“We’re gonna have more fun and be less weird than the last two years combined.”
With that tongue in cheek promise “Community” returned for a third season, all singing, all dancing.
Over the course of two seasons creator Dan Harmon’s community college based comedy has brought us zombies, paintball, stop-motion breakdowns, copious pop-culture references and the most awesome blanket city you will ever witness on a TV screen.
What makes it truly remarkable though is that it has also brought us a number of the most likeable characters to be found anywhere in that bizarre alternate reality most sit-coms seem to exist in. Without them “Community” would grate on audiences; it’s ‘meta comedy’ self awareness and shameless love of pop culture references would end up putting off even the geekiest of fans. With them it becomes something incredible, a show which manages to be in many ways detached and yet so involving.
Focussing on the experiences of 7 students looking to make it through a particularly challenging community college experience who join together to form a suitably rag-tag study group, the show provides character development without feeling the need to spend every episode hammering the changes home.
There’s a whole range of American sit-coms that I love right now, I wrote about two of them here, but what makes “Community” stand out is its originality compared to all the direct descendents of “Friends” and “Frasier”. The majority of shows out there either rely on a group of improbably good-looking 20 somethings falling in and out of love, or a group of socially awkward but incredibly intelligent Americans screwing up but meaning well, and all those shows stubbornly but understandably refuse to acknowledge the influence or Ross and Rachel or Niles and Frasier.
“Community” openly compares itself to the myriad of films and TV shows, from pretty much every genre available, that influence each episode. It’s a move which I am sure has alienated some viewers over its lifetime, but one which led to me falling in love with it. The meta-element of the show threw me at first but it was also what initially hooked me; much as the “Scream” franchise has done for horror films, “Community” manages to parody many of the genre elements while producing one of the strongest examples of this particular brand of TV show. One of the key reasons it works, especially the parody elements, is that it’s such a loving parody; the huge majority of the pop-culture references are delivered with a clear fondness for the subject matter.
I’d been looking around for a new show to watch this summer, something I’d never watched before but heard good things about; it was between this, “Modern Family” and “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” and I don’t have some deep or particularly logical reason why I settled on “Community” but decide I did and it turned out to be an uncharacteristically strong gut instinct.
It is definitely a geeky and distinctly self-aware show, but it also has real heart. There are three strongly written and superbly acted female characters who are so loveable that you end up wanting a stereotypically happy ending for all of them whenever the show does draw to a close. There’s a pop-culture obsessed and often borderline delusional guy who is so charming and warm that he makes the geeks of “The Big Bang Theory” look like jerks. A former jock turned geek who is not only the most honest and open of the group but also capable of some of the funniest freak outs ever committed to screen. Even the objectively more dislikeable characters, the ones who are given the darker decisions, motives and attitudes, manage to make you root for them through the subtle touches, depth of characterisation and charming acting.
It is a show which finds that tough to achieve balance; it manages to parody without ever being a parody show.
I get the impression the show is yet to make it big in the UK, I know I found it hard enough to find the two seasons that have been made already and the region 2 DVD of season 1 is only available to pre-order now. It was shown on Viva, a channel more known for music videos than top rate comedies, but I hope E4 or another mainstream channel picks up the show, because it deserves to get a lot more attention than it has.
If you do give it a go, make sure you stick with it for more than 2 or 3 episodes, it takes a while to get used to the quite individual style of the show, but if you persevere you will be rewarded in episode 23 by one of the great sit-com episodes ever when a paintball game gets out of control and ends up involving the entire school. Rarely have I ever watched an episode of any show where it is so clear the writers, director, producer and actors are all enjoying themselves quite so much. Plus who hasn’t imagined their school becoming a war zone during a particularly dull science lesson.
The possibly “Glee” baiting opening to season 3 was clever but it would be a damn shame if “Community” did end up being less weird this season; the joyful embracing of all things weird and geeky is what made me fall in love with the show. I watch “Community” and see links to quite literally half of my DVD collection, there was even a "Dr Who" reference this week, while enjoying some of the sharpest writing around.
It’s a show which is clever, funny and when it wants to be, incredibly sweet; what more can you ask for from a 21st century sit-com.