I’m the first one to admit that I don’t necessarily find television shows that strike my interest enough to get me to watch them when their being broadcast. It’s even less likely for sitcoms. Heck, I’m just finally getting around to watching Arrested Development, and this is coming after I just recently got around to giving The West Wing a shot. This is why I was honestly surprised that a quirky little sitcom on NBC actually caught my interest.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This show does have flaws. But, at least for me, the joys of the show outweigh the flaws. Even the fourth season, which was probably the weakest effort, managed to entertain me enough to keep going. I’m going to attempt to extoll the virtues of this program, while explaining why I feel more people should be giving it a chance.
Community is a show that, realistically, should never have been able to make it past season one. It’s a quirky ensemble comedy, ostensibly about a group of misfits aspiring to get their degrees from probably the worst community college in the history of education. The stories have been populated with sheer randomness at times, and character development has often taken a back seat to a random joke. Ratings have never been the greatest, and yet, somehow, the show continues to thrive. Heck, Community made it through a season without their original creator, but he was brought back when the show was renewed. Somehow, Community has survived in the face of long odds, and that’s a good thing for the viewers. Of course, it now hangs in the balance again, at the whim of the executives who thought that Sean Saves the World was a viable program, so we’ll see if Community makes it to their long hoped for (and joked about) “six seasons and a movie”.
What follows is an attempt to explain, in bullet-point form, the reasons why I love Community, and why I feel that more people should be watching. If you’ve watched, and disagree, please, engage me. If you haven’t watched, catch an episode in syndication or watch the DVDs, and give it a shot. And, obviously, if you’re in agreement, let’s just keep hoping that we’ll get our #sixseasonsandamovie.
5. The Ensemble Cast Itself
The cast of Community is a strong one, and they’ve all completely embraced the roles as they’ve been laid out. Danny Pudi’s Abed is clearly another in a long line of austistic super-geniuses, but he is able to instill the character with enough warmth and desire to fit in that he isn’t just another cookie cutter nerd. Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger is a lawyer without much of a heart at all, simply trying to steamroll his way through to his degree, until he starts to actually form bonds with the crazy people around him. Jim Rash brings humanity to the long-suffering Dean Pelton, who moves from simply putting together costumes for one-off jokes into a character that the rest of the students actually want to help. Allison Brie and Yvette Nicole Brown play the two sides of the overachiever, one doing it to try and capture popularity and notoriety, the other doing it to prove that she is more than just a mother. Donald Glover’s Troy Barnes may not have had the book smarts of the rest, but he had a deep wisdom and was the heart of the group. Even Gillian Jacobs, Chevy Chase, and Ken Jeong, who have probably gotten the roughest go of anything as far as characterization, have been able to create characters that transcended the stereotypes created for them. While other sitcoms revolve around ensemble casts, it isn’t often that each character, cut from a completely different cloth, can be stitched together by the cast to create a true quilt. It’s why the audience still wants to root for Chang, why there’s a hope that Troy will come back, and why Pierce’s death actually resonated. The fourth season seemed like an attempt by the network to try and make things more grounded in reality, forgetting that the reality of the show relied specifically on the craziness and surreal nature of the entire operation. Dan Harmon returning to the show returned it to it’s roots from seasons 1-3, and it seems like he should be given an opportunity to finish the story he set out to create.
As much of a character as the actors itself, the school of Greendale provides plenty of story fodder. Whether you went to a community college or a fancy university, there’s something about the experience presented in Community that can resonate. Sure, it’s completely overblown, but the fact that there are often campus-wide games being played, is it really that much of a stretch to think that some school would have a full-scale paintball war just for the rights to register first for classes? Who among us hasn’t wanted to create a blanket fort that stretches through hallways? In fact, for the most part, it’s when the show steps away from the school that it has it’s weakest episodes. The school environment, and the study room in particular, are so integral to what happens in the show, that removing that element is truly opening up a sinkhole at the story’s feet. Of course, making the concept of the show revolve around the college made perfect sense in the first season, but, if they had graduated and completely left, it would have crippled the program. Maybe the conceit of needing to save Greendale wasn’t the strongest reason to keep everyone in the study room, but it certainly worked better than trying to give reasons that they still connected. Yes, they’ve formed a community of their own, but, without Greendale to ground them, the odds of any of these people interacting again go straight out the window. Besides, in many ways, the “Save Greendale Committee” is something that had been established in previous seasons. As often as side characters complained about how the “Greendale Seven” felt they were the most important people at the school, it’s also clear that, because of their importance, they were the only ones who could mobilize in any way to keep the school away from the clutches of Subway. And yes, the whole “Save Greendale Committee” was an in-joke to the network about getting another season, but that’s part of the joy of the show as well, as I’ll explain next.
