Season Analysis: Community had a lot to accomplish in Season 5: get its narrative back on track after the unfocused Season 4, deliver fitting farewells to Troy Barnes and Pierce Hawthorne, re-orient the rhythm of its ensemble with those departures and the addition of new regulars, once again craft a potential series finale or set out a map for a future beyond Season 5, and on top of all that, continue the storylines of the characters who remained.  This was a tall order for 13 episodes to fill, and it did an admirable job of nearly pulling all of it off.  Perhaps 3 more episodes would have allowed Shirley an adequate storyline and resulted in a better balance of high-concept and grounded episodes.  Season 5’s theme ultimately appeared to be the difficulty of moving on at a time in life when moving on should be natural.  This message was not delivered quite as strongly as it could have been, but it was done strongly enough that Community resumed its rightful place as one of the most entertaining and most important shows on television.

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“Basic Sandwich”
After my initial viewing of “Basic Sandwich,” I declared that it did a great job of hedging its bets between being a de facto series finale or just another season finale.  It put a cap on saving Greendale, while leaving open plenty of storyline avenues that could easily fill out at least another whole year.  But I made that statement with a fair degree of confidence in renewal.  So once NBC threw down the cancellation decision, I realized just how unsatisfying “Basic Sandwich” really would have been as the absolute end.  But then Yahoo! came through in the last minute, and suddenly this was an even more perfect episode.  This is the show that refuses to die, the cult favorite that actually will get to end on its own terms despite all the forces that have tried to prevent that from happening, and that defiance was completely woven into the fabric of this episode. Even before the cancellation/renewal whirlwind, the crisis in “Basic Sandwich” of whether or not the study group should move on mirrored the situation that Community fans found themselves in.  Annie’s fears of losing Jeff romantically led her to question the value of saving Greendale, as she realized it wasn’t quite the same place it had always been, now that it was missing certain great people and their attendant charms.  But Abed proved once again that his meta, deconstructionist nature, and by extension, the meta nature of Community, has never been detached, but always a loving embrace to the people important to Abed and to the fans of the show.  Yes, Greendale had changed, and yes, Community will probably continue to change.  But that does not mean, as Jeff and Britta almost scared themselves into thinking, that the best option is running away from it all at the end of an era.  All good things must come to an end, but they should not be abandoned.  Understanding that difference is a major part of what Community is exploring in its latter years, and “Basic Sandwich” presented an episode-length dramatization of that conundrum.  And it also managed to make Dave Matthews Band cool.

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Runner-up: “Geothermal Escapism”
A game of “the floor is lava” as a send-off for Troy could have been a disappointing paintball knockoff, and at first it did seem to be following the beats of those classics (though with enough dystopian style of its own to make it worthwhile).  But it took a third act turn that stunned with a side of Community we had not quite seen before.  Abed wanted to let Troy go, but he literally could not help but seeing that as a disaster – the floor actually was lava to him.  We had seen Abed’s mental breakdowns before, but never one that he had acknowledged and confronted so head-on.  This crisis of wanting to let go but not quite knowing how made Troy’s departure that much more heartbreaking but also that much more satisfying.

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