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The Greendale Effect - One's Journey through 5 seasons of Community

“Because if crazy people aren’t allowed in Greendale, where are we supposed to go?” Jeff Winger, Episode 1x05 “Advance Criminal Law”.
That line right there sums up pretty well Community for me; over the summer- or winter here on Chile- I revisited the whole series in preparation for the upcoming 6th season and I reaffirmed my love for the show and how it is probably my favorite comedy in the air alongside Parks And Recreation (and Orange is The New Black if you actually consider it a comedy, which I don’t).
So, why do I love Community? Why do I keep watching it after all this time? The first that comes to mind is the characters, but that’s not enough to explain why the show is so special. I think the key is how daring the show is, and how crazy stuff is just so eager to happen at any time.

When I started watching the first season all over again I was actually surprised by how low profile it was on the beginning; the number of crazy concept episodes were very limited and they were shown mostly by the end of the season. There was a surprising amount of gossiping, and something that resembled high school comedies, even though the characters were in a community college. Annie and Shirley were acting like teenagers most of the times and Jeff tried too hard to get Britta to sleep with him, while Abed, Troy and even Pierce acted like children.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the first season overall- otherwise I wouldn’t have started watching the show-, but there was too much of a high school comedy air instead of a college setting, and as such the show was having troubles of finding its voice.

The first christmas episode “Comparative Religion” (1x12) was the very first Community episode I truly adored; I liked the ones before it, sure, but this one seemed to just get the right tone for the show. “Comparative Religion” is all about friends disagreeing and fighting each other, but in the end they take the higher road because they care for each other, which is why everyone went to support Jeff on his fight, why Jeff decided not to fight the guys who were bullying the group and why Shirley ultimately decided to step in with the whole study group and back up Jeff on his fight. It was the first time I felt the study group came together as a true unit, as a true family that have each other’s back and it just felt so right that “Comparative Religion” became one of my favorite episodes, only because it was the very first time I felt Community became the Community I love.

That being said, the first season still showed some flaws on its ways; the Slatter-Jeff-Britta triangle swept three likeable characters in the ever hated love triangle storylines and brought up some clich├ęs on the way. Troy was much less likeable than what he would be later on as he was obsessed with his popularity at the time, and Shirley was way less tolerant with everyone and kind of annoying. The whole season was doing a good job bringing these characters together, but even as the show figured its tone by the christmas episode it still had a lot of working to do with the characters.

Episodes like “Contemporary American Poultry” (1x21)- aka the chicken finger episode- and “Modern Warfare” (1x23) were the first times Community showed its creative fangs; the show managed to find a way to be all kinds of shows while still being a comedy taking place in a community college and my mind was blown by how well executed those episodes were: I just couldn’t believe that Community could pull off things like that and that surprises would carry on in the future.

Season 2 is probably my favorite of the show so far; the characters grow and there is a steady storytelling that is actually trying to say something instead of delivering weekly laughs.
Pierce played a villain for most of the season and the show tested how much the study group could put up with him; by the end of the season (an amazing two part finale) Pierce reveals that he always test people out of his fear of abandonment and that he knows that on itself drives people away. The fact that the whole season came up to do that was incredibly surprising and moving- and it was even more moving now that we know that Pierce is dead.

Community’s second season is all about conflict and testing relationships. Jeff himself says that they are trapped in a circle of hurting each other, but he believes that it is the universe’s way to make them a super group. This is very true to all kind of relationships; they are constantly tested, people screw up and they get angry, but those who can withstand the whole crap because they know that there is something good beneath all that are those who you can call family. As such, season 2 pushed the characters to their limits in order to prove wherever this people could be a family or not.

By episode 2x08 “Cooperative Calligraphy”- one of the funniest and most poignant episodes Community has ever done in my opinion- the show set outs to prove that these guys are an actual family by having them confronting trust issues. It is all set out by one lost pen- which we later discover are being stolen by Troy’s monkey “Annie’s boobs”-, but the pen is there to symbolize the trust issues within the study group.
There are tons of absurdity to laugh at in the episode, but there is a very important question asked within the episode itself: how much do you trust those around you? In the end, when the pen is lost- apparently forever- the group decides that a ghost took the pen, because for them it is a far better alternative than having to doubt one another from there onwards.
Even through the whole absurdity of the situation, this was the way in which Community stated that these guys truly loved each other, they went as far as making up a ghost story to go through this problem.

