Lets talk about Community’s propensity for series finales. While it’s true that the continually reincarnated Futurama might actually have more finales if you factor in episodes designed to serve as finales in the event of premature cancellation…well than you’d actually have a tie at this point. Both shows have a whopping four potential series finales (all two-part episodes are counted as one in this estimation, because obviously they are). The difference is that Futurama has had nine seasons to Community’s six. Harmon certainly wins as far as density goes. If you begrudgingly counted the gas leak year finale as well, he’d win outright, but we won’t do that. Community has always been on the verge of cancellation, from season two on. Consequently episode after episode was designated as a potential finale. The last episode of season six, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” is another last episode, with all the sentimentality that entails.
Community’s first ever series finale was the last episode of the second season. The show wasn’t cancelled, but renewal was up in the air. The show was, potentially, sent off with a two-part paintball episode. The first half was “A Fistful of Paintballs” and was followed by “For a Few Paintballs More”, which abandoned the Western motif for a Star Wars themed finale. The gang saves the school, serving as a nice final moment. Pierce left the group, revealing for the first time how long he’d been at the school. All in all it’s an exciting send-off, probably the third best finale the show’s had. Not that there’s a bad finale to be found, really, just if I was hypothetically to rank them two of the four would go above this one. Sorry paintball, I really like you, it’s not personal.
The show’s best finale was season three. “Introduction to Finality” was, for a while, Dan Harmon’s last episode of Community. It was another bubble episode, one not quite sure if it was the final episode. There’s even a tag with Leonard giving the show a slightly hidden goodbye. The episode was the culmination of a lot of stuff going on that season. Star Burns faking his death, Abed’s emotional troubles and Evil Abed, some stuff with Jeff’s Dad, Troy and the air conditioning repair school, and Pierce and Shirley’s sandwich shop. It was more of an emotional climax to a season that had already had an episode with the gang orchestrating an elaborate heist to save the school from the megalomaniacal Chang who had straight-up kidnapped and replaced the Dean. It’s hard to follow that without seeming like anticlimax, and focusing just on the characters was a really good choice. The episode’s great last montage nicely deals with several major character arcs in a really satisfying way. This all coupled with Dan Harmon’s firing makes this episode feel like more of a finale than any of the others, in a really good way. It’s the send-off the show deserves.
“Basic Sandwich” might be the least satisfying of the show’s finales. The second part of a two-episode finale that started with “Basic Story.” The sandwich in the title is a reference to Subway, who at this point had bought the school. These last two episodes involved buried treasure and robots and missing millionaires. It’s good high stakes stuff, but the emotional notes it tried to strike fell really short with the truncated cast. Not only that but the big emotional beat, Jeff looking at all the group and remembering something about why he cares for them, sees Shirley in a completely different room not taking part. But I said before that all these episodes are good, and where this finale shines is in its anger and weirdness. The weirdness comes when a recurring character is revealed to maybe be capable of reading minds. This was a true finale. The show had been cancelled, and this allowed Dan Harmon to fire some angry shots at NBC. The absolute highlight is Abed turning to camera and explaining that if they don’t return next year the canonical explanation will be a meteor strike. That single joke is even better with context, in a scene where Annie apologizes to Abed that they couldn’t celebrate any calendar events this year (due to NBC’s vague scheduling). Then there’s the ending tag, a giant middle finger with NBC’s logo plastered on it. It’s a series of guest stars in fake NBC ads for terrible new TV shows the studio is trying to launch. Much is made of the studio’s tendency to delay shows airing and cancelling things at random. It’s truly the action of a Dan Harmon who knew he wasn’t coming back and had some things to get off his chest.
Which brings us to the season six finale and the show’s fourth (countable) series finale. The episode is a quiet and contemplative one with a gimmick slightly reminiscent of “Remedial Chaos Theory.” The episode starts with Elroy leaving, saying he’ll “maybe be back.” As much as I liked Elroy’s addition to the show he was never the member of the group that Hickey was, and in the end his presence wasn’t really missed. This episode wouldn’t have worked as well with a character who had stayed so relatively unfamiliar with the rest of the group present. It was well handled, and immediately established the slightly wistful melancholy tone of this show. This episode in the end, as much as it’s about satisfying one really major character arc, is about what a return to Community would look like at this point. With so many missing faces and so few reasons to get the group together a seventh season would be a weird beast. Obviously the best variation would be one that reunited the original cast to some degree. Maybe the shorter time commitment of TV movie special thing would allow for that, but it seems likely the show would have to hobble around without its knees some more.
So in order to address this, Abed basically gets the group to sit around at Britta’s bar and each pitch their version of the show, complete with truncated opening sequences. It’s the sort of concept I’m honestly surprised took the show this long to try out. Getting each member of the group’s perspective on the group dynamics, TV, and each other is legitimately funny and clever. This is a more poignant episode than it is funny though, however the narrative device ports over nicely to the tone. Plus Chang’s is a Rick and Morty reference sort of. The episode’s big reveals are Annie and Abed. Annie has gotten an internship at the FBI over the summer, and seems to be moving on with her life. Abed is going to L.A. to work on the set of a show he describes as “30 Rock meets The IT Crowd.” The group is parting ways, done with Greendale, only “maybe” coming back and this makes Jeff spiral a bit. We’ve gotten glimpses of Jeff’s fears regarding his stagnant future, and this episode melds that nicely with the news of the changes summer is bringing. It’s also a nice chance to get more and more scenes that make Jeff’s slow transformation into Pierce pretty obvious.
Several of Jeff’s pitches look more like Pierce’s sexually charged Halloween story than anything Jeff’s done before. It’s kind of a nice character development, one that the show played a lot of lip service to earlier but seems to just now be showing evidence of it. Mainly though this is an episode about Jeff and Annie, the will-they-won’t they tension that wouldn’t die. Of all the show’s character dynamics this was the most stubborn, one that never seemed to change, even after episodes that seemed specifically designed around changing it.
This first becomes apparent when Jeff reacts to the news that Annie is leaving for the summer. He suddenly whole-heartedly joins the pitching game, desperate to convince the group a new season would work. Then he pitches a show that sees him and Annie married. This one he doesn’t narrate aloud though. They’re living together in his pitch, with a kid. Jeff’s mental version of Annie asks him if this is what he really wants. “Sure, although I’d be fine with a dog.” Then she asks him if he has any idea what she wants. Jeff’s reaction speaks damning volumes, all the more damning for its origins in Jeff’s subconscious. Then the two talk in real life. It’s nice to see the show finally try putting this to bed, and the fact that it’s effectively sad and sweet makes it that much better.
Then the show slid into the best possible ending tag for a series finale. The tag is a fake ad for a Community board game complete with advertising narrator. The goal of the game seems to be establishing what level of reality the game is happening on. The characters get depressed when they realize they only exist in a commercial, as the the narrator, Dan Harmon himself, starts ranting long and passionately. Then the episode ends. Then the sixth season ends with the hopeful #andamovie. So maybe the show will come back. Or maybe this is the last episode ever.