My fellow Human Beings, our loyalty has been rewarded. After years of suffering and torment, we’ve finally been given another completely satisfying season of Community.
As season 5 began, a lot of fans, as well as the cast, had written off the show’s Dan Harmon-less fourth season, which, like a sculptor of wax dummies, tried to capture the likeness of the creator’s brainchild but succeeded only in carving an uncanny valley between true meta commentary and a simulacrum of same. And season 3, which started strong, offered us an uneven ride that, in true Community form, reflected the show’s behind-the-scenes politics and shenanigans. So even the most ardent Greendale supporter could be forgiven for doubting we’d see something as epic as season 1 and 2’s paintball episodes again. The fifth season, however, gave us episodes of that caliber on more than one occasion.
Beginning with episode 5.1, “Repilot,” Harmon demonstrated he wasn’t about to start apologizing for his season 4 replacement producers. Instead he hit the ground running, using Jeff – who’d been away from Greendale for a year after graduating – as his avatar. “Introduction to Teaching” saw Jeff take on a job at the school as a law professor, and introduced Chevy Chase’s nominal replacement, the crusty eccentric Professor Hickey. “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” was the season’s first masterpiece, introducing the notorious Ass Crack Bandit in a hilarious David Fincher parody that ended with the news that Chase’s character (Pierce Hawthorne) had died, which resulted in another classic bottle episode, “Cooperative Polygraphy”, with Pierce’s will read to the group (and much frozen sperm gifted), resulting in Donald Glover’s long expected departure on a worldwide quest to find himself, and in the process inherit Pierce’s wealth. That departure capped “Geothermal Escapsim”, which centered on a school-wide send-off game of “the floor is lava,” an episode that rivals “A Fistful of Paintballs” for the scale of its insanity. “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” tried diverting our attention with cameos from the likes of Robert Patrick and Nathan Fillion, but not even Brie Larson as Abed’s new girlfriend could prevent us from missing Troy. The clouds slowly parted in “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality,” when we and Abed were pulled from our funk through bonding with wannabe newspaper strip cartoonist Hickey.
The season standout followed – the sublime “App Development and Condiments”, in which the beta testing of a phone app called Meow Meow Beenz turns Greendale into an early ’70s dystopic future fable. The level of thought that went into this episode – from the rules of the new social order to the Zardoz and Sleeper-inspired wardrobe surpassed just about anything the show had yet attempted. From there it was on to “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing,” with a priceless Vince Gilligan appearance as a long forgotten VHS cowboy game host, followed by a return to role-playing games and a sublime guest shot from David Cross in “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.” “: Almost fully animated in the style of ’80s toy tie-in TV, it even recreated the era’s G.I. Joe commercials and incorporated them into its story of Jeff retreating into nostalgia as he turns forty.
That at last brings us to the finale. A two-parter, the first half of which, “Basic Story”, saw the Save Greendale Committee facing the realization that their school might be beyond saving. Here, Greendale is an obvious stand-in for the show itself, and the committee an analog for its fans. These metaphors are fully explored in the second part of the tale, “Basic Sandwich.” Continuing the story of the Subway restaurant corporation’s hostile takeover of the community college, the finale – with nods to The Goonies and psychic police procedural dramas – is an origin story for the show’s universe. But Community being Community, the episode also serves as a commentary on such stories, as well as on TV show finales and the usually fruitless spin-offs in which they result. (At present, Community is still awaiting word about its renewal.)
In “Basic Sandwich”, Russell Borchert, a scientist played by Chris Elliot (who became rich when he “invented the nine-track,” a long forgotten rival to eight-track tapes), is revealed to have founded Greendale “for ordinary people to be able to access technology.” Now living with his fortune in a secret lab deep below the school (and having long ago exhausted his supply of cocaine), only he can save Greendale from the sandwich artists seeking to obliterate it. Amidst revelations that the college is shaped like a penis (at least, according to Duncan) and that its first mascot was the very politically incorrect American Indian “Chief Drunkee,” Abed returns to his long-held belief that he and his friends are in fact on a TV show, and that, in the episode’s final moments, if renewal doesn’t come we should assume an asteroid wiped out humanity, breaking the fourth wall as he declares this “canon.” If, God forbid, Community is not renewed, I can’t imagine a more fitting note on which Harmon’s baby could bite it. But for now… Go Human Beings! #SixSeasonsAndAMovie