10
May
2013
Community: Season 4, Episode 13
Advanced Introduction to Finality
Jordan
When "Advanced Introduction to Finality" was conceived, when it was written, when it went through table readings, was filmed, edited, and released, it was known that this would very possibly be the final episode of Community ever. As of this writing, the show's fate remains unknown, and while there is a decent chance it will be renewed, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if it was cancelled. Make no mistake, this episode was conceived as a finale. And rather than tying up loose ends and giving us a chance to say goodbye, it spent the vast majority of its runtime pulling out old gags that were different levels of completely tired and overused. In its opening moments, and again in its fairly touching finale (I will always be a sucker for a Jeff Winger speech), it looks somewhat like a finale this show deserved. But everything in between, using the "it was all a dream" structure that lets the show go all the way up its own ass like its been threatening to all season, is a mess, possibly the worst this season has had to offer, and a slap in the face for any fan of the show who doesn't just watch it, waiting with bated breath for the next time paintball is a thing. Which don't worry, apparently it always will be.

Where last year's "Introduction to Finality" gave us an episode that worked as a series finale and as an argument that this story wasn't done yet, "Advanced Introduction to Finality" is, even moreso than tepid ratings, the best argument I can think of for just letting this show die. Season four has been a long string of attempts to recreate what the show used to do easily, and they have ranged from sort of getting it to completely wrongheaded in every way. This finale (which, in the writers defense, was not the last episode filmed) is the latter to a tee, a nadir for this show that almost makes me hope it is cancelled now, so I don't have to watch it struggle to regain its sense of whimsy and emotional depth for years. I have seen sitcoms go on too long (I'm looking at you, How I Met Your Mother) and it is an ugly sight. Sometimes, when a show has lost its center or lost its way, it's just time to let it go. I'm not saying, of course, that I wouldn't watch a theoretical season five of the show, or at least check in to see what it looks like. But I do think "Advanced Introduction to Finality" is yet another piece of evidence that the conductors on this train are going to take it right off the rails, if we can't all agree they did so with this episode.

The episode seems to be so afraid to engage with the legitimate emotions at its core that it is willing to let the show's reality crumble around its feet. You could argue, of course, that this is the point, that the episode mirrors Jeff's own inability to express his feelings, and I think there's a version of that episode that works, but it sure as hell isn't this one. This never feels like a fantasy sequence that is meant to illuminate anything about Jeff or get us into his head space in anything more than the most obvious way. It feels like the best way the writers could think of to bring back paintball, the darkest timeline, the Doppledeaner, and dictator Chang all in 22 minutes. Why? Because, well, people liked those things once, right? If this is "all a dream," that dream was a meaningless rehash of popular storylines from the show's past, not a psychologically relevant exploration of Jeff's feelings about graduation. And also, if it was all a dream, we can all agree it's weird Abed still had a B-plot, right? This just feels phoned in and lazy on every level.

The speech that ends the episode is also, if you think about it, more a template for every Jeff Winger speech ever than an actual, solid monologue. But it works because all I really wanted from this episode was to see Jeff tell everyone he loved them and they had changed him for the better. How no one thought that an "I'll miss you most of all," Wizard of Oz riff would work better than this mess (or, you know, just an episode without a gimmick where Jeff come to terms with his graduation), is beyond me, but its not my job to rewrite the episode. It's apparently just my job to try to explain why it was terrible.

This was the story the show started telling in the pilot, coming to a close. When this show began, it was about Jeff Winger, a snarky cynic forced to attend community college so he could get a B.A. and return to practicing law. "Advanced Introduction to Finality" shows us that he has accomplished that goal, but the journey has changed him, has made him a better, more caring person, someone with friends ("screw that, a family") who care about and support him, and someone who wants to help people because he knows its the right thing to do. A lot of series finales (and again, this very well may be one) like to add some call back jokes to remind people how far they've come, but this is less that than a half-hour long callback gag that adds some series finale beats. It feels like the show reminding people that there used to be a version of this show that was wildly inventive and funny and emotionally rewarding, but now, here is Chang in a pirate hat again, and paintball guns as some sort of dimensional warp weaponry. It's a whole lot of lipstick to throw on what is very apparently a dead horse (I hope you enjoyed your mixed metaphor for this week).

If you've loved this show for its pop culture gags and gimmickry all along, I expect you enjoyed this episode a lot more than I did. I could always chuckle at a clever reference, here, but what made Community transcendent (a word I would rarely apply to even the best sitcoms) was its emotional throughlines, the way it created and developed characters and kept challenging them, knowing they would often fail, but always willing them to succeed. It was a show about terrified people coming out of their shells and learning to give the world a second chance, just as they got one themselves. It was about a family who learned change is gradual, and only with great support can we become better people. It was one of the best sitcoms of the last decade, and it was because, at bottom, it was about the things that draw us together and how they can always triumph over the things that try to pull us apart. It was about optimism winning out over pessimism, and about the need to connect trumping loneliness. It was about finding people who make you want to be better, and then helping them to be better too. If you saw all of that in "Advanced Introduction to Finality," that's great. But to me, it felt like the show was slipping further than ever away from what it was at its best.

The show I loved is gone. If it is renewed (and we should know in the next few days, if not sooner), I will probably watch season five, but I will not write about it here. This is a show that knows only how to recycle its past, which turns it into a garish parody of the previous incarnation's ability to use the sitcom format to underline the theme that change happens gradually, over time. The show used to say that, yeah, Jeff is an asshole again this week, because kindness and compassion aren't lessons you learn once and then internalize. Now the show says Jeff is an asshole because wasn't it funny that one time he was an asshole? This all leaves me pretty ambivalent at the idea of this show's death. On the one hand, I think it has the best comedic ensemble on television right now, and it may still have some great, or even just pretty good, half hours left in it. On the other, the magic is gone, and the show I love is dead. Maybe it's better if I just bring flowers to the graveside every once in a while, and remember, instead of having this zombie version of it shambling around after me. Either way, the distance between me and this show will be hard to close. And being alienated by a show that was so beautifully about dispelling alienation, well, it hasn't been a great feeling. This was a terrible episode of television at the end of a pretty bad season (with a few exceptions). I hate to say it, but when it comes to Community season four, I think we may have been watching from the darkest timeline.

Grade: D+

Notes:

-"Catherine, do not even tell me you dropped that cake!" One last time, let's give Jim Rash a round of applause for being this season's MVP.

-"It's called the Troy-jan horse. Its bread, lettuce, ham, ham, bacon, chocolate..."

-"Damn it, Britta! Did you shoot yourself too? Every time..."

-"I've been counting bullets. One of us is out." "...Is it you?" "Yes." "Why would you tell me that?" "To sound intimidating..."

-Well, guys, this is probably it for me and Community. If the show is renewed, and you all feel strongly I should keep writing about it, let me know. Otherwise, this has been a weird, wonderful, moving, and enlightening four years. Thanks for reading.
Tags: Community
comments powered by Disqus