Sitcoms are comforting; that’s their main feature. We develop a connection with the characters, we enjoy the rhythms of the jokes and emotional beats. Pilots are almost universally terrible and usually it takes several episodes before a show finds its sea legs. But then the characters grow on us. Even the characters once grating have now become charming. This comfort eventually entraps the sitcom and it kills itself if the network hasn’t already killed it. A sitcom can only go on so long before the grooves wear out and you’re left with something flat and untextured. The characters become caricatures. The rhythms that were once comforting become too predictable.
There are other deaths though. An event may force a change in the show and then it is no longer what it once was. That counts as death… from a certain point of view. That’s what happened with Community. Dan Harmon was fired, and now the show feels different. It feels off. Sitcoms are about familiarity, and this show lacks some essential element (or elements) that make it feels like Community instead of some zombie show. But what is different? I mean, each season has a distinct feel, and I never really complained about their differentness before the disappearance of Harmon. So, it’s not just that Community feels different, but that its DNA has been fundamentally altered. It no longer feels familiar.
I have one hypothesis I’d like to test. I recently read Harmon on story structure. You can find it here: Story Circle. Everything goes in a circle and there are very specific steps. Old Community adhered to those story beats, and I’m guessing new Community doesn’t. Of course, I’ll have to test this hypothesis. I mean, I think the German might adhere to this structure, but it was still rather low on the laughs. This means I’ll actually have to rewatch season four episodes, which I don’t look forward to.
Other hypotheses: The jokes just aren’t as funny. The types of jokes are different or the pacing is different. The music is different. The editing is different.
I’m guessing there’s a combination of things, but it would feel so much more comforting if the story structure hypothesis turned out to true.