I don’t think I have had such mixed feelings about a TV show returning before as I currently do with NBC’s Community. Let us take for example The Office and Parks and Recreation. Parks and Recreation has been an excellent comedy for a few years, which gave me little reason to doubt that its return would maintain that consistency. The Office on the other hand had shown signs of a decline in quality since fall 2007, leaving me to expect the worst. (Though I’ll admit that The Office’s final season has been a step up) Community’s fourth season lies somewhere in the spaces between those two extremes. While it had a superb third season with an unforgettable finale, there are a lot of things hurting the fourth season before it even airs.
The number one fear that Community fans have right now is NBC’s ousting of its creator and showrunner, Dan Harmon. A lot of people in television create shows and have little to do with them after the pilot beyond having their names in the credits, including JJ Abrams, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Conversely, Harmon was heavily involved in the scripting and production of Community, spending the late nights and early mornings with the cast and staff working on the show. Harmon interacted with the enthusiastic fan base through Twitter, YouTube and even had the writers and cast record DVD commentary for every episode (Harmon being on the majority of the recordings himself.) The fact that Harmon got fired is not that shocking, creative teams come and go all of the time. The issue is that Community was deeply-laced with Harmon’s creative DNA. Without him, will it still be the same wacky, meta and pop culture obsessed series that it is known for?
Other changes in Community’s formula include Chevy Chase’s midseason dropout from the show and the recent departure of Megan Ganz, who wrote fan favorite episodes like”Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking.” These are relatively minute changes in the larger picture, despite Ganz’s talent. For better or worse Chevy Chase and his character Pierce were always the butt of the Community’s jokes, both on and off camera. Pierce never really gelled with the rest of the study group, and Chase constantly butted heads with the show’s creative staff (Harmon in particular), and didn’t actually understand the show. The staff ended up writing Pierce spending the majority of the episodes in season 3 on his own side adventures, to better suit Chase’s comedic tastes.
So we are now a few weeks away from the season 4 premiere, missing Dan Harmon completely and Chase and Ganz for at least part of its 13 episode run. Things looked bleak last year that Community would even get greenlit for a fourth season, and at this rate it’s likely that it will in fact be its last. Shows crash and burn but that’s ok, it happens. So while I am cautiously optimistic for the return of my favorite comedy on TV, it may be the beginning of the end. If nothing else fans like me will always have the season 3 finale, which due to Community’s uncertain fate at the time serves as a lovely series finale if need be.
If you have made it to the end of this article without ever even watching a single episode of Community then I first must commend you for your patience. But I also highly recommend that you go back and watch seasons 1-3 of this wonderful series. In the meantime, here is a sneak peek NBC posted for the fourth season, which airs on February 7th at 8PM. Cheers!