If you're like me, you've probably already started growing out your black goatee. It was announced during the late hours of May 18 that NBC would be replacing Community showrunner Dan Harmon for the upcoming fourth season. The network is bringing in two outside writers, David Guarascio and Moses Port, to head the program for the 14 episodes that have been ordered for the Fall of 2012.
In other words: darkest timeline. At least that's what I thought initially.
I spent the weekend commiserating with fellow Human Beings, lamenting what would become of what I would sincerely call my favorite sitcom to broadcast in my lifetime. I joined the #sixseasonsandwelovedanharmon Twitter frenzy, probing other Community lovers to "Harmonize!" (it felt clever at the time), in a half-hearted attempt to incite a riot that would inevitably sway the network to rehire Harmon as showrunner. I don't really have a firm understanding of how reality works.
But as the weekend progressed, I ran out of bonus clips to rewatch and TVTropes theories to ruminate on, and I was forced to accept the fact that my Community, our Community, was a thing of the past. Not because Guarascio and Port are untalented — the duo has served as producers on Happy Endings, one of the funniest comedies on television. Both men might be creative geniuses. But Community is Harmon's unique vision, his characters, his masterpiece. You wouldn't hire Andy Warhol to finish "The Persistence of Memory." You wouldn't hire someone who hasn't trained for years in the art of pretentiousness to complete that last sentence.
Hence your probable compulsion to cut off your stalwart lawyer friend's right arm. Things look bleak. Several fans have insisted that the network would have served the show better by simply canceling it, rather than tarnishing its legacy with whatever is yet to come. And believe it or not, within that cynical affirmation there is something that proves that we aren't living in a timeline quite as dark as we might have thought. What if NBC had canceled Community after Season 3? What if "Introduction to Finality", as it was, had served as a conclusion to the entire series?
Honestly, that would have been all right.
Like everyone else, I was praying that Community would be renewed for a fourth season, and was ecstatic when it finally was — unaware at that point of the possibility of Harmon's dismissal. But say Community wasn't picked up, and we were left with that The 88s-backed montage as our final moments at Greendale Community College. To refresh your memory, here are a few of the elements touched upon during those final scenes (from here on out, there will be a hefty sum of spoilers):
City College Dean Spreck planning an eventual attack on the Greendale campusChang (who had "narrowly" escaped the wrath of the GCC board after losing reign over the school) watching Spreck's plan from the ventsA revelation that Starburns has faked his own death (admittedly, one of the happiest moments of my entire life)Shirley and Pierce happily co-running their sandwich business (named after cook Shirley) out of Greendale's cafeteriaBritta helping Troy move into the room formerly designated as the Dreamatorium (some understood this shot to mean that Britta was moving in with Troy, Abed and Annie, but I prefer the former interpretation)Jeff finally seeking out his fatherAt last, Abed blasting off into another dimension (if anyone can... ) via his own cardboard Dreamatorium
While each of these storylines was kept intentionally open-ended to benefit expansion in seasons to come, they also each seemed to be meant to serve as pretty satisfying "sendoffs" for the main characters in case of what seemed like a probable series cancelation. And in that, they succeeded. In fact, in this respect, Season 3's closing episodes "First Chang Dynasty" and "Introduction to Finality" on the whole were a dynamic success.
We didn't get a finite Ross-and-Rachel ending to any of these people's stories, but something like that wouldn't suit Community anyway. This show needs to end with Jack closing his eyes on the island, with Sam turning off the lights in the bar. And it did. For everyone involved. (Annie is the exception, but you could argue that she got her breakthrough back in the episode "Virtual Systems Analysis." I will.)
In the simple, minute-long closing montage, fans got treated to everything they deserved to see in each of these characters in the study group. It doesn't matter whether or not Shirley's sandwich shop goes bankrupt or becomes a Fortune 500 company. She hasn't forsaken herself. She hasn't let her reunion with ex-husband Andre keep her from executing her ambition to become a businesswoman. She "got what's hers," and we're proud of her for it.
Pierce, standing by her side, has clearly achieved new maturity. He has sacrificed glory for his friend. Sure, he had to be coaxed into it by a Classic Winger speech, but he made the decision, and he stuck to it. And if you add the episode "Digital Estate Planning" into the equation, you'll also see Pierce give up something that he once considered rightfully his in order to make someone else happy. Pierce does, of course, have a long road of growth ahead of him. But it's a road on which he has definitely begun his travels.
