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Community has fared far better than The Cape. (Suzanne Wang/ McGill Tribune)

Pop rhetoric: #sixseasonsandamovie: Community’s self-fulfilling prophecy

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Depending on how you look at it, the fact that Community will premiere its sixth season on Yahoo! Screen today is either an astonishing achievement or a preordained inevitability. On one hand, the unconventional sitcom has been fighting off (and eventually succumbed to) cancellation since 2011. Yet, while Community may not have developed the type of fan base that could prolong its run as a primetime comedy on a major network, it’s thriving in the most appropriate way possible—and on the verge of fulfilling an unlikely milestone that it unintentionally created.

The origins of this go back to Season Two’s “Paradigms of Human Memory.” During the episode, the community college study group that the show is centred on—known as the ‘Greendale Seven’—is reflecting on the more tumultuous moments from their second year together. There’s a flashback where Abed (Danny Pudi), the poster boy for the show’s frequent pop-culture commentary and meta-humour, is dressed up as the main character from NBC’s short-lived superhero drama, The Cape. After Abed sneaks up on Jeff (Joel McHale) in the school’s cafeteria and sweeps away his lunch tray with a black cape, Jeff angrily yells, “That show’s gonna last three weeks!”—to which Abed responds, “Six seasons and a movie!”

It was a typical Abed joke that didn’t have much significance at the time—other than Community taking a shot at a show from its own network or that it tried to hint at there being some kind of important benchmark for TV longevity. But over the following months, it came to completely define Community’s outspoken, cult-like fan base. In the fall of 2011 when season 3 was airing to unsatisfactory ratings, NBC indefinitely suspended the show’s run to make room for 30 Rock. With Community’s fate suddenly up in the air after a successful first two seasons, fans gave Abed’s joke a social media spin and thus, #sixseasonsandamovie was born. The hashtag took off, and by embodying the show’s playful self-awareness, provided the perfect rallying cry for the Community faithful—even the actors got on board, using it on their personal Twitter accounts.  

All seemed to be well after the show returned in 2012 and finished off the third season strongly, but in an even more startling move that summer, it fired creator Dan Harmon and #sixseasonsandamovie returned. NBC did decide to go ahead with season 4, but once again delayed it until the next winter after promising an October 19 premiere—which brought back the familiar hashtag and prompted fans to ironically Tweet things like “Community’s almost back! #October19” in the buildup to its actual February 7 premiere.

Without Harmon, the heart and soul of Community’s humour, season 4 was largely a disappointment—and has since been dubbed the ‘gas leak’ year both in and outside the show—but the dream of #sixseasonsandamovie never wavered. NBC wisely brought Harmon back for a fifth season, which was well-received despite losing prominent cast members Chevy Chase and Donald Glover. Again, all seemed to be well, until of course NBC finally pulled the plug it had been fiddling with for three years and cancelled Community for good.

After all that Community had been through with NBC, it only seems fitting that it reaches the promised land of a sixth season with Yahoo! Screen; it should be a perfect marriage between a streaming service that has never had such a high-profile show before and a series whose niche was always with the type of viewers who are far more likely to download new episodes than watch them the traditional way.

While some could argue this to be a weakness, it’s a greater indication of Community’s rare strengths. The reality is that most TV shows fizzle out after a few seasons, and when they do, their fans have usually already moved on to the next big thing. Community fans might not go out of their way to spike NBC’s ratings, but they will embody the show’s quirky aesthetic on social media and back it aggressively until they die. By creating a universe that functions as a zany critique of reality, that zaniness rubbed off on its fans enough to allow something like #sixseasonsandamovie to inspire real hope. 

We’ll have to wait and see if a Community movie materializes, but given the way things have played out so far, it’s hard to bet against it happening. If it does though, it’ll be the show’s best piece of meta-commentary yet.

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