“Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” couldn’t have been a more fitting way for Community’s sixth season to end, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. I don’t mean it as an insult either—it was simply a natural conclusion to the direction the show had been headed, an implosion of the insularity that brought its meta-levels to whole new heights. Some of this was funny, a lot of it was not, and some of it was just plain irritating, but at least it felt very honest. Dan Harmon co-wrote this episode himself, and the show’s heart was really on its sleeve here. That it couldn’t have been a better episode while still communicating so directly was, however, probably the biggest disappointment of all.
Essentially, all illusions were gone here. In “Consequences” the entire cast, not just Abed, talks about what a “seventh season” of Community would entail after the final day of class ends. They’re more or less completely aware of the show’s nature at this point, as are we, and there’s no use being coy about this, as anything normal (like people simply imagining the future) is literally about the show itself. So with this, there are two halves of the episode, the half in which we imagine various characters’ fantasy versions of Season Seven, which tended to be pretty damn funny although a couple of the times the jokes misfired (Chang’s was just trying too hard, for instance) and the half in which these were motivated, i.e. “reality.”
It’s within the show’s reality that, as usual, the episode really stumbles. Jeff, as we learned before (whoa, consistency of character—that’s a pretty big thing for Season Six), is very insecure about everyone else leaving Greendale while he hangs behind. After he learns that Annie and even Abed are off for better things than Greendale, he has a bit of a breakdown. This leads to a super fan-service-y kiss between him and Annie (who I want to add hasn’t had a single episode devoted to her this season, which is a new record, as apparently they completely forgot who she is as a character at some point) and then a reconciliation as Jeff drops his younger friends off at the airport to continue on with their lives without him. Also Elroy leaves and no one really cares, which honestly sounds about right.
Unfortunately, Community is pretty inept at writing its reality at this point. It does a good job with joke versions of things, parodies, clever conceits, meta-realities. Not so much when it comes to genuine characters and emotions, and while some people may find Jeff’s small arc of acceptance moving, like so much of this season, it felt less like a legitimate feeling and more like the mechanical wheels of a plot device for the story. What caused this was that “Consequences” focused less on Jeff’s feelings about his friends leaving, and more on his feelings about himself and thus even more insularity. With this, Jeff felt as two-dimensional as he has all season.
None of which is to say that this wasn’t an intermittently entertaining half hour of television. Almost every time we popped into a new Season Seven, there was at least one really good joke, and having the characters sit around thinking these up was clever. There was also some real sadness here, too, in the form of accepting that things will never be the same again, which is something Community always does well, even if it then reverts to how things were before. It’s just that this sadness seemed to be coming from the writers more than from the characters. Jeff, Annie, Elroy, Abed, and the rest don’t have enough characterization anymore to legitimately pull off being sad in this way. While I was one of those viewers who wished Jeff and Annie would get together during the first few seasons, I long since stopped caring, because it doesn’t feel like either of them have enough legitimate feelings as a human for it to matter. They’re types, not people, so watching them leave doesn’t have the impact it should.
The meta-nature, ultimately, helped hide this fact, and I’m guessing it did a good enough job at this that, for a lot of the audience, it worked. But to me, it was an end to a season of Community that never really got on track because of how badly it lost control of its cast. Now it’s too late to pretend they’re characters, but at the very least the season ended on a legitimately funny and clever note that I don’t think I’ve seen any other show try. Like (seemingly) the cast and crew itself, I’m ready for Community as a TV show to be done. Dan Harmon’s reliance upon the cliched sitcom form to shape episodes and seasons, not to mention the irreparable wound of firing him and trashing three seasons of legitimate characterization along the way, has done a disservice to Community. That being said, I’d be up for a movie. I don’t think it would be the best thing ever, but even at its worst, Community has always tried new things and gone in strange and creative places, and that’s something I think we’d all like to see one more time. I’m up for #andamovie… but just barely.