be Community’s best episode, the beautiful “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”. I’ve written at length about that episode already. It is the show’s greatest marriage of character exploration (of its most beloved character) and high-concept hijinks. There were many moments before these episodes that showed that this was a great show. But these two episodes showcased how Community was as good as anything else on TV.
There have been some sublime episodes since then, including in its final season. The show’s farewell to Troy brought tears to my eyes, and “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” reminded me how side-splittingly funny this show is when it goes straight for laughs. There were stories yet to be told in Greendale Community College. Sadly, we might have seen last of them. But it was a hell of run, for a show that had no business surviving this long.
I’m going to miss Community immeasurably. I’m going to miss Abed’s pop culture philosophizing, Annie’s indignant gasps, and Britta being the best (because she really was, damn it). I’m going to miss Dean Pelton, Jeff’s abs, and Magnitude (especially Magnitude). I’m going to miss its most bombastic excesses. I’m going to miss its poignant moments of reflection. I’ll even miss Pierce simply by proxy, even if he was already long gone.
Goodbye, Community. I could not have asked for anything more from you.