Sunday, May 12, 2013

(In Which I Discuss My Internal Struggle in the Wake of #RenewCommunity)

While everyone else was adding “Renew Community” to their avatars over the last few weeks, I was sitting – quietly – and contemplating whether or not I actually wanted to see my beloved show return to television for a fifth season after all. In order to avoid being tarred and feathered, of course, I kept this to myself and smiled when I heard the news of Community’s renewal, mainly because I knew how hard everyone else had fought to save the show. They were happy, therefore I was happy.

Honestly, the fourth season of Community has been… well, rocky. And I don’t necessarily attribute that to the obvious lack of Dan Harmon. I really do believe that the show could have been great this year without him. Yes, it would not have been the SAME show, but it could have been GREAT no less. However, looking back over this season I realize that my feelings toward it can be summed up in one word: lukewarm.

Here’s the thing about the term “lukewarm”: it’s completely fine to be lukewarm toward episodes in a series. There are episodes that I feel lukewarm toward in Doctor Who, in Community, and in New Girl alike. But – and this is a BIG but – when your feelings toward an entire season of a series can only be categorized as such, you place yourself into rather dangerous territory. A season becomes forgettable and lost in the shuffle. And the one thing that I never wanted Community to become was a series like Scrubs or The Office or How I Met Your Mother. All three are arguably amazing sitcoms and I have seen each one of them. However, I often hear this in regards to them: “[insert show here] is SO good. You definitely need to watch! But just pretend season(s) [enter disappointing season or seasons here] doesn't/don’t exist.”

Whenever friends recommend shows to me, occasionally I will hear that line – because the fact is that certain sitcoms just go through seasons where their show declines so far in quality that it becomes un-recommendable. I never wanted Community to be categorized in that way, but now – I fear – it is. “Community is SO good! Just… pretend season four doesn’t exist.” And the painful reality is that the fourth season of Community didn’t HAVE to be that way – this was preventable.

So… where do we go from here? What can we learn from the pitfalls of the fourth season that can actually allow us (I keep using the first-person possessive, when I really mean “the people who make this series”) to rise from the ashes, as it were? Here are a few things I believe must fundamentally occur in order for the fifth season of Community to be smart, successful, and stable.

Cohesiveness is Key

The writers admitted, this season, to being divided. And nothing pulls a show apart quicker than division or inconsistency in the writers’ room. In order for this sitcom to succeed next year, the writers need to determine – as a team – the goals of the thirteen-or-so episodes they’ll be privileged to receive. What are the particular goals of each character in Community, moving forward? And how, throughout the course of the year, will they take actions to achieve these goals? What will be their pitfalls? And how will their stories weave with an overarching theme?

The reason that the fourth season felt so rocky was because it WAS, and the writers fully owned up to the fact that the characters and relationships and stories were not given the justice they deserved. Troy/Britta was one of the biggest disappointments of the entire series, as the pair were shoddily written, romantically, and then neglected. Annie Edison, too, is a prime example of a character that had the potential for deep, impactful stories and was simply forgotten. There were plots that could have been fleshed out more and plot holes that bridged episodes. So the writers will need to sit down and determine WHAT they want to do with each of their characters, collectively, and map out how they will accomplish this. This series (if it wants to be successful) should feel as if it is written by ONE mind, furthering ONE goal. Community felt, this year, as if it was written by several people all with different ideas of who each character should be and what should be accomplished. And that is specifically WHY it felt so disjointed – because when the writers cannot decide on who, exactly, their characters are, then we cannot either. 

And this brings me to my second point:

Learning From Mistakes

Television series these days have a benefit that shows such as Friends and Seinfeld didn’t – instant feedback. Audience members are literally 140 characters away from their favorite television writers, producers, and actors. This, of course, is a double-edged sword for them: while they hear all of the positive feedback through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, etc. they also hear the negative criticisms and (often) unnecessary severity.

In the case of Community, this social media connection is a benefit during tough times, and it truly always has been. Our fandom is one that survives and thrives on hashtags and Twitter giveaways and Reddit boards and Tumblr posts. A benefit this season has been the (albeit mostly negative) response to the Harmon-less era of Community. The writers have been able to dialogue with fans and they have provided their feedback, for better or worse (and sometimes just berating Andy Bobrow but that’s beside the point). Now that the writers are aware of where they have failed, they have a decision to make: do they take OUR opinions into account? And, if so, how exactly do they adapt season five so that it doesn’t resemble season four?

