By Isaac Butler
There are few things I've written on this blog that I'm more ashamed of than this blog post from a year ago about the cancellation of Community and my Uncle-in-Law's death. Basically, to summarize the story: My uncle-in-law died at the same time that Community's creator and show runner Dan Harmon was fired, and, while I loved the show, I found it totally bizarre that people were lamenting Harmon's exit in the same way my family was lamenting Uncle Bill's death.
That's an interesting thing to explore, I think. The way we grieve beloved shows and the way we grieve beloved people and how they relate to one another. It's actually territory Community itself has joked about when Troy says he wants to stage his death to look like a suicide protesting the cancellation of Firefly. So. So far so good, I suppose.
But then I took it a step further and declared the entirety of Season 3 a failure with the exception of two episodes. I took it a step further than that and accused the show of containing a poisonous strain of latent homophobia. And then a step further than that and said that Ken Jeong and Jim Rash were never funny.
The reason why I'm ashamed of this post is that it contains some moments of writing that I'm geniunely proud of, but the interesting premise i had-- that fan grieving processes are really fucking weird-- gets totally derailed by rage and transforms into a series of gratuitous attacks on a show that brought me great joy (and which employs an actress I've briefly worked with and genuinely like). It was almost as if I was saying not only is your grief misplaced, but this thing you love isn't worth it, either!
Honestly, having written it in what amounts to a fugue state, I largely forgot about it until the aforementioned Dan Harmon tweeted about his mother and mentioned the blog post. She apparently sent it to him. Relatively near when it came out. Which is to say, right after he got fired.
He tweeted about this months after the fact, towards the end of 2012. Which happened to be right when my wife and I had decided to rewatch Community in its entirety and had fallen deeply in love with it. It went from a show that I felt had a first season that was good (but a warm up) to a classic second season to a complete disaster of a third to a show that I adored from the get go. While the third season still felt at times uneven, (a) it wasn't to the extent that I thought it was and (b) I didn't mind, because I was getting so much pleasure from the good bits, that the dips didn't really register.
I was wrong, in other words. I was very, very wrong about the show in a very public way. (Seriously, in like 2 hours that post got more hits than anything else I've written including my review of Turn Off The Dark). And looking back at that post, I wrote about it ways that feel almost deliberately hurtful to people who followed and loved Community, which was a weird thing to do, as I was one of them.
Harmon himself tweeted that he felt like his show had gotten caught in an argument between a smart guy and God and, other than the smart part, I don't see a lot there i could disagree with. I tweeted an apology to him and said I wanted to write about the show again when I finished rewatching it. Which, I suppose, I am doing now.
I think about that moment a lot.
I thought about it when I finally watched the first season of Girls a few months back. I was glad I waited until the hullabaloo around season one had died down, so I could actually watch it, which it seemed almost no one else was doing when it first aired. What I discovered was that (with the exception of race) there wasn't a single critique thrown at that show that the show hadn't already anticipated and dealt with within the show. Girls was, in other words, smarter than almost every single person who wrote about Girls. It just saved a lot of that critique for the second half of the season because it's a carefully constructed and well thought out work of art.
I think about that moment now with the new season of Arrested Development which has garnered the usual amounts of rage that you get when you are a beloved nerd property and don't give people exactly what they expected. I am only a few episodes in. I'm taking my time. The new season is so dense with plot and easter eggs and jokes, it has pushed things so very, very, far that I know it won't work if I marathon it. In fact, I'm not sure I'm willing to form a judgement of it unti I've seen it twice. But I can say this: I admire Mitch Hurwitz's ambition as a story-teller. He has done that thing that you can only really do when you have a dedicated audience, and that's take huge risks and expect people to go with you. It reminds me of Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City (a book that, like this new season of Arrested Development, needs to be experienced more than once) or Talking Heads' Fear of Music or Soderbergh's later work. He's trying to push himself and the show as far as it can go, and if the risk doesn't pay off, at least he took it.
I think about it too with Mad Men which started-- as many seasons of Mad Men do-- in a way that feels listless and difuse, only to coalesce halfway through the season. And how worried everyone-- including me-- seemed to be that the show would lose its way or bore us. And how, like with Mitch Hurwitz, I admired that Matthew Weiner was willing to risk being self-indulgent if it meant he could experiment with this world he's made.
Honestly, this moment I'm in-- and I still feel in it-- this moment of not wanting to rush, of wanting to think things through, slow down a bit, feels antithetical to blogging. It feels antithetical to the culture of the episode review, of the instant reaction, of the constant fandom fear that the work of art you love, that you are making yourself vulnerable to, will betray you and hurt you in some way. Writing a review of a show episode by episode (something I've done on this blog many times) makes about as much sense to me now as writing reviews of individual chapters in Don DeLillo's Underworld.
This is not a retirement notice. I have every intent of writing more on this blog, more frequently (I hope) now that I have finished graduate school and moved back to New York. I am reviewing two movies next week for Hooded Utilitarian. Yet at the same time, I feel that I've grown into a place that feels out of step with a piece of our culture, and I'm not sure yet how to resolve it. One of the weird things about blogs is that they take these thoughts off the top of our heads and freeze them amber. Of the other weird things is that we can always post the next day, "meh, I changed my mind." Perhaps the weirdest thing is how infrequently we do that.