This past week saw the return of “Community” to NBC. I haven’t been a fan of this show for long; it has been a whirlwind romance. I borrowed seasons 1 and 2 from the library during the mid-season hiatus last year, so I’ve only spent about 12 months with the denizens of Greendale Community College. I still haven’t seen a handful of episodes of the first half of season 3, but I’m hooked. Or, at least I was hooked.
Last summer, after Season 3 ended, show creator and runner Dan Harmon was fired. So this season 4 will be the first one to not have his stamp. More than his stamp, actually. It won’t have any of his creative input, as far as I can tell. Now there are showrunners and there are showrunners. The AV Club makes a nice distinction between “manager” showrunners and “creative” showrunners. The manager showrunners put together a team and make sure each episode comes in on time and on budget. A good manager showrunner’s imprint will never be felt by the causual viewer, and as long as they are replaced by an equally competent showrunner then the show will not suffer.
“Creative” showrunners are another kettle of fish altogether. They are in on the writing, filming, casting, directing, editing, you name it. Dan Harmon happens to be one of the more “creative” showrunners, and apparently is a real dick to work with. I’ve been listening to some of his Harmontown podcasts from last summer. Although I can see he has a certain charm and is unquestionably talented, I can see how maybe working with him and for him could cause the network some aggravation. And yet, without those uncompromising fights and hissy fits, would we get the final product that is the first three seasons of “Community”? Who to say?
What does this mean for the future of “Community”? It’s hard to see the show recover and maintain its style and quality without Harmon’s input, but maybe this is an opportunity for the show to grow and find it’s way. It has a tough row to hoe though, considering “Community” is already known for its pop culture self-awareness, and willingness to try new things. How many other shows can say they’ve done an entire episode with Claymation, or another episode mostly set in an 8-bit video game. Say what you want about Dan Harmon, but he had balls.
Will this show recover and morph, as “Cheers” did after its showrunners left after the second season? Or will it die a sad and pathetic death like the “Gilmore Girls” did after Amy Sherman Palladino’s contract was not renewed. Or will it weirdly lurch along like “The Walking Dead”? Those sons of bitches change their showrunner every season. It would be fun to actually have a scene where the showrunner is turned into a zombie at the end of every season. It could be a thing.
Some thoughts after watching the first episode of season 4.
It wasn’t one of the stronger episodes of the series, that’s for sure. The bit of Abed’s “mind sitcom” was cute, and I loved that they had Fred Willard playing the role of Pierce on the “mind sitcom”. I wonder if that was planned all along or whether that was a way to deal with Chevy Chase’s departure midseason. Either way, I’m glad Fred Willard is getting work again. Remember last summer when he was caught wanking in an adult theatre and that was all the news for a couple of days and then the god damn Dark Knight shootings happened and suddenly an old guy jerking off in a theatre seemed almost quaint. First of all, who actually goes to a porn theatre these days? And this guy is in his 80s. If I can make it to my 80s and I still have the ability to wank in public…….this man isn’t a felon people, he’s a HERO. And anyway, what else are you supposed to DO at an adult theatre anyway? It’s like busting up a bar because some guy’s enjoying a beer inside. And don’t get me started on the whole “no smoking in bars” movement that has swept our culture over the past few years. Bars and pubs are places where people go and do stuff that is fun and is bad for them, period. Why distinguish between one type of “badness” and another? Why we have taken a puritanical approach to banning smoking and yet still allowing alcohol in bars is beyond me. Bars are glorified tea houses now, and I’m not even a smoker. I mean, I’ve never smoked cigarettes, but I have enjoyed the occasional cigar and one summer I taught myself how to smoke a pipe for laffs. I certainly miss the atmosphere of a smokey bar. Cigarellos and liquor seem to belong together. I remember one time when my friend Steve was visiting from out of town and we went out for a drink. Steve smokes cigarettes, and he actually left me at the table and went outside for 10-15 minutes and I sat there, holding the table and nursing my beer like a jack-ass. That’s not right, people!
So yeah, it was great seeing Fred Willard, but “Community” seems to have lost it’s soul a bit, going on what we saw in episode one of season four. Six seasons and a movie? More like three seasons and an EXCUUUUSE MEEE. (But I’ll still watch, if only for the Dean!)