This post contains spoilers for episodes 5.12 and 5.13 of NBC’s Community, “Basic Story” and “Basic Sandwich,” respectively.
It’s taken nearly a week for me to corral my thoughts about the Season Five finale. And, truthfully, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.
After hashing it out with Becca and comparing notes with Kerry, we three came to a few conclusions. First, we’re unhappy with the lack of good storylines for the ladies of the Study Group. Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Alison Brie are accomplished, talented actresses who happen to be pretty damn funny.
The two-part season finale once again saw them relegated to supporting roles for a Jeff-centric storyline, and Jacobs and Brie’s characters were essentially props. I’m fully aware that Community was always intended to be a vehicle for Joel McHale – and Chevy Chase, to a lesser extent – but there have been plenty of episodes that made Abed, Troy, even Dean Pelton, the focus. The same cannot be said of Shirley, Britta or Annie. For a show that is normally fairly progressive, turning the women of the show into addendums smacks of that *other* Thursday night sitcom, which consistently wins in the ratings despite offensive jokes, tired stereotypes, and female characters with all the depth and breadth of a dusting of snow on a parking lot in late April.
Second, we three were frustrated by the ways in which the finale ignored established character traits and plot points. For instance, Annie’s tearful outburst in “Basic Story” is entirely out of line with instances where Annie cried previously.
Likewise, Britta’s quick agreement to have sex with Jeff, to ‘christen’ the new study room table, seemed bizarre given the multiple times she’s said sex with Jeff is unenjoyable, awkward, and ultimately undesirable. And nearly all of those instances took place under Dan Harmon’s guidance, so it’s not simply a matter of hand waving all of Britta’s objections aside as part of the Gas Leak Year.
Furthermore, several of Jeff’s comments seemed out of character. In “Basic Story,” he tells Annie he doesn’t love Greendale; he tolerates it. He adds that he loves only himself and Scotch, which not only contradicts his actions in “RePilot,” but also his Winger Speech at the end of “Introduction to Finality,” *and* his return for the climax of “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” (Plus, the audience has seen inside his heart in “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts”: The only things in there are Scotch, boobs, and Annie.)
Then, his insistence through the first two acts of “Basic Sandwich” that Greendale isn’t worth saving – that it’s time to let it go – flies in the face not only of three seasons worth of his actions indicating otherwise, but his behavior in that very episode: If he didn’t believe for a moment that Greendale was worth saving, he would have left. Instead, he sticks around not only for the explanation of Russell Borchert’s history, but also for the hunt for the missing computer labs.
At this point, we know that perhaps the only reliable narrator on the show was Pierce – and perhaps Vicki. So, it’s not unusual for Jeff’s actions and his words to be in direct conflict. What is unusual for Jeff to give up on Greendale so quickly and dismiss it’s importance in his life. That was the Jeff of Season One, prior to “Comparative Religion.” Jeff Winger, circa “Investigative Journalism” forward, may not be fond of Greendale or what he feels its done to his life, but he understands that he’s benefitted from attending the school. It is, perhaps, the only lesson he’s ever learned.
Likewise, his comment in “Basic Story” that Britta and Troy’s short-lived romance was ‘boring’ is strange and abrupt.
While Troy and Britta may have dated during the Gas Leak Year, the seeds of their relationship go back to Season One’s “Interpretative Dance,” or at least to a certain moment in Season Two’s “Basic Rocket Science.”
Granted, Season Four may not have handled Britta and Troy the way Harmon would’ve liked, but that pairing wasn’t pulled from thin air.
Finally – and, in the interest of full disclosure, this is probably because Kerry, Becca, and I have always considered ourselves Jeff/Annie shippers – we were annoyed by the treatment of those character’s friendship, and by the insinuation of an Annie/Britta/Jeff triangle, which reduces the two women to little more than plot points who bleat tired accusations at each other.
Sure, there was a point – probably early that first summer, after the Tranny Dance (see “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited”) – when many Jeff/Annie shippers would’ve been happy to see these two become End Game: They fall in love, follow a pretty standard romantic-comedy trajectory, and the show ends with them together. Probably not married, and certainly not with kids, but with a stable enough foundation that they would have a mostly content future. But those hopes rather quickly deteriorated under the weight of two factors: Spoilers for the Season Two premiere, and the difficulty of articulating why Britta deserved better than Jeff, but he’d still be a perfect choice for Annie.
Many of the original Jeff/Annie shippers liked Britta as much as any of the other characters. (Largely because Harmon intentionally made her the butt of jokes designed specifically to garner her sympathy.) Those folks had to work to find a point where Jeff would have changed enough to be good for Annie without changing all the traits that made him unsuitable for Britta.
But the “Basic Story”/”Basic Sandwich” arc gives us a Jeff/Britta pairing that feels unearned (even after Jeff’s reactions in “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”), followed up by the insertion of Annie as an unwanted antagonist. Annie’s reaction to Jeff’s announcement that he and Britta are getting married is too broad and unspecific, especially given her reactions to similar revelations during “Anthropology 101” and “Paradigms of Human Memory,” not to mention her exasperation when Jeff and Britta almost married each other during “Urban Matrimony.” And as sweet as the moment between Annie and Abed in the bowels of Greendale’s hidden computer department was, the escape scene at the top of the third act, which could be read as a Jeff/Annie affirmation, felt equally unearned: We no longer need a big declaration of love, but moments like these are like patronizing pats on the head.
For a show that prides itself on remarkable plot continuity, the finale felt sloppy. The lack of independent plot for the women of Greendale isn’t enough anymore, despite Community never having insisted they be little more than screeching, sexless mothers, girlfriends, and friends/sisters. And if Harmon & Co. aren’t going to treat the hearts of their characters with even a modicum of respect, then perhaps the show should stick to Dan’s Season One mandate to get the romance out of the way and not put anyone together.
I think, in the end, we were disappointed that the parts were greater than the whole. This isn’t an issue of Community having overstayed its welcome, unlike some shows whose novelty has worn off and are now nearly satire of what they once were. Hell, Community is like that person who comes to your house party, sitting quietly in the corner, and every time you look over, they’re always having fun with someone, but they’re not the life of the party. That status, as a sort of afterthought, or the lack of ratings doesn’t make the show any less funny, less quotable, or less relevant. Even in their off moments, the cast is still top-notch and better than 90 percent of what you’ll see on network or cable TV.
But even with the captain back on the bridge, the show feels directionless, the course arbitrary and meandering. Couple that with the flippancy with which our beloved characters are treated – the lack of care for their inner life and the disregard for the consequences of their actions – and it’s tough not to feel that words aren’t being put into the mouths of the Greendale Five because of hurt feelings and thwarted ambitions.
And if TV has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes no king is better than a mad one.