3. They Do Geek Humor Right
I’ve seen plenty of self-proclaimed geeks trumpet the awesomeness of The Big Bang Theory. They talk about how geeks are being portrayed in a positive fashion on television. I’ve tried. I really have. The problem I run into is that, in BBT, I don’t feel that geeks ARE portrayed positively. I feel like they’re just jokes for non-geek America. I also feel like that show, for all of it’s nerdy roots, likes to spend a lot of time doing winks and nods to the camera, as if to say, “See? We totally made a nerdy reference. See? We’ll mention it again. And again. PRAISE US!”. This is nothing new in television, but it is part of why I just can’t get behind BBT. Meanwhile, Community has more than it’s fair share of nerdy humor, but it hasn’t ever really felt to me like it was simply fanservice for the geek community. Look at the foosball episode. Randomly, in the middle of Jeff and Shirley squaring off, the visuals change to an anime style. And just as rapidly, they switch back, without explanation or dwelling on it. Community has had two different Dungeons & Dragons episodes, and neither show has focused on making jokes around role-playing games. Instead, the jokes are about the characters themselves, with some quick hits that are so inside, most gamers wouldn’t catch them. Those episodes really feel like watching a group of friends playing their own game. Community has never shied away from making jokes that are clearly aimed at the geek audience, but they’ve also never spent time obsessing about how they made a joke for the geeks. A lot of their humor is done in homage, and it just so happens that a lot of the things they’re paying homage to are things that the current generation of adult geeks happened to spend a lot of time with when younger. Even the recent GI Joe episode, which did in fact have some jokes about the conventions of the cartoon, worked more as a way to progress the story, instead of a throw-away bottle episode that happened to be very heavily 80’s cartoon influenced.
2. They Do Romance Right
Admittedly, not all of the time. However, most of the time, when there’s a romantic subplot for the characters, it rings true. In the first season, Jeff spent a lot of energy chasing after Britta. This makes perfect sense, as a straight-laced lawyer attracted to the fiery activist plays into the old adage of “opposites attract”. Eventually, Prof. Slater came into the mix, providing Jeff a more mature woman, someone closer to his life experiences. However, over time, the show has allowed a different romance for Jeff to breathe, and it’s the only one that’s based in mutual respect between the two. Yes, there are levels of creepy to the idea of a Jeff and Annie relationship, but, in many ways, they really do compliment each other. In fact, the drastic age difference is the biggest reason to keep them apart, and, ultimately, if they end up just friends, it wouldn’t be unsatisfying. Troy and Britta even felt somewhat natural for the both of them, especially the struggle for Troy between spending time with his girlfriend and spending time with his best friend. The only times that the romantic element has felt truly forced over the course of Community‘s 5 seasons are when it was done specifically to force story, such as the quick union (just as quickly shattered) in the season finale. Even though these characters are often ridiculous caricatures of real people, they’re interpersonal relationships, both romantic and otherwise, are grounded in a reality that is unmistakeable. After all, even Abed gets to date, and it never feels as though the woman he’s dating is pitying him. Instead, it seems as though the sweetness that is underneath his quirkiness is what’s witnessed by the women he’s interested in. The romance is allowed to kindle on the show because of something more than the superficial, which is the same way real romance happens.
1. The Viewing Public Loves Lost Causes
Think about it. Viewers are responsible for Futurama getting another run, albeit on Comedy Central. We’re the root cause for Family Guy getting a revival (which we’re paying for in our own way). We keep holding out hope that Firefly will return, and, if it wasn’t for the passionate viewers, would there even be thought of a Doctor Who revival? In these days of the internet, viewer response to the networks happens so much more immediately, and the outrage (or praise) flies at light speed. Some how, viewers have continued to keep Community on the air, despite the network having major concerns about viewership, the show moving on without the man who created it, and public departures from two of the stars. This is something that Community even makes fun of, most notably with Abed’s love of Cougartown. While early buzz is that Community is likely to receive an order for 6th season episodes, it is, by no means, a foregone conclusion. The viewing public has continuously supported shows that they love, even if they are simply an incredibly vocal minority. The audience that has embraced Community from the start knows all about Annie’s Boobs, the darkest timeline, and the reason why Troy’s traveling partner is such a big deal. That same audience also has shown that they will make their opinions heard. It remains to be seen whether or not the network will agree. But, after all, isn’t it time that more smart, clever, and non-pandering shows were given an opportunity to shine? Besides, Community has successfully navigated its way through five seasons, which puts them so incredibly close to their goal. The fact that Dan Harmon has outright stated that, if given a sixth season, he WILL make a feature-length Community movie to tie up the story just makes the need to see more of Greendale that much bigger.