Back when "six seasons and a movie" first became a rallying cry to save Community, it seemed as far-fetched a notion as when Abed first coined the phrase, to declare his belief in the longevity of NBC's short-lived drama The Cape. For the last several seasons, Community has appeared on the verge of cancellation. It has struggled through low ratings, on-set drama, departing cast members and, most notably, the firing of its creator and showrunner, Dan Harmon.
Despite all that — or perhaps, in some bizarre way, because of it — Community shows no signs of slowing down now, in its fifth season. Chevy Chase, who famously feuded with Harmon, is gone. So is Donald Glover, who left the show earlier this season to focus on his burgeoning rap career (as Childish Gambino) and other projects. But Harmon is back after his one-season sabbatical, and with him, he brings all the things that made fans fall in love with the show in the first place. After a fourth season that was spent trying to imitate Dan Harmon's Community, Dan Harmon's Community finally returned — and with a renewed sense of purpose.
Creatively, the show is as strong as it's ever been. While few have argued that this year's batch of episodes reached the creative highs achieved by "Modern Warfare" (Season 1) or "Remedial Chaos Theory" (Season 3), there has been even greater consistency in the quality of the episodes. New recurring characters (most prominently Jonathan Banks, of Breaking Bad fame) have been integrated seamlessly, and the absence of departing cast members hasn't been too conspicuous. Just as importantly, ratings for the show — never its strong suit — have more or less remained even with where they've been since Season 3, and it's not as if NBC is rolling in highly-rated comedy properties.
For these reasons, it's no surprise that the movement to make "six seasons and a movie" a reality has been gaining steam. In a recent interview with HitFix, Harmon himself believed it was all but inevitable at this point:
"Well I honor that stuff so much higher than practical things. I believe in magic. I believe in mythology. I believe in shamanism. I believe that spells can be cast and I believe that random things coalesce and reveal themselves to be part of a plan we don’t control, you know. Why six? Why not five? Someone asked me that today. They shook their head and chucked and said, “So you could have had them say ‘five seasons and a movie’ and you’d be done.” I said, “Yeah, true. But he said ‘six.’” That’s Abed’s definition of a perfect TV show Valhalla. So I’m locked into that. If I turn my back on that I am Barabas."
The cast echoed that sentiment at PaleyFest earlier this week. The thing is, six seasons and a movie may not be enough for the Community that the show has become. There's no denying its mythology, but the mantra that was once a rallying cry for the show may now be limiting its potential.
Only Harmon can know how many stories he has left to tell, and last season made it abundantly clear that Community isn't Community without him, so the show's fate will inevitably rest on his shoulders. And of course, it would be far better for the show's legacy and its fans if it went out during a high-quality string rather than withering away with mediocre episodes. But if the series' fifth season is any indication, Community is still at the top of its game. Harmon has shown himself capable of coming up with some of the most creative and innovative stories in comedy, and the new 13-episodes-per-season format is one far better suited to the show than the 22+ episode order of its first three seasons.
So yes, six seasons and a movie would be a great result for a show nobody expected to survive beyond its third, but not necessarily a great one for one of TV's best comedies in the midst of its most consistent season to date. The idea of only 13 more episodes and a movie seems a little small at this point. Former Community staff writer Megan Ganz once jokingly suggested the show go for 12 seasons and a theme park, and while that may still be out of reach, it's time that Community started thinking about a future beyond "six seasons and a movie." It's earned it.