‘Community’ May Well Come Back From the Dead — But It’s a Success Story Even If It Doesn’t

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On Friday, NBC announced that Community wouldn’t be returning for a sixth season. One can only assume that the news was timed in hopes that it would be buried on a Friday afternoon, but NBC should have known that obsessive Community — and TV — fans are pretty much glued to Twitter, our handy second screen, at all times, Friday afternoon/night included. On the one hand, Community fans (and I always include myself in this group) have been preparing for cancellation at the end of every season, but on the other hand, this somehow felt like the one year when renewal wasn’t a long shot.

Community has always felt like the underdog on NBC, a tiny little comedy with a small but devoted fanbase who clung to every line of dialogue, nodded along with every pop culture reference, and made a GIF of every single moment in the show’s run. It was a great show — at times, an utterly wonderful and beautiful show — and it was a show that truly felt like it was made specifically for its viewers. It was easy to see a bit of yourself in any of the characters, whether or not you were ready to admit it.

Community was not the most accessible sitcom, and this was part of why it struggled in the ratings, but this inaccessibility actually made it more appealing for those who obsessed over the show, making it simultaneously a huge inside joke and a way to connect with other people who made damn sure to be in front of a television every Thursday night. It wasn’t enough to connect with someone over recognizing the same movie reference; this was connecting with someone over how deep that reference went, and why it was important to this particular character in this particular episode, and so on and so on until you were drowning in as much overwhelming meta-thought as the show gleefully flailed around in. In a way, Community often felt like college itself: a place where you found like-minded and similarly weird people, and were rewarded for that weirdness, much more than you ever were in high school.

But Community was more than its weirdness and definitely more than just a string of pop culture references. Underneath all of the big parody episodes, the epic paintball wars, and the Chang oddities was just a big ol’ pile of lovable mush. Community was all heart, from its pilot episode set to that infections Matt and Kim song to the gas leak year of Harmon-less episodes to the fifth, Greendale-driven season and its recent (now series) finale, in which Jeff explicitly showed the audience how much he cares for these goofs that he can’t stop making fun of.

There’s heart to be found all over NBC sitcoms — Parks and Recreation is another lovable gooey sundae, although it’s so sweet that too much can make my teeth hurt — but Community knew how to pair it with bitingly funny cynicism, and also when to pull back and mock itself. The fifth season was a great example of this and managed to come off as just confident enough (and just one season shy of that haunting hashtag) that it was easy to assume the show would get that sixth season, even though it had seemingly accepted its fate in the finale. But that’s television: let your guard down for a second and suddenly Abed’s gone forever — well, maybe.

It took about two seconds after hearing the cancellation news for the Internet to explode with options for Community‘s non-existent sixth season: Netflix, Hulu, Comedy Central, TBS. Let’s create a Kickstarter for the movie! Let’s just start our own television network to air Community until the end of time!

So what exactly are Community‘s future options? Who knows! Not even Dan Harmon knows! There are the aforementioned possibilities, of course. Netflix seems promising because it saved Arrested Development (with a less-than-stellar season, but hey, at least we got another one, right?), although it doesn’t even have Community available for streaming (at least not in the United States; last summer I learned it was streaming in Panama, which made it easier to continue to avoid the outdoors while on vacation). Hulu, in my opinion, is a better fit for the show (and already has a digital syndication deal that makes it home to every aired Community episode). Plus, I like that Hulu still rolls out its shows week-to-week instead of all in one shot. And don’t forget about Amazon, which could really use Community‘s cult popularity to give its streaming site some attention. (And if Amazon can foot the bill for those HBO shows, why not throw some cash to Sony for a 13-episode season of Community?)

So many possibilities! But let’s not run to Kickstarter as the first one. I love Community, I love Community‘s fans, and I even love most of Kickstarter, but I can easily see how the combination of the three would be unbearable. I’ve also never been on board with the idea of a movie; Community is a television sitcom, and every bit of it works because it’s a television sitcom, not a bloated film.

Sony seems cool with letting the show exist elsewhere; in Dan Harmon’s surprisingly calm and collected Tumblr post, he mentions that “there was brief discussion at the end of the call about the concept of the show living elsewhere,” but Harmon was the one to express an “eh” ambivalence about the whole thing. Maybe Harmon is finally ready to let Community die? That’s also a possibility — though not a likely one. I’m sure once the initial numbness of the official death of his show wears off, he’ll be ready to examine every possible way to bring it back from the dead.

Now it’s just a waiting game. I do think Community will exist somewhere else, and probably sometime fairly soon — this won’t be a Veronica Mars-like wait — but there’s not much we can do to help it. And if it doesn’t exist elsewhere? That’s fine, too. Community was an unlikely success story — however you want to play it, it’s undeniable that Community was a success story. It had four great seasons and one OK season, a total of 97 episodes (so close to that golden 100-episode mark!), which is a hell of a lot more than we thought it would be (and about 91 episodes more than some NBC sitcoms get). This isn’t the darkest timeline; it’s just a bit dim.