Is there a more miserable story in recent TV history than that of Community, a much-lauded show — perhaps overly so, definitely too rabidly — that's fallen victim to a seemingly unending stream of calamities and indignities? This show has seemed cursed in direct proportion to its level of praise. The more fervent its nerdy, obsessive fanbase became, the more it seemed to suffer for some other grim reason. Why just last night, a mere week and a half from its scheduled start date, NBC announced that the fourth-season premiere has been delayed indefinitely (as has Whitney's) while the network focuses its marketing strength on other shows. Yes, that's right. Community fans thought they were getting their beloved show back on October 19, mere days away, but now... Well now, who knows. Just another terrible setback in the life of a troubled show.
Remember just last year, when NBC didn't put Community on its midseason schedule and everybody freaked the freak out? That was a disaster. The show eventually did pop back on the air later in the spring, but only after a lot of delay and confusion, the kind that can kill ratings momentum, especially for an already little-watched show like Community. NBC doesn't seem to have any qualms about jerking this show around, nor its warring staff, nor its wild and weird horde of supporters. If we didn't know that the network has been a disorganized mess over the past couple years, we'd almost suspect that this has all been one big, elegantly coordinated troll. Given how ardently people love the show, all the maybe-cancellations and delays and schedule shifts seem almost a bit too needling and cruel to be an accident.
Community's woes are not all NBC's fault. There's been no shortage of internal strife as well. Of course we've all heard about Chevy Chase's dissatisfaction with the series, as the notoriously difficult actor doesn't voice his displeasure with the material — the best he's had in years, mind you — with an indoor voice. Chase's curmudgeony, diva behavior has tainted the show's sunny, group-love image, though I doubt it's ultimately really had much effect on its general health. No, credit for the internal component of the show's struggles probably must go to Chase's arch-nemesis, show creator Dan Harmon. Here's another notoriously hard-to-handle guy who was so demanding and exacting about his vision that he ultimately got fired for it. Harmon seemed like an arrogant, stubborn visionary who nearly sank an entire show out of some mulish sense of pride.
Harmon's big exit from the writers room this spring created a huge, possibly show-killing hole in the series, which had always been guided firmly by Harmon's determinedly particular vision. What would the ship do without its captain, especially when the captain was the only one who really knew how to sail the boat he built? Well, NBC brought in a pair of new guys to run things, apparent masochists who are bravely but stupidly willing to subject themselves to the tortures of the show's myriad obsessive fans. In an interview that ran in The New York Times today, David Guarascio and Moses Port tell Dave Itzkoff that they actually turned down the showrunning gig twice before accepting it. And we don't blame them! Coming on to work on troubled Community in its fourth season, with the fans ready to pounce and NBC switching out expensive lightbulbs for cheaper ones and replacing Danny Pudi with a cardboard cut out, sounds like a pretty miserable job. But they are braver folks than some, this Guarascio and Port, so they're doing it anyway.
They insist that they're not going to pander to try to get a bigger audience, but that they also can't simply cater to the whims of the show's hardcore followers. That's a narrow tightrope to walk, and I fear they might inevitably stumble too far in one direction. At this point, I'm surprised anyone wants to work on this show. Sure Guarascio and Port could pull off an amazing revitalization project — essentially fixing up a park that's popular with junkies but few else while still keeping the neighborhood feel — and win tons of praise, but that's risky. They quite simply could be out of a job in a matter of weeks. Which is scary! Especially scary when you consider that it's not just the ratings wonks they have to contend with, it's the people who actively cheerlead and evangelize for the show. How can they possibly pull that off?
Really, we view Community's possibly imminent demise as a good thing. It had a beautiful, innocent infancy, but became sick pretty early in its childhood and has suffered ever since.. As we've no proven modern techniques to cure such an ailment, it might be best to just let it die in peace and go to heaven, where it can play with Twin Peaks and My So-Called Life, other beloved but troubled shoes with rabid followings that too quickly departed this earth. It's the humane thing to do for all involved and, well, if we're honest we wouldn't mind reading some sad/angry reactions from fans on Twitter. We know it's mean, but just ask NBC: trolling those weirdos is kinda fun, too.
Whatever happens, we say good luck, Misters Guarascio and Port. May this difficult travail be blessedly short-lived. It will be better for you in the long run. And for us. All of us will finally be free.