Community Season 6 Review: A Mixed Bag And An Uncertain Future

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Community‘s jump from the small screen to streaming service wasn’t as seamless as it could’ve been, but there’s still a lot to love about this little show that could.

During Community‘s outstanding season 6—and possible series—finale, Abed briefly laments the fate of TV shows that wear out their welcome. “I don’t know how likely season 7 is,” he says. “I mean what show ever peaked after season 6?”

He’s not wrong. Plenty of series run out of steam after six years on the air. And Community has had its work cut out for it by having to reshuffle several members of its core cast. Still, if this season has proven anything, it’s that greatness can come at the least expected moments.

Take, for example, the fantastic double-header of “Modern Espionage” and “Wedding Videography.” Both episodes were retreads of old Community narratives, and thus seemed destined to fail. Yet, Dan Harmon and his writing team worked wonders to mine brilliant new comedy from familiar situations, confirming that, six years in, this show still has some magic left it.

I’ve always felt that the majesty of Community lies within its characters instead of its high-concept meta scenarios. It’s not the elaborate episode formats or the pop culture parodies, but rather how this indelible group of people deals with these heightened situations that makes this show so special. Dean Pelton’s epic elevator brawl in “Espionage” was so amazing and hilarious because we’ve come to know him well enough that the moment is both unexpected and a total triumph. If we hadn’t already witnessed so many of his failings, this scene wouldn’t have packed nearly as big of a punch.

By this standard, season 6 is pretty uneven. Harmon proved in season 5 that he could effectively reboot the series that had been taken out of his hands by finding creative ways to get the gang back together after they’d all left Greendale. This time around, he had an even more challenging task of rebooting the cast itself.

He did finally come out on top, but it took him a little while to get there. The two-part premiere gave newcomers Paget Brewster and Keith David some excellent material, but their purpose amongst the group remained unclear. This became increasingly evident further along in the season, where episodes like “Advanced Safety Features” and “Grifting 101” relied too heavily on their meta-concepts because the cast dynamics had yet to be fleshed out. The ladder episode is easily the season’s worst, as it not only fails to build stakes around anyone in the group, but it also uses a reference too obscure to be funny.

“Basic Email Security” is a middling episode because it has glints of some great character work during its one elongated confessional sequence, but it fails to bring any of its ideas home by the end. Brewster and David were both admirable in their roles, with Brewster especially giving some terrific delivery, but the show often gave them lines that felt like they were better suited to other characters.

Conversely, episodes like “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” and “Intro to Recycled Cinema” made great advances into giving the new characters some originality. The former sees Brewster’s Frankie come into question for her sexuality, while the ladder features David’s Elroy and his enthusiasm for all things sci-fi during a Guardians of the Galaxy-esque film shoot.

Still, it wasn’t until “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” that this cast finally gelled. Here, it felt like this new group of people made sense in a way that wasn’t just a carbon copy of the old group dynamics. Yes, the focus was on Abed and Dean Pelton, but Frankie and Elroy were utilized well.

After “Basic RV Repair,” the show went on an upswing with the aforementioned “Espionage” and “Videography,” which was my personal favorite episode of the season. Here, the series once again returned to a mockumentary format, but it dealt with how this group of people, though well meaning, can often be a toxic bunch, and the results were gut-bustingly funny.

Then there was the finale, which might be one of the best things this series has ever done. Having the gang each create their own pitches for season 7 was a brilliant way of checking in on each of its characters, but it was the handling of Jeff’s insecurities that really made this episode an instant classic.

A recurring theme this season has been his crippling fear of aging and being left behind. This looming sense of finality was felt throughout several episodes, but in “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” it was directly, and expertly, addressed. Because of this, the episode functioned as both a season and a potential series finale—something Community is no stranger to.

Here, though, the goodbye felt serious, and not in a bad way. At the episode’s end, a new “show” is revealed after Annie and Abed go their separate ways. I’m absolutely certain that Harmon could figure out a way to keep things going, but should he? Yahoo has yet to make a statement about the series’ renewal, and several cast members have already signed on for new TV projects, meaning the show would once again have to reconfigure its cast.

Abed is a character that doesn’t understand certain social mores, but he lives and breathes TV, and he might be right when he says—as he did in the finale—that it’s ok to let things go when they’re ready. I think Community is ready. The show has gone on some serious downward spirals, but its moments of greatness far outshine them. Movie or no movie, I think these six seasons are a true testament to creativity and ambition, and that is something that, for now, I can look back on fondly. Grade: B+

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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