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I’d go home from those meetings thinking, “I think that they just wish that I wasn’t me.”
June 10, 2011 5:48 AM   Subscribe

The A. V. Club has an exhaustive and revealing four-part interview with Dan Harmon, creator of Community, in which he discusses the conception and production behind every episode of the show's ambitious and flawed second season.
posted by Rory Marinich (88 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
A great show that dies the moment Chevy Chase comes onscreen.
posted by Faze at 5:54 AM on June 10, 2011


People consider Season 2 of Community to be "flawed". I'm not joking when I say that I think it is one of the most consistently excellent seasons of TV I've ever seen. The "My Dinner With Andre" episode ("Critical Film Studies") is one of the freshest and most entertaining half hours I've ever seen.

Fascinating interviews, and really give a great insight into the construction of an amazing show.
posted by emptybowl at 6:04 AM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's kind of stunning how much self-criticism Harmon heaps on himself, but to refer to a season that includes "Mixology Certification" and "A Fistful of Paintballs" as flawed assumes there's a better version of this show that's not being made and I'd be so exhausted so quickly if I held out for that level of quality in anything I liked.
posted by psoas at 6:07 AM on June 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


Dan Harmon also recently did a WTF interview with Marc Maron
posted by any major dude at 6:07 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, ignoring all the interesting episode stuff, does Dan Harmon actually say "Baa-gel." Really?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:08 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it was incredible but also flawed. I liked that in part 4 Harmon contrasts the sheer perfection of Modern Warfare in season 1 to the sloppy season 2 finale. Not that the finale wasn't alright, but it was clearly a rushed product. I'm happy that Harmon hates all the same things about his show that I do.

I'm also very excited that the last thing he says is that he's studying The Wire to see how to make a better season of TV, because seriously, how can you look at The Wire and not end up with something amazing.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:09 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


The flaw is that it wanted to be clever more than it wanted to be funny.
posted by smackfu at 6:13 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh I think it very well may want to be funny.
posted by item at 6:15 AM on June 10, 2011


I'm also very excited that the last thing he says is that he's studying The Wire to see how to make a better season of TV, because seriously, how can you look at The Wire and not end up with something amazing.

No doubt, although I've never been able to exactly put my finger on exactly what it is, but Community, for all its absurdities, feels like the most "real" sitcom out there and is thus linked with The Wire in my head. It's probably just because they represent the only two television shows I've ever gotten crazy passionate about.
posted by ndfine at 6:25 AM on June 10, 2011


The two best episodes of the season -- of any sitcom! -- were, for me, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the Conspiracy Theories one. AD&D just had me laughing my butt off (I'm not a gamer, but I married one, and it cracked me up, and it was such a nice portrait of each character), and at the end of Conspiracy Theories I actually let out a little scream of shock when the shooting started because I totally believe Dan Harmon would commit enough to kill his characters.

I have never believed that about a sitcom before!

(Plus the blanket fort was the best random B story EVER. Every show should have supergiant blanket forts for no reason.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:37 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, nifty. I just started watching this week (dove in to the oldest episode on Hulu, which is about 3/4 through the second season).

I like it a lot so far. It's high-concept when it wants to be, but is perfectly OK going for cheap laughs (which I'm fine with, given that they're almost perfectly executed each time). It reminds me a lot of Scrubs during its peak. I'll have to Netflix the first season and watch from the beginning...

(And, yeah. Not a fan of Chevy Chase's character. I get the impression that he's trying to mimic Ed O'Neil's character from Modern Family, and is failing miserably at it)

Coincidentally, the AV Club had a seriously great interview earlier this week with Dick Van Dyke (of all people). It still amuses me to no end that The Onion's entertainment/arts section is consistently better than its counterparts with "real" newspapers and magazines.
posted by schmod at 6:40 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Community was pretty damn good this season (and as a Cougar Town fan, I fucking loved the cross-show finale cameos), but holy fuck Parks and Rec. This season of P&R surely has to be one of the best seasons of a comedy ever. I would put it up there with HIMYM S2 or Scrubs S1. Not quite Blackadder S2-S4, but what is?
posted by kmz at 6:43 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dammit I've been waiting all week to post this.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:43 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh. The throwaway reference to Glee in Paradigms of Human Memory that confirms that the two shows exist in the same universe had me in stitches.
posted by schmod at 6:44 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


After reading that whole thing, I don't feel like I am even qualified to comment on Community.
posted by smackfu at 6:45 AM on June 10, 2011


Chevy Chase's character is at its best when they decide to make him SO thoughtless and repellent that one might as well call him Evil. The D&D episode is so sublime because they'd been steadily setting him up as the most unlikeable asshole in the college, and when he goes full-on Villain, it feels... right. When he utters the word "FAAAAT" it's like some rough beast, its hour come round at least, slouching toward the study room to be born.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:46 AM on June 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


This season of P&R surely has to be one of the best seasons of a comedy ever.

Seriously. I started out this season feeling a strong heaping of blah about both P&R and Community (other than the D&D episode). Over time, P&R's grown on me to the point of where I love it. Meanwhile, I still usually just skip Community.

(But then, I'm like the only person sad that Outsourced was canceled, so my opinion's not worth shit.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:47 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Heh. It was the My Dinner With Andre episode that got me to the point of 'stop trying to be such a fucking meta smart arse and make me laugh'. In his description of Ep 1 he says 'I liked it. It reminded me more of Spaced, where it’s like, “Okay, this is funny because it’s not that funny.”' and that's one of my problems with what the show has become over the second season.

I'm in the process of re-watching season 1 and I'm chuckling away on the sofa like I should be. It's supposed to be comedy FFS.

