Maybe. Probably. Maybe.
For a devoted fan of the show since Season 1, being a follower of the tales of Greendale students-turned-alumni-turned-teachers-turned-savers, it’s been a long and emotionally resonant journey. While Community burst onto the scene thanks to its metatextual nature and ability to simultaneously skewer and pay loving homage to all types of genres, it’s the bleeding heart at the center of Dan Harmon’s creation that truly made fans devote themselves to a show about a community college. Harmon created something that is honest, real, and full of love because he spilled his heart out through his creation. When that connects with someone, it connects deeply.
From the very start, Community has been about a group of misfits who grow up and find meaning in their relationships with one another while muddling through the uncertainty of life at the worst (and most lovable) community college ever attended. While Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) has been the central character throughout it all and most exemplified the pain and sacrifice that comes with growing as a person and learning to truly care about other people, every character has been just as important along the way.
Abed (Danny Pudi) transitioned from a boy completely removed from reality and interpreting everything through movie references to someone who understands his own difficulties but excels by using them positively. Annie (Alison Brie) matured the most evidently, going from naive high school grad to self-assured and focused woman pursuing a career in criminology. Troy (Donald Glover) gave up his childish distractions for the chance to become a man, even if it meant leaving everyone behind. Britta (Gillian Jacobs) remained defiant and often unaware, but became a more stable and kind person along the way. Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) went from a woman trying to pick up the pieces of a broken life to someone who embraced inner strength and fierceness for the good of everyone. Dean Craig Pelton (Jim Rash) embraced his weirdness and turned his unhealthy love for The Greendale 7 into something productive and positive. Of course, others like Pierce (Chevy Chase), Ian Duncan (John Oliver), Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks), Elroy Patashnik (Keith David), and Frankie Dart (Paget Brewster) saw growth that may have been stunted by more limited runs on the show. However, they still added something special to the group and the overall ideas of Community. And Chang (Ken Jeong) cycled through all manner of insanity along the way.
Of course, Community is a sitcom, meant to entertain and surprise with each individual episode. And the show did that time and time again, delivering entries that stand on their own and are infinitely rewatchable. But it’s the beating heart underneath it all that made each one even better.
Heartbreak and Rebirth at Greendale
At first, Community was simply about a study group who learned how to care about one another and mature as they took classes and went on adventures at Greendale Community College. While this was the focus of the first four seasons, it was the show’s danger of being cancelled in the third season, the firing of creator and showrunner Harmon at the end of season three, and the difficulties caused during a Season Four that didn’t work right without Harmon that altered the series. That turmoil changed the idea of being a Community fan. Each season’s end caused more and more uncertainty concerning the future of a show that came to seem more and more personally important. Harmon’s return for Season Five was a triumph that put the show back on course but was also the first step in a new direction due to the departure of Chase’s Pierce and Glover’s Troy.
But the news that Community was officially, finally, cancelled by NBC was the most crushing blow of all. It was followed by a literally last minute renewal by Yahoo! of all places, which gave the show new life online. Surviving cancellation and moving to a new home that was free from NBC’s clutches was the ultimate victory for the show and its devoted followers. Not only would Community live on, it had beaten all the odds.
However, where does a show go once it’s finally won a battle that has defined it for so long? Life on Yahoo Screen has given Community more freedom than ever, but there’s also less to fight against. As such, the show didn’t make as many waves outside of its loyal followers, even if the true amount of viewers was revealed to be far higher than what the flawed Nielson Ratings System could show. But leave it up to Dan Harmon to still dig deep into the hearts of viewers in the course of Season Six and leave us broken apart once again in a season (and possibly series) finale.
Most surprisingly, it’s those many uncertainties that gave a far deeper emotional impact to Community. Clinging to hope that the show will return for another season, despairing at its cancellation, lamenting the loss of longtime cast members, and accepting changes to the show itself reflect the reality of life. People leave our lives, we change as individuals, and nothing ever quite stays the same. Refusing to accept that only brings more pain, but accepting it can lead to something joyful and more meaningful than ever. Those central concepts became issues that the characters themselves had to experience as people left their lives, time marched on, each took on new roles, and characters were forced to face the fact that life was changing and there was nothing they could do about it. Community was no longer about growing to care about other people, it became about letting go of those you love. That’s what shows like Seinfeld or Friends could never do in their runs, as their stability and success kept them in line with formula. That’s not a knock against those shows, it’s simply the major difference of Community.
Life Reflects Art Reflects Life
I, too, went on a journey in life, mirroring the show in a way. While it was different timing, I graduated from college and experienced the pains of maturation, which culminated in something truly beautiful – marrying the love of my life. I also experienced the pain of people leaving my life, the death of loved ones, and the perils of life free of restrictions and clear goals. I even got fired from a painful job around the same time Community was cancelled, only to find a new and far better job around the same time the show was renewed by Yahoo. While Community encapsulates real human experiences that everyone can relate to, it intertwined with my life at crucial moments. Outside of Community itself, Harmon’s podcast Harmontown became a personal favorite of mine, with the show’s discussions on all aspects of life being another form of community for outsiders and the often broken. Combined, these two formed a potent reflection of life, helping me as a fan to see themes in my own life. While it was just one part of a journey that involved therapy, facing my own flaws, faith in God’s will for my life, and stumbling toward being a better person and husband, it all gets mixed together and forms something beautiful and unique.
Beyond the effects of growing alongside the show, past episodes are comforting, tirelessly hilarious, and endlessly enjoyable. The early seasons are the freshest and most essential of the show as they are closest to the core of Community and contain many of its most vibrant entries. However, every season has something special about it, even Season Four, as it still has the characters I love. In addition, Harmon’s presence within the ideas of the show and its characters only grows more and more over the course of the series, adding new layers. Like Seinfeld, Community is timeless to me. Whenever it may finally come to an end, Community will live on far past its cultural and timely relevance. And when it does, every fan will have to move on in some way.
Will Community return for its seemingly predestined movie? Or will a Season Seven happen that subverts the expectations of both fans and its own characters? If so, would that continuation bring about even more change?
After countless seasons where the end was seemingly always around the corner, it feels impossible to accept this may be the end. And if it is, what a way to go.
Even still, hope is impossible to quench for a Community fan.