‘Community’: The Theme Song Has a Super Depressing Meaning

Community has been off the air for a few years now, but the show is still in the front of the minds of its hardcore fan base. One of the many reasons that the show is fondly remembered is its theme song, “At Least It Was Here” by The 88. For a jingle that is entirely associated with a strangely hilarious and openly chaotic sitcom, the song inspires debate regarding the meaning of its lyrics.

Cast of 'Community' standing in a library
(L-R) Danny Pudi as Abed, Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley, Donald Glover as Troy, Alison Brie as Annie, Joel McHale as Jeff Winger, Gillian Jacobs as Britta | Vivian Zink/Getty Images

Some interpretations are deeply morbid, others are more wholesome and more connected to the themes of Community itself. Neither the show’s creator Dan Harmon or the band The 88 have ever joined in on the debate, so all we can do is speculate on why it became the theme song. 

The lyrics to Community’s theme song are darker than some realize

The production is jaunty and bright, recalling the feeling of that first day of school for eager students ready to move forward in their lives. But the instrumentation and you’ll see a song that hints heavily at sadness and melancholy for something that’s past the point of no return. 

It’s even in the name of the song. Naming the song “At Least It Was Here” makes it clear that the songwriter is looking back on an experience that happened during a different time in their life. The nature of that time is deliberately unclear. Here are the lyrics for the segment of the song used in Community’s intro:

“Give me some rope tie me to dream,
Give me the hope to run out of steam,
Somebody said it can be here,
We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year

But I can’t count the reasons I should stay,
One by one they all just fade away”

These lyrics are clearly about the end of … something, but the lack of specificity in what that thing is makes it possible for listeners to interpret them in many different ways. And fans of the show are happy to share their theories online. 

There are different interpretations of what the song means

Forum pages have been filled with ideas about what “At Least It Was Here” is about ever since Community found its niche as a cult classic sitcom. People have been sharing their opinions on the song for years and most of the theories trend toward morbidity. 

“The theme song for Community is about hanging yourself. But damn, it’s catchy”, said user Kopcalysm on Reddit. Indeed, the song does reference ropes and the specter of death a lot, but there’s also a perspective on the song that is more life-affirming than that verse-chorus combo suggests. 

Community, for all of its outlandish jokes and meta-commentary about sitcom tropes, is about a group of people struggling to find their place in the world who gain their strength from being in their study group. And the totality of ‘At Least It Was Here’ speaks to the need for defiance in the face of past failure. Lead singer Keith Slettedahl sings on the bridge:

“Iʼm tired of the wait-and-sees, Iʼm tired of that part of me/That makes up a perfect lie, To keep us between/But hours turn into days, So watch what you throw away/And be here to recognize, Thereʼs another way.”

Greendale is a place where intense paintball battles take over the school, a monkey named Annie’s Boobs lives in the vents, and tainted meat turns a Halloween party into a pseudo-zombie outbreak. But it’s also where the main characters grew up and learned how to live with their past mistakes. “At Least It Was Here” hints at the personal journeys on the horizon of each episode. 

Will the Community movie ever happen?

It started as a joke and became a slogan for fans hoping to visit Greendale one last time: six seasons and a movie. The rallying cry originated from the season two episode “Paradigms of Human Memory”, in which Jeff is irritated by Abed’s outsized adoration for NBC’s short-lived superhero drama The Cape:

As Community was continually threatened with cancellation, the joke was imbued with more meaning by fans who wanted to turn the phrase into a prophecy. The six seasons did happen, and the clamor for a movie has not gone away. Harmon, alongside most of the main cast, has publicly expressed interest in making it happen. But the movie remains an idea in another man’s mind. 

Community always struggled for ratings. Convincing executives at film or streaming companies with little knowledge of the show that this is a project worth supporting could be difficult. Scheduling could also be an issue, at least for one of the main characters.

Since departing on a boat with LeVar Burton, Donald Glover has become one of pop culture’s important polymaths, winning Grammys as Childish Gambino and Emmys for his work on Atlanta. Finding time for Troy Barnes to rejoin the gang could be tricky, assuming Glover would be down for it in the first place.

Still, the idea of a cinematic send-off exists in the ether, nowhere near production, but never shot down by anyone with the power to do so. Until a definitive move is made, people can still rewatch the original show and appreciate the creative work that we got. At least it was here. 

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