Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Darkest Timeline, or Just a Four?

So. Last week Community was renewed for a fourth season. Well, technically, it was renewed for half a season, but nevertheless there was much rejoicing. And for good reason: it has been demonstrated empirically and proven irrefutably through abstract mathematics that Community is nothing short of the greatest live-action half-hour television series in the history of the Universe. At this point, the proof has been so widely distributed and is so clearly manifest by the natural light that to repeat it here seems a waste of space - if you're unfamiliar with the logic behind this argument, it is suggested you collect some scrap paper and work out the proof for yourself. It makes for good practice (a hint to get you started: the reflexive property will be needed).

At any rate, the celebration was short lived: on Friday, Sony announced that Dan Harmon, Community's creator, would no longer be the show runner but would instead work on the show in some other capacity. Soon after, Harmon clarified that this meant he'd been fired, and the other capacity he'd be working in would be none at all.

There's a lot happening behind the scenes here we'll probably never know. It's not clear whether Harmon was fired in an attempt to bring down costs, to make it more accessible for a wider audience, or for personal reasons. But it understandably has a lot of fans pissed off. In the last forty-eight hours, I've read quite a few eulogies for the series.

But I'm not ready to write it off yet. Yes, Dan Harmon created a fantastic series with some fantastic characters in it. And he's developed that show into something unique; it's more or less a given that season four isn't going to be like the first three.

But that might be okay. Let's say, for argument's sake, that the show more or less drops the homages altogether and opts to treat the series as a sitcom. While that's certainly not ideal, it's actually a good time to make the shift. The main characters are entering their last year at Greendale: transitioning into something a little closer to the real world might work thematically. And, while I love the homages, I love the characters just as much. If - and this is admittedly a huge IF - the writers can maintain the character dynamics and personalities, I'll keep watching. I think a lot of us will.

I think the importance of the homages is getting magnified, and it's because there's an elephant in the study room no one's talking about: the first half of season three was kind of weak.

Yeah, there are exceptions: "Remedial Chaos Theory" and "Regional Holiday Music" were both fantastic, and there were some other solid episodes, but most of early season three just wasn't on par with what we were used to. The Halloween episode was particularly disheartening: after the revolutionary Halloween episodes we got in seasons one and two, the ghost story motif felt forced and uninspired.

On top of that, several characters seemed to grow less intelligent this year. Even when the show recovered its footing, there was something off. A lot of the development from season two seemed to have been forgotten, and some characters' key traits and motivation just vanished. Does Abed even care about making movies anymore?

I'm not bringing this up to dwell on the negative: overall, season three was awesome, thanks to episodes like "Virtual Systems Analysis", "Pillows and Blankets", and the amazing finale. But - let's be honest - the show was getting extremely reliant on special episodes to gloss over the characters. I think that's why a lot of us are having such a negative reaction to the possibility (and it is still just a possibility) the homages and special episodes might get faded out.

I don't want to give the impression I'm glad Harmon's out: I'm not. We're almost certainly going to lose something great on this series. But there's a chance what's left over is still going to be good, maybe even great. It's not a great chance, but it's there. Obviously, the best timeline would have been the one where the die wasn't rolled at all, where Harmon was left in charge. But, as evidenced by much of season three, even that timeline wouldn't have been perfect: nothing is.

And, given that Sony did opt to roll that die, I'm waiting for it to land before calling it.

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