Community has is a show about underdogs that seemingly has always been an underdog. After 5 sporadic years of near-cancellation, including one year where its creator and showrunner was outsted only to return, it finally left NBC only to move to the internet under Yahoo. Except in the UK, where it's still buried on Sony Entertainment, but at least that meant my Sky+ box could pick it up easily and without network problems. Along the way it's lost nearly half it's original cast, and some of their replacements, with Season 5 newbies Jonathan Banks and John Oliver both having bigger gigs this year. But this year, this fabled sixth season of the fans battle cry "Six Seasons and a Movie" is one free of network meddling, and can it surely be the most Community series of all?
I think I've loved Community since it's first episode. Its clever, and funny, and surprisingly deep, and at heart a show about how outsiders and oddballs can make a community just by being themselves. The characters are all archetypes, but the writing and performances give them depth and pathos and tease them out of themselves through their interactions. It's also incredibly meta, something I've a weakness for when done well, and Community has usually done them very well indeed. It's also a show that always seems to have a point to prove - first with it's faltering ratings but loyal and vocal fanbase, and then to prove that it didn't need Dan Harmon to run it, and then to prove that no, it really, really, did.
So it reaches season 6 with another few points to prove. First, that it can survive with a radically different group dynamic than it has had before, both with new characters Frankie and Ellroy and having to lean more on Chang and Dean Pelton, Chang especially is a bit of a marmite character; capable of being used well but also capable of being really annoying, but he's probably the winner of "most improved" this season, especially with the Karate Kid-themed episode, one of the seasons highlights. The Dean....is the Dean, a wonderful supporting character that finally gets a great central episode (and song) but still fades in and out of self-conciousness in his writing on occasion.
The newcomers both stay slightly in the background for most of the season, being strong ensemble players but never really leaping to the fore. What this means in practice is that really Jeff and Abed become the focal characters of the show more than ever, making me more convinced that they really are the two halves of Dan Harmons' brain. It's their relationship that runs through the season, surprisingly, and pays off rather well at the end, for all the Annie-Jeff fanservice.
But is it funny? Well yes, of course it is. It's as funny and clever and well observed as ever. It even manages to revisit some past glories, such as Paintballing, and produce an episode that stands up to the previous ones. It's still very much the Community you remember, even if as it changes into something different. It also feels a lot like a show getting ready to finally go out on it's own terms and say goodbye to it's audience. Yahoo doesn't release ratings, and they're probably largely irrelevant in the context of how you monetise internet streaming anyway, but as I reached the end of the final episode, it feels like the perfect place to leave everyone, and a show, that may have proved everything it ever wanted.
Except for a movie. I want that movie.