Another problem seems to be that Harmon & Co. are throwing as many clever-clever ideas as possible into one season as if they're trying to get everything jammed in before they get cancelled.

In comparison, Parks & Recreation has had me crying, aching & stopping the DVR with laughter so many times, even before that opening credits and I have no problem with saying that is the best comedy that has ever been broadcast anywhere (and I grew up with Python, Spike Milligan & The Goons, The Young Ones, Blackadder, Morecambe & Wise, Fawlty Towers etc. so I know what the fuck I'm talking about ;-)

It's been an interesting season reading the AV Club TV section. As their boner for written-by/for-nerds-Community has grown, their total disgust for written-about-nerds The Big Bang Theory has followed a similar trail but I've found the latter far funnier. (There is also the added bonus funny of reading AVC comments railing against the flaws in TBBT in a Sheldon voice.)

30 Rock got itself back on track, Modern Family kept things going along well despite appealing to a wider audience, the aforementioned P&R just knocked everything over the Eagleton fence & TBBT smartly developed the show with some well written new characters. Community tucks in behind all these but it will be interesting how things pan out on US TV when the seasons start up again.

Thank pasta for Breaking Bad returning in July to tide me over...
posted by i_cola at 6:48 AM on June 10, 2011


And I totally forgot about Cougar Town...ah well, at least Community was better than The Middle
posted by i_cola at 6:50 AM on June 10, 2011


The throwaway reference to Glee in Paradigms of Human Memory that confirms that the two shows exist in the same universe had me in stitches.

Wait, I missed this, what happened?
posted by drezdn at 6:55 AM on June 10, 2011


This season of P&R surely has to be one of the best seasons of a comedy ever.

Not directed at this particular comment, but have you noticed how quick people are nowadays to proclaim something the best thing ever? Like halfway through this season, there were warring factions saying that the current season of P&R and Community were the best seasons ever.
posted by smackfu at 6:56 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm fascinated by the number of people who still think it's possible to decree something 'not funny' even after other people have said that they find it funny.

That said, I love Community, and I'm pretty consistently amazed that something like it is allowed to be on teevee. It's one of the few shows that seems to me to be smart at all times, even if that means being smart about how it's being dumb.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:57 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


The second season paintball episode was better than the first.
There. I said it.
posted by rocket88 at 6:58 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honestly I only watch 30 Rock out of inertia these days. (Same with The Office, which I might just bail on.) Thinking about dropping Modern Family too. Just so... blah. Designed for Emmys, almost. HIMYM was better this season than last, but still clearly not as great as its peak.

Happy Endings was a pleasant surprise though. Who knew Elisha Cuthbert could be funny? (Intentionally, I mean, not when fighting a goddamned cougar.)

And I still can't bring myself to watch TBBT. Just... no. All my friends that I trust say it's a good show, but I think I'm still too traumatized by characters like Screech or Urkel to watch any show like that.
posted by kmz at 6:59 AM on June 10, 2011


HIMYM. TBBT. MetaFilter is becoming text messages between middle schoolers. Someone please, give these kids back their IMG tag.
posted by red clover at 7:03 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is an amazing series of interviews. Wow.

Harmon after fighting with the studio to get his Advanced Dungeons & Dragons show on the air:

It was such a depressing note session, because they didn’t even have any notes on the story. They just didn’t want it to exist. I took a photograph of my eyes driving home that day at 3 p.m. because I was leaving work early. I looked in my rearview mirror, and I was crying. More than crying, I was red-eyes, tears streaming, weeping. And I was weeping out of self-pity and frustration, like a child weeps when he doesn’t understand his parents’ rules. “Why can’t I have ice cream when I ate my liver?” I took a photo of it, so I could show it to them between seasons, because as I told my girlfriend when I got home, “I think I’m going to have to quit my own show, because I can’t operate under these circumstances. I can’t be this proud of something that the people paying me to do it are this ashamed of. It will never work. We’ll never achieve anything. It’ll never connect.”

When do you ever hear stuff like this while a show is still on the air? Fantastic.
posted by notmydesk at 7:03 AM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


I mean, it’s a sitcom. There is whistling and clapping, and some guy says, “Got milk?” and some other guy says, “Talk to the hand,” and then it goes “boing,” and there is a reaction shot, and there is a tuba.

Dan Harmon, I love you.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:07 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


HIMYM. TBBT. MetaFilter is becoming text messages between middle schoolers. Someone please, give these kids back their IMG tag.

I'm sorry. The CPU and RAM combination in my PC isn't strong enough to allow me to type things out. Would you prefer we talked about lasers? Radar? Scuba diving?
posted by kmz at 7:09 AM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter is becoming text messages between middle schoolers.

LOL
posted by Greg Nog at 7:09 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm fascinated by the number of people who still think it's possible to decree something 'not funny' even after other people have said that they find it funny.

Are you similarly fascinating by the number of people who think it's possible to decree something "funny" even after other people have said that they don't find it funny? (not snarkin', just curious about the implied notion of aesthetic judgment)
posted by DaDaDaDave at 7:22 AM on June 10, 2011


Yes. Humor is not objective. On the other hand, I can more easily sympathize with people who want to share with others about something than they like rather than people who want to share with others about something that they don't like.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:34 AM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Community is my favorite show on the air at the moment (and equally, the most frustrating to discover isn't available through Hulu on Roku!).

All my life, I've been a film and television geek. Every week during the first and second seasons, I sat and felt as if someone in their insanity opted to design a show around my sense of humor and the otherwise useless knowledge I've accrued throughout my life. Every Thursday, my wife watched me laugh myself senseless with an amused if not horrified look on her face, probably thinking, "Did I really marry this guy?"

