The day started strange enough. Since Dan Harmon’s odd “I’m going away for awhile” tweet, my timeline was awash in some kind of strange gloominess. I saw Community fans tweeting how glad they were that they became friends with other Community fans. They were thanking each other and themselves. I spotted one tweet “hoping they stay friends.” It had all of the hopeful but final aura of a high school graduation. Reality was going to set in. But, it felt oddly different than all of the other times I faced down the end of my favorite show.
I’m kind of glad for it really. Every season before ended with an ominous question mark. The fans were dutifully obsessed, twitterstorming and creatively campaigning so the show could live another day. We planned re-watches and retweeted enough Community spam to choke the NSA’s intake valves. We frequently flooded twitter with new trending hashtags unique to our little universe (#POPWHAT). But like any army in a mismatched war, we took heavy fire. We lost our leader, and then our network. We lost beloved characters and the writers who gave them life. The end of every season was some combination of worry or dissatisfaction. “It can’t end like this,” I remember saying year after year. “This can’t be how it goes.”
I don’t feel that way now.
Community was a conversation with us tonight. It took a long hard look into our wants and desires for the show and gently walked us through the portal between reality and fantasy. It showed us every potential future and asked us to really think about what would work and what wouldn’t. It gave us back a beloved character, if only for a taste. It gave some small satisfaction to one of the most deeply passionate sects of Community fandom. It revisited an extremely successful format by telling stories from the perspectives of each individual character (a la Season 3’s Seven Spooky Steps). It let Abed give us gentle reminders that television isn’t going to be what we want it to be, but it is still our oldest, dearest friend. Those are the friends that tell us the truth, even if that truth means sailing off into the ether with Levar Burton.
If the characters on Community feel like our friends, then we would naturally want them to succeed. That means wanting them to mature, take risks, and leave the nest. It means wanting what’s best for them and not for us. It means that sometimes characters outgrow their circumstances as they become fleshed and mature “people.” Who would Annie be if she failed at a career she was actually passionate about, and came back to Greendale in a slump? Who would WE be if we wished for Abed to fail at accomplishing some level of niche success in Los Angeles? Wouldn’t it be such a drag if this time, they really tried, with real opportunities, and they didn’t make it, and we re-piloted off of shallow failures all over again?
Who would we be if we forced a relationship to happen that, perhaps, shouldn’t happen? The show was right in asking us if a relationship with Jeff was what Annie really wanted. Ships are fantasies, often supported by forced aspects of a pre-designed ideal relationship. These fantasies make decent avenues for temporary personal satisfaction but aren’t necessarily good or even valid storytelling. They’re there because they satisfy something rooted deeper inside that wants to create order out of disordered and irrational emotions. We want them to love each other so that we can feel validated in loving them, even though we create scenarios that aren’t true to who these characters are. Even though Annie is now a young woman in her twenties, Jeff is in his forties, and that difference isn’t superficial. It’s generational. Annie is just starting her journey, and she can’t end on Jeff now, not with a lifetime of mistakes to make. I know we love Jeff/Annie. But do we love Jeff, and do we love Annie?
Fantasies feel good, as does the multi-camera family sitcom setup, complete with a TV-facing sofa and a “child area” that disappears backstage. But does that part of the fantasy feel better than the shipping itself? Don’t we love their relationship because they’re not together, so the tension stays alive? Aren’t the unresolved feelings and constant hope of satisfaction the real reason why people ship?
Aren’t we just in love with the idea of being loved?
I’m happy that the Jeff/Annie lovers were validated, in that these two characters really do love each other; their kiss was a gentle and delicate acknowledgment and not salivary and saccharine fanservice. But I tweeted it at least a year ago and I’ll tweet it again: the one thing I always wanted most for Annie is for her to have a mature adult relationship. And if I close my eyes now, she might. And if I close my eyes, Abed will have a cult following and screen his own Eraserhead, and Troy will be sailing with mermaids, and everything I want to happen will happen in my season seven.
By the time the third character said “Probably… maybe…” I realized that their dispirited response was more about coming back to Greendale than leaving it. And now, mine is too. I’m not sure I want season seven. I don’t think I do.
Right now, every character feels like they’re exactly where they should be. Community can finally go out on top, and with dignity. They won the war against the odds. Greendale doesn’t need saving anymore. Tonight, Community got the emotional and hilarious finale it truly deserved. As a fan, after all of these tumultuous years, that is all I really wanted. I’m ready to go back to reality now.
- In case you weren’t lulled gently back to reality by the show’s plot, the commercial was there to put it down sharply. “We were never actually born and we will never actually live.”
- Is it just me, or was this the first time they finally took advantage of their right to drop F-Bombs? The Dean used it super-effectively, because it was so unexpected.
- Chang farted on the fourth “cool.” I laughed so hard I farted.
- That first hug was from Jeff to Abed. That second hug was from us to Abed. He has been a revelation to so many of us. I really cannot express how much Abed means to me, and how glad I am for that second hug.
- Frankie’s vision of season seven so perfectly illustrated her character that my only real sadness about there not being another season is that we don’t get more of her.
- Jeff in a room of Abeds to choke to illustrate Jeff’s shattered illusions: genius.
- Thank you, to Yahoo Screen, for being super amazing and having all of this potential. I’m really really into Other Space.
- Dan Harmon: I know you had to hide away, probably for the potential vitriol from restless and dissatisfied fans. I just hope they’re in the minority, and you’re really getting more outpourings of love and appreciation from saps like me.