Earlier this week, NBC announced their mid-season schedule. And, apparently deciding that the best early Christmas present they could give me would be a swift kick to the nuts, they announced that Community would not be coming back in January.
It hasn’t been canceled and, as of right now, the promise is that every single episode of season three will air at some point. But it’s certainly not good news to hear that they couldn’t find a place for it in their woeful lineup. It shows a tremendous lack of faith in what has become a truly brilliant sitcom.
If you haven’t been watching Community (and the ratings certainly indicate that you haven’t been), you are missing out on something truly special. Season two was one of the most creatively ambitious and hilarious seasons of television I’ve ever seen. While there are other sitcoms I very much enjoy – Parks and Recreation chief among them – Community has no peers in terms of originality and execution when they are at the top of their game. Or, to put it another way, the show is “streets ahead” of the competition.
Two of the best episodes last season (“Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”) took place almost entirely in one room, one of them revolving around a missing pen and the other centered around the group playing Dungeons & Dragons together. To simply keep those episodes from being dull is no easy task and yet somehow they made them instant classics. The season also featured a Claymation episode, an elaborate zombie parody, a Spaghetti Western-inspired paintball episode and a fake clip show (comprised of clips from episodes that never actually existed).
Season three hasn’t quite had the same complexity of season two just yet, but it has already given us a running gag featuring a low-rate Doctor Who ripoff (Inspector Spacetime), a 2001: A Space Odyssey send up and an episode that featured seven different alternate realities. Plus, this season the show is taking its protagonist – Jeff Winger – and slowly turning him into a villain, which has been fascinating to watch. Once again, the show is clearly headed for great things.
On some level, I suppose I should just be happy that I will eventually get to see more episodes. Sure, if the episodes air in the summer, it ruins the symmetry the show had in matching the air dates with a normal community college semester (with each season representing two semesters in these college students’ lives). But even if they end up having to do a St. Patrick’s Day-themed episode in June, it will undoubtedly still be funny. New episodes are new episodes and at the end of the day, I should count my blessings.
The other silver lining is that there’s even a chance we may miraculously get a fourth season. Sony, which owns the show, bent over backwards to keep the low-rated ’Til Death on the air on Fox so that it could get to 81 episodes and have a second life in syndication. This season will put Community somewhere around 70 episodes, so with any luck they will make a similar deal with NBC to give us a fourth season, which would allow Winger to graduate from Greendale and the show to get some semblance of a proper finale. Still, it’s disappointing that it’s come to this.
Sadly, it’s not even like it’s that surprising that this is happening. Community has been one of the lowest-rated shows on the network this year. It has the 8 pm time slot on Thursday nights, which means in addition to having no lead-in, it has to compete against either American Idol or The X-Factor and Big Bang Theory (which, probably even more than the aforementioned singing competitions, has the same target demographic as Community).
I don’t have anything against Big Bang Theory (except Johnny Galecki’s performance on the show, which is abysmal). It’s a fun, mindless little sitcom that I occasionally watch in syndication. But it also clearly has stumbled upon a formula that works for it and is doing all it can to strictly adhere to that formula week after week. Sheldon acts neurotic, everyone mocks Penny’s dead-end service job, Howard must deal with his overbearing mother, Raj can’t talk to girls, Leonard acts like a total douche – lather, rinse, repeat. Bazinga!
Comedy is meant to be unpredictable. The reason comedy sequels like Caddyshack II, The Hangover Part II and Airplane II don’t work is because they are simply recycling the same jokes from the first film. Yet somehow, ridiculously formulaic TV shows like Two and a Half Men and The Family Guy continue to thrive by force feeding you the same schtick week after week.
If a coworker told the same three tired jokes every single time you passed by his desk, eventually you’d start figuring out an alternate route to the bathroom. So why can’t we ask for more out of our network sitcoms? Sure, on some level, I think the tough time slot and the fact that the show attracts a younger audience that is more likely to watch on DVR, through illegal downloads or other avenues that don’t count in the ratings are keeping Community down. But it deserves better ratings. I want to live in a world where a show as brilliant and special as this is a runaway success.
I’m tired of seeing great shows like Arrested Development, Firefly, Freaks and Geeks and The Wire become “cult classics” instead of actual classics. I’m tiring of being huddled down in this one lonely corner of the Internet where we appreciate these little television gems. I’m not a hipster whose entire mission in life is discovering obscure things no one else loves. I’d love to share these shows with you, America. You just have to stop settling for mediocre comedy and realize you are worthy of a better class of entertainment.
Community is the best of us. If it fails, we all fail. So do everything you can to boost the ratings – start watching it if you don’t already, tell your friends about the show, start letter writing campaigns to NBC, go over to other people’s houses when they aren’t around and tune their TVs to NBC at 8 pm on Thursday nights. Let’s not rest until this show is the unstoppable juggleknob it deserves to be.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.