Community, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” (CREDIT: Yahoo! Screen)

Even if there ends up being a movie or a season 7, I’ll still consider this one of the best series finales of all time.

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in June 2015.

“You saved my life, and changed it forever.”

Just as Jeff Winger was irrevocably changed by his friends forcing their way into his life, so too have “Community” fans been profoundly affected by this deeply personal show. This program and its lead character have always been marked by a push-pull between cynicism and sincerity. The guy who made a fake study group just to sleep with someone now cares so much that he cannot let go of the people he met through it. The sitcom that was so distrustful of institutions and deconstructive of all conventions ended the season (and possibly series) with the most heartfelt message from its creator about how much his audience has meant to him.

“Community,” with its large main cast and disparate themes, has always been a beast with multiple masters. As the seasons have moved along, fans have become attached to those elements, with certain rooting interests conflicting with others. Regarding the show’s formula, Abed noted, “If we stray from it, we’re weird. If we stick to it, we’re boring.” This is the struggle all sitcoms go through in their later years, but for a show about a transitional stage in life like “Community,” it has been much more pointed. The trick is to find a way to give the audience what they want while also managing to go beyond that and give them what they did not realize they wanted.

At its best, “Community” has pulled off this trick with self-aware zeal and insanity, and “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” approached it about as directly as it could possibly be approached. The meta clip show route has been attempted before, but those previous times were a bit of a goof. That is not to say that “Paradigms of Human Memory” and “Curriculum Unavailable” were not meaningful (they were), but they were more concerned about exploring the structure of storytelling than about the motivations and emotions driving those stories. This episode explored those wants and needs through theoretical futures, which proved to be a boon for addressing every possible previously unresolved issue from Season 6.

Even though “Community” no longer airs on broadcast TV, the emotional consequences in the title were “of broadcast television,” because the potential season 7’s presented had been unmistakably determined by the earlier seasons. Abed’s pitch was not a possible future (save for the potential return of Shirley) so much as a summation of who these people are at this point, and a clever one at that. Most shows’ futures are more or less about this sort of stability, though not every showrunner is as self-aware as Abed or Dan Harmon, or as capable of exploiting that self-awareness. But while this version might be useful in a more normal period, it is not so much in the volatile stage here.

The Dean, Chang, and Frankie all got to participate in the pitching as well, even though they have always existed more on the periphery. Accordingly, their Season 7’s were amusing, but far from realistic. Still, it deepened their purposes and motivations, which is important work for characters that can often seem over-the-top or unnecessary. The Dean has occasionally been unsavory in Season 6; his rambling, black character-saturated pitch clarified how much his behavior is driven by a desire to be liked and accepted. Chang’s was the most unworkable version, but his creation of Ice Cube Head and his powers to solve everyone’s problems summed up his character rehabilitation – he is at his best as a full member of this group, one which he firmly believes is a force for good. Frankie’s struggle to create anything more than just everyone sitting around and behaving – as well as her roles in everyone else’s pitches – demonstrated an awareness of how this character is superfluous in the eyes of a lot of fans, but made her more endearing in the process.

While many of the issues were dealt with over the course of the episode, any Britta-specific issue was confined to her own pitch. Fans of Britta have decried the dumbing down of her characterization over the years, and Season 6 – which featured her crapping her pants and acting immaturely when reunited with her parents – surely did not quell all those critics. But the perception of herself that she presented – standing up to a senator, dealing with protestors – conveyed that fundamentally she is a capable person. Still, she did betray her shortcomings, though in a somewhat admirable fashion: she reduced the Dean to simply transgender when he is more complicated than that, but in doing so, she was presented herself as an ally in an important struggle.

The most prolific and most telling Season 7 pitcher proved to be Jeff. Paralleling his own series-long character development, he initially wanted nothing to do with it, but ultimately threw himself into it more than anybody else (and it was no mistake that that change was prompted by Annie). First, the context was established to show how much he was driven by his fear of everyone leaving him, a potentially likely scenario given his lack of prospects outside of Greendale compared to everyone else and Joel McHale’s singular enthusiasm to continue working on “Community” for as long as possible. His first version, with secondary actors and one new one promoted to main character status, seemed plenty funny, but it was too different to be worth sharing to everyone.