Needless to say, I love the show like a good friend. When it ends, be it after season 3 or Season 10 (in which we have the unfortunate failure of a spin off - Pierce!), I will miss it dearly and fall back on watching the reruns or the soon to be anachronistic media known as Dee Vee Dees.

What I think sells the show to me, and it's very obvious in Harmon's interview, is that a lot of love and attention goes into the show. It's produced and written by people who care about their characters like paranoid artists, always fearful their creations are flawed in some way or another, and demanding themselves to ensure that they give them the due they're owed. For as crazy or wrapped up within their psychosis they might be at times, be it Jeff's intent to be cool playing pool or Brita's striving to be PC, they own it. What's awesome, though is that these quirks, these personality traits don't own the characters. They're aspects of the characters, but not overwhelmingly so.

They're more like placards each character wears over their shoulders, on their chests and backs, and we can understand that. We know that behind the placards are rather complex individuals. All too often in sitcom television, we're not allowed to see this. For a lot of sitcoms, those glimpses of characterization and of the characters' humanity is fleeting at best or only unraveled slowly over multiple seasons. It's more difficult to take the Community approach because sometimes when you lifts those stereotypical masks we've come to expect, people aren't always happy with what's shown beneath them and you take risks. You take risks changing the aspects of the character you offer to the audience, who might end up hating a character they formerly enjoyed.

I see Community as a brave show, not afraid to poke fun at itself, or at the industry. It's a show that to me, at least, expresses that the people behind it are having just too much fun than should be allowed. I, for one, am very happy they are.
posted by Atreides at 7:37 AM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Staggered that the Advanced D&D episode almost didn't happen. That one about had me screaming with laughter - especially on the Pierce line which Greg Nog pointed out: "FAAAAAT." I refuse to drink even a sip of Haterade about this season of Community - it was goddamn brilliant.

This season of P&R surely has to be one of the best seasons of a comedy ever.

TOO RIGHT. I'll admit that, initially, I wondered why P&R existed when we already had the Office & 30 Rock - I kinda regarded P&R as the compound of both shows - but that was before the cast really clicked, the show's skewering of government and politics ripened and the full majesty of RON FUCKING SWANSON was unleashed. I'm seriously having a hard time waiting for next fall.

... sad that Outsourced was canceled ...

What in the ... I don't even ... who in the how ... ?
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:38 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


(But then, I'm like the only person sad that Outsourced was canceled, so my opinion's not worth shit.)

Well you're not the only one, but I still can't wrap my feeble mind around the fact that my wife thinks Parks and Rec should have been cancelled and Outsourced should get a three year deal. I liked Outsourced, but there's no comparison at all to me.

Parks and Rec this season was literally one of the best things I've seen on TV in a decade.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 7:44 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Personally, I think Community is the best thing on teevee right now. P&R is great, and makes an excellent case for the humour of being nice, 30 Rock is good but has to compete against its former self, and the Office I can take or leave, but it's Community which is experimenting in bold news ways. Pushing boundaries sometimes, other times ignoring them altogether. Not every episode is a success, but even the failures are fascinating.

I think it was the "My Dinner With Andre" ep that best demonstrated this. There were some previews of the whole Pulp Fiction aspect, and given what we already knew about the show, how referential it is on pop culture, there were some fairly large expectations on just how they would handle Pulp Fiction.

The show settles in, and it's clearly going somewhere else. The laughs aren't as forthcoming as they usually are. Ten minutes in, and... what the hell is this? We're just as confused and antsy as Jeff, wondering what has happened to Abed, and wanting to go to some other place. That tension of misdirection and failure keeps building, and then the waiter arrives, gives us the clue we need to realize that the Tarantino episode is really a Louis Malle episode, and HOLEE SHIT.

Community has a daring to it that I haven't come across elsewhere. There's a certain amount of trust required, that Harmon & Co will take you by the hand and lead you to somewhere magnificent and unexpected -- KFC spaceships, blanket forts, My Dinner With Andre -- and the rewards are immense.

And rocket88, you're right. This year's paintball episodes were better. The first year was a huge collection of action movie references. This year's played with the narrative and character structures of westerns, making it artistically deeper, but still filled with slo-mo shots of Alison Brie running.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:47 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well you're not the only one, but I still can't wrap my feeble mind around the fact that my wife thinks Parks and Rec should have been cancelled and Outsourced should get a three year deal. I liked Outsourced, but there's no comparison at all to me.

Well, yeah, I think P&R is a better show. But I think that Outsourced started to hit its stride right after Christmas, but by then the timeslot had been changed and it was all for nothing--can't help but wonder what would have happened if it had matured further. Still, by the time the finale came around, it sort of felt like they were no longer trying, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:48 AM on June 10, 2011


The AD&D episode gets lots of love, for good reason. But I'm working my way through Season 2 and just saw the episode that's an elaborate parody of Synecdoche New York. WHO DOES THAT? For balls alone, this is the best comedy on television.
posted by naju at 7:51 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the most interesting thing about these articles is that it really reinforces the idea that no one goes out to make bad television - the original ideas are good, but for whatever reason, the final product doesn't necessarily match the hilarity/vision of the original. Just like we're disappointed in bad episodes, the creators are disappointed in bad episodes. Very rarely do you get the ego-crazy, "Fuck you, it was brilliant, you just didn't understand it!" When something doesn't work, it doesn't take 100 critics to make it so - the creator, in this case, understands what didn't work as well.

Community is still my favorite thing on TV at the moment, and after reading this, it makes me wish they'd get the second season out on DVD more expeditiously. As it is, I may spend this weekend going through the first.
posted by SNWidget at 7:53 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Community is unequivocally my favorite TV show right now. And -- well, hang on.

