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Why Community’s Third Season Was Its Best

Community‘s third season was both its most inconsistent and finest season yet. I outright disliked the first episode (“Biology 101) and felt several other episodes were markedly weak. However, when season three struck the right notes, it hit higher heights than the first two years of the show’s existence ever managed. This feature is a tribute to those few episodes. It’s timely too, as Community just won Best Comedy at the 2nd Annual Critic’s Choice TV Awards.

The absolute best episode of the show’s history came this season: “Remedial Chaos Theory.” What makes episodes like this stand out from the typical episode is when Community blended intimate character development with its trademark meta comedy. “Remedial Chaos Theory” was one of the show’s many high-concept episodes, and one of the most complex at that. However, the ingenuity of the episode goes far deeper when you look at how the season progressed after it. All plot threads led back to this episode. Season three’s romance subplots—the budding romances between Troy and Britta and Jeff and Annie—started to solidify and become established as foreshadowed possibilities. Likewise, the multiple timelines reappeared again later on, and contributed to “Virtual Systems Analysis,” an episode that significantly furthered Abed’s character development.

That’s the main difference in Community in season three—that there was a much greater focus on establishing a set of deep characters. In season one, the show was finding its feet and discovering what made it funny. There were less high-concept episodes and the characters changed wildly. Remember when Troy was a reluctant quarterback? Me neither. His character has changed so much in the last three seasons that he may as well be a different guy. In season two, the show leant into finding a distinctive comedic style, and we saw plenty of high-concept episodes that had very little to do with furthering the overarching plot of the show. Even in episodes that did, it was merely an afterthought. 

“Paradigms Of Human Memory,” for example, had a fantastic gimmick, but only devoted 20 seconds to character development. We found out Britta and Jeff had been sleeping together and then tied the relationship up with barely enough time to process the information. Season three dragged these sorts of exchanges out in a more realistic way. Troy and Britta didn’t just jump into bed with each other right away. In fact, they spend the entire season making doe-eyes at each other and making the awkward impending-relationship interactions that occur in the real world. It’s just one example of how the characters became more grounded after season two.

That’s not to say the earlier seasons weren’t good, because they were excellent. However, season three saw Community establish its own identity and a platform for longevity exactly when it was needed most. The impending threat of cancelation forced the show to change in an incredibly obvious way after its mid-season break. It became a little broader in places, experimenting with visual gags that largely fell flat. But the show never felt diluted, thanks to the foundations set for greater character moments before the season’s halfway mark. Plus, as “Digital Estate Planning” showed, the show is still capable of a silly high-concept episode every now and then. 

But what of the future of the show? It seems incredibly sad that NBC will let the show continue without Dan Harmon—the creative vision, drive and mind behind the entire feel and direction of the show. The guys that Community has been left with are competent enough, but it seems hollow to expect them to recreate the same unique spark that Harmon’s ideas blossomed from. I would rather the show changed and failed than tried to emulate the exact same feel as Harmon-era Community, for it would be better to have a definitive “cutting point” where fans can say the real Community existed as opposed to it petering out with a desperate whimper. Some even say firing Harmon was a conspiracy, designed by industry bigwigs to bring about the death of the show. Whatever the case, it’s unfortunate because the third season of Community is the finest yet, and it was going to be difficult to beat even with the talents of Dan Harmon.

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