My emotions! MY EMOTIONS! And so on.
There’s a very good chance that the season six finale of Community is—after an extraordinarily bumpy spate of behind-the-scenes drama and in-front-of-the-cameras cast member and general quality issues—finally, probably, maybe the last ever episode of the series. To that end, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” does a helluva lot right.
Make no mistake, this is a finale for the fans that have been in it for the long haul. I know that’s a stupidly obvious thing to say, but I’m still allowing for the existence of a mythical creature who tuned in to, say, only season six to see what all the hubbub was about and this imaginary person, even if they saw season six—or, hell, probably even season five in addition to season six—through from start to finish, would likely still not get the appeal of watching this group of sad sacks dreaming up different versions of the TV show they live inside of with repeated transparent references to the production’s history of tragedies and triumphs. In other words, this is a finale wayyyy up inside its own butthole, Morty.
Luckily, I expect everyone watching is right up there alongside it. I actually leveled a similar criticism against the season five finale (which I think is straight-up the worst thing I’ve ever seen come from Dan Harmon), but there’s a distinct difference between that finale and this one: the tone. “Basic Story” felt obnoxiously smug, it’s ending communicating something to the effect of “we can do whatever we want and no one can cancel us! Have no fear, we’ve got stories for years!” (And then NBC cancelled them.)
“Emotional Consequences” is also obsessed with itself, but the obsession doesn’t overlook the flaws. The dialogue throughout turns a critical eye on the series as a whole, noting how erratic the quality has been over the years; deconstructing the show’s approach to comedy and plot; and genuinely asking the question: how can the series keep going as its characters continue to fall away? Should it continue at all?
Community fans are crazy in love with this show and its creator knows it. The fans have joined forces to keep the series going time and time again and if there hadn’t been such a fervent, vocal desire for the show to come back, some way, somehow, after NBC’s cancellation of it, Dan Harmon probably would’ve walked away and made his peace with that. But now he seems to be aware (and I’m glad, because it’s an awareness I was beginning to think had clouded over) that this might be the place where we should stop. Significantly, the function of “Emotional Consequences”—and I think this is beautiful—seems largely to be to talk the fans down, to ease them into letting go. Jeff is the audience here, wanting to keep the show going, with as few changes as possible. That dream is decimated, however, when Abed reveals he’s moving to LA. He got a PA job on a Fox show. Furthermore, Annie’s landed a summer internship with the FBI.
Of course, this parallels real life, sort of. Danny Pudi is starring in a new pilot (though it’s actually for those villains at NBC) and Alison Brie can probably start being a full-on movie star whenever she feels like it. It’s particularly poignant when a version of Annie dreamt up by Jeff asks, both of Greendale and Community, “Why is this a good choice for me? Why doesn’t the audience feel sorry for me?”
This stuff is, as I said, beautiful, because the most important thing “Emotional Consequences” accomplishes is the revival of what, at one time, was the show’s thesis: change. Season five and six have presented a version of the show comfortable with slotting in new characters in place of the old and going about business as usual, trotting out wacky homages and occasionally remembering to tease the fact that some of its characters still have the hots for each other. In other words, in some ways it’s gotten uncomfortably close to being a normal sitcom. This finale embraces, as the best episodes of Community have, that change is scary yet inevitable, sad yet necessary. These characters (and these actors and writers) have to be permitted to move on and grow. And the same is true of the fans.
This is also a wildly clever and fairly regularly funny episode to go out on. Again, it’s way up its own ass; there’s so much discussion among the characters of how to write and rewrite the series that one could argue this feels like we’re actually watching this being written in real-time, rather than watching an actual episode of television. It’s not entirely dissimilar in its setup from the multiple timelines of “Remedial Chaos Theory,” but it’s much more freeform and silly. The premise of having the characters (except Elroy who, for whatever reason, bows out right at the start) pitch ideas for what the “next season” of the “show” will look like allows for a great mix of bittersweet moments and goofy nonsense, all fitting with the personality of whichever character is pitching at the time.
