I stopped watching Community years ago. For many of you, that’s enough to question my bona fides and ability to comment on the revealed news that Yahoo!, informally recognized as Ask Jeeves’s hipper search engine cousin, has taken this problem child off of NBC’s hands and decided to produce the much agitated for #Six(th)Season(s)*. Regardless of where you stand on Community, or its endearingly enigmatic showrunner Dan Harmon, it’s a curious sight to behold that a show so incredibly devoid of any capitalistic stamp on our consumer-driven culture can somehow, like Lazarus, raise from the dead year after befuddling year.
Community was supposed to be DOA after season one. And season two. And season five. And everything in between. But it’s not.
Harmon, an evangelist of the Joseph Campbell school of storytelling, is nothing if not an honest storyteller, and his die hard fans (of which there are, if not legion, sufficient enough to continually resuscitate a network television show) have rewarded him and his efforts in a way that has me wondering: how many other storytellers can boast the same? Think about it: how many other modern television creators have the undying (much to NBC’s chagrin, I am sure) support of complete strangers? Arrested Development (and Mitch Hurwitz) may claim similar stats, sure (and the two masters of the medium are not only friends, but have also been the beneficiaries of an adoring public that goes so far as to coordinate wildly popular art shows in Los Angeles), and yes, there have been multiple campaigns (what’s up, Chuck?) over the years to keep unique shows with unique points of view on the air. But perhaps none have experienced the emotional tolls as Community has. No other show has asked so much from its viewers–not as an audience, but as human beings–than this unorthodox story of unorthodox heroes doing unorthodox things for no one’s amusement but their own.
Why do people keep putting up with Harmon and Community? Should I have ended that sentence with an exclamation point?
First, there was Chevy (and before that, there was also Chevy). Then came the infamous season 3 (or was it 4? see…I should not be writing this) “benching” by NBC…which produced one of the finest incarnations of Harmontown that ever was (and at which I, your fair, incompetent writer, was present for); there was Harmon’s benching–i.e., firing–more general disgruntledness, a giant think-piece / cautious homage to Harmon in Grantland; and finally, Harmon’s unlikely return to the show a year after being canned. Good God, I am tired just typing it all. Imagine how gassed I’d be if I watched it.
Cute story: About two years ago got into a heated debate about sitcoms with a show runner of some success (this may be the single douchey-est sentence I’ve ever written, so my apologies; I am nothing, if not a self-aware douche). Having come from the multi-camera world of 18 shares and live studio audiences, he assured me that Community “is not a comedy” and that “Harmon is finished…he’ll never work again!” He was literally salivating over the thought of seeing Dan Harmon go down in professinoal flames. And I was angry. I was angry on behalf of Harmon and every other television creator who has ever cared to tell an actual story, and tell it well, ratings be damned. I was upset because an arrogant hack thought he knew what the masses wanted more than actual storytellers, and what they wanted was slop. Pure, set-up, punchline, slop.
I did not fare well in this discussion. I was lectured and patronized, and summarily dismissed.
But here’s the good news. Community lives. And in some small corners of the universe, whether it’s Harmon’s tumblr, or Reddit, or tiny art galleries in the middle of Hollywood, it matters. It matters more than a million no-name shows that made a million times more than Community ever did for Sony or NBC. It matters because it’s one of the few modern stories that dares to treat audiences like thinking, emotive organisms. It matters because it–and the creative minds behind it–understand fundamental human dilemmas, and the need for human connection for all of us–especially those of us on the margins.
As a writer, I have learned more from a distance from Dan Harmon than just about any other storyteller. I have learned that I probably shouldn’t always be an ass, but I have also learned that it’s important to fight for (y)our creative instinct. It is important to tell our stories. It is important to go to bat for them when no one else will. It is important to be so petulant about them at times, so exacting and unrelenting, that people eventually give in and allow themselves the opportunity see the beauty of someone else’s singular vision.
Love him, hate him, or have absolutely no idea who he is or have any interest in finding out, but Dan Harmon is not finished. And neither are people like him who continue to believe that there is space at the table for them in this medium largely controlled by multi-billion dollar corporations (whoops–I mean people) that just want to sell you baby formula and adult diapers.
And, the more I think about it, maybe it’s time I started watching again. Then I might actually have something educated to say.