Community season 5 episode 12 review: Basic Story (Part 1)

Review Caroline Preece 11 Apr 2014 - 08:15

Greendale gets back to basics in the penultimate episode of season five. Here's Caroline's review...

This review contains spoilers.

5.12 Basic Story

As much as I enjoy the zany, novelty episodes of Community, the show is at its best for me when it’s commenting just on itself. Last week I complained about it having lost some of this relaxed cleverness in favour of an endless stream of experimental shorts and elaborate pop culture references but, in the first part of our two-part finale (to the season or the series, we don’t yet know), Basic Story, we’ve finally returned to that place we all fell in love with at the beginning. G.I. Joe and Die Hard episodes might be a ton of fun, but Community is essentially a sitcom, and sometimes commentary on its own genre can be just as entertaining.

This episode was about the group’s shrinking ability to actually save Greendale and delay their ‘real lives’ any longer, but it was also about Dan Harmon’s love of the cyclical hero’s journey. On any other show, this would all be assumed – we would sit around and praise the competency of the show’s arc, the various character journeys and the way we end up as opposed to how we started. But this isn’t an ordinary show that expects its viewers to sit back and let its ingenuity wash over them, it’s a participatory show, with just enough meta references and behaviour (this week, anyway) to point out to us exactly what it’s doing.

Abed’s inability to be content at the start of the episode was an omen for what was to come – evil school board officials reviewing the value of Greendale following the group’s efforts, only to then decide to sell it to Subway – and it also put him in that familiar spot. None of the other characters are willing to accept their roles in the story, whether that’s Jeff and Britta deciding to get married (largely because they don’t know what else to do) or the Dean’s minor nervous breakdown about the school’s closure, but Abed knows that, if the story is to have a happy or satisfying ending at all, it must first be a story. But if it is, there’s a chance it’ll mean there are no more stories again.

Season five has been a season almost as weird as the ‘gas leak year’ it was trying to make up for, and it’s a shame the Save Greendale committee couldn’t have been used as more than a bookend for the adventures held within. Now, at the end of a year that has been a return to form, we’re left with an adventure simply about Greendale and the group’s place within it. In many ways, we’ve reached that stage in a high school show when the kids graduate and no one really knows where the story goes from there, but bringing the group back – with some fabulous new additions – was a serviceable way of avoiding the inevitable for a little longer.

So to have the finale essentially be about this resistance to change, and the ultimate futility of extending one period of your life, just about distracts us from the ageing of the show itself. We can assume that, should Community be renewed for another season (and a movie), we can look forward to the deconstruction of this new and improved Greendale – a return to its hilarious incompetency – but, for now, we’re left with yet another natural ending. That ending will likely be ignored, much like Jeff’s graduation last year, and I’m fascinated to see not how they save the school, but what our character’s place in it will be next year.

If we’re to see Community as a show about the hero’s journey itself, then this season might be nearing the end of its transformation (right after ‘abyss’, which seems to describe season four quite nicely) stage. Should we then end this fifth year with the hope of another season and a movie to finish off the story, then there’s still plenty to look forward to. Greendale might be down, but it’s not really out quite yet. 

Read Caroline's review of the previous episode, G.I. Jeff, here.

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