The pitches that Jeff actually shared allowed him to as best as he could work around the looming departures. Annie obviously has the talent to go on to bigger and better things, and segments of the audience have felt sorry for her that she has not moved on from Greendale. Jeff does not want to lose of any his friends, least of all Annie, but he also not does not want to hold them back, so he posited a scenario that involved an impractical commute and the excitement of an FBI case manifesting at Greendale.

Unfortunately the reality of making that happen is too much beyond his control, so he created an alternate version in which everyone could remain full-time at Greendale and still be fulfilled: Annie and Abed teaching, Britta the school shrink, Jeff the dean, the Dean doing whatever Jeff asks him to do, Chang healthy. For good measure, Annie even explained that she could go back to dressing in the girly fashions she favored in the early seasons and be at the same time grown up and hot (and not in a creepy way). This scenario would be perfectly reasonable, except for the horse pill-sized contrivance necessary to make it happen in the first place.

This is not television. Well, it is television, but for these characters it is their reality. Their reality has often had the meta acknowledgement that it is television, but ultimately it isn’t (even though it is). It was telling how much Abed has influenced Jeff (or really, brought out a side of him that was always present) when he acknowledged how comforting that “meta lens” is. That was supposed to be Abed’s struggle. But viewing his life as TV was never about escaping reality for him, it was about understanding it. For Jeff, the meta angle, when he has indulged in it, has too often been just an escape when he could have applied its lessons to his own life. Meanwhile, the ones who are actually moving on with new jobs – Abed, Annie, Elroy – were the ones who did not pitch or barely pitched a Season 7. Contrast that to the Annie and Abed of Season 3’s “Virtual Systems Analysis,” bonding over their shared compulsions to control the future. For them, these pitches were fun, and worthwhile, but unnecessary.

Even in Jeff’s theoretical future – the version that he really thinks about deep down – he does not go as far as he wants to. He saw himself married with a son in an ideal home life with Annie, but he had to question whether or not this is what Annie really wanted. Even when he actually kissed her in reality, for the first time in five years, he needed to defer to her to make sure that was what she wanted, when it was already so obvious that it was. For a community to function, it needs to communicate, and in this overwhelming episode, Jeff communicated a lot of the feelings that he has kept bottled up for a while. So now, the future may not look stable, but it does look good.

The study group, or the Greendale Seven, or the Save Greendale Committee may not again sit around the table together, at least not a regular basis. Their paths may take them even farther apart than they are now. “Community” might have aired its season finale, or it might be back for more episodes. There are too many variables at play here beyond everyone’s control, but if everybody stays in touch in some form or another, and it sure seems like they will, then Season 7, in whatever way it exists, will be good.

Notes & Quotes:
-Dan Harmon himself narrated the board game disclaimer in the tag, and he was basically pouring his heart out to his fans directly about what this show has meant to him. You could even hear him getting choked up when he said, “Those people may want to know I love them but I may be incapable of saying it.”
-“School’s out, bitches.”
-Apparently the group was still known as the “Save Greendale Committee” this season, even though at times they seemed nameless or going by a new moniker like the “Greendale Activities Committee.” That was another loose thread that was cleaned up, as they now officially have saved Greendale.
-Jeff approved of the “Nipple Dippers” name. Not a surprise, as it has been canonically established that he is into nipple play.
-“What? That’s crazy. People use LinkedIn?”
-“Lizard. Fire hydrant. Obama. CHANGGGG!”
-“If I had no self-awareness, I think I’d know.”
-Justin Roiland, co-creator of “Rick and Morty,” voiced Ice Cube Head, who ended up essentially being a variation of Mr. Meeseeks, one of his “R&M” characters.
-Todd has just been getting darker and darker: “Lots of things can be forced, like a human head through a six-inch drain pipe.”
-The arrangement of the theme song in Britta’s pitch effectively highlighted the darkness that has always been present in “At Least It Was Here.”
-In Jeff’s marriage fantasy, his and Annie’s son is named Sebastian, perhaps after a certain Disney movie, as Jeff once told Annie that disappointing her is “like choking the little mermaid with a bike chain.”
-“More like an ‘I’m bored’ game.” You can never go wrong with sarcastic puns from a teenage girl.
-“You stupid child. Nobody’s winning anything. Don’t you see? This means we don’t exist. We’re not created by God. We’re created by a joke.” That sounds like an existence I would be happy to live in.