In a surprising upset, it was announced on June 30th (the absolute last day possible for this to happen, as it was when the actors’ contracts ran out) that Community would, in fact, be coming back for its prophesized sixth season… on Yahoo. You know, that thing on the internet that used to be a viable search engine?
Actually, on reflection, it’s not that surprising. Sony was being awfully coy about the show’s chances leading up to the Yahoo announcement, and Community has been rescued from the brink of cancellation so many times over now that it’s gotten a bit ridiculous. Not to mention the show already did the impossible once before with the saga of the firing and subsequent rehiring of its creator, Dan Harmon.
Furthermore, even if television never quite understood Community, the internet sure got it with its numerous Tumblrs dedicated to the reblogging of moments from the show, recreated in gifsets so extensive that at this point you can probably watch the whole series in silent two-second chunks; a Subreddit so rabid that one word against the show results in the fastidious downvoting of every single thing you’ve ever done on Reddit; and the wholesale adoption of “I have the weirdest boner,” transforming it from a brilliant adlib by Donald Glover into an annoying web cliché plaguing many a comment section.
By network TV’s outdated and unrealistic standards, Community pretty much always underperformed for NBC. But the internet is a magical cesspool where anyone can be a star! And with Community’s preinstalled, unwavering fanbase of uncritical geeks, this is an undoubtedly good move for Yahoo. Heck, did you know Yahoo owns Tumblr? I mean, holy crap: free advertising of a product in a public forum that’s already cleared out a permanent space for said product in its communal heart? It’s the PR circle-jerk from Heaven!
But what does it mean for the future of the actual show? What does a jump from TV to computer mean for the quality and content of Community going forward?
Well, for one thing, Zack Van Amburg, the president of programming and production at Sony Pictures Television, was keen to make clear that the show will be afforded the assets it had when it was on NBC. Or at least the assets it had in its most recent seasons. To that end, it’s another truncated season (though at this point, it has become the norm for this series) with only 13 episodes.
On the one hand, that’s unfortunate because season five felt overloaded with concept episodes, and some viewers mused that longer seasons provide more breathing room, allowing for more grounded episodes about the gang dealing with little dramas on the Greendale Community College campus. This helped justify those times the show goes balls out. However, if you’re, like myself, in the minority that was ultimately disappointed by season five, 13 episodes means fewer chances to run the show deeper into the ground, so huzzah for brevity!
Van Amburg has also said that the deal with Yahoo has allowed them to keep the same budget per episode that the show had during broadcast. This is good news since it means that apparently Community won’t noticeably look much shittier following its move, unlike other shows that migrated to the internet and are called Arrested Development. However, Community’s budget has already clearly been dropping as seasons have gone on. Compare newer episodes to the look of the show in its early seasons, and the contrast is obvious. It once looked like a TV sitcom and now it frequently resembles a bunch of people getting together to play pretend (which sometimes fits with the plots of the episodes, but still). So while season six may look like shit, it’ll be the shit we’ve grown accustomed to.
Finally, in what I would call rather a good move, the episodes will still be released weekly, rather than dumped on us all at once Netflix-style. It seems to me it’s in Community’s best interests to stick to acting like it’s still a television show. Offering a season to an audience all at once, knowing that a significant portion is sure to binge watch it, means, for the creatives behind the scenes, a lot more decision-making on how to approach the show.
In other words, if people are going to watch a show in a very different way, should it not be tailored to however they’re likely to watch it? This is clearly something that influenced Mitch Hurwitz’s thinking when it came to Arrested Development’s online season, which is why he attempted (and, he admitted openly, failed) to structure it nonlinearly, so it could be watched in any order. Oh, and for reference, it sucked harder than anything.
It therefore seems a positive that—with the same budget, season length, and release schedule—Harmon and team won’t have to think about Community too differently. Of course, there hasn’t been word on how long episodes will be. One wonders if they might approach actual half-hours, rather than the 22-minute running times a network show has to adhere to so as to accommodate advertising.
