Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Greendale

I watch a lot of television. I got very lucky last season; nearly everything I cared about got renewed. Sure, I enjoyed Mr. Sunshine, and occasionally Mad LovePerfect Couples and Better with You, but the shows I cared about all got renewed.

Some of these were obvious- The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, and Glee are substantial hits. How I Met Your Mother, The Office, 30 Rock, and Grey's Anatomy are central to the foundation of their respective networks for a long time now, and likely will go out on their own terms. Others were more surprising- Cougar Town and Parks and Recreation are moderately watched, if critically beloved. Breaking In was actually cancelled before it was renewed. Happy Endings, this season's best comedy, was the penultimate of the five HIMYMesque sitcoms to debut last season (after Perfect Couples, Mad Love, and Traffic Light, and before Friends with Benefits), was aired at a time of the year (starting in April) and in a time slot (10 and 10:30 after Cougar Town?!?) to be burned off. Heck, one of the stars (Damon Wayans Jr.) was cast in one of the biggest new sitcom pilots of this season (New Girl), assuming Happy Endings would never make it.

Community was also renewed. I'm not totally sure why. Three seasons is not enough for syndication, so this renewal would not boost them to that. NBC had a ton of comedy pilots, two of which (Bent and Best Friends Forever) still aren't scheduled to air. It's ratings are awful. It's critically beloved, but less so than P&R. It has virtually no award buzz, other than the fact that Joel McHale was in the Emmytones.

Community is not my favorite show. It maybe was, briefly, but it's been passed by P&R and HE and HIMYM's resurgence. But Community is not like any other show. It does things, it takes chances, it gets creative in ways that virtually any other network live-action sitcom does (sometimes, at its peak, 30 Rock was like this. It only occasionally is now). In fact, stylistically Community might share the most with Family Guy, albeit at a much higher level. Because of this, Community can reach extraordinarily greatness ("Modern Warfare," "Cooperative Calligraphy," "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design," "Paradigms of Human Memory," and "Remedial Chaos Theory" are probably a top five, though I could be convinced into "Contemporary American Poultry," "Epidemology," "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons," and "A Fistful of Paintballs" fairly easily). But it can also feature massive duds ("Basic Rocket Science," the first three episodes of this season, and in my mind the show's worst episode, "Celebrity Pharmacology"). It isn't surprising then that while Community has attracted a strong, passoinate fan base, it has also turned off millions of viewers.

And so yesterday's decision by NBC to put Community on hiatus to start 2012 is not a surprise. And despite a fourth season bringing Community to the point of syndication, a cancellation in May would not be a surprise either. But that doesn't mean it's not a mistake.

Look, NBC is a fourth place network, and it isn't even close. The chances they've taken- starting with The Jay Leno Show and up to expanding The Sing-Off to a 2 hour, full season series- has failed, miserably. Of the seven shows NBC has debuted this season, two have been officially canceled (Playboy Club and Free Agents), one has been all-but canceled (Prime Suspect), and one is being essentially put out to pasture (Whitney). If NBC has one thing going for it, its critical praise. The network's failure has let them air, despite low ratings, Chuck, Parenthood, Friday Night Lights, and their comedy lineup for several years. Sometimes this pays off- Amy Poehler has consecutive Emmy nominations for P&R and the series got a Best Comedy nomination this past year, while Kyle Chandler and Jason Katims pulled off upset victories for FNL's final season, with the series and Connie Britton also earning nominations. Sometimes it won't pay off, but for a last place network, you have to take chances.

And there is no bigger chance than Community. One half hour spot isn't going to fix NBC, especially if that half hour spot is the newly renamed Are You There, Chelsea? (technically 30 Rock is replacing Community in the lineup, but since 30 Rock was a lock to return, Chelsea is the new face in NBC's crowd of 6 sitcoms). So why not keep a show that, when at its best, can be the talk of the internet?

Nobody is expecting six seasons and a movie. But if the alternatives are Whitney and Chelsea, NBC should take the chance with Community for at least a little longer.

In other words? Come on NBC. Pop. Pop.

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