Underneath all the geeky references, the twisted meta-storylines, the high-concept homage episodes, the weird characters, the gut-busting one-liners, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Easter eggs, the Doctor Who/Inspector Spacetime fanlove, the paintball wars, the zany Dean outfits, the disturbing Changness of Chang, the Troy-and-Abed credit scenes, and all the rest of the craziness that makes this show so special and so beloved — underneath all of that, Community has really been about a very simple thing: how to be a better human being by discovering the nature of friendship. At the heart of nearly every episode, gift-wrapped in delicious layers of pop-culture sophistication, is an uncomplicated, childlike lesson: about trust, kindness, compassion, and the bonds that connect us to each other and free us from our loneliness. It’s about stepping out of ourselves — out of our own problems and obsessions and self-pity and cynicism — and learning how to be, as the show’s title says, a community. Even Pierce learns this in the end.
And perhaps no other Jeff Winger soapbox speech delivers this message as directly and as profoundly as the one that wraps up Season Three:
Guys like me will tell you there’s no right or wrong. There’s no real truths. And as long as we all believe that, guys like me can never lose.
Because the truth is, I’m lying when I say there is no truth. The truth is — the pathetically, stupidly, inconveniently obvious truth is — helping only ourselves is bad and helping each other is good. [...]
It’s that easy. You just stop thinking about what’s good for you and start thinking about what’s good for someone else. And you can change the whole game with one move.
That’s it, really. So simple and idealistic and utterly true that it hurts. And yet it’s such a hard lesson to learn, both in the show and in the real world, where corporate greed and the cynicism of politics and the polarization of rigid beliefs and the general breakdown of trust have made us all hungry for reminders that we can come together to solve our problems — that it’s the coming together that solves our problems. But “coming together” doesn’t mean asking other people to understand you and do something for you — or at least it doesn’t mean just that. It means being willing to understand and do something for them. It requires generosity, empathy, kindness, other-centeredness.
When we forget this — whether we’re religious or secular or conservative or liberal — we fall apart. When we remember this, when we learn how to devote our energy to helping others instead of ourselves, we rise above ourselves. We collectively become something greater.
And we change the whole game with just one move.
Community will return for a fourth season. But without showrunner Dan Harmon — who was unceremoniously fired by studio execs who clearly haven’t learned the show’s lessons — it won’t be the same Community, and it won’t be MY Community. As far as I’m concerned, the Season Three finale was also the series finale, and Jeff’s speech was Harmon’s final word on the subject of how human beings need to treat each other. He couldn’t have gone out on a better note.
(Photo via the AV Club)