The “Community” Renewal, or, Introduction To Starting Over

The renewal of “Community” means everything. And the renewal of “Community” means nothing.

Both statements are polar opposites of one another, yet utterly true at the same time. Instead of a cat inside Schrödinger’s box, Dan Harmon is under there, probably thinking, “Holy shit, I actually have to do this now, don’t I?”

Both are true, of course, depending on your personal perspective. As news swept through Twitter, there wasn’t an indifferent response to be found. Everything was either THIS IS THE BETTER EVER or HAHA OH INTERWEBS or WHY NOT TROPHY WIFE YOU BASTARDS. This makes sense, not just because Twitter is where subtlety goes to die one subtweet at a time, but also because “Community” has always been one of the more polarizing shows on television. Long before programs like “Girls” and “True Detective” hoped to make people issue blanket Big Think Pieces on a daily basis, “Community” challenged and divided viewers, especially in the online world.

And let’s face it, that’s why the Yahoo announcement makes sense, when “Community” seemed bigger on message boards than Nielsen ratings. One needs not be more important than the other, especially when “online” is the only way you’ll be able to see more adventures in Greendale Community College. Yahoo is banking on what many of us have been arguing for years: That finding the right audience is better than finding the big audience, especially if you can target and (here’s the kicker) monetize that. Like with “Chuck” before it, “Community” fans didn’t begrudge the near omnipresence that Subway had in the show’s latter days on NBC. If Yahoo can get some good will from some of the most vocal people online, isn’t that worth ponying up for thirteen episodes?

What got me in all the Twitter hubbub wasn’t the praise, because holy shit am I used to excessive praise for a show I found to barely have three or four solid episodes per season (even when it had a full-season order). People love to love “Community,” which is different than loving “Community.” One can do both, but let’s be clear: It’s the former that drives the internet chatter, that stokes division, and seeks to claim the inheritently unclaimable. Being a fan of “Community” is a statement about one as an individual, and marks you as someone with potentially like-minded interests as others. Recognizing that similarity is akin to recognizing a secret handshake, or overhearing a less evil version of “Hail Hydra!” whispered between two people. To be a fan of “Community” is to signify that you “get” the show, that it speaks to you on a specific wavelength, and the face that it simply bounces over or around others only makes that connection all the sweeter. It’s as fun to proclaim how much people don’t get “Community” as it is to describe how exactly how much you yourself get it.

All that’s fine and good. Substitute “Community” with something like “Lost” or the aforementioned “Chuck” or other cultish shows with decent to middling ratings and you get the same overall effect. This type of self-identification with “Community” isn’t new, and this won’t be the last time we’ll see a phenomenon like this. What trips me up isn’t how protective fans of “Community” are about the show, but rather those who seem distraught that this show gets another chance. One person on Twitter asked me why he shouldn’t be offended that a “better” show like “Enlisted” didn’t get this chance, and I have literally no idea how to respond. I like “Enlisted” better than “Community,” and I’d rather see the former show double its overall episode total than the seemingly exhausted storytelling of the latter rev up its engines again. But that has nothing to do with Yahoo’s decision, nor should it. “Community” is a better known commodity with a larger back catalog of episodes that motivated fans will stream again and again in order to prove the portal made the right decision. Would you rather around one hundred episodes to promote, or a baker’s dozen?

Bringing money into this isn’t fun, and ruins the illusion that “fans” brought back “Community,” but that’s the bottom line all the same. Very few people have money to burn just to see more episodes of a TV show he or she might like personally. If the money didn’t make sense, “Community” wouldn’t exist. Maybe Sony TV offered to cover so much of the production costs that Yahoo, a portal that largely functions in my every day life as “that place I send all my newsletters,” figured it could roll the dice with great fanfare and little risk. I am not a business expert by any means, but you can’t tell me Yahoo is doing this purely for “the good of the fans.” And that’s a good thing.

Honestly, what both sides of the latest kerfuffle on Twitter proves is that it’s super easy to get super sensitive about the least important shit possible. That’s a bug, not a feature, of caring about something like television. I came home every night from work and wrote more words about TV than most full-time professionals for the better part of a decade. So for me to say that some of you care way the hell too much about TV, that should say something. Caring about TV isn’t an inherently bad thing, and clearly I love it enough to do this atop my full-time day job. Hell, when “Lost” was on, I wrote about the show four times a week for four years, even during the nine months each year when there wasn’t a new episode on. So yeah, I wrote about the show a lot. I thought about it constantly. I always looked for new and hopefully interesting ways of looking at the show. And all I could think of during the show’s final six weeks wasn’t, “I can’t wait to see how this ends”; it was, “I can’t wait for this to be over.”

