So as we come to the end of another season of Community (perhaps its last, perhaps not), I don’t think I could have ever believed that my reaction would be one of indifference. At the beginning of the season, I was prepared to hate Community 2.0 (and some of it I did), but I also harbored a secret hope that I might love it (some of which I did), but increasingly, I’ve found myself waiting days to catch the show on Hulu – out of equal parts duty, guilt, and lingering hope. And that’s kind of my reaction to Advanced Introduction to Finality. All season, Community has been the show that does gimmick and homage episodes because that’s what it’s supposed to do (obligatory paintball!), and what its fanbase is supposed to love; and it’s become the show that revolves around the study group as a family with something dangerously close to an unearned sentimentality, lacking the emotional substructure previous seasons have had. And that’s precisely what we got tonight, I thought.
It’s been widely observed that all of the characters this season seem to have reverted to their season 1 archetypes, and written bluntly and without nuance to boot. Abed, Troy, and Britta have all been reduced back to the basic premise of their character and in doing so have been made stereotypes – nerd with Asperger’s, dumb jock, shrill activist. Annie’s characterization has been all over the map, but tonight we got the version featuring her inexplicable infantilization and slavish devotion to Jeff. Interestingly, Shirley has been the one character who has emerged with some more depth – her storyline was the only one that gave last week’s so-so episode any resonance. But the character that has really perplexed me this season has been Jeff. The last month or so, the only reaction I had to Joel McHale on screen was, “Why is he playing Jeff so angry?” A charitable read could be that he was leading up to tonight’s Darkest Timeline Jeff, but really, it’s been flat, one-note writing. But out of left field tonight, we suddenly get the “new Jeff” who’s all about attachment, friendship and love.*
Fine. But the thing about this episode, and last week’s for that matter, is that, while interesting enough (and the half-baked Terminator/Matrix homage had potential but seemed to be over before it really began), it didn’t develop our understanding of the dynamic of the group. “Intro to Felt Surrogacy,” the puppet episode, did the most to test the boundaries of the relationships of the group this season, but tonight felt largely like the show saying “these friends matter to each other no matter what, even Jeff the former d-bag!” And that’s a theme whose apex we reached in the season 3 finale, while tonight built very little on that.
So, my take, I guess, is that the darkest timeline is actually one of boredom.
*Oh, right, there’s Pierce. But there’s never been any real hope for Pierce’s character, right? And as you probably know, Pierce was gone from the show long before he actually left – the evidence of which has been on screen all season.
Wait, what?! This may not have been the series finale?? I didn’t realize that – ugh! The reason I’ve stayed in for the last 6 or so episodes is because I thought I only had to do 6 or so episodes to finish the series. Now there might be more? Please, God – say it ain’t so! I find it painful every week watching characters I used to love act out the types of stories I used to love, all in totally unlovable ways as shadows of their former selves.
And this episode was no different. It felt like the purest return to episode 1 that we’ve ever seen in the series. Travis, you might remember that I watched episode 1 and HATED the show, thinking it was a stupid bunch of stereotypes playing out a hollow gimmick. After years of you convincing me that episode 2 immediately starts undoing that, I finally gave it a try – and that might be the loveliest gift you’ve given me in our friendship 🙂
That this show has consistently refused to centralize Jeff as the cool male lead, and instead has undone that form is one of the things I love about it. It truly is ensemble, and it shows how powerful ensemble can be when done right. So for the last episode to narrow its focus back down not only on Jeff, but into the recesses of his own psyche – thereby making the bulk of the episode a projection of his mind! – felt incredibly cheap. We didn’t get to say good-bye to the other characters in themselves; we said good-bye to Jeff’s projections of them. And once we returned to reality, things didn’t get much better. Jeff’s wedding/graduation speech landed as cornball-y on our group of friends as it did on us – Britta looked downright embarrassed to be acting in the moment!
If I’m really generous, I would interpret this final episode as the ultimate slam on Lost – just as there’s been much speculation about how much we’re to interpret [SPOILER ALERT IF YOU’RE THE ONE PERSON WHO HASN’T FINISHED LOST…AND THERE’S A GUY AT MY WORK WHO HASN’T, AND YEAH – IT’S BOTH HILARIOUS AND REALLY SAD TO HEAR HIS THEORIES AS HE WORKS HIS WAY THROUGH SEASON 3. OH HE’S GOING TO BE DISAPPOINTED!] the final purgatory state as Jack’s alone and, by extension, how far back we are to interpret the events in which everyone participates as also Jack’s alone, a generous interpretation of this episode would say it’s trying to reveal just how annoying and stupid that move is. As with Lost, it strips the characters of their own agency and completely undermines their relationality with each other, making everything about the white, male lead (and yeah, I’m Britta-ing that – down with the white hetero-patriarchy! It ruins everything! Including my favourite sit-com).
That would be a generous read – but good Lord, how much would the writers have to hate Lost to ruin their own finale parodying its greatest failing?!
As for The Matrix stuff – that could have been so much better. Why not be more specific and map our characters onto specific Matrix characters, thereby revealing something deeper and richer about each of them. Making Jeff Neo for a moment (without even doing the cool backflip moves) felt cheap – and what’s The Matrix without an Agent Smith (hello, how perfect would the Dean have been for that?!). Instead of opening our characters up, the darkest timeline only – as you point out, Travis – made them boring.
Never have I wanted something I loved to end as much as I want this show to end…if you had told me a year ago that I’d be bored by the finale of Community, I would have thought you were crazy. Travis, if you hadn’t emailed me last night before the finale to tell me it was the finale…I wouldn’t even have known.
It’s a unanimous deep sigh. I’m sorry to see Community go, except I’m not. And except we’re not certain that it’s gone, but let’s face it—it really should be. I used to really enjoy this show, and now it provides a semi-pleasant background for doing other things. A year ago, I would not have believed you if you had told me I would have ironed during the (likely) series finale of this show. I would have imagined sitting and savoring it and wishing for more. But I gave it half of my attention, and I don’t think I missed anything.
Fun(ish ?)moments included:
Kevin having an opportunity to demonstrate that Chang has really changed.
Britta being the worst in both timelines. I often really like Britta, and the truth is I relate to being the buzzkill, always on a soapbox about patriarchy, etc. Blowing the gang vs. gang paintball plot on both sides felt right.
Evil Troy and Evil Abed’s concluding morning show.
And that’s about all the nice things I can manage to say.
N and T, you’ve covered the weaknesses and disappointments of the episode thoroughly. I’ll add only one: what was up with the graduation-as-wedding? Was that meant to mock other shows having weddings in finales? It had no payoff that I could see.
Sad but relieved,