Then there's Troy, moving out of his bunk bed blanket-room, shared with best friend Abed, and into what was once their Dreamatorium. As defined in his Season 2 birthday episode, "Mixology Certification," Troy's arc is about growing up. A path that has taken him from states of being including "egotistical jock," to "childish nerd," to "messiah of the Air Conditioner Repair Annex," to "hero." While Troy would rather spend his entire life goofing around with his best friend Abed, the conflicts that arose throughout Season 3 proved that he can't. But he also learns that growing up doesn't mean abandoning who you are. Like Pierce, Troy is still on a path, but it's one that we can see and appreciate, especially in the final moments of Season 3.
And Britta, Dan Harmon's favorite character and, in essence, the "final frontier" of the series. By the end of "Finality," Britta has done something right. Abed has accepted her as his therapist, not in spite of her flaws, but because of them. Dysfunctional as she may be, we see in the finale that Britta is beginning to find her place in the world. Whether or not she and Troy eventually end up together is immaterial; she is engaged in the seedlings of a healthy relationship with someone who will be good to her. Britta is learning to love herself, and this is reflected by her choices. And it's about time. Because she's the best.
Jeff. Seated anxiously at the study room table, launching an Internet search for his long-lost father, William Winger. More so than any of the stories described above is the conclusion of this one insignificant. Jeff's worst enemy is not his father, it's not Greendale, it's himself. And the past three years have taught him that. The fact that Jeff is finally willing to get in touch with his father, be it to forgive him, to lash out at him, to achieve closure of any kind, is a monumental breakthrough for this human being. Greendale has taught him that who he was is not who he needs or even wants to be. His "thank you" to the ex-colleague responsible for getting him disbarred, and resultantly enrolled at Greendale, shows that Jeff has reached a level of appreciation for the one thing he used to scorn: caring. He cares about his study group. He cares about Greendale. And he's finally willing to care about his father again, in some form or another.
Finally, my favorite character in the history of television: Abed. To truly do justice to Abed's conclusion, I'd need to spend a week writing this article. Abed is a difficult person. He's like us. He doesn't want Community to have new showrunners. He doesn't want Troy to move out of their bunkbed room. He doesn't want him to start dating Britta. And he doesn't want to abandon his vehicle for understanding the world: television, which manifests (in one of several ways) in the Dreamatorium. But Abed has learned that he can't control everything, because he doesn't live on a television show. (Okay, he does, but in the reality of Community, he doesn't.) He has learned that he has to let his friends be people, and live their lives, no matter how much it might scare him. And he does this because he loves them, whether he's capable of saying that or not. And, even more impressively than this, he trusts them. He might fear the ramifications of the changes around him, but he trusts that Troy, Britta, Annie, Pierce, Shirley, and Jeff will see him through whatever timeline he comes to face. As long as he has his friends, he's comfortable, and happy.
But of course, he's still Abed. So, as the final shot will tell you, he's not completely abandoning his strange, wonderful world.
And because of all this, it might be okay that we're not getting the Community we love anymore. Whether we wanted it to or not, that special phenomenon that so many of us have been waiting for our entire lives has ended. And it ended well. It gave us everything we needed to know that the time we spent at Greendale was worth it, for us and for these characters.
So, take your time. Grieve over the end of this terrific series. But when you're done, don't go nuts over the ruin of Community that you're sure will take place. Instead, appreciate the story that has already been told. Nothing that anyone can do from here on out can destroy what we've seen and understood as a complete story up until this point. We had Dan Harmon's Community, and we are truly lucky for it.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
[Image Credits: NBC]
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The movie stars Lord of the Rings actor Andy Serkis as Dury and its release coincides with the tenth anniversary of Dury's death from cancer.
Serkis was granted access to Dury's widow Sophie and his four children as he prepared to take on the role, and he has stayed close to them since.
And the star insists the filmmaking process and the end product have helped the family grieve.
The actor tells WENN, "I think it has been cathartic for them.
"Every year, on the anniversary of his death, the family go to a memorial bench in Richmond Park in London. The bench has a solar panel that you can plug headphones into and listen to Ian's music. Every year on the anniversary, they go there and have a picnic and celebrate him.
"But when the anniversary came around this year, they didn't feel the need to go."
Serkis adds the family were so thrilled with the end product, they handed Serkis and the filmmakers gifts from his estate.
He reveals, "We all went for a meal with his family last week, and we were all given individual Ian's handwritten lyrics."
