First, some good news: 30 Rock is returning to NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup for a sixth season! And it'll feature a parade of guest stars this year, like Kelsey Grammar, Kristen Schaal and James Marsden, because, as everyone knows, the best part of 30 Rock isn't whip-smart writing or the brilliance of Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. It's guest stars, silly!
However, as anyone who's read the famous short story "The Monkey's Paw", knows, the universe likes to balance the fulfillment of wishes with horrific events of equal or greater pain, and the return of 30 Rock is no exception.
NBC released their midseason schedule this week. Here's what's happening in a nutshell:
- Up All Night is moving from Wednesday (which made no sense in the first place) to the 9:30 Thursday slot previously held by Whitney (which also made no sense). This is a completely logical move, and it's crazy to me that it didn't happen in the first place. The only oddity is Up All Night will not air directly after 30 Rock.
- Whitney is moving to Wednesday nights, where it will be matched with Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea. (Except there aren't any commas in that title, for some reason.) This somewhat makes sense in that both shows are multi-camera comedies with laugh tracks. The only part that doesn't make sense is Whitney is not funny, and should've been cut long ago.
- 30 Rock is replacing Community on Thursdays at 8pm.
It's the last part that's the monkey paw catch, because it essentially signals the end of Community, and the news has the show's adoring-yet-tiny fan base rending garments and lamenting to the heavens. NBC has promised the show will return at some point, and all 22 episodes of the show's third season will air. But, of course, that announcement doesn't bode well for a fourth season, the season creator Dan Harmon claimed would wrap up the show's overall arc.
I'm one of those adoring fans. For three years, Community has been the most inventive comedy on network television and, in my mind at least, been in strong contention with Parks and Recreation as the best comedy on network television, period. It's also a strange show by network standards. Reuters described the show's run and latest season this way:
"...[Community]'s increasing bizarreness has caused even some of its biggest fans to wonder if it has become too strange for its own good.
In its first two seasons, the show about a community college study group has aired paintball-themed episodes that played like a spaghetti Western, a Halloween show that mimicked a zombie-apocalypse movie, and an Emmy-winning Christmas episode in which all the characters were rendered in Claymation.
This season featured one episode that split into multiple different realities, and another in which one member of the group tried to out a sociopath in its ranks by getting everyone to tell horror stories."
Sure, this season has been a little off at times. (The sociopath episode was admittedly strange.) But some of the episodes Reuters lists were actually its most accessible and touching. No matter where Community has gone structurally, it has always been, at its core, about seven richly nuanced characters growing as a family. (Earlier this year, the AV Club's Todd VanDerWerff wrote this great piece about Community's characters, and how similar the show was to Glee.)
Still, we have to face facts: the ratings are pretty bad, even if those ratings are the result of an outdated rating system that doesn't adequately factor in DVR and Hulu viewers. Since Community's audience skews younger (I'd guess in the mid-20s to mid-30s), many are likely watching the show using newer technology. The show has always trafficked in meta-narratives and pop culture references, and honestly doesn't have the broad appeal of Parks and Recreation or Arrested Development, another comedy well ahead of its time. Chances are, everyone who would love Community is probably already watching. For a show like Community to work, the infrastructure may need to be changed, and it's possible it'll never change enough to allow a show like this to work again on a major network.
It helps to look at the bigger picture: the possible end of Community is currently the only black mark on comedy television's present golden age. To some extent, NBC should be applauded for giving Dan Harmon this much of a shot to begin with. For a network ranked dead last, three seasons of a poorly-rated show on its most prestigious time block was actually quite charitable. All we can hope is NBC somehow sees fit to grant the show its fourth season, or Community somehow finds life outside the major networks, though that never seems to happen, does it? At least maybe we'll get a chance to figure out what the whole air-conditioning repairman cabal lead by John Goodman is all about.