Community suffered an identity crisis in its fourth season after losing creator Dan Harmon. The show tried to strike a balance between pleasing its relatively small group of highly devoted fans with throwbacks to running gags and keeping the network happy with broader jokes and storylines. On occasion, as with the Halloween episode spent inside Pierce’s haunted mansion, it was cringe-inducing to watch. Other times it worked surprisingly well, as in the zippy Sophie B. Hawkins-themed episode. Most of the time, though, the sitcom hovered somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
Last night’s finale fell into the last of those three categories. The overall premise was mildly interesting—the study group facing off against the darkest timeline (i.e., their former—worse—selves). But the execution and final “twist” at the end were dreadfully constructed and left one with a nagging sense of meh. (It was more than a little disappointing to see last week’s cliffhanger—a reformed Chang withdrew from a conspiracy plot against Greendale, leaving the dean of City College to declare a move to “Plan B”—get dropped completely.) Jeff is graduating from Greendale early, leaving the rest of the study group behind to finish out their final “summer/winter” semesters. He’s gotten a job offer from a former law partner, and at first he’s hesitant to join the party his friends are planning for him: He’s worried they may miss him too much. While planning the party, Jeff introduces the die that played a pivotal role in one of Community’s best episodes, “Remedial Chaos Theory,” and thus spins off into a parallel reality with evil doppelgangers for each member of the group.
Jeff’s internal struggle and emotional growth have been major storylines throughout this season, so it wasn’t surprising that the episode focused on his reluctance to leave and his fear of moving on with his life. This wavering sentiment echoes the situation of the series itself: NBC has yet to announce its cancellation or renewal. The writers of the show had an admittedly tricky task: Write “Advanced Introduction to Finality” as a season finale and a series finale and hope for the best.
Unfortunately, their attempt to have it both ways ended on a supremely saccharine and hollow note. With their evil incarnations vanquished, everyone—including, happily, minor-character favorites like Leonard, Magnitude, et al—returns to celebrate Jeff’s graduation. Per usual, he gives a moving speech, though this one is especially treacly, given the circumstances. (“What you all have done for me is indescribable, it’s unbelievable,” he says as the camera pans across their bittersweet faces. “And my love for you is immeasurable—even when you split it seven ways.”) Such sitcom-y pandering could be forgiven if it weren’t for the final wrap-up just before the end, in which Jeff explained what he plans to do next, which includes helping out “the little guy” as a lawyer and staying nearby “to settle group arguments about who misses me the most.”
It felt perfunctory, and was clearly a way to leave the door open for a return while also sort of saying goodbye. I wish the writers had stood firm and committed to just one type of finale. At least then, whatever Community’s fate, we might have had one, slightly satisfying ending.