Despite what the trailer might have you believe In the Land of Women isn't exactly a sweet sigh-inducing romance. Yes main character Carter Webb (Adam Brody)--a slightly snarky screenwriter who makes his living writing soft-core porn--leaves Hollywood for Michigan to get over a hard break-up by taking care of his aging tart-tongued grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). And yes he subsequently ends up getting entangled with angsty blond teenager Lucy Hardwicke (Kristen Stewart) and her lonely mom Sarah (Meg Ryan). But the trio's tenuous relationships are complicated by confusion resentment illness and misunderstanding all of which add up to a situation that's hardly straightforward--and frankly not all that romantic either. Brody is no stranger to playing sarcastic pop culture-savvy Southern Californians: After four seasons on The O.C. as Seth Cohen he's got the type down pat. As Carter he balances wry quips with a nice dose of empathy--you can tell that he truly cares about both Lucy and Sarah (not to mention his grandma as crusty as she is). But to be honest it's a little hard to see why. Stewart plays Lucy with a shy sullenness that's not very endearing--she gets a little more animated toward the end but it's too little too late--and Ryan's trademark perkiness has worn thin. She gives Sarah's dramatic scenes her best shot but the character's confusion and pain don't seem at home on her unnaturally tight face. Dukakis gets in a few zingers as Grandma Phyllis but the character is essentially one-note--as is Lucy's sister Paige (Makenzie Vega) who swiftly goes from "cutely precocious" to "awkward yapping." In many ways Paige seems like a character lifted out of the John Hughes playbook which isn't that surprising given Carter's fascination with the '80s director's oeuvre--and the movie's Hughes-ian high school subplot. Unfortunately the "classic" high school movie scenes (the party Lucy takes Carter to their movie outing at the mall her dawning realization at the end etc.) while fun for folks who grew up watching the movies they're obviously inspired by have a light tone that's jarring compared to the rest of the film's drama. When it comes down to it Carter--who's looking for a reason to stop drifting through life--has a lot more in common with Garden State's Andrew Largeman than Hughes heroes like Ferris Bueller and John Bender. Trying to squeeze him into a teen-centric story rather than focusing on helping him grow up doesn't do him--or the movie--any favors.
Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.
A dead body with a smashed-in face and cut-off hands is uncovered at a Montreal construction site. The local authorities are all over it but police inspector Hugo Leclair (Tcheky Karyo) thinks it might be bigger than just a random murder and decides to bring in his good friend Special Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) an FBI profiler who relies on her intuition rather than conventional crime-solving techniques. She proves it by immediately lying in the victim's grave to get a "sense" of what happened to him. (Wow we've never seen that before.) The Montreal detectives on the case Paquette (Olivier Martinez) and Duval (Jean-Hugues Anglade) are skeptical of her ways especially Paquette who thinks she's just plain nuts (we're with ya Paquette) and resents her involvement. The investigative team catches a lucky break when witness James Costa (Ethan Hawke) pops up claiming he stumbled upon the killer mid-murder (but not in time to save the victim) and can identify him. With Costa's help Illeana gets a clearer picture of her "profile " discovering he is a chameleon-like serial killer who "life-jacks" his victims assuming their lives and identities. At first she's hot on his tracks but the usually detached Illeana is thrown for a loop when an unexpected attraction develops between her and James. She suddenly feels like she is losing her touch; and surrounded by what could be a bevy of potential suspects things get chillingly personal.
Jolie has done this before sort of in the 1999 The Bone Collector in which she played a homicide detective who works with a quadriplegic partner to catch a serial killer so inhabiting Agent Scott is not new territory for her. Neither is acting in the steamy love scene she gets to share with Hawke which as we all know is something Jolie can do well. What is surprising for a movie of this type however is the fact the uptight emotionless FBI profiler actually gets to have sex which brings out Scott's more human qualities. The ultra-smooth Hawke whom we haven't seen since his Oscar-nominated turn in the 2001 Training Day also does some intriguing things with his character who may or may not be the bad guy (see below). The rest of the cast however falls into conventional psycho thriller compartments--the good cop (Anglade) the bad cop (Martinez) the concerned confidante (Karyo) and the person who provides key information about the serial killer's background (his mother played by Gena Rowlands)--without shedding anything new on the proceedings.
If you've seen one big-budget psychological serial killer movie you've seen them all. You know that the one guy they want you to think is the killer really isn't. You know that the other more unlikely guy probably is. You know somehow the hero--a smart cop FBI agent etc.--will eventually find his or her life in mortal danger. And finally you know the killer rarely dies on the first attempt; he always comes back. What you hope is that at some point the filmmaker will throw a wrench in the works. Something you couldn't predict even if given all the clues. Taking Lives director D.J. Caruso tries his best to do this. Through his camerawork he sets up Illeana's hyper-sensitive skills of observation as she notices everything around her only to see those skills fail on her later--and aided by composer Phillip Glass' haunting musical score the film reaches the predictable high points fulfilling its thriller quota. Montreal also provides a change of pace from the usual grimy Big Apple or other such gritty American locales prominently feature in such films. But what keeps Taking Lives in the running is its curveball at the end. If you don't mind wading through the rest of the movie's obviousness the wait is worth it.