Entertainment

04.17.14

‘Community’ Season Finale: Greendale Stares into the Abyss, Again

When it seems like it’s the end for a show, there's a lot of crap that gets flung at the screen. Community, forever stuck in television limbo, knows that.

There’s a moment in Community’s season finale when Jeff (Joel McHale) tries to convince his study group friends that everything is over and it’s time to move on. He says that he and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) are getting married.

“What does this look like?!” says Dean Pelton (Jim Rash), who, along with Annie (Alison Brie), is flabbergasted. “An hour-long episode of The Office?! There’s pick axing and electric zapping!”

As is the norm, NBC has yet to renew or cancel the cult show Community at the end of the season. So here we have a finale that must give closure to season-long arcs, leave plot lines open should there be a next season, and end everything neatly if this really is the last episode ever. That’s a lot of pressure on our friends at Greendale, stuck, seemingly forever, in television limbo.

In spite of some cheesy plot contrivances towards the end of the episode, “Basic Sandwich” is a decent episode that is concerned with, of all things, endings and the anxiety they create. (By now, if you don’t get that Community loves being meta, you should stop reading now.) Jeff and Britta’s decision to get married in “Basic Sandwich” is really born from a fear of endings. Rather than fight to stop their time at Greendale Community College from coming to a close, they’ve chosen to accept this news and attempt to exercise some control over what happens next. Leave it to Abed, our self-aware genius, to explain this to a heartbroken Annie:

“Look, I don’t know people, but I know TV. When characters feel like the show they’re on is ending, their instinct is to spin-off into something safer. In Jeff and Britta’s case something that would last six episodes and would have a lot of bickering about tweezers and gluten, starring them and an equally waspy brunette couple.”

Let’s rewind a bit. The gang created a “Save Greendale Committee” which did save Greendale, but essentially ended their own story. No longer would they have crazy adventures like campus-wide paintball and lava matches. Knowing that the college was worth something, the ever-inebriated school board representatives Carl and Richie (played by the hilarious Jeremy Scott and Brady Novak), sold Greendale to Subway. The mission of the Save Greendale Committee, now spearheaded by Abed, Dean Pelton, and Annie, changed to focus on turning the school back into the adventure-enabling place it once was. You know what that means: treasure hunt.

“Look, I don’t know people, but I know TV. When characters feel like the show they’re on is ending, their instinct is to spin-off into something safer.”

And so they go on the hunt for computer genius, anti-deodorant activist, millionaire and ex-dean Russell Borchert’s (Chris Elliot) hidden computer lab, rumoured to hold a fortune. Using this money the study group would then buy Greendale’s property back from the city before the deal with Subway closed. (One would think that a treasure hunt would be a great opportunity for Abed to break out his amazing Nicolas Cage impression in homage to the National Treasure film series, but alas, this does not happen.)

At the first sign of trouble, Jeff and Britta throw the white flag. The couple’s engagement isn’t sincere—it’s supposed to be the kind of crap that gets flung at the screen when it looks as though this is the end.

“It’s okay if we all fail,” Britta annoyingly says as she and Jeff hold hands and stare quasi-lovingly into each other’s eyes. But really, they’re just having trouble opening a door. As soon as Abed and Annie gain access to Borchert’s lab, Jeff and Britta quickly stop holding hands. They both want to remain at Greendale. Moreover, once Greendale is saved, they quickly call of their engagement further revealing its arbitrariness.

Community has always been a sitcom about sitcoms, and thus it seems natural for it to tackle the subject of endings. Television series, especially sitcoms, are inherently ending adverse. They delay endings for as long as possible. In this sense “Basic Sandwich,” and the first-part of the season finale “Basic Story,” explore this issue from a character perspective. Just as the viewers aren’t ready for the story to end, neither are the characters.

The finale was a hilarious half-hour of television and is indicative of the strong work that’s been done all season long. This hasn’t been easy, especially after a lackluster fourth season. It’s been a joy having John Oliver as Professor Duncan and Jonathan Banks as Professor Hickey. While these two could never fully replace the gigantic holes left by Chevy Chase and Donald Glover, they made their absence a lot more bearable.

Dan Harmon’s decision to focus on Greendale Community College this season grounded the show. Moreover, the last ditch effort to save Greendale in these final episodes parallels the ending to the third season, which was concerned with saving Dean Pelton, who is ostensibly the heart and soul of the community college.

As Pelton tells an angry school board member who says Greendale is still bankrupt, unmarketable, and forever on the city’s chopping block: “Well around here, we call that Wednesday!’