Be careful what you wish for

Last week, <em>Yahoo!</em> announced its resurrection plan for <em>Community</em>, the dumped NBC comedy that everyone you know loves. After 97 episodes, multiple showrunners, and low ratings throughout, <em>Community</em> will move to Yahoo! Screen, the latest online outlet to release television.

From a fan&rsquo;s perspective, this is happy news. Cast and crew retain their jobs &mdash; it&rsquo;s never easy for actors or set workers to have their employment hinge on near-uncontrollable ratings. Cancellation puts people out of work. The industry only gets better from more digital platforms producing television.

But today, let&rsquo;s talk about legacies.

Television series never air indefinitely &mdash; series lengths are usually not determined by creators themselves. Viewers, en masse, decide which shows run one season and which run seven, and quality rarely has anything to do with it.

<em>Community</em> has improbably run for five seasons, four of them generally liked, and now it&rsquo;s a senior comedy whose best seasons are a faraway memory. Most long-running sitcoms peak around season two or three. Very few find a second gear in their later seasons.

<em>How I Met Your Mother</em> ran for four great seasons and ended with four very poor ones. If it had accelerated its storyline to wrap by Season 6, we might remember it more fondly today. <em>Seinfeld </em>didn&rsquo;t dip as steeply, but a seventh season exit might&rsquo;ve cemented it as the best sitcom ever.

<em>Community</em> is veering into this territory where its fifth season improved on its shaky fourth, but didn&rsquo;t reach the apex of season two. It&rsquo;s easy to imagine a continued decline as character traits become more exaggerated and its plot convolutes to keep the kids at Greendale.

All sitcoms decline in this manner, some more gracefully than others. <em>The Big Bang Theory</em> has stretched Sheldon&rsquo;s interpersonal deficiencies beyond my tolerance, becoming unwatchable. <em>The Office</em> probably should&rsquo;ve concluded with Steve Carell&rsquo;s leave in Season 7. <em>Parks and Recreation</em> has plateaued since its sparkling third season, but continues advancing its characters&rsquo; lives to create meaningful stories.

<em>Parks</em>, whose next season will be its last, recognizes that the story is running out for Leslie Knope. It&rsquo;s still an enjoyable show. It could run for two more seasons, but it shouldn&rsquo;t. By exiting gracefully, we&rsquo;ll remember <em>Parks</em> as a show that didn&rsquo;t torture us with meaningless twists in its latest seasons (&agrave; la <em>Mother</em>). I&rsquo;m afraid that <em>Community</em>, whose second half of Season 5 was already markedly worse, will reach this nadir in Season 6 and diminish our perceptions of it as a smart, thoughtful sitcom.

That&rsquo;s why it&rsquo;s okay for sitcoms to end prematurely. When I think about a hypothetical fourth season of <em>Happy Endings</em>, I can&rsquo;t imagine it topping its hilarious second and third seasons. <em>Happy Endings</em> lingers as one of my favourite sitcoms ever because it never entered a decline.

<em>Community</em> delivered terrific episodes this year &mdash; &ldquo;Cooperative Polygraphy&rdquo; through &ldquo;Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality&rdquo; were four different episodes with different tones that earned its emotional climaxes &mdash; but I&rsquo;m less confident&nbsp; with season six to continue reinventing.

I&rsquo;m happy to be proven wrong. Sitcoms just rarely live this long and sustain the quality that made it a fan favourite. <em>Community</em>, which could&rsquo;ve ended with Season 3 just fine, has already hurt its legacy with its less-adored fourth season. Season 6 is Dan Harmon&rsquo;s chance to end things without compromising tone and character.


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