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Is 'Community' a TV Show Or Is It the Deconstruction of a TV Show?

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 18, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 18, 2015 |

The sixth and probably final season of Community returned yesterday with two episodes, and as much as it pains me to say so, it felt … off. I’m not sure why moving it to Yahoo and expanding the episodes by around 5 minutes changes things so much, but the episodes felt too long, beats were missed by half a second, and while the kinetic, frenetic energy of Community on NBC didn’t disappear exactly, there’s an unsettling funk to it now.

NBC’s Community often felt like it was attempting to squeeze in too much in 22 minutes, and now it feels like there’s not enough to fill in an entire 27 minutes. Jokes often go on too long to the detriment of the momentum. The episodes feel less busy, less chaotic, less anxious, and it’s the Dan Harmon anxiousness that often propelled his work.

With all due respect, it’s also crawled a little too far up its own ass for its own good. Abed has always been a great tool for Dan Harmon to slyly speak to his audience, but there is nothing sly about the way he is doing it this season. I’m all for transparency in the way that Harmon attempts to explain the absence of Shirley, the integration of Paget Brewster’s Frankie Dart, and for “catching everyone up,” but it often feels like characters aren’t breaking the fourth wall so much as they are actually using the fourth wall as a billboard to announce to the Internet what is going on, or to preempt criticism.

Indeed, it feels like Harmon is speaking to a subset of the Community audience that knows everything about the show, that follows Dan Harmon on social media, and that spends too much time on Twitter obsessing over.the behind-the-scenes drama. To be fair, that may be all that’s left of the Community audience, but I think we’re still more interested in expanding the Community mythos than we are in referencing the old. The season of Community without Harmon had a way of badly blowing up and caricaturing old jokes and storylines; here, it almost feels like the opposite, like they’re zeroing in, mining the minutia of old jokes and storylines.

That said, Community’s post-modern, meta-ironic sensibility still flows freely through the opening episode, and there was still plenty to appreciate, to quote, and to laugh at, even if Harmon hit the callbacks a little too hard (yes, we know, Britta is still the worst) and even if it lacked the sweetness and poignancy that characterized the Community of the past.

The second episode, on the other hand, was a shitshow. The Dean’s virtual reality machine wore out its welcome 30 seconds into the gimmick, and while I’m all for seeing the growth and maturation of the characters, moving them outside of Greendale — to Britta’s parent’s house, for instance — opened it up almost too much. LImiting Harmon to Greendale — where episodes felt bottled in — asked of him to find new ways to manipulate the small universe. Outside of that universe, the possibilities are endless, which makes it more difficult to pick and choose the best possibility. Out in suburbia, it felt like a different show, and not one that I’d necessarily invest in.

It’s only two episodes in, and there’s every reason to believe that Harmon and Co. will find their footing and momentum again, but thus far, it feels sluggish and out of step. Maybe that’s because of the way we’re watching it now (without the ability to fast forward through ads) or maybe it’s relative to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which captured the sunny, absurd, fast-paced and sweet spirit of the old Community. This Community is off its game, but with the two new characters introduced, and everyone brought up to speed, maybe Community can start moving ahead instead of being mired in self-referentialism. Right now, it feels too often like the characters are being used to service Harmon’s cleverness instead of using Harmon’s cleverness to serve the characters. Maybe after five seasons, there’s just nothing left to explore except what is real, what is sanity, or if there is a God.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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