Seasonal Observations: Community, Season 3

The Makings of a Study Group

Cellular mitosis is a process in which a cell duplicates its innards. It’s not the complete split of the cell into two identical ones, but rather the lead-up to the split. At the end of mitosis you’ve got one cell, but with two nuclei and all the other inner bits of cells. Anyone familiar with Community and the amount of work that goes into every detail of the show will know that the term wasn’t chosen by random out of the Big Book o’ Biological Terms. This process describes exactly what the past season of the show has been about.

Throughout the entire season, Harmon and crew have been chipping away at the Greendale seven, pushing at the borders of this cell of friends. The end result, as the wonderful montage at the end of the final episode shows, is that the group may split, but they carry the important stuff of their friendship inside them. The nucleus that holds them together has duplicated itself seven times over and while Troy may be off to Air Conditioner Repair School, he’s still part of the group. These are seven people that have been through the best and worst together, and their stuck with each other no matter.

The whole season examines the bonds of these people from the get go. The first episode throws the first obstacle in their way – there are not enough spots open in Biology class for all them. At first, Jeff claims this isn’t a problem, and they’ll manage to be friends despite the separation. While this may be true for the group now, at season’s end (and I think next year they might do away with the single shared class), it was not so initially. Once he’s on the out Jeff realizes this, and fights tooth and nail (and makes the ultimate sacrifice) to rejoin the group.

This point is revisited several times through the season’s first few episodes. In “Competitive Ecology” the group is split once again, this time within itself – and it proves futile. Professor Kane’s punishment – that the group shares a desk, a microscope and all their grades – only serves to highlight the need these people have for each other. At this stage, still relatively early in their relationship, they are still one cell, with one nucleus. They still need the cohesion of the group to function.

Things begin to break in the soon-to-be-seminal “Remedial Chaos Theory”. This episode, by far the season’s (and possible show’s) best, looks at how the group functions once it’s missing one of its key components. In a wonderfully written tour de force of an episode, we are introduced to the various timelines wherein each member of the group goes to fetch the pizza, and the repercussions of that absence. I could spend the next 5,000 words dissecting and analyzing each of the timelines (and its something I might do someday), but for the purposes of this piece, I’ll keep it short and say that each member of the group provides an important component to the functioning of the group as a whole. Much like, (and I promise I’ll try and keep the cellular analogies down from here on out) the nucleus, mitochondria and other elements are necessary to a cell’s survivor. This examinations continue in the following episode, Halloween’s “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”. While “Chaos Theory” examined the group from without, as they are separated by external elements, “Horror Fiction” examines the group from within. As each of the seven tells their variation on the horror story, they reveal their opinions of the others in the group and, more importantly, of themselves in the group. In this way we can see that Abed sees himself as the voice of reason and logic, not as an emotionless computer. Annie thinks of Britta as loose, but sees herself as timid and helpful (with a much darker underbelly). Again, a full piece can be dedicated to an analysis of each of these stories, but the bottom line is that these two episodes show exactly the inner workings of the group. Like a clockmaker, these episodes pick the group apart, separate the individual elements, and see what goes where. Unlike clockwork, however, these people do have the capability to function autonomously, they just need to learn how to “borrow” the pieces they don’t have from the others. This is what the latter two thirds of the season is about.

Nearly every episode in the next stretch separates the group into different storylines. “Advanced Gay” has the Pierce/Jeff storyline and Troy’s first forays into the A/C Repair School. “Studies of Modern Movement” has four distinct plots. “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” goes all out and, with the exception of Britta and Troy, sends each member of the group on an individual journey of self-exploration. “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism”, likewise, has two concurrent storylines – Jeff and Shirley and the Annie/Abed/Troy trio. While “Regional Holiday Music” does bring the group together again, it’s only through pop-music inspired brainwashing that the seven get on a stage together. Initially, the group discusses their different plans over Christmas. This trend continues (I’m ignoring “Contemporary Impressionists”, the season’s worst episode by far) until it reaches it’s inevitable conclusion in the pillow fort two parter. While the divisions in previous episodes allowed for self exploration and a deeper understanding of the true elements of friendship in each pairing/triplet (whether it be Jeff and Shirley’s shared past, or Annie’s sincere apology to Abed/Batman), “Pillows and Blankets” brings us division for division’s sake. It’s not just any old division, it’s Troy and Abed, without a doubt the group’s strongest pairing. If Jeff and Pierce would lead opposing camps, it would mean much, as the two always go head to head. Troy and Abed, however, are something else. These two are so closely entwined, it’s almost like they’re one person in two bodies. Until now, that is. While the two make up (and the scene where they keep hitting each other because it’s the last thing they’ll do as friends is one of the best the show has to offer), it’s not the same. There is a rift now that can’t be repaired. This episode begins the separation process. It’s not all bad though, as it entails a process of understanding. Both Troy and Abed walk away with understanding of each other and of themselves. Troy sees himself not only as Abed’s friend but as his caretaker, the one who can control Abed’s more irrational tendencies (something that started in “Contemporary Impressionists”). Abed, on the other hand, allows this. He lets Troy be his social lighthouse, pointing out the apparent dangers the Abed would ignore.

All the poking and prodding and breaking off reaches it’s pinnacle once the group is removed from the place that brought them all together. Once the seven are expelled, they are back together again. It’s a wonderfully subtle statement – these people could, hypothetically, go their separate ways. Their expulsion could have been the catalyst for their destruction, they don’t have a reason to hang out together anymore. Except, of course, they have every reason to hang out together. These people are no longer students at the same school, but are invested in each other and in their general wellbeing. So, after a long stretch of episodes apart – we have the group together again working together to first attempt to “fix” their friend (who, it turns out, doesn’t need fixing) then help another and finally – save the world. The limited world that is Greendale, that is. Part of what makes the heist episode great is that in order for heist films to work, you need a group of people who are so in tune with each other – they can operate together down to the last detail. Elaborate heists are usually so complicated that they require a near hive-mind like entity to pull off well. Everybody needs to be on point and in step with everybody else, with very little communication, as the environment is usually hostile. And the group pulls it off, because now – they are this nigh-unstoppable unit. This cohesion is what allows Troy to go off to A/C Repair School, it’s what allows Jeff to represent Shirley against Pierce and just say the hell with it all at the end. The group is now enmeshed in each other. They each have a bit of Shirley’s optimism, of Britta’s sincerity or of Jeff’s cynicism. They’ve taken those qualities of the others they need, so they can carry them with them wherever they go. The mitosis is complete and now they can be divided, physically, but they will still remain the group.

That’s the direction I’d take if I was writing the fourth season. I’d use the season to illustrate that these people are so strong as a group that they can stand anything that’s thrown at them. I’d make the season about surviving despite being separated. Like I said earlier, I’d drop the shared class, it’s not something these people need anymore. Maybe have the Dean convert the study room to a porcupine petting zoo or something. Take that away from the group and show how resilient they are. Whichever way the new showrunners decide to go, they’ve got an uphill battle. The Community fanbase is strong and fanatic (present company included) and Dan Harmon did not go silently into the night. The show’s fanbase is like an honorary eighth member and we underwent the mitosis process with them, so there’s a little of Community in each one of us. It’s where our passion comes from. They’d be fools to try and make the same Community the past three years gave us, but they’d also be fools to try something completely different. I’m interested to see what September brings, but I am not without trepidation.

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One thought on “Seasonal Observations: Community, Season 3

  1. Pingback: Quote: I’ve Been Drinking, Can You Tell? « The Wandering Mind

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