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Community’s season finale (potentially series finale, as the show is still on the bubble for renewal) is a mess, like much of the season, failing to recapture the magic of two of the show’s past highlights, but still managing to tie up some loose ends in a fairly satisfying manner.
“Advanced Introduction to Finality” brings back the darkest timeline (from last season’s amazing “Remedial Chaos Theory,” which remains the high water mark for the series as a whole), and paintball (another fan favorite plot device), but does so in a way that lacks the heart and epic scale of each element’s original Community appearance. The season has been building to Jeff’s graduation, and the day has finally arrived - and with it, Jeff’s fear that he will backslide into his old unethical ways once he leaves Greendale. In order to insure that he will revert back to old Jeff, Evil Jeff and Annie from the darkest timeline arrive with a plan to alienate the study group and force Jeff to work with his old law partner. Luckily for Jeff (and the study group), it is all just Jeff’s dream (how convenient!) and he decides to stay on the straight and narrow, while staying in town so he can still see everybody.
When “Remedial Chaos Theory” originally aired and introduced us to the darkest timeline, it felt fresh and engaging. The whole episode felt seamless and well put together, because it never lost sight of one of the key tenets of writing: the characters are what matters. Feel free to create crazy story devices, like time travel or paintball wars, but always keep the conflict and growth of your characters at the heart of the story.
This trip back into the darkest timeline is the opposite. Why is Jeff suddenly so terrified that he is having a dream involving the darkest timeline (something that only Abed has ever referenced since “Remedial Chaos Theory”)? More importantly, why does Jeff’s dream include scenes that only involve Abed and Evil Abed? And if this is a dream, why not have a truly amazing paintball fight, rather than the anemic fight we are treated to?
Jeff has spent the entire season focused on graduating. I can certainly understand having the character be afraid of change, and afraid of getting back out there in the real world after being in the crazy world of Greendale for so long. But that fear needs to be the driving force behind his actions; we need to delve into his fear and understand where it is coming from. This episode, using the fan favorite devices paintball and the darkest timeline, is more about trying to make the fans happy by bringing out their favorite toys than trying to service the characters with the best story possible.
One of the hallmarks of Community, prior to this year, was that the show tried to tell interesting and fun stories with original plot devices and an unwavering commitment to exploring pop culture. But it never lost sight of the fact that the growth of the show’s characters needed to be central to every story. “Pillows and Blankets” was a great riff on the Civil War and pillow/blanket forts, but it was also a means to test the Abed-Troy friendship. “Advanced Introduction to Finality” is about throwing old story devices at the wall and seeing what sticks and less about Jeff leaving the group (the only time he was with the group was briefly at the top and close of the show).
While the episode on the whole misses the mark, it does take some time to tie up some loose ends. Pierce decides to graduate, which clears the way for a fifth season without Chevy Chase. Jeff’s decision to remain in town allows for him to return to Greendale as needed for next year - perhaps as a professor (he was an education major, after all). And we finally receive confirmation that there is still at least a semester left for the rest of the group.
All in all, the fourth season has been more miss than hit. Should Community be renewed for a fifth season, my hope would be that David Guarascio and Moses Port (or whomever is in charge if they are not) stop looking back to past episodes and try to craft the show into something new. If the show brings its focus back on the characters and not on trying to bring back old favorite themes, I think season five will be more successful than four.
-- It is nice to finally see the question of where (semester-wise) we were in the year. Yay for summer-winter semester!
-- Based on the varying amount of classes still needed by the characters (Annie seemed to need way more classes than Abed or Troy), will season five see everyone graduate, or only a few?
-- Working Jeff back into the show for a fifth season will be difficult unless he becomes a professor or opts to take a class. Plus, with Jeff gone, Dean Pelton loses some of his shtick - which is a travesty.
-- Before it was revealed to be a dream, I thought the show had finally managed to get rid of Chang by sending him to the darkest timeline. Bummer.
-- I like the return of Troy and Abed in the Morning, but would have liked the duo to check in on more than one alternate timeline.
-- Finally, it is nice to see “Six Seasons and a Movie” on the chalkboard. While I’m not sure I’m rooting for that now (unless Dan Harmon returns), I certainly would be willing to try one more season.