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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Community's Almost Finale

Article first published as Community's Almost Finale on TheTVKing.

For all of the complaints I've had about this fourth, Dan Harmon-less season of NBC's Community, and those complains have been numerous, as you'll see if you read my weekly reviews of the show, the one character that the writers have totally gotten right is Jeff (Joel McHale). Jeff, who starts out as a self-centered ego maniacal jerk, has grown into someone who is a true leader and team player. Working out the inner pain that causes him to be bad, Jeff is able to become good.

The fourth season finale, "Advanced Introduction to Finality," is a Jeff-centric story. Having taken the required number of credits, Jeff is graduating early, halfway through the school year. His former colleague, Mark (Joe Lo Truglio), offers him the chance to get his old life back, becoming a lawyer again with a fat paycheck, relying on his lack of scruples to make him rich and powerful.

When Community begins, this is what Jeff wants. He's annoyed at having to attend college, and is fine with using the people who can help him skate through, biding his time until he can return to his old life.

But along the way he has come to value those around him. His study group has become his family. These people see something in him that no one in the legal world did, and like Jeff for who he is, not just what he can do. That wouldn't have mattered to the old Jeff. The new Jeff, however, sees that his life is better for his friends, and resists turning back to his old ways, deciding not to take the job.

Which is why "Advanced Introduction to Finality" mostly takes place inside of Jeff's head as he battles with himself over the path to take. He imagines Evil Jeff and Evil Annie (Alison Brie) invading his world, soon joined by their evil companions, trying to make him go back to the law. They destroy his relationships and attempt to wreck everything he has built.

Jeff does build himself an escape hatch in the form of Abed (Danny Pudi) and Evil Abed, whom are now both good, working together to stop the Evil Study Group and save Jeff's soul. Together, they not only give Jeff the weapons he needs to fight back, but help him come to terms with why he should not go back to who he was.

Taken by itself, the main meat of the episode is goofy. Sure, it combines some fan favorite elements of Community such as paintball guns, the imposter Dean (J.P. Manoux), alternate realities, and both Annie and the Dean's (Jim Rash) crush on Jeff. Many of the recurring players attend Jeff's graduation / wedding, so they get to be present. But the story falls flat, especially in the paintball fight, in which everyone spends more time delivering witty banter than actually struggling to win. For all the great gags, such as hearing about The Cape season three, it doesn't add up correctly overall.

Since it's all in Jeff's head, though, it's OK. There was a time Jeff wouldn't even have engaged in fantasies, but now, influenced by his friends, this is how he chooses to work out his internal monologue. It's a testament to his maturation and development, and once the basic premise is understood, "Advanced Introduction to Finality" raises itself up as one of the best installments of the season.

That being said, I am very grateful it isn't a series finale. Choosing to put the spotlight completely on Jeff's own journey robs the rest of the cast of any sort of ending. Annie doesn't get to be with Jeff, Britta (Gillian Jacobs) barely gets any validation for her talents, Chang's (Ken Jeong) moments are wonderful, but too brief, and the Dean only gets a small, public exchange with Jeff, rather than the heartfelt, open discussion of feelings he warrants. And Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and Troy (Donald Glover) get even less than most anyone else.

The one other character, besides Jeff, who does get an ending is Pierce (Chevy Chase). Utterly wasted the back half of this year, with his absence of several episodes having to be explained away, Pierce grows jealous of the attention Jeff gets when graduating, and decides he wants to do so, too. So the Dean lets Pierce graduate from Greendale, too.

I can't say this is a satisfying way to let the old codger go. Having him lost in the woods would have been better. This is with little fanfare, and shows no growth for his character whatsoever. It's assumed Pierce won't return next season, since Chase quit the series, so this is probably the last we'll see of him. What a shame.

As much as it sucks to lose comedy legend Chase, and admittedly he is lost for much of the time he is actually on Community, his departure could be what saves the show. With Chase out, NBC is rumored to be interested in wooing creator Dan Harmon back. Considering how brilliant the show was when he worked on it, and how this season has been so comparatively weak, a Harmon return could be just would the series needs to revitalize and fix itself. Let's hope it happens.

"Advanced Introduction to Finality" is an almost solid episode, but not a fitting series finale. Since it doesn't have to be, it works well. The window is still open for the famed #SixSeasonsAndAMovie, if fans are lucky. For now, they can count their blessings regarding the unexpected renewal of season five.

Community has been renewed and will return to NBC, likely in early 2014.

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