Community: Season 6 — a review

Reaching 100 episodes of a television series used to be a major accomplishment. It was the traditional threshold for a show to be able to enter syndication. I’m not sure if that still applies these days. Multiple streaming platforms, in addition to all the cable networks and the Big Three, have altered the television landscape somewhat.

Community made it to 110 episodes, these final thirteen airing on Yahoo!Screen instead of NBC, which had cancelled the series. The Yahoo! streaming platform doesn’t exist any more, either, but it was a sign of the direction that entertainment content would be heading in the future. I still use the words television series to describe episodic entertainment that is no longer broadcast on network television. Conversely, I have watched genuine television series on my iPhone or computer.

Season 4 of Community, the so-called “gas leak year,” did change the forward momentum of the series. Many fans have chalked that up to the forced exile of series creator Dan Harmon, and the absence of the other creatives who walked with him. But, Harmon was back for the final two seasons. While I’m certain his sometimes-chaotic but always-creative storytelling genius helped to staunch the blood loss a bit, the patient—if I’m allowed to further extend this limp metaphor—was beyond saving, even before the premiere of Season 6.

I’m not placing all the blame on the gas-leak year either. Yes, I’ve gone on record saying that Season 4 was my least favorite season of the series. But, I gave it a grade of B. That’s a respectable report card grade. So, while the season wasn’t as good as what came before, it wasn’t a failure by any stretch of the imagination. My opinion is that Season 3 wasn’t as good as the two that came before it, and Dan Harmon was still in charge at that point. Maybe a part of the perceived downgrade in quality was a result of the natural evolution of the show. The honeymoon phase, when everything is bright and shiny and new, was over.

Season 5, after the return of Harmon, was better. But, that was the season we lost two of our main cast members. Pierce Hawthorne’s absence was the result of Chevy Chase’s too-public meltdown in Season 4. You’ve heard about it, I’m sure. As a result, the character was finally killed off, off-screen, during Season 5. Even though Hawthorne was racist, sexist, elitist, narcissistic, and homophobic, the character played a certain role in the character dynamic of the show. While I never liked Hawthorne (because we weren’t supposed to), I found out that his absence was noticeable, which is an awkward way of saying that I missed him.

Then Troy Barnes left the series as Donald Glover decided he could best grow as an artist away from the show. He was right, too. However, Troy and Abed (Danny Pudi) had developed into such an effective comedy duo that Troy’s departure created another vacuum in the series’ original template.

Going into the final season, we are down another main character. Yvette Nicole Brown had to suddenly leave the show because of a family emergency, so Shirley Bennett was gone as well, making only a couple of guest-appearances during the season.

The sense that this was the final season was palpable from the very beginning of the season. I shouldn’t focus on what was missing, however, because there was still a lot of talent on the show. Out of the original “study group” which was the establishing premise of the series, Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), Annie Edison (Alison Brie), and Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) still remain. Former teacher Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) and Dean Craig Pelton (Jim Rash) are still present as well.

In Season 5, an attempt was made to fill part of the character vacuum with new character Buzz Hickey (played by the incomparable Jonathan Banks) and returning character Professor Duncan (John Oliver). The “study group” idea had already been irreparably dismantled by this point, after Winger’s graduation and return as a member of the faculty. While Hawthorne and Troy couldn’t be effectively replaced, the new characters did help to pad out the various plotlines. But, John Oliver and Jonathan Banks had other commitments when the final season went into production, so their characters suddenly relocated to Mandyville as well.

In their place, we gained characters Elroy (Keith David) and Frankie (Padget Brewster), who both turned in good work in these thirteen episodes. Even if you don’t recognize David from his other television and movie appearances (too many to count, including eleven that haven’t been released yet), you may recognize his voice. Keith David has done extensive voice-work for animation and video games. He is the voice of David Anderson in my beloved Mass Effect series. In some ways, David’s Elroy fills the “old man” archetype left vacant by Chevy Chase, but in ways that are kinder and more inclusive.

Padget Brewster was a less familiar face and name to me when she joined Community, although her experience was extensive as well. I liked the character of Frankie Dart in the series, even though she sometimes felt like just a more mature Annie Edison.

During its last season, the series still manages to be smart and funny. Also, weird, bizarre and sometimes effectively dramatic. The fourth episode of the season, “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing,” openly discusses Dean Pelton’s homosexuality. The episode was written by the dean himself, Jim Rash, and Nat Faxon (with whom Rash also won an Academy Award for The Descendants). While the dean’s homosexuality has been the worst kept secret in the series, this was the first time it was addressed directly, and this episode reveals that Dean Pelton is much too weird to be defined as merely “homosexual.” There are a couple of weaker episodes in the mix, like the one with the RV trip and the one with the class on grifting, but we also get a third paintball episode that proves the premise hasn’t been exhausted and another Abed-directed documentary episode that finds a way to work.

The season, and series, finale, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” is unexpectedly affecting and a fitting last episode. It is the only episode in which explicit language is used, with two separate f-bombs dropped by Britta Perry and Dean Pelton. Even that was fitting, perhaps restrained, considering the series move to a platform unhindered by NBC’s standards and practices.

While still not my favorite season—today, that’s a toss-up between Seasons 1 and 2—this one is definitely a contender for third place. If the starting team had been able to play up to the final buzzer, and if the premise of the show hadn’t been so drastically altered, things might have been different. It’s even possible the show would have survived for future seasons, or even that movie that still gets talked about from time to time. But, Season 6 offers up that same combination of the real and the surreal, with great performances and an impressive list of guest stars, including Martin Mull, Steve Agee, Lesley Ann Warren, Matt Berry, Jay Chandrasekhar, Seth Green, Steve Guttenberg, Lisa Loeb, Kumail Nanjiani, Steven Weber, and Billy Zane.

This was landmark television, one of the television sitcoms that will continue to influence the sitcoms that come after it.

Firewater’s Six-Seasons-and-a-Movie Report Card: A

If you haven’t, you should watch this one.

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