Wednesday, June 3, 2015

REVIEW: 'Community' - The Gang Try to Predict the Future in 'Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television'

Yahoo Screen's Community - Episode 6.13 "Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television"

As their sixth year at Greendale draws to a close, Abed asks everyone to imagine pitching a TV show about what they would do in season seven.

It's amazing and triumphant that a show as specific, weird and meta as Community has lasted for six seasons. It's a journey plagued with on-the-bubble ratings, showrunner changes, cast turnover and a transition to an online platform. And yet, the show has still managed to produce 110 episodes. That's impressive no matter what the journey is. "Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television" feels like a series finale more than any other Community finale. It addresses emotional issues that have been on display throughout the season but in a way that nicely wraps the series as a whole - while still leaving the door open if Yahoo Screen wants another season of episodes or the proverbial movie.

The series started with Jeff Wringer entering Greendale Community College to get his law degree. He expected to be in and out as quickly as possible. That did not happen. He eventually got that law degree. But he chose to stay at Greendale and teach because of the close friendships he has made with everyone in the former study group. He has found happiness with his current position at the school. And yet, it's daunting for him to realize that his life is now stable while his community of friends are really just getting started with their lives. Pierce, Troy and Shirley have already left Greendale - by dying or finding better opportunities elsewhere. The chairs that surround the study room table have filled a revolving door of characters including Duncan, Hickey, Chang, Frankie and Elroy. How much of the former study group has to change before it starts to no longer feel like the study group?

It's fun watching as everyone celebrates the end of another year by pitching their ideas for a hypothetical seventh season. It's specific and humorous in a way that is true to each of their characters while also evoking the same structure as the series' best episode - Season 3's "Remedial Chaos Theory." That episode was so successful because it highlighted the randomness of this show's universe while still appealing to the individual humor of all the characters. This finale takes a different approach in allowing the characters themselves to evoke how they see their world - Abed's version is spoken in a meta language, Britta's showcases her trying to force some vague politic message, Frankie's is boring to the point that even she admits it needs to be funnier, etc. Meta humor has always been a part of the show's structure - even though it's a concept that needed a specific purpose and didn't always have it. The meta jokes haven't been all that effective throughout the sixth season because it felt like they were just becoming too broad. That's typical of a show that ages. The characters are no longer as fresh as they were at the start of the series. So they have to go bigger and broader to the make the same kind of impression. That has been a problem at times this season. And yet, it's not a problem with this finale because each of the various pitches and dream realities of what each of the characters want next year is filled with deep emotion and heart.

The threat of Jeff being left all alone at Greendale has been on display throughout the season. But there hasn't been a ton of weight to it because Abed, Annie, Britta and Dean Pelton were still around having wacky adventures with him. In this finale though, both Abed and Annie are presented with opportunities over the summer that could take them away from Greendale for good. They are the two characters whose departures would actually hit Jeff the hardest. It's amusing that the finale teases Danny Pudi and Alison Brie's exits when in actuality Gillian Jacobs, Ken Jeong and Paget Brewster would be the ones leaving the cast should there be a Season 7 - they have new gigs on Netflix's Love, ABC's Dr. Ken and FOX's Grandfathered respectively. And yet, the idea that Abed and Annie could be leaving for good holds much more weight than Chang finding some kind of success elsewhere or Britta actually getting her life together in a big and meaningful way. Abed and Annie could realistically get these jobs. They hold immense value in not only Jeff's live but to the overall show. Would Community still be Community without Abed or Annie. Sure, the show has really struggled giving Annie stuff to do that occurs because of her own decisions. But they represent the heart and the meta weirdness of the show. Take that away and is it still Community?

Everyone has to grow up and leave eventually. Jeff has struggled with his fear of being left all alone. It's because of his friends that he has established Greendale as his home. He's where he needs to be. But that's a daunting prospect if none of his friends are there with him. He can try to create a reality where they all take teaching positions. But that's just positioned as a reality that would explain why they are still all together at Greendale but at the expense of the character's desires in the world. Annie and Abed have these ambitions that extend way behind Greendale. As Annie points out in one of the scenarios, wouldn't it just be sad to keep seeing her at Greendale knowing that she could have all this success elsewhere? It's getting hard for the show to justify keeping its entire cast at Greendale.

This has largely been a season that has avoided change. The structure of the episodes remained the same as they did when they were airing on NBC. But the characters weren't evolving in big and important ways like they did in previous seasons. The episodes were hit-or-miss and that was determined largely by the execution of each individual episode. When it worked, it was great still seeing these characters and the wacky details of their lives. When it didn't, the emotional issues felt like constructs designed to provide conflict but inhibit growth. This finale is all about growth. Everyone can try to predict the future but they all have to be fine with what will actually happen. They can create these fantastical situations in order to keep the group together. But it's scary dealing with the fact that everyone may not be back next year. This finale has to make that be okay. These characters are moving on with their lives. Even if that takes them away from Greendale, that's fine. Jeff has found peace in this stability in his life. He will be there to guide the next class of students through Greendale. There is a comfort in that. If next season was just Jeff and a whole bunch of new characters (or as one scenario points out, secondary characters like Todd and Leonard having even more focus), it will still be fine because the spirit of Greendale will still shine through. The future may be uncertain for the show. But the characters received some clarity and peace in this finale. Their lives and friendships aren't over. Jeff is still able to go to the bar and enjoy a drink with Britta, Frankie, Chang and the Dean. It's big and emotional that he's saying goodbye (for now) to Abed and Annie. But the future is still bright for all of them. This is a great final episode if it is the end for Community. And it's just so satisfying that the show got to put it together.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television" was written by Dan Harmon & Chris McKenna and directed by Rob Schrab.
  • Episode length was really the only thing that changed in the big move to Yahoo Screen. But the Dean and Britta were allowed to finally drop some F-bombs here. It seems very fitting that they were the two characters who got to use those words for the first time.
  • As recent seasons have shown, Community is capable of refilling its ranks when cast members depart. Frankie and Elroy were solid additions this season - even though their comedic moments trumped the emotional ones.
  • It was also great that the scheduling worked out for Yvette Nicole Brown to return as Shirley one more time. Sure, she's just present in the hypothetical situations. But it was really fun seeing how each of the characters would mess with the formula.
  • And yet, it's also disappointing that Donald Glover didn't reprise his role as Troy during those speculative bits. He is still crucial in Abed's emotional arc. But it sure would have been great to get a bit more closure with Troy. Is he still missing on that boat with LeVar Burton?
  • The show closed out a season full of weird and tragic tag sequences with one of its best yet. A Community board game is exactly the kind of weird thing that the show would create. I wonder if there's any plans to actually release that game? But more importantly, it led to the family's realization that their lives are meaningless because they only exist in the confines of this commercial. That makes way for the final voiceover perfectly talking about all the ups and downs of the show. It's funny but filled with immense love. It was perfect.
  • Okay, it's time to rank seasons of Community. My list would probably be - 2, 1, 3, 6, 5, 4. Season 6 probably beats out 5 because of how fresh it is in my brain. Those two seasons could very easily be switched. Season 6 was much more consistent but Season 5 had higher highs - especially in the beginning when Troy was still around.
  • Honestly, I would probably prefer a movie over another season. More episodes is completely possible and I'll still watch. But this finale is pretty much perfect. Following it up will be very daunting no matter what Yahoo Screen decides to do. A movie just has a higher likelihood of being able to bring back all the faces from the show's past for one big final interaction.