‘Community’ teaches us all how to say goodbye

Christopher Goring looks back nostalgically at the final episode of the cult postmodernist sitcom

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Image: Wikimedia

Community never did have an easy ride. Its head writer, Dan Harmon, was fired by NBC after season three, while Chevy Chase—one of the lead actors—repeatedly disrupted filming for season four. Despite regaining Harmon at the beginning of season five, the show was now facing an uphill battle, shedding cast members before moving to Yahoo for its sixth and final season.

Two years on from its finale, and it’s now clear that its final episode stands amongst best TV conclusions of all time, despite the adversity faced by its production team. In the bar, the Greendale gang spitball ideas for what they ought to do for a hypothetical “seventh season.” We too often speak about how characters have “revealing moments,” but, by this point, there’s very little left to reveal.

Instead, the show is so comfortable with its characters that it just lets them be themselves, their pitches a perfect representation of who they are and of who we’ve always known them to be. Of course Britta would pitch a far-fetched, hack-handed show about political dissent; of course Chang’s seventh season would be utterly nonsensical and feature a talking ice cube person; of course Abed understands his friends so well that he can reduce their utterances to stock types.

Community is uncompromisingly, unapologetically itself in its final episode, drawing upon its self-reflexivity in a way that allows its cast to shine.

And yet, it also acknowledges its own diminishment and the impossibility of sustaining itself in the wake of losing so much of its core cast. Jeff —having already expressed his fear of change in the season five episode ‘GI Jeff ’—pitches a vision in which everyone gets to stay together, in which the show can continue in perpetuity. Jeff , like much of the audience, wants something impossible, something that has already begun to fall apart.

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This conclusion makes the show’s difficult production history work for it, the metanarrative of a dissipating cast becoming the narrative, the story of the production of the show becoming the show itself in a way that feels perfectly at home in this self-aware, self-referential, self-deprecatory series. Its ending is both heart-breaking and entirely right.

It doesn’t try to tie everything up, to resolve every hanging plot thread, to put some neat bow on everything in a grasp for some arbitrary sense of conclusiveness. For all its willingness to smash through the fourth wall with a great big wrecking ball, the show here is at its most emotionally true, showing life in all its messy, tragic, joyous incompleteness.

This finale is a celebration of the show’s best qualities and an acceptance of its ephemerality, a last hurrah for its terrific cast and a bittersweet climax to the show’s long running thematic interests. It is, in short, a perfect farewell.