The sixth season of Community should have been its biggest and most celebrated. Long before it existed, before it was even a real possibility, it was already the subject of a joking-but-not-really-joking hashtag that began in Season 2’s “Paradigms of Human Memory,” with Abed’s passing reference to The Cape. “Six seasons and a movie” was the rallying cry of fans who believed, accurately, that Community was good enough to run for several more years, despite what NBC (and the ratings) said. And against all odds — Dan Harmon’s firing and subsequent rehiring, a gas-leak season, and even a cancellation — that sixth season did happen and is currently airing. But the fanfare around the series seems to have died down.
It’s a curious development, albeit one that is easy to explain. There is, of course, the fact that Community now airs on a streaming site, Yahoo Screen (which is difficult to navigate and features a less-than-stellar video player), rather than on a broadcast network. But Community has always been fueled by the Internet — I can’t imagine it would have lasted five seasons on NBC, let alone been rescued by Yahoo, if not for the intensity of its fans on social media, who delighted in hashtags and quoted every line and took over A.V. Club comment sections. So it should be just as equipped as any other show to thrive online.
Perhaps the bigger problem is that we’ve been conditioned to consume Internet-only shows in one particular way: the binge-viewing model, in which every episode of a season is released at once for quick, obsessive, mass consumption. The Fridays when Netflix unleashes a new season are some of the most fun and communal moments on TV Twitter, as everyone watches and comments in real time, inviting others to join in the conversation. (These Fridays are also probably the worst for those who can’t drop everything and binge-watch, as they have to deflect spoilers all day.)
Community, unlike Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or even Yahoo Screen’s other comedies, is releasing its episodes in a decidedly more traditional style that replicates the way viewers consumed the show on TV: one a week, every Tuesday. It’s almost easy to forget that there is a new episode every week — the 3AM release time doesn’t help, either — and because we’re all watching it in our own time, there’s no more of the collective Twitter love that we used to experience while live-tweeting episodes on NBC. We’re watching the episodes at a different pace, viewing jokes at different times, or maybe even waiting to binge on all of them at the end of the season.
But even if the passionate — and ongoing — Community fandom has quieted down a bit, the series itself remains as funny and strange as ever, even as it continues to work out the kinks resulting from its slightly longer runtime and downsized cast (as well as adjust to its two new regulars, Paget Brewster and Keith David). The season started off promising, immediately calming any fears about the show’s transition from NBC to Yahoo, and has only gotten better with every week.
The fourth episode, “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing,” brought the not-so-subtle running joke about Dean Pelton’s sexuality to the foreground. The dean is offered a coveted role on the school board, but only as the token gay man, meaning he has to decide whether to come out and openly identify as gay — even though the episode continues the series’ tradition of never explicitly saying he is gay (because he isn’t gay, nor he is not gay; he is about two sevenths gay, apparently), which makes for a lot of hilarious runaround jokes. Deep under the humor is Community‘s continued assertion that sexuality isn’t a binary, letting the dean become a great, hilarious example of its fluidity.
There are also a few outright silly episodes: the must-watch “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” centers on an attack ad that claims Greendale gave a dog a diploma and is one of my favorites of the season (and not just because I keep Wikipedia’s list of animals with fraudulent diplomas bookmarked). “Laws of Robotics and Party Rights” balances a storyline involving prisoners attending Greendale via robots with one that looks at the friendship and roommate dynamics between Britta, Annie, and Abed.
The last two episodes, “Advanced Safety Features” (whose Honda-focused plot turns product placement into a centerpiece rather than trying to hide it in the background) and this morning’s “Intro to Recycled Cinema” (in which Chang somehow becomes super, Hollywood famous while Abed makes a sci-fi movie on campus), both highlight what Community does best: insane plots featuring small character moments. Both showcase the ability to turn a car or the phrase “ham girl” into something more important, representing larger developments or remarking on personal life crises. It’s what Community was best at when it was on TV, and it’s what Community continues to excel at — even it’s no longer being talked about.