When a television show is so innovative and brilliant that it garners cult attention but goes largely unnoticed, it must be something special.
Numerous shows have fallen into the paradox of being “too good for TV” by presenting an intricacy and quality appreciated by a few, but ignored on a wider scale, prompting their cancellation.
In a bid to save itself, “Community” has opted for broader appeal while maintaining the veneer of its former self. The result has been underwhelming, at least from a fan’s point of view.
“Community” was the original show for nerds, with no apologies to the achingly unfunny “Big Bang Theory.”
The show’s premise is an unlikely group of community college students (including a disbarred lawyer, a feminist “anarchist cat owner,” a single mother, a millionaire heir to a brand of wipes and a handful of other young adults) more or less forced together into a study group.
When not trying to pass tests in Spanish class, they are launching paintball wars, building blanket forts, becoming claymation or re-enacting “Pulp Fiction.”
This made for brilliant TV, but just like breaking into a group of friends at a new school, if you’re uninitiated, you’ll always be missing something, no matter how welcoming it is.
This is an aspect of “Community” that has always affected its viability: the show has always tried to welcome new viewers, but if the references aren’t understood, it just isn’t the same.
My all-time favorite episode of “Community” was “Contemporary American Poultry,” in which the gang creates a chicken finger cartel and starts to control the school.
The episode is inherently funny, but to have truly “gotten it,” watching Martin Scorsese’s mafia classic “Goodfellas” was a necessity.
The problem is also evident when the show parodies Ken Burns’ “Civil War,” “Law & Order,” “Apocalypse Now” or any number of cultural references.
There are bound to be viewers who are left out.
It is partly for this reason that the show was not a popular success, and the show runner and creator Dan Harmon was kicked out in between the third and fourth seasons.
This leads to a lackluster season four. The characters and some of the writers and in-show references are still there. But the heart of the show, Dan Harmon, isn’t.
Some reviewers have noted that shows like “The West Wing” and “M*A*S*H” had also fired their show runners and had gone on to be popular successes, but when a show such as “Community” has its creator so tightly woven into its own mythology and the network is pressuring for higher ratings, it should come as no surprise that the show will suffer in the eyes of its dedicated fans.
The first four episodes have not been terrible. But, to use a popular refrain, it just isn’t the same.
I have no doubts that the current writers and producers want to be true to the original show.
There were undoubtedly moments in the last three seasons that fell flat, too. However, as long as the new “Community” is held to the same standards as the Dan Harmon “Community,” the show will fail.
So far, season four has among the lowest ratings for all of the show’s seasons. This has offered a bleak ultimatum: shape up or ship out.