Admittedly, we series purists weren’t going to like whatever season finale that replacement showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port put together for the fourth year of Community. Or, as we’ve come to think of it, the first year of a half-hocked Community live-action cartoon spin-off. Ever since the pair took over for the ousted Dan Harmon, they’ve managed little more than a legion of The New Scooby Doo Movies episodes, capitalizing on the appeal of familiar characters but losing their spirit entirely. Having approached the season straight out the gate prepared for this schematic has helped me to feel too badly about all of the turns it took with the characters. As far as I, and many of my fellow Greendale devotees are concerned, Community ended with the Season 3 finale. And ended well. So, Season 4 was really just morbid curiosity and a way to past post-work time on Thursdays before Parks and Recreation. As such, the season has been moreover harmless.
Yes, there have been offenses taken: Annie’s regression to obsessive schoolgirl, a form from which she evolved in Season 3 (re: the stellar “Virtual Systems Analysis”), Troy and Britta’s break-up (I’m not saying they needed to stay together forever, but the relationship was built on a slow, steady, charming ground; to demolish it out of nowhere seemed cheap and synthetic), the penultimate “Heroic Origins” (a good idea, and one that could have been well-executed under Harmon, but that seemed to undercut the characters and their otherwise vivid personal histories). But the worst jab taken at the golden era of Community comes in the Season 4 finale, “Advanced Introduction to Finality.” And it takes form in a single throw-away one-liner.
The episode kicks off with Jeff reuniting with his old partner (Joe Lo Truglio), a good-natured but very lawyerly lawyer, agreeing to take on a position at his budding firm out of town. The idea of this venture brews anxiety in Jeff, who is afraid to leave his seat at the study group table and transform back into his seedy, pre-Greendale self, and to lose touch with his nontraditional family. Jeff transfers this anxiety to Abed, whom he insists will not be able to handle his dismissal from Greendale and the group, aiming to provoke this revelation and prove his absence a bad idea by hearkening back to the catastrophes of “Remedial Chaos Theory” — Jeff brings a die to the study group table to determine who will pick up soda for his graduation party, tosses it up in the air, and sets into motion a series of eye-rolling events.
The episode calls back to a slew of important Community episodes: “Chaos Theory,” in the entry of the Dark Timeline characters into the primary universe (Evil Jeff figures out how to cross into the characters’ canon, bent on sending Jeff down a path of evil), “First Chang Dynasty,” in the reintroduction of Napoleon Chang and the Deanelganger/Doppeldeaner (they reign supreme in the Dark Timeline), and, of course, the paintballs. See, the Evils bring timeline-warping paintball guns to switch places with their counterparts — Abed is transported to the negative world, where he must learn from Evil Abed how to stop Evil Jeff and Evil Annie.
If you’ve already got a headache, I don’t blame you. The episode is as convoluted as it is thoughtless, a rare combination.
But the most specifically scathing element comes in a solitary remark made by Abed, who, in his ever present meta commentary, calls this turn of events the only way that they could have made paintball “cool again.” This is an affront to the majesties of Harmon, assuming not only comparability to “Modern Warfare” and the “A Fistfull of Paintballs” episodes, but superiority. This episode seems to think that it improves on the creations of “Remedial Chaos Theory,” “Virtual Systems Analysis,” and “First Chang Dynasty,” while it is really just a bastardization of the elements crafted so eloquently within them. Community never did anything just because it was cool, not prior to Harmon’s leave. It’s episodes were thoughtful and suggestive. Not candy.
Stomachache-inducing, teeth-rotting, not-even-very-good-tasting candy.
And this is the legacy of Season 4 of Community: it took something wonderful and stocked with merit and used it for surface value lunacy. The finale might have contributed one last piece to Jeff’s growth: the realization that he doesn’t need to stay at Greendale to be the person Greendale made him, that he’ll carry that, and his family, with him forever. This is a good lesson, but not one well-delivered in light of the absurd laser show that is this episode, and past year altogether. Luckily, we have the Season 3 finale: a worthy ending to an unparalleled series. Season 4 might have done its best to infuse itself into the Community chronology, but those of us who didn’t enjoy it don’t have to accept it as part of the story. What we got from our good years at Community is a lot like what Jeff got from Greendale. It might no longer be with us, tangibly, but it will always be with us in essence.
See? A good lesson. Too bad it was surrounded by all that other nonsense.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter