Usually, we cover Community in our weekly “Best TV Shows on TV” feature, but since it airs Thursday night and that article runs on Friday, it doesn’t really leave time for reflection. I needed some time to watch the season finale (“Basic Sandwich”) again, so I could recap the episode and end with some thoughts on the season as a whole. And yes, they ended the season with a search for buried treasure. Which sounds like the plot of a certain movie series starring one Nicolas Cage. Who, as we learned earlier this season, is neither bad nor good.
This picks up right where last week’s episode left off – the reveal that there just may be treasure hidden in the school, which will allow the Save Greendale Committee to buy the school and prevent a Subway takeover. You know, classic season finale structure.
It opens with the gang watching an old film reel about Russell Borchert, the founder of Greendale. He developed a machine that could process feelings, and how nobody likens this to Abed I don’t even know. He disappeared after having sex with his computer and the rumor persists that his body and his gold are in his old office, which is hidden somewhere on campus.
And from there, we get a treasure hunt that nearly electrocutes Duncan and sends Abed, Jeff, Annie, Dean Pelton, and Britta underground. (This is where Annie learns about the Jeff/Britta engagement.) Richie, Carl, and Chang try to intervene and I love Richie announcing “That’s right, we’ve got names!” Is this the first time they’ve been identified in dialogue?
Anyway, the underground section of Greendale is a hoot – a poster for the debate team has the topic “Who’s hotter, Eliot Gould or Donald Sutherland?” Jeff and Pelton agree that it’s Donald Sutherland, by the way. And this is where Alison Brie wins the episode. Granted, in my heart, she wins every episode. But still – Annie and Abed form the real heart of this episode. Annie’s the one with the emotional stakes, not just in saving Greendale but in her reaction to Jeff’s news. Crazy-ass stuff is happening all around, and she has to have genuine emotion, and she just kills it. I teared up a couple of times over the course of the episode, and when she starts to cry it really got me.
For his part, Abed is taking everything as a TV episode, which means he’s viewing this potential series finale as a potential series finale. One thing that always bothers me is when finales insert… you know, finality where it doesn’t belong. Since so many series, especially comedies, end with the idea that things will just continue on as they were, it’s weird that everybody in the final episode of Cheers acts like something is coming to an end. The Office had a lot of that, even though the majority of the characters were going to be going back to their same job the next day. But Abed is looking at the finale of the series about his time at Greendale, which I love.
Annie makes the point that Troy left and Pierce died, and now she doesn’t even know which Greendale they’re saving. I know that’s what a lot of us thought about the departures of Donald Glover and Chevy Chase – when two of your big seven leave, is it still the same show? But as Abed says, “This is our show, and it’s not over.” I love that. I usually don’t care for fan entitlement or the idea that the fans somehow own this thing they love. But the way it comes across here is more like a shared experience – it’s not “this is our show” in the possessive sense, but in the communal sense. It’s out show, guys. Come over and watch our show.
Later, the Dean almost chokes on a missile launched from an old toy. That’s exactly why they got rid of launch mechanisms in action figures, by the way. There’s a secret door behind a jukebox activated by selecting “Open the Door” by the Secret Doors. And then there’s a funk song about doors opening!
The seventies-style lab they find actually looks a lot like the similar scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Which, by the way, has a cameo from Danny Pudi and is directed by the Russo Brothers (who co-created Community). It’s like a really low budget Zola and it cracked me up to see it. Also in the lab? Russell Borchert, played by the great Chris Elliott.
In an interrogation scene, Richie tries to enter Hickey’s mind in a really bizarre and hilarious scene. It sort of opens like a Scanners reference but then goes to crazy town. My friend Rachael was watching this with me – she hasn’t seen the show in a while and was completely perplexed that this could happen on TV.
In the hatch, Annie thinks maybe isn’t worth saving if it means pulling Borchert away from his dream. (“Since when do human beings decide which dreams are worthwhile?”) It’s another great scene for Alison Brie – she’s so good at finding relatable emotion in the silliest scenarios. How does she not have all the Emmys? And then Borchert offers to give them his millions of Gerald Ford dollars so they can save the school without pulling the gold out of his beloved computer. Just in time for the bad guys to show up and take the money. Richie wipes out Raquel the computer with a fruit magnet and they seal our heroes back up in the lab.
Our heroes remotivate Borchert by proving that the idiots have won. (He feared an egalitarian society with the masses oppressed by the intelligentsia.) They convince him by showing him the comments on a YouTube video of a cat. The comments are pretty hilarious, by the way. The only way to get Raquel, the computer that runs on emotions, working again is with a burst of passion. Even more than Borchert can generate by playing with his nipples! So Jeff puts on the interface helmet, which looks like Cerebro from the X-Men movies and thinks about all of his friends. It’s only when he looks at Annie that his response is strong enough to power Raquel.
I’ve lost track of whether or not I’m rooting for Jeff and Annie. I don’t see any way that they can work as a couple, but I love that they’re both thinking about it. Unless they buy my spec script where a bespectacled TV blogger who talks about Batman a lot joins the committee and Annie falls in love. I’m just saying, I think that’s a valid storyline to follow.
