Community: Season Six review

Community always rode that very thin line between existing and cancellation for most of its run on network TV. It didn’t get the ratings that NBC wanted, but the fan base was incredibly passionate about the show, and the fact was that Community was putting out some of the most creative scripts in the business. After smaller episode orders for seasons 4 and 5, NBC finally shut down the show.

And then, out of seemingly nowhere, Yahoo! of all entities came by and snapped up Community for a sixth season on its fledgling streaming service. You have to imagine that even for Dan Harmon and the cast and crew, they didn’t buy the fact that this should be a show to headline any streaming service, but they also weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. So in 2015, Community returned for its sixth and final season of 13 weird, inventive, and occasionally sad and disappointing stories.

Community is a show where time marches on, situations change, and people come and go. That change came swiftly to Season 6, now that former staples Pierce, Troy, Shirley, and Professor Duncan were no longer sitting around the study room table. Even Professor Hickey (Jonathan Banks) of Season 5 took off. This all resulted in paring the Greendale Seven down to the Greendale Four (Jeff, Britta, Abed, and Annie), along with the Dean and Chang. Season Six added two new faces to the regular line-up: Frankie (Paget Brewster), a straight-laced consultant for the college, and Elroy (Keith David), a genius inventor who also takes up a position.

Going to classes is no longer the focus of these characters the way it was in the first few seasons. Now it’s about, as it was in season 5, saving Greendale from threats both external and internal. As with most non-season 1 episodes of Community, season 6’s stories greatly differ in their themes and homages, ranging from laughable virtual reality setups to prisoners attending classes via robots to a stage version of The Karate Kid to a road trip that goes pretty wrong, pretty fast. And yes, there’s one final glorious paintball episode, because it’s not Community without one of those.

The surreal, anything-may-go-and-often-does nature of the show ping-pongs between amazing episodes and some rather lackluster moments. With only 13 episodes to wrap up the entire show, I felt like there was pressure to get things moving more than they did, but really, most of the character development was pretty subtle and laid back until the last couple of episodes. There was a lot I missed from previous seasons, mostly the fuller group and their status as students rather than teachers, administrators, and… other.

It’s a good season, if a little uneven. I appreciate that the team used this gift of 13 extra episodes to explore a few new avenues of this world and tie up a few loose ends. The new characters of Frankie and Elroy were fine, but they never quite seemed to fit into the group, especially since they didn’t have much time to really get established and stick around.

I do want to share a few thoughts on the final episode, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” because I’m very divided over it. Instead of going out with a huge bang, this series finale is a quieter kind of farewell. The group is splitting up, with Annie and Abed moving away, and even Elroy is taking a trip and doesn’t know when or if he’ll return. This impending separation drives a stake of fear into Jeff, who once couldn’t wait to get away from Greendale and now faces the prospect of sticking around without many of his closest friends. So most of the episode is the various characters sitting around and talking about what they’d imagine a “seventh season” would be like for them (one of these even includes a cameo from Shirley!).

But in the end, it’s a final kiss between Jeff and Annie and a group hug and lights out for the study room.

Why am I conflicted? Because at a gut level, I don’t like this episode. It’s not really that funny or enjoyable, and I would have rather Community closed on a triumphant note or by doing something amazingly crazy. But that said, I can understand the brilliance of this episode because what’s happening onscreen is also happening internally for the viewer who loves the show and is facing impending separation due to its ending. It gives us permission to be wistful, to be sad, and to say goodbye and thanks for the journey.

And hopefully, this isn’t the end. Talks continue about a potential movie — you know, #SixSeasonsandaMovie and all that. And we even got to see the cast back together for a table read back in May, which was amazing:

I love Community. I’m glad it’s drawing in a whole new generation of fans thanks to its popularity on Netflix, and I hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard of Jeff and his study group.

Read the other season reviews:

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