Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Community "Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television" Review

Almost six years ago—if the finale aired in mid-September then I would open with a definite “Six years ago—I worked for my university’s student paper as the entertainment editor during my final semester. My duties included making ads inviting my fellow students to contribute to the entertainment section using screengrabs from the television series, LOST. I also write 2,000 word articles about Wrestlemania. Occasionally, networks invited college paper editors for conference calls. NBC let college kids play with the big boys and girls in newsrooms across America and in Hollywood. NBC gave me a chance to ask one question if I accepted an invite for a James Van Der Beek conference call. I had the misfortune, in early 2009 when I was only an assistant editor to the entertainment editor, of wasting almost two hours on a conference call with Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson, most of which the ladies spent at lunch. I asked one question, read by the conference call’s moderator, and then I wrote an anti-Bride Wars article that went against the purpose of the conference call.

I experienced only one good conference call. Community premiered in fall 2009 on NBC. I wanted to watch the show because of Joel McHale. (I watched The Soup every Friday for years before the cruel humor, the irony, etc., wore me out). NBC invited newspaper folk, students and professional, from around America to join a conference call with creator Dan Harmon and lead actor Joel McHale. Harmon and McHale were on time, answered plenty of questions, and gave me really great quotes for my 900-word ‘Watch Community this Fall’ article. I thought of myself as one of the show’s early champions after the call and the article.

Six years later I no longer write for my university’s student paper, for I haven’t been a student since December 2009. I became an ardent supporter of Dan Harmon, though, which stemmed from my love for Community. After season three, Sony or NBC or both fired him. 3/4s into season 4 of Community I sought out Harmontown, Dan Harmon’s podcast, because season 4 Community disappointed me like no other season of television has. Community wasn’t Community without Dan Harmon. The cast tried their hardest, the new show runners tried to do what the fans want, but it didn’t work. One of the problems in television is collaboration. New TV writers must prove in a spec script, if that’s what agents and studios still want, that they can mimic the voice of the creator. Collaboration’s also very good, but the structure and tradition of TV deludes executives into thinking a show won’t change or suffer after the voice leaves the show. Gilmore Girls suffered after the Palladinos left. There’s a reason Dan Harmon was hired back.

I took refuge in Harmontown between the end of the fourth season and his rehiring to Community. Harmontown was Dan at his most unfiltered. I listened to the podcast for hours at my dead-end data job. I sojourned to Nerdmelt in Summer 2013 to see Harmontown. The next summer I returned to Nerdmelt for a show (and saw Tenacious D and Dana Carvey while my friend, Bryan Jawn, cowardly hid at the Pikey). Last October, a friend and I attended Harmontown at 92Y. I stopped writing anything about Community after season three. Okay, that’s not true. I wrote a review for the season four premiere. I decided not to write reviews for season five, because I felt too close to it to be objective—as if the dude at TV With The Foot is an authoritative critical voice on the Internet. Oh, delusions.

Season five’s a solid season of Community. Abed mentioned that ‘it all went downhill’ after season two in an episode this season. I watched season five twice. The strong first half remained strong, and the weaker second half stood out a little more. I’m glad the series didn’t end with “Basic Sandwich.” Yahoo chose to bring Community back. Harmon went to work with his band of writers. Harmon spoke about its production during episodes of Harmontown. A lot of his thoughts were pressurized, negative, insecure, and writing the show seemed more of a struggle for him than previous seasons. He told Jeff one week that he feared his wife watching the episodes and saying, “So this is what you slept at your office for?” Harmon’s a creative writer. Any creative writer thinks his or her fiction is an affront to creativity, worthless, and not at all worth the many hours spent creating.

The final episodes of Community’s sixth season are among the best in the series. The writers wrote sequels for three episodes, two of which struggled, but the third, the final paintball installment, was a triumph. The writers captured the essence of paintball without resorting to redundancy. I haven’t loved an episode of television as much as I loved “Wedding Videograhy” since maybe “Introduction to Finality.” Season 6 wasn’t without its faults and flaws, though; but what story is perfect? Contemporary pop culture demands the very best. For reasons long and involved we expect perfection from television. One does not wish one’s time to be wasted. Many commentators bemoaned season six of Community this season. It’s easier to criticize than to create.

“Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” concluded the sixth season of the show and possibly the series. Jeff, Abed, Annie, Dean Pelton, Chang, Britta, and Frankie sit around a bar pitching season 7. Jeff can’t let his friends go and move on. Several episodes touched on Jeff staying behind in Greendale while his friends moved on with their lives. Abed’s dialogue comes from the souls of burned out writers who no longer experience the same joys they once did when writing a season of Community. By episode’s end, Jeff accepts the situation. He kissed Annie goodbye, hugged Abed, and watched them leave. Afterwards he returned to Britta’s bar, sat with the Dean, Chang, Frankie, and Britta, and come what may.

If Community doesn’t return next season, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” was a really satisfying finale for the show. Contemporary pop culture lets a show live or die by finales, which is okay if that’s how you want to do it, but finales do not make or break a series for me. Endings are hard. Fans want closure. The season six finale had little closure, but it had Jeff’s acceptance. Annie and Abed may never return. If they do, great; but someone else may leave. Harmon reveres Joseph Campbell’s story cycle, the great monomyth, and what happens at the end of the circle is a return to the same place, having changed. I’ll use another example of circle for my post’s conclusion. The trilingual Russian writer, Vladimir Nabokov, followed Hegel’s triad: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Instead of completing a circle the triad spins out a new spiral. Jeff’s synthesis in the episode is accepting people will continue leaving Greendale and him. Imaging season seven represents the new spiral spinning out.

Other Thoughts:

-Dan Harmon’s voiceover at the end of the tag ended with something about the pieces being too large for a child’s esophagus. Wonderful. I dig meta-fiction. The board game of Community is maybe my favorite use of meta-fiction in the series. (I’d have to rewatch again).

-Rob Schrab directed the episode. Dan Harmon & Chris McKenna wrote it.

-Annie’s dress in Jeff’s season 7 pitch came about because of a Harmontown fan suffering from a degenerative back condition. At SXSW, she asked Dan why Annie always wear pants. Listen to the whole exchange here http://www.harmontown.com/2015/03/episode-139-live-at-sxsw-2015/

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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.