They escape in time to prevent the sale – as the founder of the school, Borchert is guaranteed a consulting role on all scholastic endeavors. This is probably a nod to Dan Harmon’s nominal “consulting producer” credit last season. And really, it’s not hard to imagine Harmon walking around in a bathrobe with an ungroomed beard last year. Subway can’t afford the bad publicity so they walk out on the deal.
This is amazing – I have to assume that Subway sponsored these episodes, and here they are in an adversarial role. The fact that it’s Subway is perfect, too. They’re the ones who kept Chuck on the air for years with increasingly obvious product placement.
With that, Greendale is saved. Starburns cues up the Dave Matthews Band, Jeff and Britta cancel their engagement, and Abed apologizes to Annie for not wishing her happy birthday or making any references to specific dates all year. Which is because they didn’t know the premiere date when they started shooting the season, so they couldn’t do any holiday-themed or even seasonal episodes. And then Abed assures Annie and the viewer, “We’ll definitely be back next year. If not, it’ll be because an asteroid has destroyed all of human civilization. And that’s canon.” The episode ends with Annie putting the “Save Greendale” star on the “Done” board, and it’s perfect.
(Also, any chance they can get the Community cast to do a Rick and Morty episode about an asteroid wiping out human civilization?)
The tag is a promo for NBC’s new Thursday night line-up, including Carl, Richie, Change, and Amber Tamblyn starring in Thought Jacker, medical drama Intensive Karen, B.J. Novak as the mummy Mr. Egypt, and ?uestlove hosting the drumming competition Celebrity Beatoff. They’re basically daring NBC to cancel them at this point.
As I write this, there’s no official word on a renewal for Community. I’ve heard some generally positive mumbling, but we’re still waiting. I will say, as much as I want our six seasons and a movie, this episode made for a satisfying potential series finale in a way that previous seasons didn’t. I mean, nobody thought we were going to see a fourth season, but the very premise of the show sort of had a four year plan built in. And then, somehow, we even got a fifth season and the return of Dan Harmon. It felt like a victory lap. As a guy who likes Gilmore Girls a whole lot, I’ll tell you that it is a bummer when the final season of a show is missing the creative voice that guided it right up to that point.
Honestly, I’m mostly fine with the fourth season. There are a couple of really good episodes (the body-switching episode Jim Rash wrote is a favorite), and I love the cast and their characters so I go in with a lot of goodwill. But can you imagine if that had been the end of the show? I liked the season finale, but it was a rehash of ideas that they’d already mined. Heck, the incursion of the Darkest Possible Timeline had already been a season finale just a year earlier. As a potential ending of the series, “Basic Sandwich” is infinitely more satisfying.
It’s not the first time a season finale focused on saving Greendale. In Season Two, they stopped City College from taking over through the power of paintball. And in Season Three, Chang was involved in a plan to blow the place up. Given that they’ve never had the luxury of an early renewal, it makes sense to incorporate that sense of danger into the finale. That said, there was something different about this episode. In other cases, they saved the school from an immediate threat; this time, they drove off Subway but they also fixed the school. Like Dan Harmon himself, they left Greendale and then came back and made it better. As the season ends, the characters can absolutely move on. They came back to fix Greendale and redeem themselves. The whole idea that they were taking more classes to get the degrees that they’d abandoned disappeared early on in the season. We know Jeff was teaching, but we just didn’t see it anymore. The season was about people who desperately needed a win pouring all of their energy into saving Greendale. They never told us whether Annie completed all of the forensics course work she needed (But we all know she totally did), but it doesn’t matter. She’s never going to settle for a life that she doesn’t want because she saved Greendale. She can do anything. Britta and Shirley got the same second chance that Dan Harmon did, and they all made the most of it.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing I want more than a sixth season. I think there are plenty of stories left to tell. For example, there’s the question of how Abed interacts with the world without Troy to run interference for him. We saw a little of this over the course of the season, but Abed is only just beginning to understand that he can affect other people. I’d like to see more of that. I’d love to see Britta work out just what it is that she wants her life to be. That said, if “Basic Sandwich” turns out to be the final episode, you’re not going to get a better image than Annie moving the “Save Greendale” star to the “Done” board. That’s up there with Batman saying good-bye to the kids at home or Lapidus getting the plane in the air or Walter White’s distorted reflection in the meth lab as a perfect finale image.
Generally, I invoke the Arrested Development Rule. If a show runs more than 53 episodes, I can be more or less sanguine about cancellation Arrested Development got 53 episodes on FOX. You think you deserve more episodes than Arrested Development? I beg to differ! But Community is at 97 episodes and all I want is that sixth season. And, you know, a movie. I just love it so much. I don’t think an episode of TV has ever meant as much to me as “Virtual Systems Analysis”. Just for the existence of that episode, for the way it changed how I think, I’d stick with Community to the bitter end. But the fact that it rebounded from a gas leak with a flat-out excellent season… I can’t let go. Like Abed said, it’s not over. Unless that asteroid hits.