April 18, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Community”


You couldn’t tell it from the ratings, which were if anything more dismal than ever, or from tonight’s somewhat disappointing season finale, but the return of Founding Genius Dan Harmon rejuvenated COMMUNITY‘s fifth season.  It wasn’t that last year’s replacement team had done a shameful job–they worked hard to provide the same species of laughs as the previous seasons–but Community is a show that exists as a function of Harmon’s twisted, inspired psyche and heart, and without him it’s at best a faded copy of itself.

Last season had its share of high-concept episodes (the Muppets half-hour being the most notable), but it takes Harmon’s particular mix of obsessive detail, wild imagination and genuine insight into his characters to pull off stunts like this year’s brilliant Hot Lava and MeowMeowBeenz tour de forces, extravaganzas that deepened the characters as they soared from one crazy, original story beat to the next.  Jonathan Banks was a terrific addition as Professor Hickey, especially in his interactions with Danny Pudi’s Abed and in the Dungeons and Dragons episode where he faced off with his estranged son (David Cross), and there was a beautifully constructed, hilarious and touching farewell to Troy (Donald Glover).  The segue of Jeff (Joel McHale) from miserable student to grudgingly effective teacher was remarkably deft, and even the exit of Pierce (Chevy Chase) was handled with grace, thanks in part to Chase and Harmon’s willingness to work together one last time.

In that context, the Season 5 finale was a bit flat.  Written by staff writer Rob Schrab (who also wrote the season’s MeowMeowBeenz and animated G.I. Jeff episodes) and directed by Ryan Ridley, it built on last week’s discovery that the Save Greendale committee had done its job too well, and that the city was going to sell the school to Subway (participating in another goofy product placement) while it was in profit.  The follow-up had Jeff, Abed, Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Annie (Alilson Brie) and the Dean (Jim Rash) on a treasure hunt in search of the hidden computer lab of Greendale’s original dean and the gold reportedly hidden there, while Hickey and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) held up under the interrogation–and attempted thought-jacking–of Chang (Ken Jeong) and the school board’s agents.

Although of course everything in Community is done with a meta eye to TV cliches and genres and to its own canon (explicitly referenced in one Abed line), in the end the episode didn’t do very much that was interesting with the mad scientist hidden away in the lab (Chris Elliot, of course), while Jeff being able to get the emotion-sensitive computer operational with his feelings for his Greendale family was surprisingly on the nose.  The running gag about Jeff and Britta proclaiming they were going to be married, as Abed noted that the last episodes of series about to be canceled often set things up for a spin-off, felt contrived strictly to pick off low-hanging meta fruit.  (The fake promo at the end for a Thought Jacker series on NBC was a delight, though.)  There were some good gags–Chang discovering that he wasn’t wearing a mask after all was a great bit–but if this turns out to be the genuine finale of Community, it won’t have gone off on a high note.

Amazingly, though, there’s a very good chance that it won’t be.  Despite the terrible ratings, the show’s audience is loyal enough that NBC may bring the series back for that fabled 6th season (and there are reports that platforms like Amazon or Netflix would be happy to host it if NBC passes), and the rest of the hashtag could come true as well, as preliminary discussions have been going on about a possible theatrical movie afterward.  All of this would be great news:  Community spent much of this season being the best of its utterly unique self, and even when it didn’t quite reach that level, it was still in a class of its own.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."