I was about to say I don't even like TV shows that much, but then I would sound like that person. So: I own a TV. Sometimes I watch things on the TV and generally speaking, whatever's on at the moment just kind of bounces off my head. I'm not saying it's bad, just that it usually won't resonate with me for whatever reason, it won't make me laugh, it won't do whatever. Which is fine. I'll usually give things a chance anyway, and if it doesn't come off for me, no harm done. There have been a couple exceptions - I liked LOST, for one - but sitcoms? Nah.

That changed for the first time in a great many years with 30 Rock, which I just plain loved, and then I started trying to find other shows which would make me laugh the same way, and eventually I found Community, and holy shit. I thought to myself, "I am not completely sold on this show but I'll give it another episode or two," after the pilot, and suddenly it was three days later and I'd watched both seasons in their entirety. And I was hooked. I was in love. No TV show has ever made me laugh as hard.

I'm now rewatching the whole thing with some friends and it is even better the second time around. Not only are there all the jokes I missed the first time, it's like coming back to old friends. And it's great. I love Community.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:56 AM on June 10, 2011


Apparently Community's ratings cratered at the end of the year , and probably wouldn't have been renewed if they had waited a bit longer. It averaged a 2.0 but dropped to a 1.5 for the finale.
posted by smackfu at 7:59 AM on June 10, 2011


I think my main problem with the second season is that there were a lot of times when they got too caught up in narrative at the expense of having consistent comedic characters. A comedy really lives and dies on the basis of the characters, and you can't just abandon what makes a character funny to tell the kind of story you want to tell without it hurting the comedy aspect. I think the most obvious example is Chang, who went from a very effective source of non-sequitor craziness in the context of his teaching a class to being butt monkey character with a pointless pregnancy subplot. But it happened to a lot of the characters in a lot of the episodes, where for one reason or another they would stop being funny or act completely differently than they normally did for no reason other than to serve the plot. Contrast that with a sitcom like Seinfeld that was able to put its characters in a variety of situations while still staying true to their core traits (until the last episode, where all of that was thrown out to tell a clever but unfunny story)
posted by burnmp3s at 8:03 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter is becoming text messages between middle schoolers.

YMMV
posted by blucevalo at 8:04 AM on June 10, 2011


HIMYM. TBBT. MetaFilter is becoming text messages between middle schoolers. Someone please, give these kids back their IMG tag.

I can respect using "HIMYM," because it's a pain in the ass to type "How I Met Your Mother" over and over again. I draw the line at "BBT" or "TBBT" though, since anyone who watches or discusses that fetid piece of shit should be ashamed of themselves. True story.

Anyway, I really need to start watching Parks & Recreation apparently. Good to know I have something to last me through the summer months. But yeah, this was a nearly perfect season - as good as anything I've seen outside of Arrested Development and perhaps even hitting those heights.

And what makes the difference, what these interviews show, is that Dan Harmon cares so much it damn near kills him. His worst episodes are better than almost anything broadcast on network television, and still he beats the shit out himself over them, even if it's clear that those (still very good) episodes were an inevitable side-product of creating "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" or "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" or "Critical Film Studies." He knows he's talented, and that the rest of the writers are talented, but it's clear that the important thing is to work his ass off for perfection every time, and if one or two slip through the cracks as a result, he's not going to excuse himself for it.

Of course, the most fascinating aspect of Community, and why I'm surprised it was renewed, is that the network has a TOTAL misunderstanding of the audience. The fanbase for this show loves it largely because of how weird it will be, without being self-conscious about it. The network then tries to hamstring Harmon & Co. from doing anything weird. It's almost like the network is willing to risk the core audience of the show as it stands in the hopes of gaining an audience they can predict and manipulate more, and Harmon - by taking these "risks" and fighting for them, is the only one actually being financially responsible.

Anyway, I love this show.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:07 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know why he gets the idea that "everyone wants [him] to fail." He says that like a dozen times.
posted by absalom at 8:13 AM on June 10, 2011


What's interesting about Dan Harmon is not just that he made a good and interesting sitcom though that's not an easy thing. It is that he has established this brand as a writer. Like he is himself a character in a way that no writer who was not actually part of the cast has been able to do. It's a strange blend of candor, openness, and neurotic levels of thoughtfulness, that is lovable and a little annoying.

Community is a good show and I think a flawed show. I don't have a problem calling it flawed; there have been damn few perfect sitcoms and this isn't one of them. But people don't go on and on about how all sorts of worse shows are flawed. Flawed is the term people use when a work of art seems not quite equal to its own ambition. Fitzcarraldo, or The Fountain are flawed films. No one would describe say um Changing Lanes as a flawed film. That's not to say that it didn't have flaws. It did, but we use the term flawed in a particularly way. We don't even bother using it unless what we are describing is special in the first place. The invocation of flawed is in itself sort of a compliment and a lot of times we love things because of their flaws.
posted by I Foody at 8:15 AM on June 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


I watched a few episodes of Community here and there but never really got into it. I think I'll have to give it another try after reading everyones comments.

And a big YES to the love for Parks and Rec. it's been a long time since a TV show has made me laugh so much.
posted by littlesq at 8:20 AM on June 10, 2011


What I love about those interviews isn't just what Harmon says; it's that I think the whole "write about an episode in the hour after it airs and give it a grade" thing, especially with comedies, is not a great way to cover television. I like the fact that they're looking for other ways to think critically about TV other than the immediate wrap-up-with-grading, which I basically never read anymore except when Sepinwall writes it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:22 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I draw the line at "BBT" or "TBBT" though, since anyone who watches or discusses that fetid piece of shit should be ashamed of themselves. True story.