This makes Pierce situation even sadder: even while watching it for the second time, I was still deeply affected by the end of “Early 21st Century Romanticism” (2x15) in which Pierce is found in a bench suffering from pills overdose just while Jeff is calling him to tell him that he has a place in the study group’s heart and that he has to let them in before it’s too late. Once again, knowing Pierce’s fate, the situation becomes even sadder and very emotionally affecting, to the point I found myself shedding tears for Pierce, a character that I really didn’t like very much when to begin with.

A lot of things happened through the season; Shirley got pregnant and there was the doubt of who the father was- Andre or Chang-, Britta and Jeff secretly slept together, Annie was figuring out her feelings for Jeff, Abed and Troy grew closer than ever, and Pierce assumed the role of the villain. Also, the dean was showcased more often- and he started crossed dressing too!- and the students at Greeendale started to have more life in them and they were showcased more- with one of my favorite moments being Vicky telling Alex “starburns” and Neil that they were this close to having an episode that wasn’t all about the study group (episode 2x23 “Applied Anthropology And Culinary Arts”).

Season 2 was pretty eventful, it tested relationships among the study group, but it also made sure that Greendale itself had colors of its own, with each guest and recurring character having their time to shine. And it ended on a pretty high note when they fought City College in the paintball war, in which it was proved that these guys actually love their school, because it is the only place that accepts them for who they are.

Greendale is a special place: I’d say that’s the whole premise of season 3.
Season 3 had the very hard task of keeping the momentum of its amazing second season, and I think it managed to, while not being as great as season 2..
There are episodes during this season that became iconic for the series, especially the emmy winner episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” (3x04 ) in which we explore 7 different timelines.

When I saw this episode I declared that Community was the sitcom version of Fringe, in which the show explores how to break every single convention of the genre and do everything it wanted to do, breaking free of all limitations.
What is truly fascinating about the episode is how much it tells us about these people without anything actually happening; we see possible futures, but none of them comes to happen in reality. That sounds frustrating, but it’s not: we know from the word go what we are getting, and the information we get only give us better insight of the group, of their ongoing problems and insecurities, which makes the happy ending all the more satisfying, because we know those issues will rise up again, but they will always have this moment of contentment.

With “Remedial Chaos Theory” aside the season’s focus shifts from the study group to Greendale; the storylines have mostly to do with the college than with the study group. Even episodes that focus on our characters conflicts (such as Troy and Abed’s big fight on “Pillows and Blankets”) everything that is going on is mostly focusing on Greendale and suddenly the campus becomes its own character. Greendale is a place that gathers all these broken people and forces them to confront their issues.

The Dean had to realize how special Greendale was when he was making the commercial, Troy and Abed were forced to deal with their issues in a blankets and pillows war, Troy and Britta had to start figuring out their feelings for each other, and by the end of the season, when Chang took over the school, it was up to the study group to save their home, because Greendale became something more than just a community college, it was like another member of the study group that needed rescuing

Season 3 had its problems from time to time, mostly becoming too intense at times and forgetting the right pacing and tone for some jokes, but for me it was almost as great as season 2… and then season 4 came along.

Among the Community fanbase, season 4 is the most hated and despised of it all; it was the season without Dan Harmon checking the scripts and making sure everything was going accordingly. In my opinion, season 4 was a mess, but not as messy as most people make it out to be.

The writers tried to do their best without Dan Harmon and season 4 did a lot of things right; it took the time to redeem Pierce’s character and make him likeable just before Chevy Chase departed the series for good, it explored Jeff’s issues with his dad with grace- with an scar story that was truly affecting and gripping-, and as a whole it tightened the bonds among the group and even gave Chang an out to become kind of likeable after taking the role of the villain on season 3.

Now that doesn’t mean the season was actually good; it had great stuff on it, but as a whole it never came together. Episodes like “Conventions of Space and Time”, “Alternative History of German Invasion” and “Advanced Introduction to Finality” were dreadful and probably the worst half hours Community has ever done,

“Conventions of Space Time” treated Annie poorly, reaching new lows on her crush on Jeff by playing house on their hotel room, which struck me as truly pathetic and not like Annie at all. The whole Troy and Abed storyline never took off, because there was never truly a sense that Toby was going to break them apart, and as such Troy’s behavior becomes as pathetic as Annie’s.

“Alternative History of German Invasion” is a snore fest of playing the same sequences over and over again, without them ever landing. “Avandenced Introduction to Finality” loses too much time on setups and tells a story that could have been told in 5 minutes instead of 20, missing the point on how dream episodes are supposed to work- as character insight instead of setup-, especially for a finale. No wonder this is considered the gas leak year.