Because, as I noted above, cohesiveness between the writers is key. A stringent plan is important. But enacting this plan – actively taking steps to bring it to fruition – is what the show needs to do in order to be successful. Of course, opinions of viewers always need to be taken with a grain of salt. The show cannot cater to the whims of thousands of viewers, each who want something different for the series.

However, this doesn’t mean that the writers and producers should ignore the critiques of their core audience as well as critics in order to refine their art and make it the best it can possibly be. Revision is necessary for any piece of art, no matter how perfect it may seem. I revise poetry even when I don’t want to, because I know it’s necessary – because I know it’s not the BEST work that I can do. In the same vein, the writers need to pinpoint what needs to be improved with the series and refine whatever it takes in order to bring season five to the level it needs to be at when we view it.

In addition to the two very important notes I made above, I posted my Top 5 Wish-List for Season Five on Twitter this weekend, and thought I would expand a bit on it here!


Duncan is the one person at Greendale, professor-wise, that I have absolutely and positively ALWAYS loved. He’s played the villain in “Abed’s Controllable Christmas,” and yet we’ve never hated him. He’s been a source of comic relief, and in “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited,” was actually Jeff Winger’s unintentional saving grace. I know that John Oliver has commitments elsewhere on The Daily Show, but I would absolutely LOVE to see his character back. He interacts so seamlessly with the group and would add a wonderful layer again to the dynamic of the show.

#4: A solid Shirley/Britta/Annie storyline. They have not had one in far too long.

If my calculations are correct – and feel to note if they are not – these three women have not had a true, singular storyline together since “Aerodynamics of Gender”… two years ago. (“Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” I am not counting only because that was more of a Shirley/Pierce/Dean and Britta/Annie story than anything else.) Prior to that, “Politics of Human Sexuality” was the only other episode we have seen the three women work together in, and that’s a complete and utter shame.

I love when Shirley/Britta/Annie team up together because they exemplify SUCH different types of women and yet, they play off of each others’ quirks and qualities so well. When we do see them together, they end up growing and learning from one another and becoming closer as women and friends. I think that is one thing, really, that I lament about the show: it has three solid, strong, funny women and yet they VERY RARELY ever get the chance to grow or further their friendship together. We see Shirley/Britta stories, sometimes we get glimpses of Britta/Annie ones, but – more often than not – these three women are thrown into stories with Jeff or Troy and Abed, and don’t have the opportunity to become closer as a trio. I would love season five to delve into more stories that feature these three together, especially now that Pierce and Jeff are no longer at the school.

#3: NO MORE CHANGNESIA. Let’s just let that storyline die with season four, mmkay?

I hated the entire Changnesia storyline this year from the moment that spoilers leaked about it.

And I love Ben Chang, don’t get me wrong, but I could not stand this storyline. Earlier this afternoon, I was contemplating my reasoning for this and I settled on the problem: there were no stakes this time around in a Chang-centered story; there always need to be stakes.

In the first season, Chang was introduced as an obstacle to the study group. He was their crazy Spanish teacher, and they needed to band together in order to pass his class. I actually loved Chang during that season because he was such a great external villain for the characters. Second season delivered student!Chang to us, and the stakes were just as high as they had been during the first season: the group was faced with the decision as to whether or not they would let Chang join their group.

What would happen if they let their crazy ex-teacher join the group? How would that dynamic shift and – most importantly – would he tear apart the study group in the process? The third season saw Chang’s rise to power, and though I wasn’t wild about the storyline for the first half of the season, I began to really enjoy the drama and stakes it threw at the study group. They needed to be brought together to fight for a common goal, and that goal was simple: take their school back and destroy Chang before he destroyed them.

In the fourth season, there were no stakes associated with Changnesia. Though “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” may have hinted at some (the stake of Jeff vs. the group vs. believability, there was no thread that connected Changnesia throughout the thirteen episodes. And by the time we reached the revelation (that we all knew anyway) that Chang was working with Dean Spreck to bring down Greendale, we had no more investment in Chang or Changnesia. I think that the majority of viewers (myself included) were just glad to see the storyline dropped.

The writers attempted to make Changnesia work throughout the season by using it to deliver jokes and punchlines, and that was fine except… that was ALL the story boiled down to in the end. And that simply wasn’t strong enough to arc a season, in my opinion.

