There are plenty of things in this world that have no reason for existing, but for some silly reason they do. From a blanket with sleeves to a remake of Total Recall starring Colin Farrell, some things exist despite logical reasoning to the contrary. A recent example of this is the fifth season of the NBC television show Community. Now, I’m not one to question a good thing, and another season of Community is definitely a good thing, but I just thought everyone should know how remarkable it is that the show made it to this point.
NBC’s Community has been on the verge of cancellation since it first aired, but has successfully avoided the axe year after year. Many thought after a lackluster fourth season, both creatively and commercially, the show had finally reached an end. But on January 2nd, Season 5 of Community premiered, even though realistically it never should’ve happened. But I’ll get to that, lets start at the beginning.
Community premiered in September of 2009, and quickly distinguished itself from the TV comedy pack due to it’s incredible cast, innovative writing, and distinct tone and feel. Community is known for it’s homage episodes, during which the show parodies/pays tribute to other movies and TV episodes. Some examples include “Critical Film Studies” (Pulp Fiction/My Dinner With Andre), “A Fist Full Of Paintballs” (Westerns), “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (Claymation Christmas Specials), “Basic Lupine Eurology” (Law & Order), “Cooperative Calligraphy” (Bottle Episodes) and many, many more.
The show features one of TV’s best ensemble casts. The star is Joel McHale (The Soup), but the cast is impeccable top to bottom, with great performances from Chevy Chase (Caddyshack), Alison Brie (Mad Men), Donald Glover (a.k.a Childish Gambino), Danny Pudi (Playing one of TV’s best and most original characters, Abed), Yvette Nicole Brown (Drake & Josh), Gillian Jacobs (Bad Milo), Ken Jeong (The Hangover), and Oscar-Winner Jim Rash (The Descendants, The Way Way Back). The cast has incredible on-screen chemistry, and they are overall some of the funniest people on TV. They each play a member of a band of lovable misfits that form a study group that slowly becomes more of a family as the series goes on. As crazy as Community can get sometimes, the center of the show is always on the characters, which makes special episodes like Die-Hard homage “Modern Warfare” even better. Becuase even though Abed is jumping around shooting paintballs, the show also snuck in a lot of character owrk, including a game changing scene between Jeff (Joel McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs).
Creator and Showrunner Dan Harmon knows the characters so well, so he never loses sight of what each character is feeling and going through at any given moment. Harmon, an infamously outspoken leader, is known for angering his bosses and pushing his team to their limits. The NBC executives were never a fan of Harmon’s, and he consistently pushed them to increase the show’s budget and allow him more creative freedom. He probably could’ve gotten away with this attitude if his show was a commercial success, but instead Community never really found an audience outside of its small, but dedicated cult following.
Unfortunately, due to lackluster ratings, and a famous on-set fight with star Chevy Chase, Harmon was fired following the series fourth season renewal. NBC hoped new Showrunners could widen the show’s audience and bring in more viewers. The result, quite frankly, sucked.
The heart and soul of the show was gone, Community felt like a bland copycat of itself. The heart, emotion, and character work that was so consistent during the Dan Harmon era was nowhere to been found. The audience didn’t increase either, in fact ratings were down when compared to the Dan Harmon-led third season, only averaging 3.58 million viewers, down from just over 4 million in season 3. Most believed that NBC would not pick up Community for a fifth season, especially after it was announced that Chevy Chase would be leaving the show. Chase never really connected with the younger skewing humor of the show, and was often critical of the writers. Chase also began to dislike his character. This came to a head as Chase went on a tirade on set during season 4, leading to him and his character being written off the show.
Last Year NBC cancelled all but two of it’s comedies. Among the NBC shows that ended are: The Office, 30 Rock, Go On, The New Normal, Whitney, Up All Night, Guys With Kids, and Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. But, miraculously, NBC renewed Community. A show that averaged less than 4 million viewers, and a show that lost it’s biggest name draw in Chevy Chase. For some perspective, when Community first aired Chase was virtually the only proven star amongst the cast, the rest had the chops and promising futures, but none had proven that they could get audiences interested the way Chase had. Adding to the mess, the cult following the show had amassed during it’s first three seasons didn’t respond well to the fourth season, and had begun to move away from the show. The fan base that once held a rally outside of NBC’s offices to show their support for a third season suddenly became indifferent toward the a series renewal.
The show was always in danger of cancellation, in fact the main reason Community made it to a fourth season was syndication. Once a series hits a certain number of episodes, other networks can bid for the right to run repeat episodes of the show. These syndication deals are lucrative for producers, as they get a substantial amount of cash initially when a channel buys the right to broadcast reruns, then a little more as long as the episodes keep airing. Deals like these are the reason the stars of a show like Friends still receive massive paychecks years after the show ended. Community reached it’s syndication number during the fourth season, and as you’ve probably noticed has begun airing repeats on channels like Comedy Central. So, with this financial incentive already received, that was no longer a viable reason for renewal as well.
Despite a wavering fan base, a creatively lackluster season, a lack of financial incentives, a loss of a key cast member, and being one of the lowest rated shows on TV, the always evolving and surviving show that is Community made it’s way to a fifth season. Not only did the show get renewed, but creator Dan Harmon and executive producer Chris McKenna were brought back as showrunners. Fans, including myself, rejoiced as their favorite show would once again feel like itself again. The first three episodes of this season have been just like the Community of old, and has reignited my love for the show. Season 5 of Community just feels so self-assured, so light-hearted and fun that you can’t wait to go back to Greendale every week, even if there really is no reason for it to exist, I am beyond happy it does. But, most importantly the show appears to be inching closer toward the ultimate goal: Six Seasons and A Movie.
In celebration of Community’s improbable fifth season, here are some of my favorite clips from the series so far.