The biggest trouble with season 4- for me anyway- is that, while it has very strong components, it is never becomes as loud as season 2 or 3; instead it mostly feels like season 1, pretty quiet, voiceless and even bland at times. For a show that has continually evolved through its run to become a less evolved version of itself wasn’t really that much fun; there was limited craziness and fun gags, and character treatment was a hit or miss, and the storylines were too quiet in comparison with previous seasons.

Troy and Britta’s relationship was handled very poorly; these guys developed a great chemistry during season 3, so it was really underwhelming to see that most of the time Troy seemed to be more concerned on Abed- who should have been more independent after all his growth in the previous seasons-, than actually being a boyfriend to Britta, and it made all the more confusing that he was the one who broke up with her in the end, by how things were handled it was Britta who deserved to be the one to break things up.

So season 4 was the worst, but the worst of Community isn’t that bad. If I graded the season it would be a C+ or a B-, probably, which are fine grades, but not up to the task of keeping Community’s momentum during season 2 and 3.
Enter season 5.

With the return of Dan Harmon to the team Community quickly found its place; “Repilot” took the very scattered pieces of season 4 and put them back together in the right order. Also, Dan Harmon made the very clever choice of keeping one of the things that truly worked on season 4; the short lived relationship of Abed and Rachel, which became a true thing this season. He also kept to some degree things that worked on season 4, while also immediately throwing to the trash can what didn’t land- Chang dropped the Changnesia act in a matter of seconds and no one ever called him Kevin again, and the characters continually talked about a gas leak to excuse some odd behavior during season 4-.

The study group evolved to the “Save Greendale Committee”; the whole season they performed various task in order to make Greendale a better place; Jeff becomes a teacher and the group re-enrolls in different classes to fix Greendale from within. Profesor Hickey joins the committee and he proved to have great chemistry with the whole cast right away, becoming a natural fit in a matter of a few episodes- which makes the fact that Jonathan Banks won’t return pretty sad.

Season 5 had to deal with both Chevy Chase and Donald Glover departure from the show and it dealt with it with grace; “Cooperative Polygraphy” managed to test the bonds of the group in the awe of Pierce’s death and Pierce himself got to say how much he loved everyone from the grave, while also giving Troy the gift of sailing around the world so he can become his own man. It was a beautiful way to tie two departures, and after an already beautiful episode, Community delivers “Geothermal Escapism” in which Abed gets to deal with Troy’s departure through a game of lava world, which ends in a very poignant goodbye with Abed saying he is a version of himself ready to let Troy go. Abed never wanted Troy to go, but he couldn’t deny him the opportunity to do what he always wanted to. And so the era of Troy and Abed ends… at least for now (I heard Donald Glover hasn’t ruled out coming back).

As the season progressed the absence of Troy was felt, but the show bravely decided to deal with it, acknowledging how much of a void he left on Annie’s and Abed’s apartment. We can feel Troy absence pretty much on a scene on “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” (5x07) in which Abed lonely walks through Greendale’s corridors as Kickpunch and on the whole “VCR Maintenance And Educational Publishing” episode (5x09) where it is more directly pointed out by Annie’s brother.

But Community goes on as it should, proving that these characters have grown becoming more and more equipped to deal with this kind of stuff, but never actually getting over it, which leaves room for improvement.

A lot of fun stuff happens, but mostly Community does remakes of things it already done before; as amazing as “Cooperative Polygraphy” and “Geothermal Escapism” were, they were mostly newer versions of “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Modern Warfare”. Not to mention “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”- an episode that I still don’t like at all, but I’ve come to appreciate in some capacity- or “Advanced Advance Dungeons and Dragons” or even “G.I Jeff”- which is one of my favorites of the late part of the season-, they are all pretty much remakes of older ideas for older episodes. As such I became worried about the things Community could do, are they running out of stories?

But then there is “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” (episode 5x07), in which we get to explore deeper sides of Britta, Abed, Hickey and even the very much forgotten friendship of Jeff and Duncan; it all comes together beautifully, with Abed and Hickey stealing the episode in moments of hurting and bonding; when Abed tells Hickey that he lacks of creativity it is a strike to the heart and Abed seems less emphatic than ever, but in the end he comes back and recognized that Hickey has something he doesn’t: the substance for storytelling. Both Hickey and Abed got to confront their own ghosts and issues by confronting each other, and I think that is what made them bond so quickly and so naturally.