Aw. Ickle Angry Only On The Internet Nerd! Memories of the lazy music dorks on the NME writing 'FACT!' after statements thinking that the ferocity of their ejaculation was explanation enough rather than, y'know, cobbling together some kind of argument to back it up.

Of course some of the reasons I find it so funny is because it is mocking people like you as you hate it more & more. Now that's meta.

I guess some of us laugh with our bellies, mouths and so forth and others do it by stroking their chins. Diff'rent Strokes 'n all that...
posted by i_cola at 8:41 AM on June 10, 2011


Guys? If you're gonna have a flamewar on MetaFilter, can you be a little less pathetic about it? Quality control and all that. Thanks.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:45 AM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


(And, yeah. Not a fan of Chevy Chase's character. I get the impression that he's trying to mimic Ed O'Neil's character from Modern Family, and is failing miserably at it)
posted by schmod


Maybe it didn't come off in the few episodes you've seen, but the type and intent of these characters is FAR different. As is the way they're acted. Also the shows premiered the same year, so the characters were created and acted concurrently.

Ed O'Neil in Modern Family is supposed to be the lovable curmudgeonly father with a heart of gold. He tries to be grumpy but inevitably is won over by his wacky family. He exists to be a patriarch, sometimes straight man, and focal point for the wackiness to spin around.

In vast contrast, Chevy Chase's Pierce is a desperately lonely despicable rich man who openly preys on the weak and wants friends more than anything, but actually can't bring himself to modify his behavior so he can actually have real ones, despite it being his most fervant wish. He is openly racist, vapid, and fueled by schadenfreude. His primary character traits are selfishness and desperation.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:52 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I try not to spill haterade on other people's parades but FOR ME I lose interest in The Big Bang Theory 12 words into the first sentence of its wikipedia page.

"The Big Bang Theory is an American sitcom created by Chuck Lorre"
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:56 AM on June 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I want to start watching Parks & Rec, but heard that the first season wasn't all that great. Where should I start?

Also, if we're just talking about currently-running sitcom comedies, can I mention how pleasantly surprised I've been at the first season of Raising Hope? The show got off to a rocky (and seriously dark) start, but has grown into something really great. The main characters have great chemistry together, and despite the occasional over-the-top slapstick gags, seem much more rooted in reality than the average sitcom character.

Also, I love sitcoms that avoid the "Everyone is rich and lives in a furniture store" trope. I love Modern Family, but damn, are they guilty of using that one to death. (Arrested Development gets a pass, because it's a plot point and frequently subverted. Malcolm in the Middle comes to mind as one of the only other shows in recent memory to offer a seemingly accurate and non-judgmental depiction of a lower-middle-class family)

posted by schmod at 8:56 AM on June 10, 2011


Just start with the second season of Parks and Rec. Once you're hooked, you can go back and fish for the goodstuff from Season 1.

all your eggs and bacon
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:11 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The first season of Parks & Rec is 6 episodes that will take slightly over two hours to watch. I wouldn't bother skipping them.
posted by smackfu at 9:19 AM on June 10, 2011


Just start with the second season of Parks and Rec.

Yeah, Season 2 is where it really picks up, and the episode "The Camel" might be a good one to get a sense of the personalities and interplay between the characters.

Along similar lines, if anyone wants to check out Community, but isn't sure where to start, you might try "Cooperative Calligraphy" -- the whole cast is stuck in one room, trying to solve a mystery, and you can see the broad strokes of the characters easily enough to see if you want to keep going.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:19 AM on June 10, 2011


There's nothing flawed about the second season. I prefer Parks and Rec's folsky charm to it, however. Also MeFi is becoming the A.V. Club.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:35 AM on June 10, 2011


I didn't think season 1 of Parks and Rec was all that bad, actually. It suffered in comparison to what was on around it at the time, and definitely in comparison to later seasons, but it's still a solid sitcom. And only 6 episodes, so no, I wouldn't skip it.

Also, MetaFilter: There is whistling and clapping, and some guy says, “Got milk?” and some other guy says, “Talk to the hand,” and then it goes “boing,” and there is a reaction shot, and there is a tuba.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 9:48 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nah, no flame war. Everyone's just joking around.

But i_cola brings up the real issue of comic subjectivity, which is legitimate. I know why I love Community and it has very little to do with chin-stroking. I love that the jokes are lightning-fast (and do, in fact, make me laugh with my belly) and the characters different from stock types I see elsewhere. i_cola mentioned the "by nerds for nerds" vs "about nerds" aspect of this debate above (I've mentioned it here, but beware as a lot of that post could be considered more flame-bait) but yeah, I like shows and jokes which are smarter than I am. So that is what it is.

But more than anything, comedy is not just about laughter, to me. It can be, sure, and can be great. But my favorite comedies will always be the ones which embrace exhilaration as well. Seeing Shirley pull off Troy's operation in the library in "For a Few Paintballs More," and everything that follows, it might not make me laugh out loud (though there are more than enough laugh lines thrown about through all of that) but it brings me joy. As far as total joy is concerned - laughter and otherwise - nothing compares to Community for me.

Several of my friends can't get into it, and love Big Bang Theory. I can't enjoy Big Bang Theory even a little bit. My threshold is 90 seconds on a good day. I honestly detest it. But people I respect love it, so there's got to be something there, I guess, it's just not for me.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:53 AM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


For some odd reason, Emirates had season 1 (and only season 1) of P&R on their in-flight entertainment system. It wasn't that bad.
posted by smackfu at 10:34 AM on June 10, 2011


I used to see him perform with the Dead Alewives in Milwaukee in the mid-90s. He was hilarious then and it's great to see him succeed.
posted by look busy at 11:14 AM on June 10, 2011


I was all excited to read these but had to stop--Dan Harmon's apparently low opinion of his show nearly convinced me I didn't like it in the first place. Maybe he should have waited til he watched the season 2 dvd.
posted by Lorin at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2011


I really don't get the criticism that Community "isn't funny" or that it demands that its viewers think too hard. Did every single person watch the My Dinner with Andre episode and call it quits? This show devotes entire episodes to a zombie movie parody with all the characters in Halloween costumes and a soundtrack made up entirely of Abba, or Abed turning into a Mean Girls Terminator, or the gang getting stuck in a 70s Kentucky Fried Chicken-branded space simulator/product placement machine.

