Community: Season 5, Looking Ahead

A look at what we might see, and what we want to see, on the next season of Community.

Well, against all odds (or, perhaps more accurately, because of them), Community is coming back for a fifth season. For some fans, this is unthinkably great news. This was a series with an uncertain fate not only from season to season, but sometimes even midseason as NBC constantly mucked about with it, taking it off the schedule, claiming they’d be moving it to a deathly Friday timeslot, postponing it, putting it back on Thursdays, airing Halloween episodes on Valentine’s Day and so forth and so on. Now, miraculously, the rallying fan web-cry of #sixseasonsandamovie actually seems potentially attainable (well, maybe not the movie part).

But then there’s another faction of fans, a faction of which I am part, for which news of this heretofore improbable milestone of a fifth season is pretty much the worst. Simply put, Season 4 was almost uniformly horrible. The ambition, the understanding of what made these characters lovable, the smart approach to homage… These things that previously defined the series were nearly impossible to find in this new version of what was once one of the best shows on television.

It was probably a combination of factors: the firing of creator Dan Harmon, the exodus of a number of other major crew members, the truncated 13-episode season, a budget that clearly paled with that of seasons past, the sudden departure of Chevy Chase, and probably further less apparent factors besides. Regardless, Community has been pushed around and abused a lot by its network and is now coming back only, really, because NBC is getting totally murdered in ratings, especially on the comedy front.

What a thoroughly bizarre mangling of our emotions (OUR EMOTIONS!) NBC has committed. At one time we felt insulted that NBC refused to treat Community right by giving it a secure place in their comedy lineup. Now they’re giving us more of what we once wanted and it’s a far greater insult than anything before it. This ghost of former Community shambling around the airwaves makes me sadder every time I witness it and, with each subsequent episode, NBC pushes the knife deeper into the heart of those of us who can no longer stand by and watch the show destroy itself and what it used to be.

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Oh, but I’ve gone a bit melodramatic maybe. The fact of the matter is that we’re getting 13 more episodes of Fauxmmunity whether we like it or not and, against all my better judgment and common sense, I’m probably going to be watching them. So, though I’m not going to pretend like I have high (or really any) hopes for the next season (I mean, halfway through Season 4 I wrote an article about why Community was already doomed, for goodness’ sakes), I can think of a few things that might make these 13-episode pills a touch less bitter to swallow.

Here’s a list of everything I’d like to see from Season 4, in order from least to most likely.

1. Cancel It

Well, this one’s not happening, but, y’know, wishful thinking. Moving on…

2. Jim Rash as Showrunner
The only small bright spot of Season 4 was the episode “Basic Human Anatomy”, penned by Dean Pelton himself, Oscar-winner Jim Rash. It was far from perfect and didn’t come close to Community at its best, but provided more genuine laughs than any other episode of the season, not to mention demonstrated a much greater understanding of the characters and the emotional core of the show. As such, the idea of Rash as showrunner is one now rumbling about on the internet. A show helmed by Jim Rash wouldn’t feel like the same show that Dan Harmon made, but it seems like it could at least be more palatable than what we ended up with this season.

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Of course, the likelihood of this happening is slim to nil. Being an Oscar-winner and all, Rash is kind of blowing up all over the place, recently securing distribution for another film he co-wrote, The Way, Way Back. I just doubt the guy has the time to take on control of a whole series. We’re lucky he’s even still playing the Dean.

3. No More Parodies
A lack of budget and a basic misunderstanding of how to correctly do homages and parodies resulted in some really embarrassing and lazy references (Muppet Babies, The Matrix, The Hunger Games, haunted… house… movies?) in Season 4. None of these came even close to the brilliant and memorable explorations of genre that Community could, once upon a time, be counted on for. I know that this sort of thing is meant to be a huge part of the show’s identity, but lately the parodies have felt like the writers just giving the fans lip service. If they can’t expend the effort or cash to go all out with the homages, they should just drop them altogether. Let’s not forget that, in much of Season 1, Community was just about the relationships of a number of people at a community college. And some of the series’ best moments came from that period.

4. Let the Cast Improv, Why Not?

NoteThis is an idea I stole/borrowed from a comment by a user named Deggsy on my review of the season finale.

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After the abysmal season finale, writer Megan Ganz tweeted a number of cut lines from the script. These were all as uniformly unimpressive as the stuff that made it into the episode, save one brilliant, moving line from Abed.

After Jeff says he’ll be sure to pop by Greendale to solve disputes, Abed was to reply, “Jeff, I see your value now.” This is a callback to the series’ pilot and would have been a really lovely moment.The only thing is that a writer didn’t come up with it. The guy who plays Abed, Danny Pudi, did.

