Community, NBC's critical darling and the unifying force behind one of the most rabid fanbases in the history of social media, had its season four finale Thursday. However, it may prove to be the series finale, as the fate of Dan Harmon's creation is yet to be decided.
Despite the extreme ardor of its fans, the show has never had success in the ratings. Time-slot shifts, streaming, and piracy have all been blamed for its poor performance, but the truth of the matter is that Community has always been a niche comedy that invests heavily in self-reference and inside jokes, making broad appeal virtually impossible. The final episode of season four celebrated this fact, attempting to rally the base with no regard for whether or not first-time viewers would be able to keep up.
The plot of “Advanced Introduction to Finality” centers around Jeff's (Joel McHale's) impending graduation. The study group's attempts to celebrate with him are sabotaged by Evil Jeff and Evil Annie (Alison Brie) from the darkest timeline. If you haven't seen almost every episode of the show, you're probably already lost. Community is hardly a serial, but this is the culmination of a running joke that they've been setting up since early season three. I think it was a bold move to end what might be their final season this way, especially without the the benefit of a “Previously, on Community ...” at the beginning of the episode. However, it was probably also the right move, since it would have been a hail Mary to try to attract new viewers at this point.
By giving devoted fans of the show an episode just for them, the people behind Community (now David Guarascio and Moses Port since Harmon's indelicate departure last year) gave themselves their best chance to get renewed. The show has actually been canceled before, but was resurrected in large part due to the outpouring of support from its fans. Facebook and twitter have been the primary platforms for “Human Beings” (Greendale Community College's mascot) to express their adoration, with the rallying cry of #sixseasonsandamovie. That hashtag is itself a reference to Abed's fanatical devotion to NBC's “The Cape,” a flop of a series which was canceled before it even finished its first season. Not only does Evil Abed give regular Abed a DVD of The Cape, which was retooled for cable in the darkest timeline, but the words “Six Seasons and a Movie” are clearly visible on the whiteboard during the final scene.
It's fairly obvious that Guarascio and Port are trying to ignite a similar fire to the one that saved the show two years ago, and it just might work. The Community community is notoriously active, constantly storming online polls and the like in an effort to prove that they exist. The fear, and it is a legitimate one, is that if they only watch it on Hulu or a similar service then they aren't counted in standard ratings. Social media gives these fans a way to let NBC know that there is money to be made off of Community, even if conventional television metrics don't show it.
I, for one, hope they succeed and that Community is renewed for a fifth season. I've said again, and again how great it is, and they did manage to correct many of the mistakes from the 4th season premiere. Even in an episode which was totally dominated by referential humor and callbacks, the funniest joke of the night came from a combination of supremely clever writing, and a flawless delivery from a well-developed character. As long as they keep bringing that every week, I'm 100% on board for #sixseasonsandamovie.