The short and sweet life of Community
A funny thing happened with Community last week. Someone noticed that NBC hadn’t listed it on its midseason lineup. In its spot was 30 Rock, finally coming back from hiatus. Panic among Community fans quickly ensued. Twitter lit up with cries of objection and inside jokes from the shoe. I tweeted a jest from a recent episode about quickly creating a new timeline.
The reaction was pretty natural for lovers of any show but with Community it’s actually a little odd. For one thing the show isn’t actually very popular. Its audience is small and very tightly nit. It’s a fierce audience but a small one nonetheless. Secondly, there really shouldn’t be much surprise that the show would be canceled. By design Community is unwelcoming to newcomers. Over the past two-and-some-change seasons more and more of the show’s jokes have been either based on events and jokes from past episodes or incredibly nerdy pop culture or science fiction references (a recent favorite: Inspector Spacetime jokes). Humor like that is partially what makes Community funny and fun. You’re sharing an inside joke with the cast. You’re being rewarded with humor for paying close attention to the show.
The problem is, new viewers haven’t been paying close attention. They don’t get that reward for noticing a suggestive comment the Dean makes at Winger or watching Troy and Abed say “Troy and Abed sown to-GE-ther.” That’s both the show’s blessing and its curse. It’s hard for new viewers to get into the show. Meanwhile, the humor for regular viewers is enjoyable on multiple levels. There are the immediate jests and then the second layer ones that are funny for Community loyalists. But having a small, core group of fans isn’t enough for any t.v. show to survive. It needs a large audience and larger audiences come and go. Shows that are appealing because they are easy to get into will often do better than shows which are equally good but partially good because of the longstanding story arcs and trends. It’s just harder for someone to casually jump in and get hooked (not impossible, but harder).
So in complaining about the show’s demise, it’s a bit unfair to call it an outrage. To expect Community to last for, say, ten seasons is unrealistic. It just won’t. I’m not saying here that it should be a short-lived t.v. show, I’m saying that it’s unlikely to be. But if Dan Harmon (the show’s creator) were to change that very core aspect of the show then it really wouldn’t be the Community that’s created such an obsessed fanbase. The show is short-lived because it’s good in a certain way.