By Vickram Singh
While fans of Rick and Morty are still dealing with the bittersweet reality of waiting for more episodes, a group of die-hard fans experienced the bittersweet conclusion to another show by series co-creator, Dan Harmon. Announcing, via Twitter, that, “All good things must come to an end…” the seven year long weekly live comedy podcast, Harmontown, uploaded their last episode earlier this December. As a long time fan of Harmon, I’m sad that it’s gone, but I believe it had to come to an end and am happier for him because of it.
Harmontown was the platform where the unapologetic writer, producer, and actor was the star attraction. The show was framed as a town hall meeting where the “Mayor,” Harmon, would lead the conversation while his co-hosts, “Comptroller” Jeff B. Davis and “Dungeon Master” Spencer Crittenden, kept him oncourse. Harmon’s tirades would include the latest controversy he was either wrapped up in or observing, what was going on in his life, thoughts on writing and comedy, and his annoyance regarding his (quite lovable) friends. The show also included guests, drawn out improv bits, and a concluding session of Dungeons and Dragons. Davis, a seasoned recurring performer on the show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, always knew when to interject, running the gambit of egging Harmon on, saying a funny line at his expense, or simply asking the drunken “Mayor” if he was actually fine with the statement he just made (which happened quite often). Crittenden was the perfect foil to the energy of the others, with his deadpan delivery and refreshingly informed opinions balancing the show out.
The show hit its stride when it switched to the weekly schedule, which coincided with Harmon’s controversial firing as showrunner of his sitcom Community. Harmon broke his silence during his podcast and said some choice words that did not go over well with the studio behind the sitcom. The controversy surrounding the debacle, which was fueled further by rumors of a beef between Harmon and Chevy Chase, was just the exposure the podcast needed to skyrocket to popularity. People loved how this weird and funny writer spoke his mind and did not care what anybody felt about it, and did it all through a relatively new and exciting platform. I know it’s why I got hooked.
I consider myself a disillusioned fan of Dan Harmon. His two most popular shows, Community and Rick and Morty, are revolutionary in the way they subvert classic television and movie tropes with an added care towards characters and storylines that keep the shows from devolving into an onslaught of flanderization and in-jokes. He is credited for his ability as a writer, especially with his invention of the storytelling framework for television, the “Story Circle.” Inspired by the concept of the Hero’s journey created by Joseph Campbell, Harmon’s “story circles” attempt to coalesce television’s episodic format with a definitive story that delivers a compelling episode every time.
On a more personal note, I appreciated that his shows also featured diverse casts. Dani Pudi’s casting and performance in Community, for example, meant a lot to me growing up and was a major win for representation in media. Harmon’s enigmatic shows and his unabashed podcast just made him all the more alluring as a media personality with whom to ride along.
Then came the controversies. The first was when Megan Ganz, a writer on Community, confronted Harmon on Twitter about how she had rejected Harmon’s advances while working under him and was then the victim of his workplace misconduct. Harmon tried to make amends on Twitter, but Ganz did not accept his apology. Harmon gave a full account of his actions and an apology on an episode of Harmontown (a transcript can be read here), where he acknowledged that the harassment did occur and detailed the aftermath. Ganz decided to publicly accept his apology after calling it a “masterclass in How to Apologize.”
The second controversy happened later in the year, after Harmon decided to cut himself off from Twitter. Parodying the hit show Dexter, a video of him resurfaced late last year that featured a scene depicting the rape of a baby doll. Harmon released a public apology where he acknowledges the video as distasteful and took it down. Adult Swim sided with Harmon as this was during the same time Disney cut ties with James Gunn regarding his own tweets, which are now being seen as targeted public outrage.
Harmontown was great because of Harmon’s flagrant disregard for accountability, positioning himself as an unashamed trailblazer. However, in the light of the #MeToo movement, that stance felt misguided. While Harmon attempted to rectify his past mistakes, the persona he cultivated through his podcast and his online presence exemplified the privilege and lack of accountability that undergirded his provocativeness.
That being said, Harmon continues to work towards improving himself. He quit Twitter, which was home for his most controversial tirades. Having already been open about his therapy and mental health, he makes more of an attempt to explain his efforts towards personal improvement. But the platform Harmon cultivated through the podcast was as toxic as his platform on Twitter. Despite the very progressive and lighthearted cast and crew, the show legitimized him in a way that fueled the provocative ego that got him his popularity as a media figure.
I was very pleased while listening to the last episode, when Harmon noted: “[Being an online public figure] is a conscious choice now…I like being who I am, but at the same time, I personally wouldn’t continue to listen to a guy in a podcast go, “but what about me?” It wouldn’t be therapeutic anymore. I would either have to willfully compartmentalize my pride from my narcissism and all this stuff, all these parts of me against myself, all for the end goal of having a podcast. Or I can let the podcast drift away while I continue letting this process of who I am disentangle and sort itself out… I don’t want to be a brand, I don’t want to stand for things like having been born.”
I kept listening to the show because Harmon was actively working on himself. But eventually, I stopped tuning in because I saw the podcast as a part of the problem. After revealing the self introspection that led to his decision, I admire that he is continuing his personal journey. Having my inner fanboy re-ignited by these developments, I’d like to end with Harmon’s direct address to fans of the podcast:
“I gotta say, to a lot of you kids, who shared the incredibly personal and touchy topic of being close to the edge at certain times, which is not an abnormal thing, [it’s] not something to be ashamed of and you should absolutely share with somebody. I have been there too and this podcast has kept me away from that edge. If you are so sad that this podcast is ending, this may be your cue to now do that project, do that thing. Action creates new thought. Don’t fucking check out on me, the world has sucked since before you were born. That’s not a logical decision. This too shall pass. Stick with me, be exceptional, tell me this story 20 years from now when you run into me at a bar. Thank you so much for being here for me, you have saved my life.”
Based in New Jersey, Vickram Singh is a staff editor for Honeysuckle Magazine, where he runs his column: Raised by the Internet. He is also the Editor-in-Chief for The Medium, the satirical newspaper at Rutgers University, where he currently studies.