So maybe it will be five seasons and some memories instead. Word came down this afternoon that NBC was cancelling the eccentric Dan Harmon sitcom Community, which has tap-danced on the edge of doom practically since its premiere in 2009. Maybe it will get its avowed one more season and a movie from another network, or a streaming site, or Kickstarter, or through the intervention of Inspector Spacetime. But for right now, we have to at least work on the assumption that, as Abed said in the now-maybe-series finale, an asteroid destroyed human civilization — “and that’s canon!”
And I feel — well, not fine, but O.K. with it. That is, I’m sad to see Community end. This last season, with Harmon returned to run his baby after being forced to hand off the series for Season 4, suggested it had creative fuel for at least another year. Several episodes — YMMV, but “Cooperative Polygraphy,” “Geothermal Escapism,” “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” — reached the show’s pre-interregnum peaks.
But this isn’t one of those cancellations where I can really rail against the injustice of the universe and the cruel stupidity of the suits. I have no brief for NBC, but it’s hard to say the network didn’t give it a fair chance. It was the sort of show born to be canceled — that is, rewarding intense attention, willing to take risks and fail, unafraid to shift tones and go dark — and yet it ran five seasons. If it might have gotten more promotion here or better scheduling there, there was no magic time slot that would have forced the general public to love it as deeply as its fans did. And yet those fans followed it, maintaining a steady if small rating even when Community went up against monsters like The Big Bang Theory. Community’s audience was small in the grand scheme of things, but it showed up.
And more important, Community showed up for them. It didn’t try to remake itself to try to break mainstream. (I won’t get into the fourth season in depth here, but while I wasn’t a fan of it, even then the caretakers also didn’t wholesale make Community into something it was not.) It did what more art should do, which is take massive swings and be willing to fail. It had a sense of play and excitement about the possibilities of its medium, be it in elaborate parodies or realistic heart-to-heart character studies. It cultivated a talented ensemble — for all its backstage drama, it even used Chevy Chase well.
And as dark as the turns of Harmon’s creative mind could be, in the end the show had a real sense of joy and hope: it was, after all, about little-c community. Whether or not there’s hope for it now, that a show as weird and idiosyncratic as it can execute its vision for five years on a network now is, however today feels for fans, reason for joy. And that’s canon.