‘Community’ Review: “Advanced Introduction to Finality”
It’s the ‘Community‘ season (series?) finale, which means it’s time to say goodbye to Jeff for now as he finally achieves his goal of becoming a lawyer again.
“Introduction to Finality” works as both a season and series finale in a rather safe way — Jeff is graduating, but he makes sure to point out that he’ll stop back by to see the study group from time to time since he’s taking a job working for a smaller firm. But let’s rewind: Yes, Jeff is graduating, so Annie and the Dean are planning a graduation ceremony on par with a wedding to celebrate his farewell. Jeff decides to have a little fun with the group and Abed by bringing back the six-sided die to determine who will supply soda, which leads the darkest timeline to integrate with the regular one.
It’s a fairly obvious conceit: Jeff is engaged in an internal war for his own conscience, with Evil Jeff battling to bring him back to the dark side, or back to who he was when this show first started. Over the course of four seasons and with the departure of Dan Harmon shaking things up, I’m not entirely sure that this ending feels as earned as it could. Perhaps this is largely due to the shorter episode order of season four — nothing has felt or feels quite as fleshed out as it could have been. Chang’s arc, for instance, felt rushed; and instead of seeing him follow through on his bizarre evil plans, he’s simply given an out by Abed to become one of the group and get a clean slate, just like Jeff received when he started at Greendale.
That’s a good example of how the shorter episode order works for the show, but the way it works against it is evident in “Introduction to Finality” because throughout this season Jeff has gone from taking baby steps to taking full-on strides to becoming a better person. Rather than allow him a little breathing room as a character to move more naturally toward this conclusion, we’ve watched him ushered through the motions by reuniting with his father and spending an entire day with Pierce. Not to say that Jeff becoming a good person isn’t believable within this time frame — the rush job has just been incredibly evident during this brisk season (and the length of the season also made the episodes that weren’t so great stick out that much more).
While the timeline crossover is a neat idea, the aesthetics feel dated and campy, but even that could be overlooked for the central notion that Jeff is terrified of graduating and worries that the only way he can survive as a lawyer is to give himself back over to being a jerk, which means shunning his Greendale life and friends (what his friends fear the most). And while most of this works on a very fundamental level in keeping with the show’s history of high concepts, it crumbles during the climax when Abed turns to Jeff and explains that this is all inside Jeff’s mind — as if we didn’t know that, and as if Jeff couldn’t possibly figure that out. That would work just fine as a throwaway line or two to clue Jeff in to what we already know, but then Abed has to elaborate even further about what this internal war means to Jeff — as if we didn’t know that, either.
One of the problems the show has had this season is that when it attempts a high concept episode, it’s not treating its audience as intellectual equals, and instead feels the need to both show and tell. It knocks the integrity of ‘Community’ down a few pegs and makes it feel more generic and more safe, and a big reason why we all watched and loved the show in the first place is that it never felt like either of those things. It’s a show that embraces the history of sitcoms by taking familiar tropes and turning them around in clever ways — it acknowledges the mold without ever trying to fit inside of it.
But the problems that permeate tonight’s finale are the same problems that have been present through most of this season, so what was enjoyable? Troy, as usual, is wonderful thanks to Donald Glover’s fantastic line delivery. Alison Brie shines as both good and evil Annie, and is clearly having more fun than someone like Chevy Chase, who may have been only giving extra effort in tonight’s outing since it was his last (and they found a simple way to write him out with the same minimal effort he’s given them this season). There’s also great bit of fan service during Jeff’s graduation with “six seasons and a movie” written on the chalkboard, and even Leonard makes a tiny (though sadly wordless) appearance.
As of this writing, NBC has officially renewed ‘Parks and Recreation’ and canceled ‘Whitney,’ ‘Up All Night’ (obviously), ‘Guys with Kids,’ and ’1600 Penn.’ Word has it that we’ll know what to expect from the 2013-2014 lineup by Sunday, so expect to hear news of ‘Community’s fate sometime between now and then, as it largely depends on how many people tuned in tonight’s finale. I’m feeling confident that the show will be renewed for at least another 13 episodes given that NBC dropped four sitcoms and needs something to keep Thursday nights afloat next fall — and it would be mighty daring to rely on three new sitcoms in that time block.
Industry talk aside, I genuinely hope ‘Community’ is renewed. I’d like to see these writers continue to grow and show us what else they’re capable of with a little more breathing room.