As you probably read on MTV Geek earlier this week (or throughout the week on enraged Twitter posts and Facebook status messages), NBC’s sitcom Community was taken off their mid-season schedule. The network promises that the show will, in fact, finish its twenty-two season order, and be broadcast last Spring and early Summer. Here’s a better idea: why don’t you just cancel the show?
Okay, a little bit of background, before you flay me faster than Ramsay Bolton (where my Game of Thrones fans at?): I love Community, am a huge fan of creator Dan Harmon, and think the cast, crew and writers are extremely talented. I certainly don’t want them to be out of a job, and I would certainly be happy to see more episode of Community like the supremely excellent Christmas episode last Winter, or the brilliantly structured “Remedial Chaos Theory” that was broadcast two weeks ago.
What I don’t want to see is the show flounder a slow death, with ratings hemorrhaging as the network moves it from time slot to time slot on the schedule, pointing to diminishing audience and saying, “See? No one wants to watch this.”
There’s a bigger issue though, and a large part of the reason I wouldn’t be totally bummed to see Community gone forever as of mid-season: I don’t want to watch it get bad.
Look, I get that Community is usually far better than bad… It’s creative, nuanced, and not afraid at poking fun at itself. Even the worst episode has something funny with Danny Pudi and Donald Glover, or something ridiculously over the top and racist spewed by Chevy Chase. But this young season, so far, has been a mixed bag of quality, with some excellent episodes, and far more head-scratching non-starters like “Competitive Ecology,” which found the study group acting like the cast of Seinfeld for some reason, petty and mean.
The big question this comes down to is, how many laugh free “Competitive Ecology” level episodes are you willing to sit through to make it to one “Remedial Chaos Theory?” I’m sure plenty of viewers would quip back, “As many as it takes!” But I don’t think I’m on the same mind, and I think history is on my side here.
I’m going to use three examples from the same camp here, and I realize they’re not directly analogous, but here goes: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse. The reason I’m calling on these is not just because they’re from the same creator (Joss Whedon), but because they’re all considered cult-ish hits, and went very different lengths.
Let’s talk about Firefly first. The show ran fourteen episodes, and didn’t garner a ton of viewers in its short, out of order run. It wasn’t until later on DVD that more fans discovered it, and lamented the fact that Firefly never got a chance (you know, beyond that feature film and all those comics and novels) to really start to, er, fly. Except, here’s the essential truth of Firefly: it was all promise. The show is undeniably well made, complex, and very, very flawed. It took a while to find out what show it wanted to be, and when it did… Well, it was cancelled. So the Firefly fan is left with the feeling that the best is yet to come, and that’s where it stayed (except in the feature film, the comics, and the novels).
Then there’s Dollhouse, which, sadly, took even longer to figure out where it was going. Those of us who stuck it out for the second half of the second season found a show that had finally figured out where it was going, and the urgency of wrapping up storylines in a satisfying fashion led to something that finally felt like the Joss Whedon-cred having show it wanted to be. But by then? It was too late, and the show will always be remembered more as a curiosity than anything else.
And lastly, there’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The show ran five seasons on The WB, ending with (spoilers, I guess) the death of the titular character. Was it a satisfying end? Sure, it completed the most ambitious season of the show to date, and ended a now classic series on a high note… And then it went on for two more seasons on UPN. Two seasons that yes, saw the much lauded musical episode, and a few other good bits. But for the most part, it didn’t hold a candle to the five seasons that went before, and – sorry to get all dramatic here – tarnished the memory of the show.
So where does Community come in here? I bring up these three examples because we’re already past Firefly… If Community had been cancelled in Season One, after, say, “Modern Warfare,” we would have remembered the show as a brilliant cult hit that was just starting to hit its stride and pay off on the promise of its pedigree. But it wasn’t cancelled then.
So is it like Dollhouse? Well, no, because the show already knew what it was in Season One… It took a few episodes (watch the Pilot, and cringe at what could have been), but Community found its stride much more quickly, and peppered both Seasons One and Two with flights of brilliance.
I think what’s most analogous, perhaps, is Buffy, because Community has now set up a world populated with brilliant little characters surrounding its main cast, set up rules and conflicts, and given there’s half a season left, has the chance to finish everything up in a satisfying fashion.
But it won’t, right? Fans will keep putting goatees on their Twitter avatars (a reference to the “worst possible universe” in “Remedial Chaos Theory”), Dan Harmon and company will keep fighting to keep the show on the air, and NBC will keep trying to kill it with rescheduling, while letting it die a slow death so they can suck every last bit of free press out of the fans online and off.
You know, like this Op Ed, I guess.
Anyway, my point is this, after several rambling paragraphs: cancel Community now, and you’ll get the ire of the fans, but will have a beloved show that’s highs will be remembered far more than its lows; wait, and you’ll have a show that has the potential to fade into nothing, good episodes be damned. So I say, cancel it…
…But not before we find out who Jeff Winger’s father is. Or Annie and Jeff finally get together. Or we get the third part of the “Modern Warfare” trilogy. Right after that, though. Don’t Britta this up, NBC.