However, Harmon is, famously, a slave to structure, writing all his scripts based off of an adaptation of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. He’s also even previously voiced his concern that Community is a network show that won’t necessarily work online. As such, I think it’s unlikely he’ll rebel too heavily against the trappings of the medium of the show’s origin. We probably won’t get episodes of totally random lengths, some of them ballooning to nearly 40 minutes total, as happened with season four of Arrested Development.
Beyond this, all we can really do is a whole lot more speculating. Will Donald Glover be back for this season? Harmon makes no secret of how badly he’d like that and, though this is the little series that could, Glover is his own entity, quite confident of his life beyond Community. Interviews with him seem to indicate that he’s glad of his time on the show, but he has very definitely moved on from it to make weird, pseudo-intellectual rap and manage an obnoxiously obtuse Twitter account. Plus, I thought he was still developing a show for FX, so unless that fell through, it’s not like the guy is un-busy.
There’s also, of course, talk of the movie, which execs and Harmon love to say they’ve had chats about, and I’m sure they have. With all that #sixseasonsandamovie fervor (which, might I remind you, was birthed from a joke mocking a show that got canceled really fast because nobody liked or watched it), they at this point obviously have to treat the notion of a Community movie as a real possibility. Although, one wonders if it’s even fair to say there have been six seasons (I mean, does season four even count? Does an online season count?). Still, there’s almost definitely no real action taking place on the movie right now.
Regardless, Harmon did once claim that, were a sixth season to become a reality, he’d force a film into existence no matter what. Mind you, there are a lot of ways the movie could get made and still technically fulfill the requirements of being a movie. To that end, it could just be a longer episode streamed on the internet. And while that counts, I guess, it also would feel like a bit of a booby prize, wouldn’t it? Yet, on what planet would releasing a Community movie in theaters make any financial sense? Maybe a small, indie release? Community: The Movie, a darling of Sundance and Cannes? On the bright side, getting Glover back for a movie seems not outside the realm of plausibility, as movies have far briefer shooting schedules and some kind of adventure about getting Troy back sounds like a nicely prepackaged film plot all ready to go.
Could the show go beyond that even? Seven seasons? Eight? Could it rival The Simpsons (currently airing its 4,816th season) going on for so long that its actors actually start dying off? Executives are obviously happy to run anything deep into the earth’s core (thus ending life as we know it) as long as it’s making money and the actors don’t seem to want the show to end ever (Glover and Chevy Chase, notwithstanding). It’s unclear, however, if Harmon would want to keep it up after fulfilling the destiny of six seasons and a movie.
But to return to this sixth Yahoo season—sure, it’ll have the budget, structure, and much of the crew that was on board in the fifth, but is that a guarantee of quality? Not too many fans noticed, but season five actually went majorly downhill at the end there. Some, myself included, found the finale to be one of the biggest disappointments in Community’s history and are hoping that, if nothing else, we’ll get a proper finale out of this. But where’s the proof that we’ll get that? With more or less the same creative force backing the production, what evidence do we have that they even know how to get back to Community the way it was at its best? Or that they can reinvent it to make it great in an all new way?
It was nice to hear in an interview some months ago that Dan Harmon had taken notice of the growing number of fans desiring a Community that returned to its roots and that would simply be about friends at a community college, stating that, if he got a sixth season, he’d “like to see if it’s possible to grant that wish.” However, I can’t help but feel that the show’s move to the internet will only spur him on in making it more niche, more weird, more for the accepting geeks that have already pledged to follow it wherever it may go, whatever it may do.
What can I say? I ended season five with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m skeptical about this new, future, hyperspace, web-based Community. Please note that, in the first three seasons, I loved this show more than I love most of the people in my life. I will always remain hopeful and open to the possibility of it being as wonderful as it once was, but when it fails to reach the (admittedly high) standards I have for it, I’m going to be vocal about it.
See you in the fall everybody!