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TV Tonight: Community-mentum?

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Lewis Jacobs/NBC

I’m not going to tell you to watch Community tonight. Don’t take that to mean I don’t love the show. There have been plenty of encomiums, tributes and pleas written on the show’s behalf over the last three years, some of them by me, and if I’m not writing one more right now, it’s more to spare you than me. That is, if you watch Community, you probably already have a countdown clock set for the show’s return from hiatus at 8 p.m. ET tonight, you are intensely committed to watching it, and nothing I say is going to make you watch it harder.

And if you’re not—well, yeah, it’s brilliant and risk-taking and inventive and gut-busting, but look: you’re a person reading a TV blog. You’re a person reading this TV blog, which is to say, you are probably already well aware of Community, you’ve already given it a shot or decided it’s not for you, and I should give you a rest already.

So let me instead just give the Community fans a couple of pieces of good news, for once. First, I’ve seen tonight’s episode, and it’s deeply funny, one of the best the show has made this season. Second and more important, while I have no inside information on this, I have lately been feeling not-so-terribly-pessimistic about the show’s chances of getting picked up for a fourth season, low ratings and all.

One of the reasons, granted, is same-old-same-old: nothing but The Voice and football really has great ratings at NBC in primetime, and the network can only cancel so much at once. But I’ve also been encouraged by some of the TV-biz coverage of the show’s return, particularly this New York Times piece by Bill Carter, which cites concrete reasons to be optimistic: 30 Rock (which NBC has all but committed to running as long as Tina Fey wants to make it) got even worse ratings in Community’s time slot; the show has done very well in online airings, suggesting that it is reaching viewers that TV has a hard time reaching at all these days; and maybe most intangible but encouraging, even creator Dan Harmon sounds optimistic. (That might not sound surprising for any show, but if you follow Harmon at all, you know he’s a funny guy but not exactly known for putting on a front of sunniness.) And in a well-timed thumbs-up, Comedy Central just cut a deal to air the show in cable syndication. (Making a profit off the show in syndication is one practical reason for NBC to want to keep the show around for another year or so.)

I’m not counting on six seasons and a movie just yet. But I’m at least felling feeling better about the prospects of four seasons, which would be fitting for a show set at college. Let’s hope Community gets at least that, because the minds behind it would be terrible things to waste.

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