#2: Even writing of relationships, including romantic ones. No more undertones of things that only exist “within our minds.”

I think the problem this season with the writers in terms of relationships (especially romantic ones) was this: commitment. Numerous times, I wanted to yell at my screen: “JUST COMMIT TO SOMETHING ALREADY!” If the writers learned anything from this year’s Troy/Britta debacle, it would probably be this – commit wholeheartedly or not at all. The problem with Troy/Britta was that the writers made a decision, failed to follow through, and made the characters and their audience suffer as a result.

If the writers want to develop any pairing on this show – romantic or otherwise – the key is going to be making those decisions, like I said earlier, TOGETHER in order to prevent the creation of another season like the fourth. Should the writers take a leap and develop Jeff/Annie? Or should Annie have a new romantic interest? Should Troy/Britta get back together or stay broken up? Do Shirley/Troy stories need more screentime? Should Abed’s romantic interest, Rachel, make a reappearance? Will the season return to a Jeff/Britta dynamic?

I cannot answer any of these questions, but they’re certainly things that the writers need to be asking themselves. And they need to come up with solutions together so that the episodes don’t feel like a weirdly mismatched puzzle that just doesn’t quite fit.

#1: At the very top of my wish-list – ANNIE. GIVE ANNIE DEVELOPMENT. DO SOMETHING WITH HER. Make her the Ace of Hearts again, please.  

When the most significant story that Annie gets in a season is “vying for class valedictorian against Shirley,” you know you’ve given up in writing her character.

Annie is my favorite character on this show, and to watch her remain stagnant in characterization physically hurts me. She, like every other character, has a limitless well of potential – she has family we still know very little to nothing about after four years, she has a life outside of the study group (we presume: again, I don’t know because we never see her), and she is more than just a romantic “interest” (I’m using this loosely) for Jeff.

So in season five, I’d love to see some sort of solid storyline involving Annie. Perhaps she’s going to take charge of the group in Jeff’s absence. Perhaps we can bring Annie Kim back as her rival. Perhaps we can learn more about her mother and father. 

I want Annie to be a fleshed-out character. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?

So you’ve likely read this and want to know: “How do you feel about the fifth season NOW?” In a nutshell, I teeter between cautious optimism and apprehension these days. The writers and producers have a LOT of obstacles in their way and a LOT of work ahead of them. They will have thirteen episodes, likely, to flesh out a new season. I believe they panicked (whether consciously or subconsciously) when they were given a shortened order last season. It cannot be an easy feat to condense stories and growth into the span of thirteen episodes. At all.

But now the writers have the advantage – they KNOW what went wrong this season, and they know what they need to do in order to fix it. The series will not be the same: there will be no Pierce. And though a lot of fans celebrate this, I mourn the loss of a great addition to the study group. I recognize that characters move on and so do stories, though. The Greendale Seven will not exist anymore. That is something that we will have to accept as truth.

The fact is that the writers, actors, and producers have an entirely new set of challenges in front of them. But I do believe that the fifth season, if done correctly, can be successful and beloved. The key, of course, is learning from the fourth season’s mistakes.

There’s no Winger Band-Aid I can place at the end of this post in order to fix everything that went wrong this season. There’s no uplifting speech I can give that will promise that the fifth season will be worlds better, will be chock full of development, and will reassure those who have given up on Community

What I do know is this: I will always love Community, even when I don’t agree with it. I will love it just like I would love a best friend who went away to camp for the summer and then returned with new friends, short hair, and pierced ears. Because no matter what has happened or what will happen, I know this to be true – Greendale has given me a home and people that have completely changed my life.

The least I can do, then, is be there for it when it needs me.


  1. I agree with you 100%. In particular about Annie.

  2. Wow. Everything you just said, times 10 million. Definitely want Annie to be the leader, not just the Aww girl. Save Greendalia!

  3. Nice, I love your wishlist. The writers just can't seem to commit, and as Annie said "Either you want me, or you don't? What's it gonna be?" and the writers are Jeff in this situation. They also seem to have recreated the Jeff/Annie/Britta love triangle in the fans minds, so they really have to resolve that (*cough*JeffandAnnie*cough*) and Annie or Shirley are the most viable candidates for the next leader. So I'd love to see more of your ideas soon, especially when season 5 comes out.