The Undiluted Awesomeness of Community

Why aren’t you watching Community?

I think it’s pretty safe to say you’re not. Here, check this out – Community had less viewers than both Outsourced and $#*! My Dad Says.

Outsourced, people.

So you’re going to have to forgive me if I’m a little angry about this. “A little” of course meaning “unspeakably, incomprehensibly, unfreakingbelievably.”  You want to whine about how dumb our culture is? THEN DON’T KILL OFF BRILLIANCE LIKE THIS! GOD! YOU PEOPLE ARE SO FREAKING HYPOCRITICAL! STOP CANCELING MY FAVORITE SHOWS! FIREFLY, PUSHING DAISIES, FREAKS AND GEEKS, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, KINGS, I  CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!!!

Sorry. Bit of an overreaction, there.

After all, it’s probably not fair to blame you, in particular. You might even be one of the sacred few who do watch this show. And I do, in fact, doubt that you have power over network television cancellation and renewal (unless you do, in which case BLEARGHHHHHHHH).

But see, it just kills me that the sheer brilliance that is Community needs to scrape through season to season whereas dumb tripe sails through drinking champagne. You know what the most popular scripted show in America is? NCIS. You know where Community is? 22. That’s below The Bachelor, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and Jersey Shore.

Jersey. Freaking. Shore.

Sorry, as a Garden State native, I’m particularly sensitive about that one.

But I guess what makes me the most upset is not even how much I will be missing out on if (when, I suppose, if we’re going to be realistic) this show gets canceled. It’s how much you are missing out on right now by not watching. You know how I said (okay, screamed) that Community is brilliant? Yes, see, that was me restraining myself. There is literally nothing else like it on television, nothing so brave and inventive and boundary pushing and fundamentally, determinedly, sweet. Sure, it’s a comedy, but this is resolutely television for grown-ups, for smart people, for people who like to be challenged and swept up and who don’t mind a little fishing for a joke to make them burst out in surprised and pleased laughter.

Take tonight’s episode, which left me like a pot bubbling over with tomato soup, except that instead of a pot, it’s me, and instead of soup, it’s awesome. Tonight’s episode was, at its most, most basic level, a sequel to last season’s “Modern Warfare” reimagined as a Western-style action flick. But oh, it was so, so, so much more than that. I mean, yes, at the surface level, it was just cool, and I would happily watch the study group play paintball over whatever summer films we have to suffer through this year. But this episode was far deeper than that, and these levels reveal the true brilliance of Community.

People talk a lot about Community being meta, and they don’t always do so favorably. I can understand the criticism of constant self-awareness – the show itself acknowledged this two weeks ago, with Jeff accusing Abed of “[taking] everything and [shoving] it up its own ass.” But, while I can see how the extreme meta nature of the show might become tiresome to some people, I personally don’t agree at all. Maybe it’s because I’ve never met a fourth wall I didn’t want broken, or maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for a good parody (and Community‘s parodies aren’t just good; the show is the undisputed master of the device), but I enjoy their self-awareness. Perhaps even more significantly, the meta nature of the show does not, in my opinion, interfere with the viewer’s appreciation of it. Take tonight’s Western-themed episode. While I am, of course, familiar with the genre as a cultural presence, I realized while watching the episode that I have never actually sat down and watched a Western film. So I’m sure that the episode was bursting with references and homages and satires that flew right past me, but my experience of the show was undiminished. And I would argue that this is because Community understands what so many parody machines (Family Guy, SNL, whatever demons are behind the Scary/Date/Epic/etc. Movie franchise) do not – that a good parody, while poking fun at the holes in its source, retains whatever it was that makes the source good. So even as Community eviscerated, for example, the action flick in last year’s “Modern Warfare,” what it produced could still be watched as a damn good action flick in its own right. Community understands that satire does not imply that the object of satire is worthless; it can be affectionate while still critical.

