Yesterday some pretty shocking news hit the internet—Donald Glover, star of Community and one of the show’s main highlights as former football player turned geek Troy Barnes, would have a much more limited role in the series for its fifth season. In fact, Glover would only be on board for less than half of it, essentially turning him from a series regular into a recurring character. The moment the news hits, Community fans everywhere died a little—they finally got Dan Harmon back, but it seemed they had to trade a little something more in the process. Almost instantly Community nuts called this season dead, for how could the show possibly succeed without the talent of Donald Glover and his contributions to the show as Troy? And what of Troy and Abed, arguably the best BFF’s currently on TV? Could the pair operate so split apart? And more importantly, could Season 5 still be the rebound year the show desperately needs after the debacle that was last season? Many fans have already lost hope, but I for one am looking on the bright side. Maybe, just maybe, Harmon and Co. can make this work in ways that might surprise everyone.
Don’t get me wrong—Donald Glover tacking a back seat is pretty awful. Troy is a great character, and even at Community’s weakest, Don Glover’s natural charisma and showmanship shines through. He’s always a highlight of the show for me, and his absence in eight of the show’s episodes next season will surely be felt. But honestly, that’s what Harmon and his team need to do to rebound from this—make not just Glover’s absence hurt, but the character of Troy Barnes as well.
This isn’t the first time the show has had to deal with a main cast member being absent for a good portion of episodes. Just this season, Chevy Chase quit the show before shooting was all wrapped up, causing his character of Pierce not to be featured for 3 out of the 13 episodes. And in my mind, that situation was handled horribly. Chase not being involved in the episodes felt weird, and was made even weirder by dumb explanations given by the characters on the show for why he wasn’t there. They simply scooted the issue away, hoping no one would question the behind the scenes drama at play. But I did, and I’m sure many others did as well. And trust me, it will be even worse when it comes to episodes not featuring Donald Glover.
But Community, being the show it is, simply needs to embrace that. Don’t just say that Troy isn’t in in an episode because he’s sick with the flu or something. In my mind, Troy should genuinely leave Greendale. I don’t know if he should transfer or get a job out of town or something, but the show can’t simply sweep this one under the rug. Instead they should take advantage of the bad card they were dealt to get as much dramatic potential as they can from it, and push all that into furthering the characterization of one of the show’s primary characters: Abed.
Abed is probably my favorite character on the show, and a lot of that has to do with his relationship with Troy. That said, one element I haven’t really dug that was introduced in Season 3 was Abed’s clinginess to his best friend, and the way Troy coddles him through all of life. Some people dig this less strong and clever Abed, but I was bummed that the character became so reliant on his friend instead of confident and self sufficent like he was in the first few seasons. But with Troy now gone for a huge percentage of next season, now is Community’s chance to make it all worthwhile. Show us an Abed without his security blanket of Troy, and present to us how he moves forward without his best buddy at his side.
One of the things that Community has to address this season (especially if it is the show’s last) is the fact that these people have an expiration date for how long their friendships will last. Well it’s nice to think they’ll all move into the same apartment building and have wacky adventures forever, how often is that really the case when people finish school? No matter how hard you might try, the friends you knew will eventually drift away as you pursue different career paths. Using Troy as a direct way of relating that would be for the best at this point. I say the series premiere introduces the idea of Troy leaving Greendale, and then he actually leaving a few episodes later. The rest of the season could show the group confronting the idea that nothing last forever, and how they deal with that before all graduating. Season 4 attempted something like this, but didn’t have the consistency to fully deliver on it. With Harmon back at the helm, hopefully that would change.
All that said…this IS a comedy. So of course Troy would have to come back at the end of the season in some capacity…it would be too depressing if he didn’t. Which brings up another huge issue facing the lack of Donald Glover next season—will the show be as funny? This one, I’m not so sure about. Glover just brings so much to the show, and I’ll miss him being around to make his comments on the shenanigans that he and the rest of the Greendale 7 get into. That said, look at the Darkest Timeline in “Remedial Chaos Theory”—that insanity all occurred when Troy was the one to leave the group alone. Surely there’s a lot to explore there, right?
And honestly, that’s the “morale” of this article—there’s a lot of places this show can go with Troy only being a part of 40% of next season. Yes it sucks that the situation exists in the first place, but what can you do? Little Glover wants to sing, and nothing will change that now. But don’t just give us a bullshit excuse about him being sick and not being able to attend the study group that day or something. It sucks that Donald Glover won’t be a part of the next season very much. But the least Community can do is make his absence actually mean something and contribute to the season as a whole. With Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna both back, I still have my hopes up this will be the case.