Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Smile Because It Happdeaned: Five (and Maybe More) Seasons of ‘Community’ and the Truly Jumping the Snark

Community Finale Lately I’ve noticed a disturbing trend about myself: I don’t get as excited about things as I used to. Perhaps it’s a merely function of getting older – I just hit the big 3-0 six months ago, after all – or, maybe, all the years of crushing cynicism and relentless snark has finally caught up to me. Passion, perhaps, is the provenance of the young and the unencumbered, and I’m no longer either of the two. For example, it would have shocked the ten-years-younger version of myself, maybe even the 2009 model, to learn that it took me, a devoted Wes Anderson-ophile, two months to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, especially after making a pilgrimage to see The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic during their respective opening weekends, and attending a screening of The Darjeeling Limited by myself because I just couldn’t wait any longer, even if that meant sitting alone in a small theater on a Tuesday afternoon. Likewise, I’ve yet to see X-Men: Days of Future Past, and that’s already been out for a whole week and is possibly the X-Men movie that I’ve been praying for these last fourteen years. There are spoilers abound and I run the very real risk of having the movie ruined before I get around to seeing it. It’s a danger I’m well aware of, and one, for some reason, I’m at peace with. Perhaps most egregiously – and this something I’m very much ashamed to admit on this blog – I’ve yet to watch last week’s Survivor finale. Yes, I was out-of-town for two weeks, but I’ve been back for four days already. Really, what good excuse could I possibly have for not immediately marathoning the last three episodes, including the two hour-finale and post-show live cast reunion? Heresy, is it not? Not only am I liable to inadvertently stumble upon the final result at any turn, removing any drama upon viewing, but shouldn’t this be tearing me up inside? It’s Survivor, the subject I’ve perhaps  committed more space to on this blog than any other, and, yet, I’ll get to it when I get it to it. Urgency, shockingly, I do not feel. It’s not apathy or indifference – that would be truly alarming – but, rather, caring a bit less, being more patient. It’s an odd, peculiar, somewhat concerning notion to not experience the same sense of pressure, immediacy, and life-or-death importance about these shows and films and bands that I always did. Am I depressed? Should I look into Lexapro? But the change is also freeing in a way. There is a flipside to caring a little less. It means that it doesn’t hurt so much when something you love is taken away from you.

Which brings us, finally, to the (*possible*) end of Community. The death of the series, at least as an NBC property, was announced nearly three weeks ago, and I would have really been devastated had I a) not been three episodes  behind at the time, which includes the two-part season (and likely series) finale, and b) felt that we were treated to three more seasons of Community than we probably should have been by all rights and metrics. The Greendale Study Group got two more seasons than Arrested Development (pre-Netflix), two more than Veronica Mars, three more than Party Down, four more than Freaks and Geeks and Terriers, four and a half more than Journeyman, the same number as Taxi (which featured one of the few comedy ensembles to rival Community), and only one less than Glee. For a show that was perennially on the bubble, that basically stopped trying to be accessible to new fans around episode twelve, that lost its creator and creative lifeblood after its third season and somehow managed to get him back and return to form a season later, five seasons is nothing less than a miracle, a triumph against all odds. Yes, the show (maybe) fell short of its goal, rallying cry and popular Twitter hashtag, “Six Seasons and a Movie,” but it survived much longer than it objectively should have, much longer than other shows with similarly rabid fans and near-unanimous critical acclaim. Would Freaks and Geeks have received a second season reprieve if Twitter existed in 2000, if its apoplectic fans flooded newsfeeds and managed to make #We’reHereWe’reWeirGetUsedToIt trend? Maybe, but it’s probably just as unlikely in 2014 as it was in 2000. Which makes the ninety-seven episodes of Community produced and aired on NBC truly a remarkable achievement, especially since the show was (is) produced by Sony and thus NBC had little to gain in renewing it (four times).