Affection, in fact, is another one of the things at which Community excels, and forms another layer of tonight’s episode. Even when the show is at its most ridiculous, indulgent, how-are-they-going-to-top-this-oh-wait-never-mind glory, it still maintains its focus on the emotions, relationships, goals, dreams, heartbreaks, and existences of its characters. So tonight, Community may have managed to incorporate a Mexican standoff in a community college cafeteria, but they did it with the purpose of addressing the season’s most intense, relevant, and long-brewing character conflict. The setting was incredible, but the stakes were real (and I’m not just talking about not getting paint on your clothes). Community succeeds because it cares about and respects its characters, and also believes in them as real people. I hate to keep railing on Glee (oh, who am I kidding, at this point?) but that’s where the two shows irrevocably diverge. Both take place in incredible circumstances, but Glee’s characters exist (now, at least) to further the fantasy; Community’s fantasy exists to further the characters. (And, no, that comparison was not entirely out of the blue; check out this A.V. Club article by Todd VanDerWerff for a discussion on the similarities between the two shows.)

Ultimately, though, what Community is, is smart. Zealously, frighteningly, unremittingly smart. It is hysterical topically, but similar to a show like Arrested Development in that a great deal of its humor comes from the viewer’s past knowledge. (I like to think of them as Moiibus Strip jokes.) Take this example from last week’s episode:

I mean, that’s funny enough on its own – Dean walks in, clueless professor makes the best of the situation with some physical humor and a quick cut to titles – but it works better with an extensive understanding of the show and its history. First, you need to understand that the professor is actually an alcoholic psychologist, and a fairly clueless one at that, who was forced to take over in a subject he knew nothing about, leading to the entirety of the class being the construction of dioramas. Digging a little deeper, the student who shouts “L’Chaim!” is the former professor of  the class the study group took together last year, currently an outcast who is both homeless and recently divorced. Going even further, the Dean, who burst into the room, has a habit of doing so, as enumerated in a montage in the fake clip show episode two weeks ago. Going even further (and this is when the joke starts to fold in on itself), the L’Chaim student’s brother was revealed a few months ago to be a rabbi, the student at the beginning of the clip who had studied is actually Jewish, and this sort of spontaneous insanity is not at all something the Dean would consider to be out of the ordinary. And that’s just the joke at the very end of the clip – to unravel the rest of it would take another thousand words.

So maybe that’s why people find it hard to get into Community – while I do believe it is possible to enjoy the show by jumping in somewhere (the first episode I ever saw was Season 2’s “Cooperative Calligraphy,” and while I did go back and watch from the beginning, that episode was good enough as a stand-alone to convince me to do so), the show works much, much better if you watch all of it. Maybe people aren’t willing to make that sort of an investment, but trust me, it is fully and completely worth it. Community is just so breathtakingly ambitious, so smart and emotional and inventive and fun. It reaches heights most shows are scared to even imagine exist, and when it does that, it works.

Normally, this is where I would hedge my gushing with some light (though well-deserved. of course.) criticism, but with Community, I can’t even bring myself to do that. There’s just something too admirable about it, too exciting and lovable and freaking awesome. I’m sure Community has some flaws. Somewhere. But I’m too busy being caught up in the excitement of one of the best things to hit television, ever, and I don’t feel like stopping to notice.

Watch Community. Please.


3 responses to “The Undiluted Awesomeness of Community

  1. Thanks for dropping by PCP! Miss Thropist found it hard to put into words why everyone should watch Community – I think you’ve gone quite a long way here to finding at least some of those words! 🙂

    I feel unfortunate that I’ve ended up watching Community in a circular fashion, rather than consecutively… I joined in when Miss Thropist was watching the end of S1, and we went forward together but then kept going back and back to accommodate the growing hoardes that became hooked and plonked themselves on Miss Thropist’s bed, squishing me terribly. I finally procured my own set of episodes to watch at my discretion and am pleased to find that there are a lot of episodes that still feel new as I kept falling asleep during various sessions. I look forward to marathoning it in order nearer the debut of S3.

    I hope it lasts!! They do take everything good away!


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