How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Dan Harmon and Love ‘Community’ Season 4
Dan Harmon isn’t going to be the driving force behind ‘Community’ anymore. It’s weird, and bizarre to say, but I honestly can’t tell if I’m more surprised that Sony and NBC chose to go this route, or that we’re getting new episodes of ‘Community’ at all this fall. But while many are freaking out that Harmon is gone, we're trying to stay calm and stay excited about a fourth season of 'Community.'
For an old soul such as myself, I’ve perhaps taken too much comfort in the days since cancellations of ‘Arrested Development' and ‘Firefly.’ It would seem that no longer do we endure such grievous losses on the TV landscape, that if fans make themselves heard loudly enough, small, if bittersweet blessings are bestowed upon us in the form of truncated seasons and new networks. ‘Fringe’ was afforded a full fourth season, and now an additional 13 to wrap things up, in spite of near-abysmal ratings on FOX, the very network that killed the above examples. ‘Arrested Development’ finally got revived on a new network, near of ten years later. Even the similarly cult ‘Cougar Town’ found new life and a new home for next season.
So too did NBC at least grant ‘Community,’ whose quality has taken an arguable dip this season, an open-ended additional thirteen episodes to fight for its right to stay on television. If we’re being honest with ourselves about the business, and the popularity of the show, can we really ask for anything more? Isn’t it better to end on one’s own terms with dignity, than to suddenly wake up without a job or an end to the story?
It’s a funny thing, to write about the ins and outs of this business, to make the transition from stories that come out of a magical box in one’s living room to people, press, schedules and show-runners. To cross that threshold where one realizes that even boundless creativity is beholden to negotiations and contracts, that as amazing a direction as stories and characters could travel down, such decisions rest within the realm of practicality and sustainability.
‘Community’ first caught my attention with "Modern Warfare," as it did many of you I’m sure, from there drawing me into its wonderfully quirky and malleable world. It’s difficult to believe that such a small show with a simple premise can reinvent itself on a week to week basis as a kitchen-sink drama, a zombie apocalypse, a video game or an homage to ‘My Dinner with Andre,’ and yet with such an endless range of experimentation, it’s not difficult to see why the common TV viewer has trouble latching onto the series. We owe much of the brilliance to Dan Harmon, a show-runner who makes his voice heard, and his presence felt perhaps more-so than most behind the scenes of television, something not altogether unexpected when a fan-favorite series such as ‘Community’ flounders and the wizard needs to step out from behind the curtain to rally attention to his show.
So if Dan Harmon no longer runs the show, is ‘Community’ even ‘Community’ anymore? Should we be angry, or intrigued?
That's one way to get the aggression out.
Some time ago, I endured a great deal of heartbreak and frustration in my effort to find a career wrapped up in writing about this wonderful world of television, before coming to a realization I expect all eventually come to know about the way we work, and manage our dreams of moving up in the world. It’s not as simple as being brilliant, or laboring endlessly in expectation of a promotion. In fact, sometimes it seems that the better you become at your job, the less likely higher-ups are to move you away from it. I know. It’s frustrating to never reach the carrot for pulling the cart, but the fact remains that the people above you are trying to keep the machine oiled and functional. They’re trying to run a business, and they need to make sure that the pieces do their part, rather than worry how they feel. It’s impersonal. It’s inconsiderate. It’s life.
That’s why we shouldn’t find ourselves altogether surprised at the fate that’s befallen our beloved ‘Community,’ and Dan Harmon’s brilliant direction. As much as we should respect Dan Harmon for never compromising in his profoundly weird vision of television, he wasn’t working within the system. That system keeps dreck like ‘Two and a Half Men’ on the air for ten years, but we’d never see any glimmers of hope from the television landscape like ‘Community’ unless a network earned its money from the crappier shows that consumers sadly buy. Executives and money men are a different breed than you or I. They themselves may like, or even love the voice that shows like ‘Community’ and people like Dan Harmon have to offer, but the hard truth is that they weren’t profiting from them. And they had every right to make these calls.
Dan Harmon didn’t play by their rules, and to acknowledge the elephant in the room staring me down, he wasn’t careful with his words or his actions when conflict arose on the set. What happened with Chevy Chase was ugly, and it doesn’t matter who struck first, or who proved more difficult to work with. You don’t make personal problems a public spectacle. I love Dan Harmon, but I hate that he did that to the ‘Community’ fans, and I’m not even sure how to feel about his latest blog post on this whole mess.
No matter how many blog posts or editorials we may read criticizing Harmon’s management abilities, we’ll never know the conversations that took place behind closed doors, whether Dan Harmon wanted to acknowledge the concerns of NBC and Sony in his writing, or when the wheels started turning to oust Harmon from the gig without so much as a “how’s your mother?” It is the ugly, but truthful nature of the business. Perhaps I’m still in shock, or lost whatever human emotions I had in my centuries spent spinning on this Earth, but I’m not surprised Sony wanted to rid themselves of the hassle, if only for an additional 13 episodes. As for their lack of common courtesy in dismissing Harmon? When’s the last time you saw compassion or common decency in the corporate climate?
So yeah, pretty bleak, right? I can be that way, so let’s focus a bit on the positive. David Guarascio and Moses Port have signed on as executive producers and show-runners, and while those names mean almost nothing to me, their resume working on shows like fellow critically acclaimed underdogs ‘Happy Endings’ or ‘Aliens in America’ tell me that they understand the plight of ‘Community,’ and no writer worth his salt will want to completely upend Dan Harmon’s vision. ‘Community’ will still be quirky and weird, perhaps more manageably so, and the cast will be just as talented as they’ve always been.
It is an unspeakable tragedy that we may lose ‘Community’ after only thirteen more episodes, and a tremendous sadness that any involvement Dan Harmon maintains will be strictly surface-level. Still, I’m reminded of a great man who once told us “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over,’ and there’s great wisdom in between those muddled, sweat-soaked words. ‘Community’ lives. Dan Harmon lives, and will no doubt dazzle us elsewhere. As I recall, there was once a man kicked around by TV over the years, who went on to direct a slightly popular superhero film showing this summer. His name escapes me.
Do not despair, for there is a very real chance Guarascio and Port will bring things to ‘Community’ we never expected, contributing a verse to that ever-powerful play we’re told goes on. And in my TV-soaked stupor of mixing reality with cathode rays, I’m reminded of more poignant and bitterly hopeful closing words.
“It’s all about slim chances now, and a slim chance is better than none.”
Don't even get me started on you.