Obviously it does subtler, smarter, and more high-concept things too, but it's not like it's Inside the goddamn Actors' Studio or something. And in a year with fantastic sitcoms, this season of Community was my favorite.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 11:31 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


This interview series was just fantastic. It was absolutely fascinating to hear such candid discussion about the production of it all. I have no doubt that the reason Community is great is because Dan Harmon cares so damn much. He cares more about making sure the show is ambitious and good than I think I care about anything. I want to shake his hand and say "don't worry so much, you're doing a great job" but I think from this interview that the self-evisceration may be necessary to get the product we're getting.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:37 AM on June 10, 2011


"The Camel" is absolutely the turning point. For me, it came down to a single line to go from ambivalence to adoration of the show:

"Usually, the pain shrieks through my loafers like a banshee on the moors, but you've managed to reduce it to a dull growl"

RON FUCKING SWANSON

(Tom awakening to abstract art was also priceless)
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:40 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Usually, the pain shrieks through my loafers like a banshee on the moors, but you've managed to reduce it to a dull growl"

The look on Andy's face when Ron moans is one of the best moments of comedy.

And if Community has taught me anything, it's that I want to live above a dildo store.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:43 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you like good characters, and more importantly, are you fascinated with how writers will utilize them? There's a void that's being wrangled constantly with this show and, after reading the Onion article (makes me miss living in a metropolis that serves it), and listening to Mark Maron's WTF interview with Dan Harmon, I can probably say with certainty that I like this show because it is 'comforting'. I re-watched some episodes today and I didn't like them (well, not as much as I did when I first watched them).

There was a critic who spoke of a band I liked in my teens in this way: "This band is a Rock and Roll band for people who don't like Rock and Roll." This critic, who I can't remember the name of, had created this koan in reference to the band Pavement. In certain ways I'd liken Community to this koan: "This television show is for people who don't like television shows", a "community" I'd consider myself a part of. Unfortunately, as a writer, I can find myself loving craft as much as substance. When Harmon talks about loving "modularity" as much serialisation (in narrative), I don't totally get it but I can tell he's creating his own semanitcs (or is it syntax?).

Well, the writing "scene" in LA sounds like fun. I'd like to work with a guy like this.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 11:52 AM on June 10, 2011


I've softened on Big Bang Theory since they added a girl geek (and former waitress) to the cast. Before that there was WAY too much I'm-a-smart-guy-why-don't-pretty-girls-like-me going on. Bernadette and Sheldon are hilariously deadpan-analytic together and they show that even overly-literal-minded smart people aren't going to be stuck at the bottom of the social totem pole forever: they can ditch that scene and hang out with people on the same wavelength. Life isn't high school, where you HAVE to put up with more socially aware people condescending to you.

Speaking of HAVING to put up with people, Community is not that funny, UNLESS you watch the first episode before watching any other episodes. It's a modular show - as you can see from the interview, where Harmon talks about switching episodes around - but you need to know how the group first got together and how they relate to each other before any of the jokes makes sense, because they are mostly jokes about the way each member of the group is perceived by the other members of the group.

Basically it's a show about a group of close friends who spend all their time together, and have flaws or quirks that are irritating (as all of us do), and how they keep their friendship from going stale. It's like watching a bunch of fish in an aquarium deciding which extracurricular activities they want to do together.

And I think that's a dynamic that the show runners know really well. Just look at the interview, when Harmon says he hadn't even considered the that Pierce might become too flawed for the viewers to put up with: to him, you put up with your friends' shortcomings because they put up with yours. (And because they are as smart, funny, and creative as you.)

In real life, would all these people be friends? Jeff, Britta, Troy and Ahmed probably would be. They'd get together and be cynical about everything (with Britta attempting to disown her cynicism, annoying the others). They'd be like the cast of Seinfield, only with more awareness of what it means to have or not have privilege, and therefore more awareness and empathy for other people's problems. Annie and Shirley are also both very empathetic, so they'd fit in to this group even if they would probably also have other friends. (Something that's kinda brought up in-show, but isn't the focus.)

All of the main characters on Community are unusually empathetic for teevee characters, except for Pierce. IRL he would probably just use his money to buy more obliging friends. But because he has to do what the writers want him to do, and because Chevy Chase is drawing a big paycheck each week, he has to stick around and be the butt of most of the jokes. Which is a great joke, on a meta sort of level. XD
posted by subdee at 12:13 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The look on Andy's face when Ron moans is one of the best moments of comedy.

Seriously, the talking head with Andy after that happens, where he just groans with horror about five times in a row? One of the funniest things I've ever seen on television.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 12:15 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Big Bang Theory derail!

This show doesn't strike me as: "I'm a smart guy, but pretty girls don't like me! ;_;" It strikes me more as: "I'm a smart guy, but because of the way our society is set up, pretty girls who ought to like me don't, and therefore I have no value except as the butt of jokes! ;_;" The first one is often sadly true and lamentable, the second one is full of misconceptions:

1) Why should pretty girls like you for being smart? You don't like them because they are smart, you like them because they are pretty.

