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]