8 June 2015

Community season six review

Community is kind of a hard show to talk about. Despite it's huge ambition and innovation, it feels like Community never reached it's potential due to a number of reasons, the largest being plain bad luck. It'd be hard to argue with anyone that stated that the show peaked nearly 5 years ago - it'd be even harder to argue against the idea that the show maybe should have been allowed to die at the end of season 3. Between Community dropping main cast members and failing to recreate the same sense of energy that the first three seasons have, lines from the theme tune ("I can't count the reasons I should stay. One by one, they all just fade away.") become eerily prophetic for anyone trying to figure out if this is a series as worth returning to as it once was.

That being said, it's a little hard to complain too much when Community is still funnier and more "out there" than many sitcoms airing today just because it used to be even better. Season 6 of Community has the remaining members of the study group joined by Frankie Dart, a consultant hired by Dean Pelton, and Elroy Patashnik, a failed inventor who enrols at Greendale as a mature student, as they form a committee attempting to improve Greendale.

One of the biggest changes between this season and those previous is the reduced focus on continuity, an aspect of the show that made Community so notable when it first aired. Other than a few half hearted references to the group attempting the curb the Deans spending habits, the committee to improve Greendale is mostly only used as a way to get these characters together rather than as a way to directly provide the plot of an episode. The result of this is that other than the opening episode and the finale, the episodes of season 6 can probably be watched in any order, making the show more accessible to new viewers but at the expense of the character development and long running jokes that used to reward more dedicated viewers.

This change isn't inherently bad, but it's one of a number of changes that mean that parts of season 6 don't really feel like Community. It seems pointless to complain about the ever dwindling original cast at this point, but neither Shirley, Professor Duncan or Professor Buzz Hickey show up in any real capacity in season 6, a strange void that is left mostly unremarked upon. That being said, the new characters of Frankie and Elroy are each welcome additions to the group that enter the show as fully formed unique individuals rather than as replacements for specific characters, and share some of the seasons funniest moments between them.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Frankie and Elroy pretty much save season 6 from being something of a dud. The addition of new characters always opens up new avenues for a show to go down, but I can't really think of many really funny or meaningful moments that season 6 produces that aren't related to at least one of these characters. Paget Brewster is great as Frankie, but Keith David's Elroy in particular is something of an MVP this season, often having the funniest moment of an episode, and completely owning the most Community-like scene in the season, whereby he explains how he used to be addicted to encouraging white people. His very presence is often enough to remind you that you are watching Community, quite the feat when you remember that his character was only introduced at the start of the season.

My biggest complaint about this season of Community is the way that some of the characters are handled, in particular Britta. I get that not every episode can balance each of the characters perfectly (its an ensemble show after all), but other than the episodes where Britta gets her own storyline (of which there are only two), she has very little to actually do - a real shame considering the fact that Gillian Jacobs is probably one of the better comic performers on the show. On the other hand, it seems that her reduced screen time has allowed Community the time to place Jim Rash's Dean Pelton in the spotlight more often, which resulted in some of the best moments of not just the season, but potentially the entire series to date ("Jesus wept!").

Despite the ever dwindling cast and the shift to Yahoo! Screen (which is a truly, truly awful video player, by the way), Community season 6 has a lot to offer to those that are willing to put up with the poorer episodes - "Grifting 101" in particular is a stinker of an episode despite the best efforts of Matt Berry, whom I adore. I'm not really sure where it will end up on the great ordered list of Community seasons thanks to it being the least consistent of the seasons to date, but I can't imagine fans of the series being disappointed with our latest (last?) journey into Greendale. The arguments and speculations about the future of Community is sure to rage on on until a solid answer is provided by Yahoo!, but judging from the season finale (which writes out at least two more characters from this season) and Dan Harmon's feelings on the matter, it might be best to finally let Community rest - at least as a TV series.


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