An Open Letter to Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover re: His Decision to Graduate Early from "Community" College
Dear Mr. Glover,
I am a big fan, both literally and enthusiastically. I will freely admit that I missed your early DERRICK Comedy days and didn’t pay much attention when you were on “30 Rock,” but I’ve since seen Mystery Team a dozen times and gleefully memorized your scenes in the TGS studios. But from the moment Troy and Jeff discussed race relations on the Greendale Community College football field in season one of “Community,” I’ve followed your career with great interest. I’ve seen you perform stand-up and hip hop live, I’ve purchased your albums (both kinds), and I’ve watched “Community” religiously for four seasons — with plenty of DVD re-watches in between. In short: Unless you Orson Scott Card yourself into a legitimate public boycott, I’m probably going to be a fan for quite a while.
But you’re going to make it much more difficult to be one with the same verve and excitement after your five episodes of “Community” season five are broadcast, leaving eight more totally Troy-less escapades in your wake. Honestly, I am interested to see how the study group — especially Abed — would deal with your impending departure, but not so interested that I’d want to watch more than half a season without the familiar and never tiresome “…in the mooooorning” dynamic. (I guess Annie and Abed could be as successful as Regis and Kelly, but it will never be the same.) As well, I greatly respect your choice to pursue a music career. It’s something you are clearly passionate about and are talented at, and all anyone needs for proof is the Mystery Team soundtrack, with either I’m Just a Rapper serving as the perfect closing argument. And, hey, you definitely put on a fun, infectious live show, so look for me the next time you tour in Texas (I’ll be the heavyset guy that doesn’t have fake glasses, skinny jeans, or any visible tattoos). Yet, as clever as the album titles are, you are not just a rapper.
You are an incredibly talented guy who would probably be great at anything he wants to do in the entertainment industry. Thanks to always bringing your A-game, you’ve likely built up enough goodwill from “Community” fans to give you enough latitude to try out a number of things for at least a decade. As someone who never wants to repeat himself unless there’s something creatively rewarding about tweaking what came before, I understand your desire to move on. But as someone who wants to see you succeed, I think that abandoning the creative enterprise that a) you helped build and b) helped build you is more selfish than inspiring. I’m not one to believe that we owe everything to others for our achievements, but clearly we owe those who give us a chance more than a slap in the face, as gentle as it might be intended. This is especially true when those who helped us are in their own dire and problematic straits. True enough, I’m also writing this for selfish reasons, because I don’t want another disappointing season to my absolute favorite sitcom of all time.
As you are all-too-aware, “Community” has undergone and is still undergoing a great deal of growing pains. You’ve had a front row seat to all of Dan Harmon’s and Chevy Chase’s buttholish tendencies, to Harmon’s firing, to new showrunners getting the show wrong, and to Chase finally quitting — all the while being a show that is perpetually on the cancellation bubble. Now Harmon is coming back, possibly giving the show a kind of stability for its possible last season, and the next news out of the library is that you are now leaving, too? Mr. Glover — Donald, if I may — pardon me, but your timing is for shit. Which is strange, because, comedically and musically, your timing is usually impeccable.
Season five is going to be a difficult enough dance, marrying the first three with the fourth, which Harmon has publicly admitted that he hates, and now the writers are losing their biggest not-so-secret weapon? On those first boxed sets, there isn’t a commentary that goes by that somebody doesn’t sing your improvisational praises, gushing at how often Troy’s written lines were merely filler until you’re unstoppable genius was on set to bring the funny. It isn’t a knock on the rest of the cast, who are all immensely talented, but “Community” sans Donald Glover (much less sans Troy) is perhaps a far different “Community” than even one without Dan Harmon. Losing Chevy Chase won’t be as difficult, considering everyone had issues including Pierce in every adventure, but Troy was integral to so many of the series’ best moments. Losing you will be a blow that the show might not be able to recover from. It’s a blow from which, maybe, the show shouldn’t recover.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t also pursue music. I imagine the degree of difficulty doing both is higher than most people could handle, and I sympathize with that. But you’re young and you have more than enough time to branch out, to wrap up the world in your very specific Donald Gloveriness. You’re only 29 and have nearly as many albums, all respectable, already under your belt. There really is no rush. “Community” likely has one season left, perhaps two, and if all the fans who work on and watch the show get their wish, a movie. That’s three years, tops, with plenty of hiatus-time between half seasons and an unlikely film adaptation. Your writing is strong in both fields, but your sense of humor is so clearly refined and honed in that it would be a disservice to yourself to half-ass it on national television. Not that you would suddenly phone in your performance, but it will be nearly impossible to watch Troy without keeping one eye on the door. You probably feel as though you’ve been half-assing your music, or maybe it just brings you more joy than acting currently does. I can’t argue with that and restlessness is understandable. But patience to see things through to their end isn’t considered a virtue for nothing.
So, please, Mr. Glover, I beg you to reconsider this “Childish” decision. Stick with “Community” until it ends. Re-renegotiate your contract before the season is written and shooting has begun in earnest. There is no doubt that you will be welcomed by all parties, and the stress levels of your co-workers and bosses and sycophants will dwindle exponentially. It really is what is best for the show, for its fans and yours (inextricably linked), and for you. Ultimately, I and many others will keep watching and keep listening, but if your last episode airs and it isn’t on or near the series finale, then our tears will run thick and bitter. The probable angst on Twitter alone is unfathomable.
After all, what’s the point of “Community” without the community?
P.S. - When news of your imminent departure was first reported, I doubt I was alone in feeling exactly like this:
P.P.S. - Admittedly, your latest single, “Centipede,” is excellent and pretty damn sophisticated. So it’s entirely possible I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. “Doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about” could probably apply to most things.