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Throwback Thursday - Community - Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television

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I’ll admit it: season 6 was far from "Community"'s glory days, taking comparatively few risks and doing practically nothing remarkable, even with a bigger budget and the weight of an entire company essentially weighing on its shoulders. A premature cancellation by NBC and the resulting transition to Yahoo’s short-lived streaming service zapped some of the energy from the show, and the departures of nearly half of the show’s original cast certainly didn’t help either.

Despite that, Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television, the 13th episode of the season and the cult classic’s series finale, is near-perfect; providing reasonable closure, returning to the jaunty tone and vibrancy of the show’s peak seasons, and leaving the door cracked open just enough to possibly one day fulfill their long-running “6 seasons and a movie” prophecy.

The episode begins at the triumphant end of the school year, our 6th at Greendale, as Frankie (hey guys, remember Frankie?) adjourns the Save Greendale Committee’s final meeting. After a visit from the Dean (marking his own accomplishment of going an entire school year without wearing a single over-the-top costume), the group (sans Elroy, who got a job at LinkedIn) go to Britta’s bar to celebrate.

It’s here where the writers manage to fit in one more concept episode, as the group ponders over six years together, or, as Abed might say, six seasons. When everyone begins talking about a potential 7th “season,” Abed admits he doesn’t think it will happen:

“I mean, what show ever peaks after season 6?”
“'The Simpsons,' 'Seinfeld,' 'South Park,' 'Friends?'”
“Those shows weren’t hemorrhaging characters every year.”

From here, the group begins to suggest ways in which a potential season 7 could turn out. These sequences are displayed in a series of “episode” clips set around the Study Room F table, with each preluded by the show’s title card (as if it were the beginning of its own episode).

The first sequence, as described by Abed, is a hilariously apt depiction of the show’s “formula”; with Jeff and Britta describing their characteristic banter (“Abusively cynical one-liner dismissing everything you just said;” “Absurd reaction!”), Annie trying to get the conversation on track (“You guys, can we put a pin in the B story and focus on the A story?"), and Shirley (in a brief cameo by Yvette Nicole Brown) inserting her obligatory sass (“I don’t trust A stories, never have, never will. I had a setup about a story that was so placeholder the punchline came 5 words early!”)

The rest of the group then pitches their own prospective "season 7’s," including The Dean’s filler-word-heavy, “politically correct” season (which, unsurprisingly, is not actually politically correct), Britta’s season in which Greendale becomes an independent nation at the heart of a rebellion against political injustice, Frankie’s pleasant yet robotic take, and Chang’s addition of a brand-new cast member: a magical alien ice-cube-headed man named Ice Cube Head (played by Rick and Morty’s Justin Roiland) whose main personality traits are that he shoots lightning from his fingers and eats cellphones. Shockingly, none of the others at the table are particularly interested in their friends’ versions of the upcoming year.

While Jeff is at first unwilling to participate in this pseudo-writers room, he changes his tune when Annie arrives, announcing that she has gotten an internship with the FBI and that she’ll be leaving Greendale for the summer - and possibly forever. With that, Jeff begins envisioning what his own season 7 would look like with all the members of the original study group gone. This season suddenly consists of him having to cobble together a new “Sustain Greendale” committee made up of Vicki, Garrett, Leonard, Todd, Dave, and a Jean-Ralphio Saperstein-esque tech billionaire who buys the school. Horrified not only at the thought of so much change, but also of yet another family coming together just to eventually leave him, Jeff becomes determined to pitch a season 7 in which the group can stay together.

We then see Jeff’s first pitch, where Annie, who has been commuting between FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. for work and Greendale to see her friends, decides to leave the FBI to keep studying criminology at her Alma Mater. However, even "Season 7" Annie questions the plausibility of leaving her dream job for the sake of the show: “Being with you guys is great, but why is this a good choice for me? Why doesn’t the audience feel sorry for me?”

Jeff’s pitch solves this problem by revealing that in this season, Britta’s parents have just been murdered (in what the cops are calling a “double suicide”) and Annie decides to stay to solve the case. For obvious reasons, none of the rest of the group take very kindly toward this idea.

With the group now stuck on how a 7th year at Greendale could possibly make sense, we, the audience, can sense a deeper message beneath the surface. For so long, “Community” was a show that had to be fought for tooth and nail, and both its devoted production crew and its equally devoted fans were willing to do just that; praying through cancellation seasons, championing catchphrases, even subscribing to Yahoo! Screen, all demanding that “the show must go on.”

But "Community," ever self-aware, takes time to recognize that, at some point, the show must actually not go on. The story has been told, and if it were to continue, it wouldn’t be for the sake of the art, or the characters, or the fans. It would be only for the sake of the show's commercial value. Even the theme song ("At Least It Was Here" by The 88) that plays over and over again before each of the characters’ “pitch” vignettes, repeats the same sentiment: “I can’t count the reasons I should stay / one by one they all just fade away.” This episode is a gentle letting down of the show’s die-hard fans just as much as it is a thank-you to them.