2) Just because (some) pretty girls don't like you, you have no value? You're drawing a six-figure salary dude, obviously someone sees some value in what you do.

3) I resent the idea that as a geek, I should be laughing at geeks for being too geeky. What is this, self-hate hour? Prove I can take the joke of other people laughing at me hour? Please.

So yeah, that sums up my thoughts on early Big Bang Theory. Actually, I'm not sure how much it's improved since then (or not), since I only watch isolated scenes I am linked to.
posted by subdee at 12:38 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


In certain ways I'd liken Community to this koan: "This television show is for people who don't like television shows", a "community" I'd consider myself a part of.

Well NOW I get it! I actually love TV.

I also love rock and roll and pavement, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:00 PM on June 10, 2011


Interesting read.

Harmon is terribly self-aware. On the one hand, this can be good : I think he has a strong understanding of what didn't work second season, and won't be making the same mistakes again. On the other hand, this reflectiveness seems kind of destructive at times. He's writing off things that TOTALLY WORKED, just because some critics didn't like it, or it wasn't as cool as he'd originally envisioned. I mean, the Jesus Christ Superstar episode? Hilarious! The "Mean Girls" Terminator subplot? Hilarious! It's painful to hear him talk these things down. I feel like he reads comments sections too much. I sense a platter of legumes here is being overexamined here...

Anyway, I thought the second season was uneven, but ultimately hilarious and brilliant. The only episode I thought was a total loss was Competitive Wine Tasting -- which was painful for its lack of funny jokes, and also for squandering the premise of Abed's class on Who's the Boss, which should have been hilarious.

On the whole, the good in second season completely outweighs the bad, which is why I'll be tuning in next season, and also why I chafe when people deliver the standard hipster line, "The first season was better."
posted by Afroblanco at 1:10 PM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've softened on Big Bang Theory since they added a girl geek (and former waitress) to the cast. Before that there was WAY too much I'm-a-smart-guy-why-don't-pretty-girls-like-me going on.

I didn't notice "why-don't-pretty-girls-like-me" at all, but maybe I just wasn't looking for it. The vibes I got from the early seasons were more like "of-course-pretty-girls-don't-like-me" and then "omg-a-pretty-girl-likes-me". Now we're getting into late stage sitcom territory where the drama rises and the jokes aren't as good.

Also, I watched maybe two episodes of both Community and Parks and Rec and didn't enjoy either, so I guess I'm broken. I should watch them again and try to figure out what it is that I'm not enjoying, because it's clear that a lot of people like them. I don't enjoy The Office(s) either though, so there's that too.
posted by ODiV at 1:15 PM on June 10, 2011


The only episode I thought was a total loss was Competitive Wine Tasting -- which was painful for its lack of funny jokes, and also for squandering the premise of Abed's class on Who's the Boss, which should have been hilarious.

The real problem with the Who's the Boss plot is that it's a big canonical error. In the Season One episode where Britta drunkdials Jeff, Abed says it's like the recurring sitcom trope where one character sees another character naked, and then has to restore balance. Jeff asks if it's really that substantial a trope, and Abed replies that it's so established it was in the opening credits of Who's the Boss-- Tony sees Angela naked during the theme song. Then Jeff asks what Tony did to restore balance, and Abed says 'I don't know-- I could never get past the opening credits.'

J'ACCUSE!
posted by shakespeherian at 1:19 PM on June 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


Please don't tell Harmon that. I don't want him to hurt himself.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:28 PM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I sorta assumed that Abed went through and watched every episode of Who's the Boss before the class started, in preparation for said class over his summer vacation. Sounds like something he would do.
posted by stratastar at 1:46 PM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Community is hilarious. Reading these interviews, I feel bad for Harmon--he seems so nervous and self-critical! It reminds me of DFW, honestly, which is far from a bad thing.

P & R is also great. I agree that the first season takes a little while to kick into gear, though I do have to say that "Rock Show" is when I more or less fell in love with the series.
posted by vivalamusicapop at 1:55 PM on June 10, 2011


I watched maybe two episodes of both Community and Parks and Rec and didn't enjoy either, so I guess I'm broken.

There is not a television program on earth that everybody likes. Community's ratings are not very high. I love the show but am surprised they renewed it, considering its ratings. However, there are certain programs that are harder to "get" if you only watch maybe two random episodes of them, and Community is probably one of them, especially depending on which random episodes you've seen.

For example, I don't love Modern Family, but I get why so many people like it. Community makes me laugh both harder and more often than Modern Family does, but I think Modern Family is more immediately accessible, with well-defined characters that act within their parameters. Towards the end of this season, I was able to pick random episodes on Hulu after never having seen it and not knowing anything about the show, aside from the fact that a friend thinks it's the best comedy on television. Watching these episodes, I was never confused about what any particular character was like or what the hell was going on. I knew what was meant to be funny and why, and it was enjoyable to watch.

With Community, I can see someone completely unfamiliar with the show tuning into, say, the episode where Annie's pen gets stolen, and being completely underwhelmed and wondering what was supposed to be funny about it. In every episode, most of the characters are just plain weird people, and they often do despicable things. But for me, knowing the characters and watching them every week, the show just works. It is uneven, but when it's at its best, it is delightful, and I find myself replaying certain scenes over and over again.
posted by wondermouse at 2:29 PM on June 10, 2011


drezdn: "The throwaway reference to Glee in Paradigms of Human Memory that confirms that the two shows exist in the same universe had me in stitches.

Wait, I missed this, what happened?
"

This.

