Apr 10, 2014

Thom Bitches About Community: "Basic Story"

Left to right: Joel McHale and Jim Rash
In the ashes of a failed column comes the reformed birth of Thom Bitches About Community: a weekly look at the beloved Dan Harmon sitcom that chooses to push boundaries and throw a meta cocktail into the face of every sitcom currently out there. With the return of the show's creator after a rocky, disastrous season four, we take a look at the show and try and capture what exactly makes the show worth checking out all these years later. Keep an eye out for it every Thursday night following the episode unless otherwise specified.

There's something rewarding, almost fresh, about the series returning to a two-part finale. Much in the vein of the paintball episodes from season two, there is an epic quality to it that makes the story feel like more than a throwaway routine. There also feels like there are stakes and it actually creates a plot of interest. As haphazard as this season has been, I am really compelled to see how they stick the landing of this finale next week.

If there has been a problem with the season, it has been an embrace of Dan Harmon's most surreal tendencies. He came back with a force that included episodes based around Nicholas Cage, Dungeons & Dragons, and even G.I. Joe. While it appeals to the nerd-centric base that has made the show somehow last five years, it does feel like an aggressive attempt to isolate the audience, especially when paired with the tamer veteran comedy series Parks & Recreation. It is impressive to note that Community is still taking punches and doing outside the box things that may lead them to cancellation quicker than most shows.

In fact, that may be the very point of this two-part finale starting with "Basic Story." Consider the context in which this episode is based. Greendale is on the verge of being bought out by Subway because nobody cares about community colleges. It is a blatant theme that runs through the entire show. Not one to avoid meta commentary, Harmon likely used this as either a grand statement of a series finale or commentary on its audience, which may have disappeared during his absence in season four. There's a lot of ways to read it, but the most obvious is that if there is no interest, then there is no show. It is a profoundly existential concept for an episode that wants to save itself from itself. 

With Abed (Danny Pudi) probably in the least meta role of the night, he spends the first half of the episode having "no story." In this regards, the story manages to pull a twist midway through. What starts off as an inspection from potential buyers turns into a nightmarish doomsday situation that requires aggressive action. Still, much like some sitcoms, the lack of story does make for something dull. Even Abed getting advice from an elderly Abed (or him in a fake beard) has some great moments. Still, it is the main plot involving the rest of the Save Greendale committee that sells the episode.

Admittedly, it is a slow burn to the actual results. There is a lot of brooding and consideration for legacy. Even Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) gets a moment to cry almost naked in his office. It feels like the most bizarre farewell that could be cooked up. However, there is a map to buried treasure and Chang (Ken Jeong) is once again betraying the study group. Oh, how that is a tiresome plot that will hopefully result in his own sendoff. I can't stand him and I don't get why they keep inviting him around.

As someone who has lamented his disinterest in the past few episodes, I am curious to see how this finale plays out. In the grand scheme, there hasn't been confirmation of the show's renewal just yet. Then again, with the momentum that has built around the show and fans insisting on using "Six seasons and a movie" almost as Harmon's promise, there will be strong disappointment if this comes to an end next week. However, that makes things more exciting. What better way for a show all about meta commentary to exit on a note of being sold out by a bigger, familiar product. 


In fact, it would all make sense when considering how the show started. As referenced in the episode, it was about how Jeff (Joel McHale) wanted to date Britta (Gillian Jacobs). They are presumed to be getting married in the next episode. That brings everything full circle. The lack of knowledge of a return also makes everything interesting because it could either come to full fruition and everyone gets their dream goals, or season six will be painted into the most uncomfortable corner. The only real hope that is if we are seeing the end, that we will get some Troy love.


This is a strong episode, if just because it captures what most of the rest of the season felt like it was lacking. While I enjoy the goofy homages to pop culture icons, it has grown weary and is at a point of overkill. Even Abed doesn't quite feel the same without Troy. I think that there are some profound conclusions that have been made this season, but it is hard to fully judge. Harmon has made something cyclical here and while the center episodes are a little weak, he at least keeps enough meat on the bones to make it a compelling investment. Expect more defined thoughts when the episode airs.


All I know is that I am glad that this wasn't yet another episode in which everything goes into a literal cartoon and we are forced to resolve conflict through metaphor. It doesn't have the same appeal that it used to. Anyways, there's a lot to look forward to in the finale and at very least, it has created a lot of compelling conversation points to be made over the next few days. Let's go! 

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