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If you believe the conventional wisdom surrounding "Community," last season was an unspeakable abomination. Without creator Dan Harmon at the helm, the NBC comedy flailed and sputtered its way to its worst season yet, a pale shadow of its former glory.
But miraculously, it somehow earned a fifth-season renewal, and even more miraculously, NBC brought Harmon back as showrunner. So his glorious return to the fold this season must have reinvigorated the series and made everything "cool cool cool" again, right?
Well, not exactly. In fact, if you take off your Harmon fanboy glasses and give this season's episodes a hard look, you won't see much of a bump in quality, if any, from the much-maligned Season 4. (Yep, you heard us.)
Don't get us wrong: We're "Community" fans, and we'll watch till the bitter end. But despite the rallying cry of "six seasons and a movie," the sad truth is: It might be time for the Greendale gang to graduate and move on already.
Here are five big reasons why a part of us is hoping this week's season finale is the series finale as well.
1. Dan Harmon is not a magician, people.
Let's be honest: Even in the halcyon days of Seasons 2 and 3 under Harmon, "Community" was always hit-or-miss — moments of off-the-wall genius mixed with the occasional dud. Since then, those moments of genius have been fewer and further between, and Harmon's return hasn't done anything to stop the bleeding.
Season 5 started out well enough with "Repilot," a clever reboot of the series, if a little bitchy. (It dismissed all of last season as the result of a "gas leak" at the school. Rude.)
But the subsequent episodes have been shockingly mediocre (for reasons we'll get into below). And we may be torn apart for saying this, but Season 4 actually had some redeeming qualities, especially "Herstory of Dance" and "Intro to Felt Surrogacy."
The bottom line is, this patient may be beyond saving… even if the original doctor is the one pounding on its chest.
2. These people should not still be at that school.
For a show obsessed with pointing out the ridiculousness of sitcom conventions, "Community" has done a remarkably poor job of justifying the study group's continued existence at Greendale. These people all graduated! So now they're back pursuing new degrees at a school they all agree is terrible, and forming a committee to "Save Greendale"? Why isn't Abed questioning this every week?
We understand the series needed to keep everyone in one place for story purposes, and we'd hate to lose Jim Rash's Dean Pelton as a recurring character by ditching Greendale entirely. But really, couldn't they find a way to have the study group move on but still stay in touch? And what sort of flimsy excuse will they trot out to keep them together for a sixth season? "Save Greendale Again"? We'd rather not find out.
3. We miss Troy Barnes. A lot.
Donald Glover's departure after five episodes this season really dealt a blow to the series — one that we didn't fully comprehend until he left. "Community's" appeal stemmed from the crackerjack chemistry between the study group members, and removing a key member like Troy made the whole thing deflate like a bad soufflé — not to mention robbing us of one of TV's best bromances in Troy and Abed. (Plus, we miss his constant crying.)
Meanwhile, let's be clear: No one misses Pierce Hawthorne. Jonathan Banks is a clear upgrade over Chevy Chase as curmudgeonly professor Buzz Hickey, and we kind of wish he had been a part of the study group from the beginning. But still, without Troy, this just isn't the Greendale Seven we know and love. (And don't you dare try to sell us on Chang being part of the group. He will never be part of the group!)
4. Too much high-concept can be a bad thing.
"Community" set itself apart from the sitcom pack with ambitious, deliriously high-concept episodes, like the epic paintball battles from Seasons 1 and 2. But across five seasons, the series has gone to that high-concept well a bit too often, tossing aside any sense of grounded character reality in favor of cool sets and props. And Season 5 has been no exception.
Earlier this month, the "G.I. Jeff" episode imagined the study group as characters in the '80s "G.I. Joe" cartoon, and while some of the references were admittedly spot-on (especially the toy commercials), it felt like parody for parody's sake.
We finally got fed up when twice in a three-episode stretch ("Geothermal Escapism" and "App Development and Condiments"), Shirley was transformed into the supreme ruler of some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland. Twice! And we really didn't need that second Dungeons & Dragons episode, which only served to sully our fond memories of the original.
Call us crazy, but we prefer the more low-key episodes of "Community," like this season's "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking," which set aside the elaborate costumes to focus on plot and character. And actual jokes! Because, after all…
5. This is supposed to be a comedy, right?
We're actually asking, because over the years, "Community" has tried to shoehorn some pretty heavy drama in between the gags, and it's never quite fit. Like the aforementioned "G.I. Jeff," where we found out Jeff may have tried to commit suicide, and the cartoon was just a hallucination from his comatose state. Um… ha-ha?
We love a good dramedy, but "Community" has never been a dramedy; its attempts to get serious have always felt ham-handed. And don't get us started on the constant daddy issues being rehashed throughout the series, whether it's from Jeff, Pierce, or Buzz's son in that second D&D episode. It's all just so out of place on a network sitcom, especially one as zany as "Community."
Season 5 ends this week with Jeff and Britta announcing they're getting married (groan) while the study group tries to save Greendale from corporate overlords with the help of a buried treasure map (double groan). But this time, we're siding with the corporate overlords. Five seasons is a good run. Let's all just move on.
Get a sneak peek at this week's "Community" season finale:
"Community" airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.