The Darkest Timeline

It’s become popular lately to say that we live in “The Darkest Timeline” as if we all really understand the term. This blog stays away from politics, but I do respect people on both sides of the political spectrum who say that. It’s also a time when we worry about rising tides, arctic blasts in November, record flooding, and all sorts of other problems.

It’s also a time when David Bowie is dead and David Faustino is alive. (Apologies, Mr. Faustino, I mean no disrespect to you. I just think David Bowie is utterly amazing.)

For some people, times are so dark that they believe the fabric of the universe was altered. Perhaps it is due to the Large Hadron Collider, which insidiously powered up just before the 2008 election. Aided by pop culture, believers in an altered universe search for evidence in children’s books and cereal boxes, calling it the “Mandela Effect.” Scientists, by the way, refer to it as memory malleability.

But where did the term come from?

Ask a bunch of people where the term “Darkest Timeline” came from and you’ll get a lot of memory malleability. I did a survey of 30 friends and the results surprised me. Most thought it came from Star Wars, which has never dabbled in alternate universes. A few identified Star Trek, famous for an early alternate universe, or Back to the Future. That would have been a likely answer since that franchise did deal in dark timelines. Some just didn’t know.

The answer, in case you are among those who didn’t know, is that it comes from season 3, episode 4 of Community, a show that started on NBC in 2009. You may have heard of the show but chances are you didn’t watch it. Practically no one did, since the show aired when NBC was at its lowest point.

Community was a brilliant show ahead of its time. Starring Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, and an ensemble cast that included Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover, it started out as a relatively formulaic sitcom about a lawyer forced to go to community college. It evolved into a crazy exploration of space, time, society, and above all, memes. It was a nonstop ride where there was simply too much going on in every episode to be able to even take it in. At a time when people were starting to look more at their phones than at larger screens, the only way to understand Community was to watch it intently.

Swallowed by its own smarts

Community never achieved ratings success. It was canceled after a shortened fifth season, although a sixth season aired on the Yahoo app of all places. Its creator, Dan Harmon, went on to create Rick and Morty. This show has an arc remarkably like that of Community. The show could originally be summed up as “it’s Back to the Future but the scientist is a jerk.” Starting with that conventional plot, Rick and Morty has evolved into an even more philosophical jaunt than Community, while wrapping it all up in a veneer of gross-out-cartoon.

Audiences were a little more ready by the time Rick and Morty got produced, and it premiered on Adult Swim where viewers expected to see something offbeat.

But, the darkest timeline endures

Community never really thrived. Its real contribution to pop culture came in the form of “The Darkest Timeline” as a meme. Still, this cements its status as a top TV show in the 2010s. If you missed it the first time, you can see it on Hulu. Just remember you’ll have to really pay attention in order to get the most enjoyment out of it.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.