I’ll admit, I’m more of a bandwagon fan than an original die-hard of NBC’s sitcom “Community.” I watched the pilot when the show premiered in 2009, and again in 2013 when my beloved “The Office” ended. The gravitas I placed on finding a replacement for a show I could quote from heart and enjoyed acting out with my older brother Chris, in bits that left the rest of our family scratching their heads, set up expectations no series could ever meet.
Following the mantra of “two strikes and you’re out,” I wrote off “Community” as overdue for cancellation and, instead, celebrated the final season renewal of “Parks and Recreation” that same year. After binging on all six seasons over the course of a week, though, I wish I could travel to one of the parallel universes in the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” and join the fervent fans who flash-mobbed Rockefeller Center in support of the show.
“Community” centers around a bunch of misfits who form a study group at Greendale Community College. Their reluctant leader Jeff (Joel McHale, “The Soup”) just wants to earn a quick Bachelor’s degree so he can return to practicing law, a job through which he faked his way for years. Troy (Donald Glover, “Atlanta”) and Annie (Alison Brie, “GLOW”) attended high school together and, despite their opposite ambitions, end up on the same path in life. Airheaded protester Britta (Gillian Jacobs, “Love”), misleadingly sweet Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown, “The Mayor”), rich pariah Pierce (Chevy Chase, “Hot Tub Time Machine”) and hyper-imaginative Abed (Danny Pudi, “Smurfs: The Lost Village”) round out the rest of the study group — who never actually study.
Creator Dan Harmon (“Rick and Morty”) based the premise on his own decision to attend community college to pursue a girl he liked. However, Harmon’s willingness to throw the whole college-thing under the bus in favor of paintball and stop-motion animation and uber-meta jokes makes “Community” so enjoyable and original. And, perhaps, ahead of its time.
Today, streaming services and different platforms for television allow quirky, weird shows to find their niche — one where traditional ratings are not the determining factor for renewal. After all, not everyone can appreciate an animated episode with unapologetic in-jokes about G.I. Joe or meta-humor explaining how a story about no story is still a story.
“Community” also never dwelled too long on romantic entanglements, valuing the bond of friendship over will-they-won’t-they scenes. In true meta-fashion, the show often made fun of its inability to sustain interesting love arcs beyond the undeniable bromance between Abed and Troy. Only Annie and Jeff had any real chemistry, but with an age gap the show, rather jadedly, knew caused complications, a happy ending was not the main focus. While series like “New Girl” rely on the union and conclusion of a will-they-won’t-they to feel complete, “Community” dismissed this notion. Instead, platonic relationships ruled supreme — ultimately alienating certain demographics and aligning with the show’s general resistance to garnering new viewers.
However, more likely, the demise of “Community” can be attributed to the shifting cast and behind-the-scenes drama like the firing of Harmon for season four and premature departures of Chase, Glover and Brown. Harmon credited the casting as “95 percent of putting the show together,” which explains the scramble to adjust comedic timing and roles with each farewell to a series regular. From established comedians like McHale and Chase to future Emmy nominees Brie, Glover and John Oliver, “Community” had a lot of talent on set. Even the minor cast members (including Academy Award-winner Jim Rash who co-wrote “The Descendants” and Ken Jeong who briefly fronted his own sitcom “Dr. Ken”) went on to achieve meteoric success. As a matter of fact, behind the camera, too, with the Russo brothers who went on to take over the Marvel universe.
“Community” did not lack in quality, only quantity. It is a show gone too soon. A show whose successful cast and crew have outgrown their little series too much for a reunion (#SixSeasonsAndAMovie). Many sitcoms like “How I Met Your Mother” have not aged well with growing awareness about representation on screen, but “Community” is not one of those. Rather, like a fine Sangiovese or whiskey, this oft-forsaken sitcom only gets better with time.