So it’s happening? So it’s really, really happening? Community is returning February 7th to begin its fourth season? Fans of the cult NBC show have been jerked around worse than the kid who took the president of the Celibacy Club to prom. We’ve been denied more times than a pig at the Tel Aviv Farm Show. We’ve been more disappointed than a someone who reads this set-up and is only realizing right aboooouuuut…..now that I have no third joke (spoiler alert).
So a while ago I wrote an article about the fact that I’ve never seen Arrested Development and am not stupid for having avoided it. However, given that show’s serial habit of hinting at reunions and supplying nothing of proof short of awkward photos of maybe two members of the cast in the same room and some very odd press releases out of Netflix, I have an immense amount of sympathy for those fans. Since writing that article, I abused a few lazy afternoons with marathons of its first season. It’s pretty good. At no point did I decide the characters were my new messiah and I must bow to their whim and feed them grapes as they lay in a fainting chair, but it was pretty good. And the fourth season of Arrested Development is being hyped more than the Second Coming, so a cue for fans: lower your expectations (merely because your expectations are impossible to match).
Community’s fourth season, however, has spread fear amongst its fan base. The show’s creative center, head writer Dan Harmon, was fired by NBC last summer. Chevy Chase, who has a long history of messing up good things, left before the season’s final two episodes were filmed. We are fully prepared for the next season to be a caricature of the Community we once knew, dancing around the show’s innate ability to blow your fucking skull open but never quite hitting the mark. Most of the staff writers have stayed on, meaning it will still be a whip-smart and funny program, but Community of yore has always managed to cross that line between “This is quite funny” and “MY LIFE HAS CHANGED AND I THINK MY SKIN IS FALLING OFF MY FACE.”
My name is Ben Branstetter, and I am a fanboy.
I woke up this morning and did what every loyal fan of the Greendale Seven typically does: scanning Twitter and The AV Club for any shred of news about Community. We’re less than a month away from the announced release date, but we’ve been fooled before. The show’s original air date, in early October, was pushed back along with Whitney. Yes, that’s right. NBC has treated Community like Whitney, which is like hanging the Mona Lisa in a frat boy’s dorm room between a cocktail menu and that “Kiss” poster of two lipstick lesbians in their underwear.
Lo and behold, NBC has released a teaser for the season premiere. It features the first scene of the shows previously-announced Hunger Games spoof, in which Dean Pelton (played by Oscar winner Jim Rash) decides to settle a class-scheduling dispute by holding “The Hunger Deans” in the cafeteria, sporting a variety of GUTS-style obstacle courses and challenges.
Watching this, my heart rate shot up, for several reasons. First, the Hunger Games movie came out last spring, and even though the sequel is due out in November, this reference is still going to feel mighty dated. Second, OHMYGOD I’M LOOKING AT GREENDALE AGAIN SOMEONE FIND ME SOME INSULIN PLEASE.
Community has become known for its spoofs of typical film and television tropes, be it “the bottle episode” or “the clip episode” or action movies in general. However, during the third season, the show caught on to its own formula and persistently mocked it (“And we’re all agreed: No more paintball,” says the audience stand-in, and heightened cultural mosaic, Abed). A direct parody of a well-known book and film series just feels trite by comparison, especially to kick off the season. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure it will be hilarious and I will devour it end over end for several days (or decades) after its release. Hopefully it may even be an inventive commentary about spoofs and mocking something merely because it’s popular (which in itself may be commentary on Community‘s relative obscurity). But Community doesn’t need me. It doesn’t need any of the obsessive otakus who swear by its very existence. The reason the show has hit such turbulence is solely its lack of strong ratings. NBC is climbing from the bottom, bolstering mass appeal fare like The Voice or 1600 Penn. They have tough choices to make as a business, and one of them could be canceling a critically-beloved show simply because it isn’t playing well to demographics. So if you’re a Community fan, now’s not the time for your tears. Greendale doesn’t need you because it already has you. If you haven’t watched Community, I have two words: help us. Watch the show, and not on Hulu either. It’s funny, I promise, and might actually cause your brain to work a bit harder than The Big Bang Theory or another marathon of Breaking Bad. Help us, and it will help you.