OK, so it's only implied. Still....
posted by schmod at 2:56 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


FWIW, The AV Club also holds that Community and Glee are "the same basic bear."
posted by vivalamusicapop at 3:02 PM on June 10, 2011


I definitely understand where Harmon's self-criticism of "For a Few Paintballs More" comes from, at least. It's his third trip to that same well in two seasons (fourth, if you include "Epidemiology") and while he clearly isn't opposed to doing that, he seems at least healthily wary of it. He also makes it clear that he considers S1's "Modern Warfare" to be his best so far, and so this is going to have a lot to live up to.

More deeply, "Modern Warfare" presented what he now considers something of a dogma for the show, in having Jeff and Britta hook up in an episode not about that, but with those consequences reaching beyond the episode itself. "A Fistful of Paintballs"/"For a Few Paintballs More" don't really have that, except in Pierce leaving the group, which ended the season on a cliffhanger when Harmon didn't want one. Additionally, while "Modern Warfare" and "A Fistful of Paintballs" had masterfully executed aesthetics, perfectly mimicking the tone (and thus tension) of action movies and spaghetti westerns respectively, the Star Wars thing doesn't work, or at least not nearly as well. Greendale can be an action movie set. Put the characters in the right costumes, light it right, and it can be a western setting. But it can't be an imperial destroyer. It can't be Hoth or Endor, at least not the way the wrote and shot it. So the references come in forced and sloppy, with City College's ringers dressed as stormtroopers and Abed straight-up stating that he is Han Solo for this one. I can see the disappointment.

But then you get to that second act, with Troy's and Jeff's operations running simultaneously, and no matter what Harmon thinks, that act gives us exactly what we didn't consciously know we wanted. It was a brilliant touch to have Jeff go down first and entirely without sentiment. I love Jeff Winger as a character, but taking the de facto hero role away from him opened it up for great things from everybody else in the group.

• Troy and Abed doing their patented handshake, but with pistols, before kicking the door open in an attempt to shoot their way out of the library.
• Troy going out like a martyr badass before the ambush.
• Shirley pulling the alarm and outrunning both the stormtroopers and the sprinklers.
• Troy, walking away dejected, laughing his ass off as his plan comes to fruition.
• Annie and Abed, out of ammo, making out as the orange paint sprinkles down on them.
• Britta holding her ground until she's the last person in the courtyard, until Shirley swings the golf cart around.
• Shirley and Britta making a (mostly) successful and awesome assault on the turret.
• And Pierce, using trickery to win the whole thing for Greendale while dressed as a stormtrooper.
PIERCE: Yeah! We did it!
STORMTROOPER: Who are you?
PIERCE: Your mother's lover!
(Pierce shoots the remaining Stormtroopers)
That whole sequence is so full of win that it beats away any uneven sloppiness which may have preceded it. And it accomplishes what Harmon wanted the season to accomplish: making Greendale no longer a prison, but something these characters were willing to fight for.

But you don't make a show this good without being something of a perfectionist, so I just hope Harmon realizes how much he pulled off with that episode, while still remembering that he never wants to have one act of his show have to make up for another.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:46 PM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Two more things:

1. Apparently firefox knows me well enough by now that I only have to type "h" into the browser bar to bring up Community's Hulu page.

2. A sly, awesome joke that I only caught a week or so ago and haven't seen anyone else mention: in "Paradigms of Human Memory" (which might be the flat-out funniest episode they've done) the final diorama (which is of them creating the penultimate diorama) includes Chang, outside of the library, peering in through the windows. Awesome.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:06 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Community was pretty damn good this season (and as a Cougar Town fan, I fucking loved the cross-show finale cameos), but holy fuck Parks and Rec. This season of P&R surely has to be one of the best seasons of a comedy ever. I would put it up there with HIMYM S2 or Scrubs S1. Not quite Blackadder S2-S4, but what is?

Agree! The P&R episode "The Fight" was one of the best episodes of television I've seen in a long time.

My only minor quibble with "Community" is that I think they might have overdone it with the character development, and the characters are a little unsteady.

(My textbook example of this is the awful, awful Everybody Loves Raymond. Towards the end especially, they would let anyone write an episode. The characters became playthings for the writers, and the effect was that they were not authentic to the viewer.)
posted by gjc at 5:10 PM on June 10, 2011


Oh my god why did no one tell me Dino Stamatopoulos was Starburns?
posted by heathkit at 5:11 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doesn't community college last two years? WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?!
posted by vitabellosi at 8:33 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The P&R episode "The Fight" was one of the best episodes of television I've seen in a long time.

That's easily my favorite episode of P&R, and I was beyond pleased to learn that Amy Poehler wrote that episode. That woman is amazing and awesome.

(Best part of that episode, for me, was Ron Swanson drunk. Sometimes after a hard day I just come home, put on that episode, and skip forward to that part near the middle. You know the part I mean. The awesome part.)
posted by palomar at 8:50 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing that comes across to me is that there are so many pieces that have to come together for each episode of Community to happen, that Harmon can't keep all of them in his head when pulling them in. He puts them all there, he's got it covered, but he just doesn't realize it. So when an episode is wrapped, he sees it's all there, but he can't keep it straight while it's being made.

Also Paradigms of Human Memory was so incredibly well done. Every piece of dialogue matters. The sequence of clips of the Dean walking in in his different costumes and tossing off puns may be the funniest two minutes of television comedy I've ever seen.
posted by dry white toast at 10:47 AM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Just start with the second season of Parks and Rec

...and then watch both seasons of Party Down.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:49 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Not directed at this particular comment, but have you noticed how quick people are nowadays to proclaim something the best thing ever? Like halfway through this season, there were warring factions saying that the current season of P&R and Community were the best seasons ever."

This would probably make more sense if you watched an older TV show called "The Simpsons."
posted by Eideteker at 1:47 PM on June 17, 2011


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