Entertainment Geekly is a weekly column that examines pop culture through a geek lens and simultaneously examines contemporary geek culture through a pop lens. So many lenses!
If you’re a human being, you probably don’t watch Community. The show’s audience is engaged, empowered, and one-sixth the size of the audience accidentally watching whatever’s on after The Big Bang Theory. And I know why you don’t watch. Even by the standards of low- rated cause-célèbre wonder shows, Community is hard to like. The lead characters are pricks, lunatics, deluded mock-intellectuals, and self-important gasbags. The most likable character on the show would be the most annoying person you have ever met.
So Community’s brilliance testifies to the full commitment of the actors, the writers, the directors, and mad-genius showrunner Dan Harmon. And the fact that Community lasted five seasons on NBC testifies to to the postapocalyptic state of television in general.
The medium has expanded beyond the old horizons. Viewing habits have evolved, constantly and radically. Like, what was the first TV show you never watched live? Did you wait for every season of 24 to hit DVD? Did you download Lost on iTunes? (Nobody watched The Wire, and then it ended, and then some of us watched The Wire and made everyone who hadn’t watched it feel bad for not watching it.) A couple of years ago, people bemoaned the end of the Golden Age of Television. 2014 marks the end of the Television Age of Television.
Haven’t watched The Wire yet? You should feel bad! Fortunately, it’s available on HBO Go, the service that allows a silent majority of under-25s to scheme fantastic television off their parents’ accounts. Be careful when you watch, though. The service hiccuped for True Detective and it hiccuped for Game of Thrones. Hardcore Downton Abbey and Sherlock heads used less-official online platforms to watch those shows months before they aired on PBS. Ten years ago, a generation came of age never learning how to buy music from a store. Today, a new generation grows up never watching television on TV.
That doesn’t mean TV-on-television will end immediately. Live shows are bigger than ever; sporting events still mint ad dollars; some of us enjoy the security-blanket sensation of 500 channels we’ll never watch. But the trends are there. Netflix and Amazon are plotting aggressive slates of new shows–Marvel and the Wachowskis, Chelsea Handler, Chris Carter and Steven Soderbergh and Mena Suvari. Meanwhile, no one in America feels anything besides utter hatred toward their cable company, and no one will mourn when all the Time Warners and Comcasts finally die two minutes after we press the “die” button on our remote controls.
Community, by the way, was recently saved from cancellation oblivion by Yahoo’s new streaming video service, Yahoo Screen, and will debut its sixth season this fall. So, to recap: a low-rated show from a gradual-decline network was just rescued by the search engine your dad’s too cool to use. This may not be world-shaking, but the implications are.
Post-TV television won’t necessarily be better. There will be more fan service, more narrow-casting: You’ll watch your shows, I’ll watch mine. Not so long ago, television was becoming more like movies, but now it’s probably more accurate to say it’s trending toward the nichefied world of music. The fourth season of Arrested Development, on Netflix, was like the concept album produced by a rock band in its experimental phase; like most concept albums, it was interesting and terrible. Will Community’s sixth season suffer the same fate? I hope it will be good. I do know that I’ll be watching it, on my computer.