Abed says it best, with a line that not only serves as a farewell from the characters to each other and to the audience, but that also captures the buzzing inner monologue of a TV fan with an ease and a clarity of thought that paints the writer in me envy-green.

“TV defeats its own purpose when it’s pushing an agenda, or trying to defeat other TV, or being proud or ashamed of itself for existing. It’s TV. It’s comfort. It’s a friend you’ve known so well, and for so long, you just let it be with you. And it needs it to be OK to have a bad day. Or phone in a day. And it needs to be OK for it to get on a boat with LeVar Burton and never come back. Because eventually, it all will.”

Bouncing off of Abed’s speech, Jeff makes his second pitch, in which the group all get jobs at the school, he becomes the Dean, many of the lingering plot threads are nicely explained away, and Annie goes back to wearing sweaters and dresses (“Look, guys! I’m the original Annie!”). A scene where the group is “...happy, and we’re all together, and it makes sense.”

Everyone agrees that they would love for that to happen, but when Jeff asks how they can “make it real,” Abed abruptly announces that he, too, is actually moving away; to California to work as a P.A. in Hollywood. This is when it becomes clear exactly what the writers are trying to say: it could be possible for a 7th season that checks all the right boxes, makes perfect sense and is even good. But at some point, it has to end.

Heartbroken, Jeff returns to the study room, where he imagines a hyper-romanticized life for himself where he and Annie get married, have a son named Sebastian, and have the kind of blissful relationship that you only see on TV. But again, the Annie in his imagination brings into question the reality of that scenario, asking him “Is this really what you want?” When he responds that he wants whatever she wants, she replies “Do you have any idea what I want?”

After this, we get an unconventional but adorable conclusion to Jeff and Annie’s long-running unconventional but adorable will-they/won’t they. Annie (real Annie, not “season 7” Annie) comes to the study room to find him, and he confesses to her that he wishes that he were young and fearless again and allowed to have an opinion on all the (his words, not mine) “boring-ass Marvel movies.” To his surprise, she responds by saying she herself wishes she were older; more respected; with a more stable future ahead; and had the ability to criticize the (again, shoot the messenger!) “flavorless, unremarkable Marvel movies.”

Herein lies the genius of the Jeff/Annie relationship, and demonstrates both the biggest reason why they work together so well as a concept, and yet why they couldn’t have ended the series as a couple. No - not their shared disinterest in the Avengers - but the fact that Jeff is forever a 12-year-old at heart, hurtling towards old age and a forced state of adulthood at a rate that terrifies him, while Annie is a focused, youthful go-getter, forever half a step away from the level of prestige and accomplishment she’s chasing. In many ways, they complete each other. Just...not here, not yet.

Annie advises Jeff to let himself grow up a little and accept his future, and he responds by lamenting that they never got together. Again, we’re provided with a quiet moment of somber, punchline-less reflection (all-too rare), as we recognize that it’s quite possible that Annie is the only girl Jeff really loved, and the only one he never actually pursued. The couple kiss, leaving their future relationship status purposefully ambiguous.

Then, the rest of the committee shows up and all together, they say goodbye to the study room, quietly imagining their own dreams for “season 7.” A few days later, Jeff takes Abed and Annie to the airport, and we close on the remaining members of the group at the bar, getting ready for whatever season 7 may bring.

Unlike most of "Community"’s themed, tribute or concept episodes, Emotional Consequences is not sensational or excessive. It works so well because it is a self-reflective take on its own characters, from Abed’s analytical mind to Jeff’s emotionally stunted inability to allow himself (or anyone around him) to grow up. Every character gets a moment in the spotlight (as each of their “pitches” is not only tailored to their personalities but also their styles of speech, something that allows the cast to do subtle yet spot-on impressions of one another). It’s apt for a show that is so character-driven to have a majority of its finale be a loving roast of its characters; a much-appreciated touch.

“Community” has found itself back in the spotlight as-of-late, mostly because of its long-awaited arrival on Netflix, followed quickly by the cast reunion and table read (including Donald Glover!) that took place last month. While I had known about the show for a while, I had never had the opportunity to watch it until recently. What I discovered that many of you likely already knew is that the entire show is a special kind of roller coaster ride, and in more ways than one. At its peak, “Community” was, in no uncertain terms, one of the best sitcoms of all time, and even at its worst, it was often bolder and more clever than any other comedy - network or not - dared to be.

Whatever your feelings on the season that preceded it, the “Community” finale is a reminder of the simple genius of making a TV show that exposed the mechanics of making a TV show. There was (and likely can never be) anything quite like this show on air (or online) again. It’s easy to understand that one would want to live in a timeline in which the show never ended, and it’s a comfort to see a finale that is many ways similarly inclined.

In a TV landscape in which the series finale is the hardest concept to master, “Community” did what it does best: not only nailing it, but nailing it in a way that no one would have ever anticipated. And regardless of your thoughts on the show’s later seasons, I think that it’s fair to reiterate that Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television was a near-perfect goodbye to a unique treasure.

I say near-perfect, of course, because if I’m doing my math correctly, I think we’re still missing something...What was it again? ...Rhymes with "smoothie?"

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