There was once, at the very beginning, a sense in which this show had-- well, let us say... at least a bare working context of actual reality. It would still have been watchable, even good in that form... but thankfully, the whole project went wildly off the rails and fast... even well before that first quirky season ended.
The original premise? It was pretty simple, really.
A cocky lawyer is disbarred when it is discovered he had no real bachelor's degree, and he has no choice but to enroll at a local Community College to procure one. Even the college in those early episodes was something similar to a real JC-- and of course there's a strangeness to all higher learning campuses in today's USA that could reasonably sustain a hip, satirical, comedic look at one.
Instead of this, however, COMMUNITY-- the sitcom brain-child of some geeky genius guy named Dan Harmon-- chose to be a hip, satirical, comedic look at... well... at Television itself, at story conceits in general, really at everything from metaphysics and religion and science fiction, to the strange appeal of ersatz "barely-foods" like chicken fingers, and ersatz "barley-tropes" like zombie apocalypses.
In retrospect, it had to end sometime, and now is probably that time. Looking back, the whole show-- from season one to season five-- and I was watching the very first night it premiered-- has a nice kind of completeness to it. Recently, I watched that pilot episode again as a syndicated replay. Although it didn't have the insanity of the later episodes it was actually a perfect starter. At one point, the lawyer Jeff Winger's old friend Duncan, now a washed-up junior college professor, tells Jeff:
"What you have now, my friend, is a second chance at an honest life."
And, amazingly, this truly serves as the overall thematic arc of the entire series: a cynic-- who borders being a sociopath-- is forced to make and maintain friends with his own dysfunctional and irritating community-at-hand.
Now, don't get me wrong... there was always a sense in which that whole thing was the usual annoyingly heavy-handed allegory about human collectivism [even the title was significantly suggestive of that favorite Hollywood theme about a deeper and mystical "socialism within us all"-- usually stuff that sends this old libertarian scrambling-- I mean SCRAMBLING-- for the remote control!]
But what set COMMUNITY apart-- at least for me-- were two things:
1. An amazing ensemble cast of truly gifted comedic actors [comedians are one thing, actors are another... the talented hybrid of both is a MUCH rarer thing than we often realize.]
2. A team of writers who often actually succeeded in doing what is usually only claimed: creating scripts that are new takes and truly unique in the history of the American sit-com.
This combination gave us stuff like the legendary "Time-line" episode [don't even ask how many times my kids and I have watched this one]; the 2-- count them-- 2 Dungeons & Dragons episodes [amazing textured entertainment even to a guy who never even thought of playing an RPG-- and I confess I kinda want to now!]; the Law & Order episode ["Need I remind you, gentlemen, this is NOT a court of law!"]; and the list goes on and on.
COMMUNITY famously had one of those "loyal cult followings" that literally saved it from cancelation about 4 times. Although I never joined any campaign to save it or sent any emails on its behalf, I am truly thankful for all those fellow geeks that did.
One thing's for sure: Thursday nights will never be quite the same again.