With an episode like that I trust that the writers still have a lot more to explore with these characters; life continues and it changes it, and I believe that they can continue to explore those depths as the show continues.
Community knows what it is doing and even when it rehashes some old material it manages to come with innovating ways to tell it.
Season 5 mounted a comeback from season 4 because the storytellings felt like what Community usually did. It did lack a little bit of a sense of originality, yet it never lost the innovating touch that has made the series so special to me.

There are things that Community has to resolve; the Britta-Jeff-Annie love triangle is getting increasingly old, and it has to be resolved, wherever it is hooking Jeff and Annie up, or giving new love interest to each character, I really don’t care that much, it’s just that I’m getting tired of Annie looking at Jeff as if he was an unobtainable price, her character deserves much better.

To be honest, I don’t buy Jeff and Annie as a couple. The fact that Jeff is 17 years older than Annie drives me off- that’s the age gap between my big brother and my sister, so it feels incredibly weird-, but aside from age Jeff has never truly treated Annie like a romantic partner. Sure, there are sparks, chemistry and A LOT of setups for this pairing, but I just don’t feel it, at least not with the way Jeff is, he would need to change in order for me to feel like this couple has a future, and I don’t know if that’s what I want for Jeff’s character.

But that’s just me, I trust that even if Jeff and Annie become a couple it won’t bother me, simply because I trust that Dan Harmon and company are doing the best to pull the show together and in the end there is always a feeling that keeps me calm and that makes me want to tune in for the next episode: the feeling that these people are a family. They may fight and disagree often, but underneath that there is love, truly unconditional love for each other and it is so beautiful that there is no way you don’t want to see how crazy things get, how dark things get, so that then you can watch how the love that these people have for each other conquers all.

That is the Community I know and love: a place for crazy, broken people, to come together and build something better out of their collective craziness. That is Community.

Season Grades:
Season 1: B
Season 2: A
Season 3: A-
Season 4: B-
Season 5: B+
Series Grade (so far): A-

Stray Observations:

-One of the things that redeem the ass crack bandit episode (5x03) for me is that it was foreshadowed back on season 2x17 “Intro To Political Science”.

-I can’t believe Magnitude was introduced in 2x15! I assumed he appeared on late first season!

-Even though it doesn’t have much relevance to Community overall, 3x10 “Regional Holiday Music” is my all time favorite Community episode, mostly because I never get tired of the songs, which the whole cast nails with grace. How did Dany Pudy and Donald Glover got snubbed by the emmys after such an epic performance?

-I discovered that “Digital Estate Planning” which aired very late on season 3 was actually supposed to air shortly after “Advance Gay” (3x06).

-Interestingly enough, I found myself enjoying much less the Halloween episodes than I used to, probably because I knew what was going to happen and I enjoyed them a lot on shock value on my first watches.

-On season 4 finale’s defense, they did foreshadow that the finale would be a dream, Pierce outright says so at the beginning of “Herstory of Dance”, probably the best S4 episode. Still, it doesn’t make up for a terrible finale overall.

-People who have said “shut up, Leonard!” so far: Jeff, Shirley, Britta and Dean Pelton. Community can’t end until Annie, Abed and Chang all have the chance to say “Shut up, Leonard!”.

-One of my single favorite moments in the whole series is Annie in “Advance Dungeons and Dragons” describing how her character, “Hector well endowed” had to please a woman and how everyone reacted, with Shirley completely terrified, Jeff amazed and the best of them all, Troy taking notes.

-Another of my favorites of season 2, the whole conspiracy mess with Professor Professerson; just like the dean, I couldn’t follow up everything, but I still found it hilarious.

-If Jonathan Banks can make even a short guest appearance next season, I’ll be happy.

-I don’t know who is my favorite recurring character: can’t simply choose between Garret or Magnitude. Pop, Pop!

-What concept episode would you like to see in Community? I’d love to see sci-fi concept episode or something like Lord of The Rings, I think Community would have a lot of fun with it.

-One last thing: I loved Yahoo’s promo, it made me feel very happy about Community moving to Yahoo Screen. This show always belonged in the internet.
About the Author - Pablo
I'm currently studying Psychology while also writing fantasy books (one already published in my home country, Chile, you can check it out on the facebook icon). I watch many different types of shows, including my favorites Revenge, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time and about 23 more. Currently writing reviews for Once Upon a Time, The 100, Community and Marry Me
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