Community is quite controlled, with the actors rarely straying from the script, but that made sense when the scripts were ingenious. Now they kind of suck. Furthermore, with more and more crew dropping out every season, it seems as though at this point the only major players who have been there from the beginning are the actors. They’ve portrayed these characters for quite some time now and must know a thing or two about them. Just let them go a bit wilder. I honestly can’t see it making things that much worse and, so far, the script from Jim Rash and this one line from Pudi are some of the better Community things I’ve seen recently. Plus, Donald Glover made up some of the show’s most famous lines ever on the fly (“I have the weirdest boner right now”) so just let that man go at it.

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5. Give Jeff a Life
I know that although he graduated in the finale Jeff will stay involved with the group. Obviously he should, but there needs to be some evidence of Jeff having a life outside of Greendale. Starting with Season 2, Dan Harmon had begun to move the focus of the show away from the campus, with the goal of eventually making it about these people being a community regardless of where they were. Obviously this isn’t going to be exactly the case with Season 5 considering that everyone except Jeff and Pierce are still taking classes. But Season 4 didn’t shy away from off-campus stuff (the Inspector Spacetime Convention, Pierce’s mansion) and it would just be weird and sad if Jeff was still at Greendale all the time with no stories of what he’s up to outside of the school.

I mean, have you ever gone back to the town you went to college in after graduating to visit the people who are still there? You feel out of place. It’s depressing.Leading us to…

6. Don’t Make Jeff a Professor
It’s unclear why Jeff revealed in the finale that his degree ended up being in Education. But it’s resulted in a lot of speculation that an easy way to keep him in the series would be to make him a teacher at Greendale. This is being generally regarded as a cheesy, bad idea and, yeah, it probably is. It didn’t feel like the writers were intending to go this route in the finale, but then why the Education degree, hmm…?

7. Put Shirley in the Friggin’ Show
Yvette Nicole Brown is an incredible comedic actress. I think she might be the best performer on the entire show. There are times she makes me laugh even when I recognize the quality of the lines she’s reciting as subpar. But the show has no idea what to do with her and pushes her into the background constantly. This was an issue before Season 4 and I think it’s criminal. Just give Shirley stuff to do, dammit.

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Honestly, I could say this for a number of characters as I felt like very few episodes in Season 4 let individual cast members showcase their talents. Annie needs better stuff instead of just being part of some choir with Shirley that goes “aww” every time one of the guys says something endearing. And considering Chang is now evidently finally part of the group, I hope they can manage something with him, too. In Seasons 3 and 4 he was built up a lot but not utilized well.

8. All But Ignore the Pierce Issue
Chevy Chase’s mid-season departure led to some really shoddy lines explaining away his sporadic absences. Though I’m sure it was no easy task, Pierce’s on-again off-again disappearances have been so poorly mishandled that there’s probably no point in trying to genuinely explain him away. I guess some lines are going to be needed to tell us why Pierce’s graduating means the group never sees him again (especially considering they still hang out with Jeff who also graduated). But mostly they should just let this go. We all know what happened. Let’s just pretend like he was never there.

9. Don’t Over-extend Yourselves
Understand that I’m functioning under the belief that the show is never, ever, ever going to bounce back to even an approximation of the pre-Season-4 days. So, while my main problem with Season 4 was the total lack of ambition that characterized everything that came before it, I think Season 5 needs to play it safe. If the characters are going to enter into a sitcom rut where they rehash plot ideas from week to week and nothing meaningful or lasting takes place, so be it. Just invest heavily in that.

Season 4 basically did this already, aside from wrapping up plot points for Jeff set up by the end of Season 3. So, whatever. Just keep it up, guys and coast on the familiarity of established stuff we already love (though I recognize Jeff’s graduation throws something of a wrench in this…).

Another good reason for this is that they’ve got another small, 13-episode season to work with and it’s pretty hard to do any interesting plot arcs within such a limited timeframe.

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10. Cancel It
Oh, whoops, was this already on here? Oh, I guess they could also try to make the show funny again. That’d be nice.

To conclude, I know that that what I’ve said here (especially about wishing the show had been canceled) may come off as selfish and, to some extent, I suppose it is. I have a strong relationship with this show and these are things that would make me personally happier (or at least a bit less sad). However, I mainly want these things for Community. Not for myself, not for any of the fans, but for the show as its own entity.

I know it seems cruel to want to yank something so beloved away from the actors, the crew and the fans that still enjoy it but there must be a level of respect given to the show and its legacy. There must be an acknowledgement that these Season 4 episodes (which very simply in no way approach the quality of Community of yesteryear) cheapened the series as a whole and I have huge doubts Season 5 is going to improve things.

If we are meant to accept these sloppy, boring episodes as canon, then they jar terribly when placed alongside the show’s stunning achievements, like “Modern Warfare” or “Remedial Chaos Theory”. They’re full of just plain lazy plotting that falls apart upon brief consideration (why was Jeff experiencing an Abed-esque delusion in the finale?). And they present regressed versions of the characters that imply all the growing they did for three seasons prior wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The Zombie Community we have now is devouring the Community of old bit by bit, crippling the series as a whole.

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Season 4 has already irreparably wounded Community. All we can really hope for from Season 5 is a bit of damage control.