Community seasons 5 and 6 – not recommended

SPOILERS

I liked Community seasons 1-3 a lot.  See previous posting How to watch Community.

Season 5

Dan Harmon returned as showrunner to Community in season 5 and was able to, sort of, put it back together, but Pierce is gone and then Troy.  This latter will become critical in season 6.  As a reboot the show is ok, but it just isn’t quite Community.  The show has gone beyond its natural arc.

Not recommended.

Season 6

Season 6 is interesting in a television analysis way, but not in an entertainment way.  Do not watch it.

A show has a certain structural integrity, certain key components that hold it together.  For a show that is explicitly about a group of people, the members of that group are key.  Community could have withstood the loss of one minor group member, as it did with the loss of Pierce.  But in season 6, Pierce, Shirley and Troy are gone and the show simply doesn’t work.  It turns out that Troy is a load-bearing member of the group.  His subtle, fun dynamic with Abed is in many ways the core of the joy of the show.  While Jeff is in theory the main character, Troy-Abed bring a key dynamic that balances the show.

Dan Harmon represents this quite literally in 6×01.  In a profile of Harmon in Wired, we learn

The circles are everywhere, if you know to look for them. They’re on the whiteboards around Dan Harmon’s office, on sheets tacked to his walls, on a notepad on the floor of his car. Each one is hand-drawn and divided into quadrants with scribbled notes and numbers sprouting along the edges. They look like little targets. …

the circle, an algorithm that distills a narrative into eight steps

The circles, in season 6, are frisbees.  When the roof collapses in 6×01, it’s Harmon saying that the show has collapsed without Troy, exacerbated by the loss of Shirley.  Leonard’s crumbling frisbee is the crumbling arc of his life in the show, and the crumbling of the show as a whole.

Without Troy, Harmon is basically in an impossible situation.  Imagery that came to my mind is that it’s like watching someone trying to put together a vase with missing pieces, when both you and they know it’s impossible, or trying to bring back an extinct animal when you have too few fragments of DNA.  The whole season is very angry and self-aware.  It’s like watching Harmon have a mental breakdown.  It’s a sad conclusion to a brilliant beginning.  You can see him speaking through Abed (who is essentially his avatar) in 6×08, and see him speaking through Jeff in the aptly-named finale, 6×13 Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television.  Jeff (who is Harmon’s secondary avatar) is basically phoning in his job (within the show), and throughout the season but particularly in the finale expressing how trapped he feels.  Everyone will leave and there he will be, eternally condemned to live a year at Greendale over and over.  How can you even make it work when the story has gone beyond its arc?  Do you make everyone teachers?  Do you bring back old characters and keep the new ones?  Do you cycle endlessly through variations of the same tropes and character quirks?  …  It’s a kind of showrunner hell that is depicted.  I feel really sorry for Harmon, trying to breathe life into the broken doll of his beloved show.

In any case, for the above reasons, season 6 is very much not recommended.

I imagine it may show up in future university curricula about television writing though.

How to watch Community

The short answer is: watch seasons 1, 2, and then season 3 up to and including 3×17 Basic Lupine Urology.  And then stop.  Consider 3×17 the series finale.

Later, you can watch 3×20 Digital Estate Planning and consider it a bonus episode.

That’s it.  It’s a truncated show arc, but it is the heart of the show.

An appreciation of Community

Community is basically about watching television itself.  Both the strange solitary-yet-social aspect and the tropes associated with TV shows.

Watching television is not like watching a movie.  A movie in a theatre is a collective, public experience.  Television is much more intimate, personal.  It’s in your home, it’s part of your life.  We extend our social sphere to encompass the people on the screen – somehow when watching Friends you are in New York, a silent friend in the gang, when you’re watching Stargate SG-1 you’re part of an SG team in a way.  Community recognizes the ad hoc nature of how we construct social groups from strangers, but the table has a key message – it’s Jeff, Britta, Abed, Troy, Pierce, Shirley, Annie… and an empty seat, which is to say, and you.

The show is weird, and funny, and clever.

The natural arc of the show would have been for them to progress through four years (four seasons) and then graduate, slightly changed, slightly better.  The Starburns Decision towards the end of season 3 disrupted that arc, and then the loss of Dan Harmon as showrunner for season 4 shattered it completely.

For a further (and spoiler-filled) analysis of the show in seasons 5 and 6, see my next posting.

Big Ideas for Ottawa 2067

The NCC wants 17 “big ideas” for 2067, so here are mine:

  1. convert parkway lanes, or the entire parkway system, to separated cycling highways e.g. https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/routes-and-maps/cycle-superhighways
  2. restore Union Station’s use as a (VIA) train station, with connections to Ottawa LRT
  3. replace the parking lots with the original symmetrical park (see https://www.flickr.com/photos/rakerman/5898482946/ )
  4. demolish L’Esplanade Laurier (block between Bank and O’Connor) and build a park to serve new towers along LRT line
  5. replace the high-speed arterials through downtown Ottawa with safer complete streets e.g. http://ecologyottawa.ca/complete-streets/ (also see map with arterials as red lines at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rakerman/6722994119/ )
  6. Make Gatineau Park a National Park (protected by the National Parks Act)
  7. Permanently close Gatineau Park to vehicle traffic; only active transportation in the park
  8. have a regular shuttle bus from Ottawa and Hull into Gatineau Park ; ideally with space for skis etc.
  9. replace current busy mix of OC Transpo & STO buses on Wellington/Rideau with a tram loop e.g. http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/sites/default/files/pubs/2013-p07e-inteprovincial-transit-integration.pdf
  10. extend train service over Prince of Wales bridge to Gatineau again; but also have a cycling bridge at same location
  11. free Chaudière Falls (remove ring dam), connect to Rideau Falls with clearly signed, safe, separated cycling path
  12. separated bike lanes (cycle tracks) on Sparks Street, with good and safe connections to rest of cycling network
  13. well-signed, free public washrooms and water fountains throughout the downtown, along paths, and in parks
  14. Make Ottawa a Dark Sky Community, restoring beautiful night sky for residents and visitors – for more info see http://darksky.org/idsp/communities/
  15. Make Ottawa a Blue Community, with bottled water banned – for more info see http://canadians.org/bluecommunities
  16. Make Ottawa a carbon-neutral community – for more info see http://www.projectneutral.org/
  17. Implement “Most surface parking should be removed from the plateau” from 2007 Parliamentary Precinct LTVP (p. 27) – also see image from plan at https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CWWK78bU4AAUHHQ.jpg

Bonus idea: Clear (shovel, plow etc.) all steps, walkways and pathways, including in parks, throughout the winter.

The entire exercise is a bit puzzling as the NCC already did a big Horizon 2067 consultation.  Of note, in the 28 pages of the local consultation (PDF) there are zero mentions of the parkways, commuter highways beloved by the NCC and which many of the urbanist residents of Ottawa would like to see replaced with narrower, slower streets or replaced with bikeways (as I suggest above) or just removed altogether.