“School’s out, bitches!” Another season, another season/series finale. Thus is life for Community, which ended each of its five seasons on NBC unsure of its fate—a trend that hasn’t abated since it migrated to the overlooked environs of Yahoo for its sixth season. At press time, there’s been no word on whether or not it’s coming back for a seventh season (or if we’ll finally get that movie—more on that later).
With a not-so-surprising return of a former cast member, several goodbyes, and an ending set to a stereotypical indie folk song, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” the sixth season finale, which went live on Yahoo Screen today, felt like the most series finale-ish of all of Community's multi-purpose season enders.
Like most of Season 6’s episodes, “Emotional Consequences” was reminiscent of past episodes, in both plot and themes. Structurally, it was very much like “Remedial Chaos Theory,” one of Community’s best episodes—but not as brilliant. And, thematically, it retread some ground covered by “Basic Sandwich,” last season’s finale, which explored the anxiety caused by endings and the uncertainty of the future, only this time the characters’ reactions were flipped.
“We pulled off another year, and we’re still standing,” the Dean triumphantly exclaims over the
PA system during the episode’s opening moments. According to a list he rattles off, everyone from the health inspector to an exterminator (and even his dad) was betting against the school making it through another year. Greendale is basically the little Community college that could.
The Dean’s list definitely feels like a euphemism for NBC, ratings, and general haters.
Reaching the end of another year is definitely worth celebrating given the odds of Community even reaching this sixth season. And yet, it still feels slightly unearned since, unlike in past seasons, the school’s survival wasn’t threatened by multiple high-concept parodies that shut down normal operations, or what goes for normal at Greendale, and threw the campus into chaos.
There’s a palpable sadness, however, as the camera invites us to reminisce about all the good times we’ve had at Greendale, panning through the community college’s now-empty halls. Eventually, we arrive in the study room, where Frankie (Paget Brewster) informs the Save Greendale Committee that it has to change its name because it accomplished its mission and Greendale has been saved. We’ve been here before, right? Except this time around, saving Greendale hasn’t led to the school’s demise.
To celebrate their accomplishments, they decide to head to Britta’s bar for some heavy drinking. Well, everyone except for Elroy (Keith David), who bids his new friend adieu. He’s heading to California for a job at LinkedIn to figure out why people don’t use LinkedIn, and for a newly-divorced lady friend from high school. Will Elroy come back? Not even Elroy’s sure. “I think so…Probably…Maybe,” Elroy says as he perfectly sums up both the character’s and the show’s uncertain fate. At first, the group mocks Elroy’s response, but it eventually turns into a sad, pitch-perfect refrain.
The ending of the school year and Elroy’s departure moves the characters to start thinking about what comes next, or as Abed calls it, Season 7. Acknowledging the unevenness of this season, Abed doubts there will be a seventh season because there are very few shows that peaked after season six while haemorrhaging characters. A return from Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) might help them get their mojo back, but he doesn’t think it’ll significantly up their chances. This leads us into the first pitch for Season 7, which explains the study group’s fascinating formula, and features the return of Yvette Nicole Brown. Like many of this season's jokes, Community has already made this one before—to much greater effect.
From there, each character pitches their ideal version of Season 7, with each scenario introduced by an abridged version of the opening credits. The Dean’s pitch, which features Shirley and Elroy bonding over religion and street wisdom, is racist. Chang’s is weird, because it’s Chang. Britta imagines herself being taken seriously. And Frankie’s is the least fully formed, highlighting her newness to the group.
The strongest Community episodes are the ones where the self-referential and gratuitously meta humor is strung together by an emotional thread focusing on what these wacky friendships mean to each person, and that’s what we get here.
Things gets serious and rather sad once Annie announces she’s moving to Washington D.C. for a summer internship with the FBI, and Abed reveals he’s headed to Los Angeles for a PA job on a Fox show set in a video game studio that’s 30 Rock meets The IT Crowd meets Abed. Like Elroy, neither is sure if they’ll return, which sends Jeff’s mind into a tailspin as his biggest fear seems to become a reality. Abed and Annie’s youthful excitement reminds Jeff that he’s no spring chicken. Jeff, who was initially opposed to imagining what next year would look like, becomes anxious. Earlier this season in “Introduction to Recycled Cinema,” Jeff, in a rare moment of vulnerability, said to Abed: “Every single one of you is going to leave here except for me.” Once Annie and Abed break their news, Jeff gets on board with the pitching and all of his pitches reveal his anxiety over being left behind.
Jeff's insecurity has been the subject of several of this season’s episodes, but it’s handled more effectively here because it doesn’t feel like it came out of nowhere. It’s weird for the finale of an ensemble show such as Community to mainly concern itself with Jeff’s emotional growth, but it works. The last time Community dealt with the anxiety induced by endings and the uncertain future, Jeff was the one who was advocating for everyone to go with the flow and accept that things are changing, while Abed and Annie were frantically looking for ways to evade the story’s cadence. In “Emotional Consequences,” the roles are reversed and we find Abed teasing Jeff for filtering his emotions through this meta lens and fighting for a way to hang onto what the group has now. He pitches that everyone return to Greendale next year as teachers, but that quickly falls through.
As he mournfully looks at the study room, Jeff imagines starting a family with Annie. We know this isn’t what he really wants. His subconscious knows this isn’t what he wants, but this brief sojourn to fantasy land isn’t too surprising given that in “Basic Sandwich,” he jumped into a misguided relationship with Britta when it looked like things were ending.
Of course, it’s Annie who helps Jeff make peace with being older. One fan service-y unauthorized series finale kiss later and Jeff’s A-ok and ready to accept change. Community has always played it fast and loose with Jeff’s couplings, so who knows what we’re to make of that kiss. As Lord Huron’s quintessentially indie “Ends of the Earth” plays, we see Jeff drop Abed and Annie off at the airport. There are no words spoken because none are required; Jeff's double hugging of Abed tells us all we need to know about what their friendship has meant to Jeff. The episode ends with Jeff and the remaining study group members enjoying more drinks at Britta’s bar.
“Emotional Consequences” invites Jeff, and more importantly the audience, to accept and embrace the uncertainty of the future. Whether or not Community returns next year is out of both their and our hands, and really isn’t important. What’s important is that the characters and we have had this time together. The palpable anxiety of “Basic Story” and “Basic Sandwich” has been replaced with a sense of calm that’s rather unusual for Community, yet feels oh so right. If this is what Community’s brand of closure looks like, I’ll take it.
Community’s sixth season has been a mixed bag. At times, it felt like the most uneven of the Dan Harmon-led seasons. There were great episodes like “Queer Studies and Advance Waxing” and “Modern Espionage.” But there were also Britta-lite ones, e.g. “Intro to Recycled Cinema.” Harmon has never made a self-referential joke he didn’t like, and so the show repeatedly drew attention to how much of the original cast it had lost, which only reminded us just how important the diversity of the study group was in making the show so damn lovable.
If Community does return, it could easily reintegrate Annie and Abed back into the group by mimicking what it did in the fifth season premiere. Whatever the future looks like, we shouldn't worry. Remember, these characters are like the Traveling Wilburys of pain, prepared for any insane adventure life throws their way.