So rather than bemoan the fact that the show ended its (NBC) run three episodes shy of the century mark, we should be celebrating the fact that it made it past episode forty-nine, which enabled us to receive brilliant series-defining third-season episodes like “Remedial Chaos Theory,” “Curriculum Unavailable,” and “Digital Estate Planning,” the first of was nominated for an Emmy and won Splitsider’s “Best Sitcom Episode of All Time” Tournament, which is not an Emmy, but is still a thing, and demonstrates just how seminal that episode was to the show’s fans (and to its cast, as Joel McHale’s tweet following the news of the cancellation proves). There’s no telling where, say, Sports Night might have gone in Season Three, what highs they might have reached (or hallways they might have walked, or what Sornkinisms they might have uttered), but we know what happened at Greendale in their Junior year. Lots and lots of awesome. And we should feel incredibly fortunate for that. As we should be thankful for the Dan Harmon-less fourth season, which felt somewhat like a bizarro Greendale, but was still better than no fourth season of Community at all. And we should be immensely grateful for a fifth season that somehow allowed Harmon to return, and delivered some of the series’ best episodes despite the loss of two of its main characters (and give NBC credit for bringing Harmon back, even though it’s probably safe to assume that their thinking was along the lines of “Eh, well, it didn’t work with him, didn’t work without him, might as well just roll the dice and give the small but loyal fans that they want. At the very least, won’t do worse than Whitney**). To ask for any more than that would the epitome of avarice.

I finally sat down to watch those three final episodes last night, “G.I. Jeff,” “Basic Story,” and “Basic Sandwich,” the later two forming the two-part finale that saw our heroes save Greendale once again. However, probably because Harmon and company were cognizant that the season finale might double as the series finale – as they’ve probably considered since the end of Season One – the finale had a degree of closure to it. But this one felt a bit different from the previous season closers. Rather than go out with a hail of paint-bullets like earlier seasons,  throwing everything against the wall and hoping that the show lives to paintball war another day, this finale conveyed something of an air of understanding, a contentment with the unknown future. Indeed, the Study Group does succeed in saving Greendale, but this time they realize that it might not always be worth saving, and what they were really preserving was themselves, their relationship with each other. With that knowledge they are more equipped to say goodbye to Greendale than ever. The episode, the season, and, perhaps the series, ends with the group dancing to Dave Matthews Band (not The Dave Matthew Band, fyi), celebrating another victory in which they were greater than the sum of their parts, and finally, with Jeff Winger adjourning the Save Greendale Committee for the summer, maybe forever, and there’s not a trace of a sadness or regret in closing this chapter. What they celebrate is one another, and when the curtain closes they’re satisfied with a job well done. Do they yearn for more adventures? Sure, of course. But now they know that their relationship transcends the walls of Greendale Community College, and so if there are no more stories to be told within its confines they, and we, can be grateful for the five years we had together.

And so the cancellation of Community was not a funeral, as it might have felt like three years ago, but cause for celebration, like a baseball player receiving an extended ovation at the end of a record-breaking streak. Yes, we mourn the loss of Community, but we’re incredibly thankful that we have five seasons to mourn.

Perhaps our 2004 self would feel more outraged about this development, a ground-breaking, wholly original piece of art cut down in its prime. A travesty, I would have righteously cried. But in 2014 I can’t even muster mild indignation. I understand the business of television and I have a better understanding of life, and I know that in both nothing gold can stay. I do miss the days when I felt an overwhelming compulsion to watch Community the night it aired, when the time between one Community ending and the next beginning was the worst part of my week. But I also enjoyed binge-watching the Season Five episodes when I ultimately got to them, knowing they’d be just as good – just as brilliant and inventive and in need of constant rewinding to catch all the jokes and relive a handful of others – as if I watched those episodes the night they aired. And I’ll see X-Men next week, and it’ll be just as great or terrible (or both) as if I saw it opening weekend. And maybe I’ll see that emo band I loved in high school when they come through town. Or maybe not; maybe I’ll be too tired and catch them the next time. And they’ll be just as good.

The passion is still there, I know, it’s just tempered, more reserved, more deliberate. If I don’t get excited for things as much as I used to, that’s okay. It’s all a part of getting older, getting wiser, and putting things into perspective. I don’t have to be a fanatic to be a fan.

That being said, I cannot fucking wait for the next Game of Thrones.

** Take that, Whitney!

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Filed under Better Late Than Never, Brilliance, Count Bleh, Discos and Dragons, Greendale Human, Must See TV, Team Zissou, Tribal Council, Winterfallen

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