Saturday, May 19, 2012

A situation oddly similar to the current Community debacle.

After this weekend, with show creator Dan Harmon fired from Community by Sony Television and with much of writing staff exiting, one wonders why NBC bothered to renew the show at all.  The abbreviated 13-episode renewal was clearly meant to be a sort of 'we'll give you time to wrap up' olive branch extended towards 30 Rock and Fringe, but the last episode of this season served as such a fitting series finale that the show as we know it could arguably be done.  And that's a good thing in light of this news.  Come what may, the things that made Community special generally came from the mind of Mr. Harmon and at least some of the departing writers, of course aided by what appears to be a fully-returning cast.  So if the fourth and presumably final season of Community, without the behind-the-scenes people who made it worthwhile, ends up being lackluster and/or a shell of its former self, then we should be grateful that the Greendale gang saw fit to so explicitly tie up the show several days ago.  Point being, if the fourth season of Community is terrible, we can just pretend it never happened, or at least that it existed in some alternate timeline ("darkest timeline" perhaps?).  If this all seems familiar, it's because the pattern followed by Community was also set forth in the late 1990s by, of all things, an afternoon animated action drama.  Whatever Dan Harmon is feeling right now, I'm sure Greg Weisman is quite sympathetic.

See if this sounds familiar... A critically acclaimed character-driven narrative with a singular voice behind it butts heads with the network and studio throughout the original 65 episode run.  As it ends its 65th episode, the story comes to a pretty natural and fitting conclusion, with most of the major arcs drawing to a close and most of the characters either ending their journey or at a reasonable place to start their next adventure.  However, a final season of thirteen episodes is ordered by the network, a season without the guidance of the show's creator and show-runner, who left the show after the original 65-episode run.  While these episodes, airing in a new timeslot, weren't overtly terrible, they didn't feel like the original stories and indeed felt like a more generic sort of  series.  You might think I'm talking about Community.  But I'm actually referring to the mid-1990s animated classic Gargoyles.  Like Community, Gargoyles raised the bar for its respective genre, with sprawling narratives where every character detail was remembered and every plot thread had consequences.  Like Community, Gargoyles told stories rich in cultural references while never losing sight of its core characters.  And like Community, the core story of Gargoyles pretty much ended with episode 65 (or in Community's case, episode 71), making its final thirteen episode season more-or-less superfluous.  And like Community, the final season, in this case subtitled The Goliath Chronicles, lacked the participation of its show-runner and creator thus lacking his distinctive voice.

To those who watched and loved Gargoyles (a show with a cult following even 15 years after its final episode), it can be argued that the show ended with its three-part "Hunter's Moon" arc with followed a handful of episodes which restored a core series location, killed off two of the main villains while rehabilitating two others, and defined a new status-quo for the title heroes.  Yes the final episode of The Goliath Chronicles also works as a would-be series finale, but the proceeding twelve episodes merely rehash old plots and rewind character arcs.  Just as Scrubs season 9 and Homicide: The Movie, we may yet decide that the fourth season of Community 'didn't actually happen' as far as our own personal continuity.  So it is a credit to Harmon and company, like Greg Weisman and his staff before him, for giving us a satisfying conclusion and, if need be, a suitable jumping-off point.  I hope whatever follows "Introduction to Finality" is worthy of what preceded it.  Come what may, certain long-running shows (Law & Order, The Simpsons) have undergone any number of staff defections and bounced back and forth on the quality scale.  Even The West Wing survived a bumpy transitional fifth season to shine again once new show-runner John Wells found his groove detailing the electoral campaign for President Bartlett's successor.  Community may yet thrive in the absence of its creator, however unlikely that may be.

But should that not be the case, I'm perfectly happy with the three-season, 71-episode epic that we were lucky to have in the first place.  If the story truly is over, Community was among the greatest achievements in episodic television, perfectly balancing pop-culture genre sampling with richly nuanced character development, as well as a plotting style that played less like a sitcom and more like a Joss Whedon-esque drama.  With television this good, I'll take what I can get.

Scott Mendelson                          


mrphoenix said...

i miss it already

Erlend Lunde Holbek said...

"One wonders why NBC bothered to renew the show at all."
NBC didn't fire Dan Harmon - Sony Pictures Television did. (Alert: the rest of this comment is pure speculation) Unlike Fringe, Parks and Rec and 30 Rock, NBC never officially announced this as a final season. That's possibly why Sony considers this their opportunity to try to turn the show into the community college sitcom NBC pretends it is. If NBC had cancelled Community, the syndication deal with Comedy Central is still lucrative enough for something like Hulu or Netflix to pick the show up, and if that were the case the pickup would have been straight fan service as opposed to an attempt to re-commercialize the show. So I figure, if NBC hadn't picked it up, Dan Harmon probably wouldn't have ended up getting fired.

Maxwell H said...

The West Wing would be a fairly prominent example as well, although the season 4 finale that saw Sorkin leave the show could not serve as a finale. In fact, upon finding out that he would not be returning, Sorkin wrote the most difficult cliffhanger he could imagine. It took John Wells multiple episodes to resolve Sorkin's final jab.

Scott Mendelson said...

Eh, if I recall, the cliffhanger was tied up in the first two s5 episodes and then promptly forgotten for all time.

Scott Mendelson said...

I know Sony was the culprit, but NBC had to know what was up. If they didn't I imagine they'd be a little upset that they renewed a show and then Sony made a business decision that proceeded to infuriate most of the fans. Yes, it could very well be not the last season, but I'd be shocked if the show made it to season 5.


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