by Mark Greig
Here we go again. Another Community season finale that may have to double as a series finale.
As has always been the case, the series' ratings still ain't that great. And yet Community is pulling in the same kind of numbers as Parks and Recreation, which has already been renewed. It really makes no sense to renew one and then cancel the other, especially when there is nothing else to replace it with. With all of NBC's new sitcoms failing this season a sixth (and most likely final) season of Community looks increasingly likely. The writers know this and even made fun of it throughout the episode. Maybe that's why it didn't really feel like a proper finale to me. Even with the threat of the school facing closure, 'Basic Sandwich' came across more like an okayish mid-season episode - funny, occasionally emotional, but ultimately inconsequential.
Being a child of the 80s, I appreciated that the whole thing was just a take on The Goonies. From the very start Community has been one great big celebration and subversion of 80s pop culture. This is one of the reasons why I think it has struggled to find a wider audience. You really have to be part of the generation that grew up in the 80s and 90s to understand 70% of what is going on at Greendale. Only Dan Harmon really understands the other 30%.
And that is all I really have to offer. It is a good thing this review is a team effort because I really don't have much to say about this episode. So I'll pass you over now to my esteemed colleagues, the angels to my...whatshisface, the guy who helped them out, you know who I mean, the chubby, balding one. BOSLEY! That was his name.
Once again, Community had to pull off the ‘season finale that might be a series finale’ thing. Once again, they nailed it. I’ll always prefer “Introduction to Finality,” but “Basic Sandwich” was certainly not the trainwreck “Advanced Introduction to Finality” was. The 1970s themed treasure hunt was short and, for Community at least, a bit pedestrian. Raquel’s ability to measure emotion was a lazy way of demonstrating Jeff’s preference for Annie, but at least Jeff is no longer engaged to Britta. The most interesting part of the episode for me was not the extended and obvious Greendale is Community metaphor but the last few minutes. The show was essentially daring NBC to cancel it. From Abed’s assurance that all the characters are dead if the show isn’t renewed to the cringeworthy promos in the tag (at least three of which I can see on NBC at this point, maybe four depending on what Mister Egypt is supposed to be about) the whole thing was jaw droppingly bold. “You’ll be back, NBC,” it said with a smirk. *cue song: “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles.*
What an interesting season this has been. Mark described the season premiere as "one of the series’ most depressing episodes, essentially 20 minutes of people sitting around a table talking about how much their lives now suck post-Greendale." And although there has been plenty of levity this season, we never fully deviated from that dark tone. It's not surprising, since this season is about adults who cannot leave their college years behind them. They seemed stuck.
Although there's still a glimmer of despair in Annie's "To Do" and "Done" boards, I think "Basic Sandwich" is reminding us, meta-Abed-style, of an important truth that our heroes had forgotten (or never learned) in that premiere: life rarely sucks that much or that long, and you're only stuck if you refuse to look for ways to improve life. Life is a perpetual quest for what we want and need. Not for riches, or Chris Elliot, or a sub sandwich. A quest for meaning, and friendship, and wacky stupid dancing to that awful Dave Matthews Band song.
If Jeff's near-suicide represented the Campbellian abyss of this season, our heroes have emerged victorious from the belly of the whale and are now bringing that gift--the gift of community--to a larger group. The lives of our heroes haven't changed much on the outside, but they no longer suck as much as they did 13 episodes ago. Hooray.
For me, this episode fell somewhere between the plausible levels of weird of season two and the slightly too exaggerated, too crazy levels of weird of the end of season three (and thankfully miles away from the unspeakably weird and awful finale to season four). Much of the episode worked, from the all the 1970s gags through the computer and science fiction gags to the grand finale. It didn't quite come together in the way the best episodes do, and it perhaps tried to do a bit too much. I'm a fan of both Jeff/Britta and Annie/Jeff, but I do wish the show would pick one and run with it for a while, and the crazy school board guy distracted from our heroes a bit (though I did like the tag). But it made me laugh - it IS pronounced a-LU-MIN-I-um! - and if this is the last ever episode, there's no more Greendale way to go out than by smashing down the fourth wall. If we have to say goodbye, this was, to quote the school board guys, 'good enough'. And if by some miracle we come back to Greendale next year, Chang as a psychotic school board governor might be an incarnation that could actually work.
Notes and Quotes
--It is pronounced A-lu-min-i-um and I will fight any one who says differently. I won't win, but I will still fight.
--I liked how Abed compared Jeff and Britta's rushed engagement to a badly thought out spin-off that would last six episodes before being cancelled.
--That said, Abed, I love you, but you go after The Goonies again and we're gonna need to have words.
Carl: "This is Ritchie and Carl from the school board. That's right, we got names."
Annie: "We have to respect each other enough to let each other want what we want, no matter how transparently self-destructive or empty our desires may be."
And that's another season of Community out of the way. Again, I have to thank Sunbunny, Josie and Juliette for helping out with the reviews this season and doing a terrific job. So goodbye for now everyone. Hopefully we'll see you all again in the summer. Or the fall. Or winter. Depends on what fails.