'Community' Struggling Through Stretch Of Insecurity
“I remember when this show was about community college,” Abed (Danny Pudi) says in "Paranormal Parentage." Those words were in the back of my mind last night as I watched "Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations." But that old show that Abed longed for has steadily eroded as NBC has stopped showing its support. Community has been on the brink of cancellation ever since Season 2, and I rarely see advertisements or promotions (if I do at all), and the Nielsen ratings have steadily dropped. Add the firing of showrunner Dan Harmon along with Chevy Chase’s antics and Community has been in constant chaos since the end of last season. So I credit the writers of the show for doing the best they can do. But with all that turmoil it seems that they are trying to cater to their core audience too much to keep whatever ratings they have.
Now fans manage to get spoofs every week and constant meta references or recycled jokes. These are all fine, but I remember a Community that was more innovative, where I never knew what to expect with each coming week. This year it has been a parody of this movie or homage of that show in almost every episode. I understand that this season is shortened and the parody episodes have been some of the more exciting shows in the past, but the overuse has made the show stale. In the first four episodes of this season, we’ve had a spoof of The Hunger Games, Hogan’s Heroes/various war movies and Scooby Doo. Last night we were given a homage to The Shawshank Redemption as the study group found itself stuck in the prison that was Shirley’s (Yvette Nicole Brown) Thanksgiving dinner. For me, it has all been too much and too repetitive.
Not surprisingly, my favorite episode this season has been Conventions of Space and Time. For all its flaws, like Annie’s (Alison Brie) weird husband fantasy about Jeff (Joel McHale), it seemed fresh – the study group went on a new adventure to the Inspector Spacetime convention. I felt like it gave the writers something new to write about.
That’s why I loved this week’s A-plot of Jeff’s Thanksgiving with his estranged father, William Winger (James Brolin). Like Jeff and Abed’s chat in "Critical Film Studies," Jeff had a real conversation with his father, who left him when he was a kid. It was not funny nor was it supposed to be, barring the ill-fitting heart attack gag pulled by Jeff’s father. Instead, their story seemed genuine and full of heartbreak as we learned how much Jeff was hurt by having no father as a child. And Community did what it has always done. The show broke a character down in order for that character to learn something new about him/herself. I felt so proud when Jeff put together an impromptu Thanksgiving for his real family, the study group. He felt more certain about himself now that the shadow of his father no longer hung over him.
Will Community ever feel certain about itself this season? The shadow of Dan Harmon’s departure and the constant cancellation rumors still linger over the show. Starting in season three, more and more episodes have taken place outside of Greendale to show that the series is viable past season four, the year that the study group graduates. Without Harmon, the writers seem like they are overcompensating to ensure fans that the show is still the same. At this rate, will there be Six Seasons and a Movie? And would fans even want that anymore?