Jeff: Abed, you’ve had how many breakdowns?
The ragtag Greendale study group have been battered, bruised and brutally pigeonholed over the last four years. Each opening episode to a season played out with a certain kind of melancholy, with its writers attempting to wrest the narrative in their own direction from previous collaborators. With season five, the tug of war involved the triumphant return of Dan Harmon as showrunner. With him at the reins, Community acquired that familiar, yet almost intangible feeling of conversation; writing steeped in pop culture referencing and meta in-joking that felt like it responds to its audience. Instead of lauding at his reappointment at the head of season 5, Harmon seemed to find the whole business of re-appropriating the plot detrimental to both the characters’ and his own mental well-being. The title “Repilot” alone suggests distaste for the tradition, expressly realised through the characters’ utterly bleak need to return to study group.
And while the meta-existence of Greendale makes an enjoyably unpredictable backdrop, it’s a place that no character ever truly wanted in their lives. While played off as sardonic by Jeff Winger, the dynamic rings true as a mirror to the inhumane industrial machine forcing these characters back into their roles at the expense of their sanity.
The longer the show went on, the more these characters were subjected to another year of tumultuous joke-making, both good (season two) and bad (after season two). The first episode of season five almost seemed to be pleading with the audience, putting us in the role of voyeuristic overlords: Can you continue to subject these human beings to the whims of long-term situational comedy?
The crux is that, for better or worse, we did want more Community. And just like Lennie Small, the more we loved the show and tried to hold on, the more we’d squeezed the life from its meager frame. It was the inevitable outcome of what turned out to be one season and one movie short of their target. The meta-conversation had been played out consistently during the show’s hampered run, oftentimes hidden behind the veil of self-reference: the constant lampshading, the drawing attention to its flaws and the self-deprecating as a cry for help. Ironically enough, this self-referential quality is what drew us to the show week in and out, like a terrible love-hate relationship. There was a deep-running love for Community’s gleeful masquerading of sitcom tropes, but, in light of the gas-leak that was season four, and the slow, inconsistent recovery from carbon-monoxide poisoning that was season five, it now seems like a miserable plea for release from the confines of mainstream television.
It's okay. You are free now study group, we’re sorry for all that we’ve put you through.