When NBC revealed its mid-season line-up last week, the Internet reacted almost instantly, with a violent fervor befitting of Arrested Development’s cancellation. Not because the travesty that is Whitney was able to score a full-season and not because Maria Bello’s stateside adaptation of Prime Suspect got temporarily shelved. Nope, the hums and haws exuded from the Internet glitterati were in objection of another shuffle – the benching of Dan Harmon’s ensemble cult comedy Community.
The show, which follows a group of misfit community college students (a jilted-then-reunited housewife, a not-so-lovable curmudgeon, a handsome lawyer forced to make good, a wannabe activist with uncertain intentions, a former footballer, a meta filmmaker, and an anal-retentive honor student with anxiety issues) began on somewhat unsteady footing. Reeking potential, the jokes were a bit hit-or-miss at first, making Community a slow burn, a la its NBC cohort Parks and Recreation.
Yet over time, Community found its stride – at its absolute best when able to cultivate its own brand of cultdom. With the paintball episode, the study group formed its own meta clique; a way to weave pop culture references so strong that Abed wasn’t the only one drinking the Kool-Aid. Very few episodes have the cast (or creative moxie) to pull off a holiday Claymation episode that reeked of charm, let alone that was actually funny. Don’t get me started on the Pulp Fiction-meets-My Dinner with Andre homage last season – a lesson in television nerdery that not only paid respect to one of my favorite films, but had Abed gushing about one of my other favorite sitcoms, the also-uncertain Cougar Town (RIP, Big Joe.) This show really shines when given a theme; when each of the characters can play up their idiosyncrasies within an already developed framework. Yet with NBC’s mid-season announcement, it seems it won’t be given any chances for a while.
Nope, we won’t be seeing anything this spring, from Greendale’s band of merry misfits. While NBC maintains that this shelving is a temporary one, I think it’s a fair assumption that NBC’s gone and “Britta’d” things up. What’s worse, is that in its place (aside from 30 Rock, which gets a pass because I love it – this is my column, you guys…) comes a one-two punch of drivel comedy – more Whitney, and the new Chelsea Handler vehicle, Are You There, Vodka?
It should come as no shock that I’m no fan of Whitney Cummings, and Chelsea Handler’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard. But in all honesty, that’s not the worst thing about Community’s benching. What worries me about the halting of this offbeat sitcom is that it may signal the beginning of the end. 30 Rock has been the Energizer bunny of cult television – outlasting everyone’s expectations in terms of its run. And Friday Night Lights (RIP)? It’s five-season run appeased all 11 fans who watched faithfully each week, myself included. By benching Community, though, is NBC putting up a white flag of originality? Have we seen the end of low-rated pop culture-themed humor? The Leslie Knopian side of me prays not.