On…Community

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Feeling disillusioned with the crop of American comedy/sitcoms lately? Given up on How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory? Well, do I have the show for you! It’s called Community! I have no idea what UK channel, if any, airs this show but you can find it online in all the usual, scrupulous ways. Anyway, the show, as I understand, is rather big in the big U, S of A and in particular, on the site that I frequent most often: Reddit. For months I had missed all the Community references on comments because I was too stubborn to pick up another show. Well, my schedule opened up because I’ve decided that HIMYM is trash and Big Bang Theory has no new material to entertain me with. That plus the fact that Modern Family (my other highly recommended American comedy show) is on hiatus, is what prompted me to start watching Community.

What is Community then? The show, like most American sitcoms, revolves around a cast of suitably ethnically diverse characters who come together as friends after forming a study group for their community college Spanish class. We come to learn each of these heroes and heroines’ backstories as to why they’re at this community college called Greendale, and most of these are sad tales indeed. At the start of this show, we have the disgraced lawyer, who faked a bachelor’s degree but was later discovered and now has to get a real one. We have an Adderall-addicted former straight A-student who lost her scholarship when she had to get rehab. We have a mother of two, recently separated from her husband who cheated on her with a stripper, and looking to get a business degree to help her start her own baking business. Anyway, this is just half of the cast, and I’ll leave you watch the show to get an idea of the other half. But as you can already tell, this unlikely motley crew will, over the course of the first season, begin to depend on each other for more than just Spanish revision tips. We’ll watch them wade their way through the asylum that is Greendale, which is being run by a dean who is unbelievably camp and likes to dress up for every occasion and chooses his outfit in order to make garish puns. They’ll face strange and silly challenges, like the paintball episode which involves a college-wide paintball deathmatch and the prize: priority enrolment into next year’s classes. And through it all, their friendship will grow, and the group dynamics will change.

So far, so American. The show is ridiculous at times, completely over the top and utterly bombastic. The setting of a community college is liberally applied: a circus might be a more fitting description. The events which transpire at Greendale are overblown to epic proportions. The characters, though most of them adults, often behave in ways befitting of teenagers in high school. And their personality tropes are maxed out to the extreme. For example, rarely an episode goes by where Britta, the former political activist, doesn’t try to inject a political agenda into the most innocent of topics. But that’s fine! After all, this is an American sitcom. Remember Joey from friends and how he was always the dumb one? Yeah, all these characters are always their characters. The only possible exception might be Jeff, who starts off as a belligerent asshole and throughout the series, develops into someone who is slightly less of a belligerent asshole and more like the reluctant leader of the study group posse. Still, the show, for my UK readers, may not be to your liking. This isn’t Peep Show. This is very much an all-American show designed for American audiences and uses comedy befitting of Americans. I happen to quite like some of the more cleverly done American humour, but I can understand why some of my fellow Brits are turned off. But if you are one of those people, please read on regardless because I’m about to explain what sets Community apart from the other shows of its ilk.

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Firstly, the show is self-aware. A lot of the humour comes from blatant lamp shading and twists on popular sitcom tropes. It knows it’s an American comedy and it’ll point it out to you. There are some pretty clever meta-episodes which just lift this show apart from its brethren. For example, there is an episode which seems to be done in a clip-show style. Remember in Friends when they would put in an episode devoted to reusing old clips from previous episodes, all wrapped up in a bundle that made it look as though the actors were remembering those events? In Community, there is an episode set up like this…only the clips shown aren’t actually from old episodes, but instead completely new. It’s a really clever twist on the format. We get the sense that these characters live on, even when there isn’t a camera watching, as they start to reference scenes and memories which we, the viewer, have no recollection of. How meta.

Not to mention, the show features a guy who literally hangs a lampshade on every event. His name is Abed and rather suitably, he studies film. He’s also a geeky guy who is obsessed with pop culture references, but is also rather socially inept (kind of like a slightly more sociable Sheldon Cooper). I don’t want to just put the label autistic on him, as that isn’t a given in the show, but that’s the type of character he’s going for. Abed, at times, seems like he’s breaking the 4th wall. He is the guy who will tell another character that they’re being too much like a character. He describes his friends as though they were in a TV show. Then comes the brilliant moment when another character responds, “But you do know the difference between a TV show and real life right? This is real life.”

It is the satirical sitcom that we’ve all been waiting for; one which is genuinely funny, clever but also has a lot of heart. The danger of going too satirical is becoming a bitter shell of yourself. But Community somehow manages to keep the punches rolling without self-destructing.

It’s funny, because as a Brit watching it, I get the disturbing sense that this show is secretly bridging the gap across the Atlantic. There are jokes which seemed directly aimed at us limeys, and I wonder how many Americans will catch them. Then of course, there’s the more obvious British-orientated jokes like the ongoing references to a show called Inspector Spacetime, which is a parody of Doctor Who. But then I see random British comedians crop up everywhere, like John Oliver, and then I hear that Richard Ayoade directed one of the episodes and I start to think: is this an American sitcom suitable for British audiences?

I think, yes, absolutely. You’ll have to bear through the beginning episodes, which are perfectly disguised as run of the mill American comedy farce. But over time, you’ll appreciate the brilliance of some of the most cleverly crafted storylines, pop-culture references and meta-shadowing that Community brings to the table. Trust me, my initial thoughts were “This show is ok…it’s the kind of easy viewing that I wouldn’t turn off but wouldn’t ache to watch either”. But now, I am desperately awaiting every new episode, and I am genuinely invested in these characters and their increasingly silly antics. If you’re the sort of person who loves reading TVTropes (and if you’re never heard of the site before, fair warning here, I wouldn’t go on that site unless you have time to waste), then Community is perfect for you.. For analyst-personality types like myself, this show is the cherry on the top of the cake of TV land. The show is a show which knows it’s a show and isn’t afraid to tell you it’s a TV show; that’s going to appeal to some people, and I hope you check it out.

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