Dan Harmon Leaving Is Okay
Or how Community will be your new Sugar Ray
I promise this won’t be another blog post about the rise and fall of Dan Harmon or one that bemoans the death of greatness at the hands of an industry that can’t appreciate talent or one that demands Dan Harmon be installed as supreme leader of Must-See TV or I WILL BURN THIS PLACE TO THE GROUND. We here at Monsters of Television tend to have a more sober approach to television scandals and news (sometimes to our own Google-Analytical demise, see the low statistics for our thoughts on Girls) and the same will be said for a look at the changing of the guard on one of our favorite shows. I won’t speak for Noel (I’m sure he’ll have his own addendum or companion piece [dissenting opinion?] if this doesn’t line up precisely with his thoughts) but here’s my take on everything, based on the last twenty-four hours of the Twitter news cycle.
It’ll be fine. It won’t be the same. But it’ll be — fine.
I’m no insider and I don’t propose that I know more about the industry than any other medium fanboy (that is the television medium, not the show Medium — I’m not Malik from Suburgatory) but I’ve read about the situation on slashfilm, Mo Ryan’s blog, and from Dan Harmon’s own pie hole and they’ve addressed the anger and the hurt feelings.
For those that don’t want to click on links: Sony decided to remove Dan Harmon as showrunner on Community. They didn’t really tell him why apparently (as far as his blog post indicates) but he saw it coming a few days ago. Rumors had been swirling on the interwebs for a while about the move happening and it did. Harmon will be replaced by David Guarascio and Moses Port, who are famous for being consulting producers on Happy Endings, a season’s worth of episodes on a show I’d forgotten about called Aliens in American, and coming in at the end of Just Shoot Me! So not a couple people with strong expertise in doing a two animation episodes a season based on pop-culture trappings. Dan Harmon has a clause in his contract that says he’s to remain a consulting producer on the show but, for all intents and purposes, if Dan Harmon came into the office, he’d be a ghost, and not a sexy pottery-sculpting one.
So what does that mean for your favorite show Community? Essentially, you won’t be getting much from Dan Harmon’s brain. Community is a carefully architected show by a man who invented his own system of breaking down how to tell a story (yeah, the embryo). He had a plan. Whether that show will continue on that course is anyone’s guess. But I’m putting money down that it doesn’t.
But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad thing. I said this may be your favorite show. But is it? Comparatively, no one was watching the show. It’s been getting bullied throughout its entire existence by juggernauts of television, from American Idol to Big Bang Theory. Fans of Community may get incensed by such middling programming being what America watches, these yokels getting inspired by trite stories of people above average pipes from right-angle states instead of having their collective heart warmed by a Winger speech, but the fact is that audiences for these quirky shows haven’t found a way to mobilize enough people around them to save them from the axe or from being maimed by the industry. The fact is that the industry has chosen a metric, has had it for years, and that’s the one people need to appeal to.
And the problem is that NBC is stocked with quirky shows for which no one seems to know how to mobilize an audience. NBC is sinking and they need to do something drastic. 30 Rock will end next season on its own volition. Parks and Recreation is forever being threatened to be eaten by the cancellation bear. Bent didn’t even get a shot to find an audience before it was burned off. If NBC is going to let Community limp into syndication (where it’ll probably do well if they can get a sucker to buy it), some changes have to be made.
How bad does NBC want a Chuck Lorre show? Something with broad comic appeal that deals in archetypes and stereotypes but is bland enough for everyone to love? Did you see how they tried to cram Whitney down our throats? A change at the top of Community might give NBC the show they always wanted, a show that isn’t stuck in its own head, obsessed with mythology, and constantly threatening to confuse and reject an audience. A show that Chevy Chase thinks is funny.
So Community won’t be the same next season for sure. But will it be bad?
To use a sports analogy, next year will be a rebuilding season. New coaches, new staff. The players will have to learn an altered playbook. There’ll be some growing pains, some static between the old guard and the new. They might have to draft some new writers. The difference is a sports team usually has the space to rebuild and continue for seasons with the support of millions even if the team sucks. If Community can’t improve its ratings with the new season, will NBC keep it around?
To me, the better way to look at it is realizing your favorite band is retooling in order to up its record sales. I wish I had a more contemporary example of this off the top of my head but — Sugar Ray used to be a hard rock band, one of those first mid-90s groups to heavily incorporate a DJ into the rotation before Limp Bizkit hit it big, before KoRn and Deftones installed theirs. They made songs like “RPM” and “American Pig” and “10 Seconds Down” before hitting it big with “Fly”. And then it seemed like every song they put out after that was in the same vein as “Fly,” from “Every Morning” to “Someday” to “When It’s Over”. Essentially, the band did the same thing they were willing to do before (“Fly” was on the same album as “RPM” and “American Pig”) but they were willing to reintroduce themselves to the public with a softer sound in order to continue their lives in the music industry.
That’s what the new Community aims to do. The focus will be to distill what is broadly appealing about the show while excising all the stuff that can leave an audience stranded. Jeff and Annie will still trade flirty glances. They’ll probably get Troy and Britta together (because The Bromance will need drama). And Pierce will figure more heavily, probably with lots of prat falls. Instead of being the tragic figure he represented throughout season 3, Abed will be the new Sheldon. Hopefully it won’t destroy all the good that Shirley has done with as little sass as possible but who knows.
I’ll venture to say that it’ll still be funny, just in a way that isn’t as exclusive. While Dan Harmon was in charge, there was a vision for the show in narrative structure. Without Harmon, the show will still be interesting, just in a way that’s more common. Dan Harmon will bounce back in some form (the end of his blog post suggests returning to his Channel 101 roots with internet ventures) but it won’t be on Community. And when people ask you if you like the show, you’ll be like, “The new stuff is all right, I guess. But I was really into the old stuff, before they sold out.”
Not that you can ever say that you were into Sugar Ray. Cripes, you don’t want to become a pariah, do you?
- May 19, 2012