Abed’s version of the show deconstructs it to its fundamentals (Britta’s cry of “absurd reaction!” is the best), Chang imagines an insane new show with an animated character named Ice-Cube Head (voiced by Justin Roiland, natch), Britta wants it to be a serious HBO prison drama thing (with the Dean now a proud, transgendered woman), the Dean thinks up a version of the show that tries so hard to be non-racist it ends up really racist, and Frankie’s so bad at pitching that her versions of the characters change what they’re talking about mid-sentence (and Chang’s character is reduced to fart jokes). Jeff gets a bunch of different pitches, which basically just get sadder and sadder. It’s genius when Annie announces her internship and Jeff imagines a new show where everyone’s left him, so he’s stuck with a study group of secondary characters: Garrett, Vicki, Leonard, Todd, and Dave.
It works the way Community should, not losing sight of being hilarious while also being dark and almost unrelentingly sad as fuck. I’ve inserted that F-bomb way down here in the review to ingeniously mimic the way this episode busted out two of its own. It’s charming and, again speaks to the acceptance of change in “Emotional Consequences,” that it goes ahead and drops in stuff it could never get away with before and may never have the chance to again. We get two whole “fucks” (which arrive so unexpectedly that they do their job of getting your jaw to drop); a rambling fourth-wall-shattering monologue in the episode tag delivered by none other than the show’s creator; and Shirley is back for a few of the brainstormed versions of the show. The latter is instantly great, reminding me of how much I love and miss Yvette-Nicole Brown on this show. There’s also—why not? —two sort-of laughable (yet still satisfying) revelations introduced: it’s heavily hinted at that Annie may have been the Ass Crack Bandit all along and Chang announces he’s “legit gay.” Good for him!
The episode remembers that Community is a show obsessed with pop culture, too. Just as it once peppered a serious relationship conversation with references to how much Jim Belushi sucks, Annie and Jeff’s final heart-to-heart can’t resist several potshots at all the new “flavorless, unremarkable” Marvel movies. As Jeff says, “They are so not a big deal! It’s just all there is!” Full disclosure: the majority of my online presence these days is spent ranting about this exact subject, so playing to that bias let this episode wins me over pretty easily. Similarly awesome and in line with my views is the jab at LinkedIn: Elroy has been hired by LinkedIn to figure out why people don’t use it.
Any problems I have with “Emotional Consequences” are less to do with the episode itself and more about the rest of the season that preceded it. This is a deeply emotional episode coming off the end of a season largely packed with isolated, inconsequential little adventures. For example, while it’s wonderful that some bittersweet closure has been given to Annie and Jeff’s relationship, lately there’s only been the mildest of hints of their lingering affections. As long-term fans, we can imagine this stuff has been simmering away for the whole series, but really the only thing that got built up and paid off recently here is Jeff’s fear of being left behind at Greendale and Abed’s growing willingness to move on. That stuff is really important too and is handled extremely well here, but I guess I’m just saying I wish the season had been willing to go a little deeper throughout, rather than just stuffing it all in at the finish.
This is the second-best finale Community has ever done and I imagine the only reason it’s not the best is because of its placement in the series’ timeline. The most heartbreaking and perfect season finale was season three’s “Introduction to Finality,” which showed all the characters embarking on small, yet significant new stages of their lives. “Emotional Consequences” does something similar, smartly pulling no punches in actually showing Annie and Abed going to the airport, leaving Jeff with Frankie, the Dean, Chang, and Britta (Jesus, what is Britta gonna do with her life?). It’s all suitably affecting and got me sadly ruminating over the entire series, but if a finale like this had aired back during the show’s peak years? My soul would’ve been rent in two.
Oh, I’m also not a huge fan (as I haven’t been most of this season) of the aforementioned tag featuring voiceover by Dan Harmon himself opening up about his inability to properly show love for the people around him, but for a show that’s had two core narratives all along—the fictional redemption of Jeff Winger and the real-life redemption of Dan Harmon—I can’t deny that it doesn’t make all kinds of sense.
“Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” is a wonderful finale to an occasionally great, but mostly ho-hum season and a beautiful ending for Community, thankfully being everything the abysmal season five ending was not. Annie makes reference to a season seven not being out of the question, but the overall vibe I’m getting here is Harmon is ready to let go and wants you to be ready too. I’ve made no secret that I think the show should’ve ended eons ago (no, not literal eons, but three seasons would’ve been enough) and, with the lovely swan song that was this finale, I really, truly hope it does this time.
Of course, there was also that moment before the tag where the screen went black, save for the text “#andamovie.” So, a movie to close everything out? One that, one hopes, would bring back Troy, Shirley, and maybe somehow even Pierce? Well, sure, I’m on board. I mean, come on, I’m not a total asshole.