See, near the end of that show, people got really, really possessive over their own personal interpretations. Possibilities got smaller, long-gestating theories were summarily dismissed outright by the show, and it became less about talking about each episode so much as “being right about the show.” It was a horrid, sad mess, and watching certain commentators tell me they looked forward to the finale just so it would prove me wrong got disheartening. I used to live in the comments when I first started out, but eventually retreated, hardly recognizing the community I had worked so hard to build.

“Lost” ended up being something I loved, and still love, and still defend, but I’m fucking sick of defending it. Why? Because it’s not something that should still need defending, anymore than “Community” needs people to pretend like it’s an underdog while it gets a SIXTH SEASON. Both pieces of pop culture have a worldview to which certain people are attracted. Both pieces of pop culture repel as many, if not more, individuals. The idea that those two sides constantly look at the end and essentially go, “THE FUCK?” is so incredibly exhausting that this is probably the last time I’ll ever bring it up.

One of my favorite parts of “Lost” wasn’t the show itself, but Entertainment Weekly writer Jeff Jensen’s takes on the show. Jensen never went literal when analyzing the show, focusing less on what each episode might mean as a piece of a narrative whole and more about what each episode evoke within him as an individual. I thought it was a brilliant way to approach the show, and really the only honest way to do so. If Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse didn’t know how the show would end, how could we? So Jeff used each episode to basically go exploring, down rabbit holes that featured sci-fi novels, pop records, and explorations of faith. “Lost” made him think about all of these things, and Jensen in turn made myself and others think about these things.

I thought about those reviews a lot recently, as Jensen went through the type of personal tragedy that most of us are familiar with to one extent or another. I don’t know Jeff personally, having only corresponded through emails and tweets over the years. And I don’t know how public he’s been about what happened, so I’m not going to out that information here. But sufficed to say watching him from afar go through that pain with grace and dignity put an exclamation point on what has been altogether too long run-on sentence, one that started last May when I effectively quit trying to write full time and ended nearly a year later when I started to finally make some sort of peace with that decision. There are things that simply aren’t worth me getting worked up about, and most of those things are far more important than whether or not Alison Brie gets to go “Oooooh!” in unison with Yvette Nicole Brown again.

I spent too many years letting other people decide my worth as a writer, too many years biting my tongue when I’d rather speak, too many years feeling worthless rather than powerful. I wanted to rage and burn what few planks were left on the bridge down to ashes, but all that anger went away recently as well. I’m not numb, but I have a better sense of my overall place in life, far more contentment with what I have and what I can do than a year ago even if my life currently looks nothing like I thought it might five years ago. I won’t say that not writing as a career isn’t a bummer, but look at all the goddamn words I’m writing now: I still have things to say, even if I probably won’t ever get paid in any meaningful way to say them. That’s as much my choice as anyone else’s: I could still come home, write up five or six weekly reviews a week, and be a fucking zombie in my cubicle all day. I did that for five years in the hopes it would pay off, and it didn’t. Boo hoo to me. Who cares? No one, nor should they. Continuing down that path would not have made my dream a reality, and at 38 (almost 39), I don’t have the energy, desire, or practical means to try and give up my well-paying job with incredible benefits for the off-chance I can cover “The Leftovers” without waking up the next day at 6 am to pay my bills.

All of this is a way of saying that it’s hard enough to find one’s own happiness without exerting energy trying to bring down the joy of others. I could despair over “Enlisted” and “Enlightened” and “Terriers”, but I didn’t make those shows and in the end writing about them and letting others find those shows through what I wrote was the reward. I don’t own “Enlisted,” don’t have any claim to it, and really, other than those making it, none of us do. It’s great that shows make us feel like we do. But it’s also important to realize that we don’t have those claims. Being sad is fine, and probably healthy. Being so upset that you have to try and spread that vile feeling like a virus? Not so much.

For a long time, I was the virus, even though I was careful to remain Patient Zero. I was so mad at so many people and so many events and went through so many wouldashouldacouldas that I basically retreated into myself without much hope of anyone finding. Other than a few drunken subtweets, most of you wouldn’t have known. That was the whole point. I’m Irish: We keep this shit bottled in tight. I can speak about it now not because I’m “cured” of all those feelings but because I know how to contextualize them. Part of why I’m writing all this down is because I don’t HAVE to do so. No one’s forcing me. No one’s paying me. Hell, no one’s asking me. No one really cares, not in the larger sense, and that’s fine. That’s the way it always was. I just let my number of retweets convince me other wise. Internet fame, how fickle and illusionary thou art.

I wrote for six years before I even knew I could get paid to do so. Then I spent seven years doing that. I’ll be writing for a long time to come. How and where and how often might change. Writing is the most “me” I can be, even when starting out with a blog that basically boiled down to entries like, “Here’s why the latest White Stripes album is about me” and “I write 2,000 word blog entries every night, how come no girls want to date me?” It’s not going to be the thing I do to pay the bills, which puts me fully in line with 99.999% of you. But it’s a thing I still love to do, and I love that I still love it. For now, that’s enough.

It’s way more than enough.