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"Streets ahead" is a goddamn phrase already, Dan Harmon
March 19, 2012 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Why don't you like Community? "Community isn’t a hit under the usual means, but it’s a big fish in a new TV comedy ecosystem, one where the way you make money isn’t by attracting the largest audience, but the most passionate one. " A point-counterpoint from the Onion AV Club.
posted by Sebmojo (127 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
What do you mean 'why dont I like community!?' I %@#ing LOVE COMMUNITY IT IS THE BESTEST THING EVAAAAARRRRRR!!!1!

On a serious note though, community has better writing then just about anything else on the tube these days. Sure Game o' Thrones has high production values, but the characters dont throw around much witty repartee.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 4:41 PM on March 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Interesting article. I do agree that Community does tend to favor style over substance, but there are some really beautiful emotional nuggets tucked in the show too. My favorite: The claymation Christmas episode that incorporated Abed's complex relationship with his mother. This episode actually made me cry. I only wish that Harmon could explore his characters' emotional sides a bit more.
posted by chara at 4:42 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like Community because it's one of the rare shows where I like everyone on it. And want everyone to get together in some giant TV orgy.

Ok, I've said too much...
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:43 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the fundamental thesis of this piece is flawed. There's a repeatedly stated idea that, in order for a show to really be valuable, it's primary focus has to be on its character's growth and development.

Firstly, no. Pure formalism is entirely fine in the arts. You may not relate to it in the same way you relate to a show that's deeply invested in its characters and their growth, and you may not especially like it, but that doesn't make it somehow less valid than your preferred form.

In fact, arguing for that shows ignorance of the traditional form of the sitcom, which, because it did not offer a single story that stretched over a season (in part because producers could not be sure that the show would be played in sequence in repeats), and because it was often written by multiple authors, some freelance, instead developed a different approach.

Characters would remain relatively static and have a few defining qualities. Episodes would be based around a crisis of the status quo, and the entire episode would be based around increasing the stakes of that crises and then returning to the status quo at the end.

Characters are not supposed to learn lessons on sitcoms; not traditionally. When they would, it would be in one of those aweful "very special episode" episodes, and the lesson was inevitable slight and forgotten by the next episode. The most embarrassing thing about "Sex and the City," which is modeled on the traditional sitcom form, is that Carrie pretends to have learned an import life lesson at the end of every episode. She hasn't. She can't.

Is this a problem? Well, if you're doing something novelistic, like "The Wire," it is. But sitcoms have, and continue to use, the deviate from/return to the status quo format brilliantly the years -- Sienfeld's last episode makes this explicit.

It's a perfectly fine form, and the thing that Community contributes to it is an awareness of the form, and a frequent ribbing of it. The fact that it congratulates the audience for sharing that knowledge is, as they say, a feature, not a bug.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:54 PM on March 19, 2012 [36 favorites]


I like Community because it's one of the rare shows where I like everyone on it. And want everyone to get together in some giant TV orgy.

YOU WANT TO SEE CHEVY CHASE IN AN ORGY?!?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:55 PM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Community isn’t a hit under the usual means..."

By the usual definition. By any means. Please people.
posted by Splunge at 4:55 PM on March 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Because it brings to mind the phrase "too much of a good thing". Chocolate cake is great, so you'd think that a chocolate cake covered with fudge, deep-fried in doughnut batter, and served up with truffles in an ice cream sundae would be super-amazing, but turns out no. It just feels like Community started out as a delicious chocolate cake, people enjoyed it, so the creators figured "Hey, let's go really overboard with this cake, I'll stuff it full of peanut butter and Dr. Who references", and everybody had a slice of that and did a big sick.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:57 PM on March 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


YOU WANT TO SEE CHEVY CHASE IN AN ORGY?!?

You don't?
posted by Fuka at 4:58 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


After lurking for 12 years, I just joined metafilter to say what KeSetAffinityThread said above. I've never loved a show like I do Community.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 4:59 PM on March 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


YOU WANT TO SEE CHEVY CHASE IN AN ORGY?!?

He had me at this.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:00 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a deep and abiding love for this show. Though let's be honest, that last wedding episode kind of blew. (The slow creep of studio meddling, mayhaps?)
posted by Pathos Bill at 5:07 PM on March 19, 2012


"Hey, let's go really overboard with this cake, I'll stuff it full of peanut butter and Dr. Who references"

I've only ever heard of Inspector Spacetime. Perhaps Doctor Who is only part of the darkest universe.
posted by jeather at 5:07 PM on March 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


What is this? Criticizing the writers for not allowing/making the characters develop?

Watch season one and then jump to any episode in season 3, and then tell me the characters haven't developed. The maturity, the relationships, the general understanding of the world - all has increased in each of the characters.

Except for Pierce, and that is why he is the true outcast of the group. And my least favorite character. He's too far gone (I thought, until ... well, you know. we'll just have to see)
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:11 PM on March 19, 2012


I too love Community, but do notice a certain cult-like streak in the fandom that brings to mind certain Tori Amos and Joss Whedon adherents. Makes getting into things hard for the newbie.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:11 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


YOU WANT TO SEE CHEVY CHASE IN AN ORGY?!?

Only a TV one. Somehow that's classier, surely?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:25 PM on March 19, 2012


I couldn't even finished the linked article, sorry. I'm tired of this newer backlash meme of "Community is so good it's actually bad!", and the linked article out-beanplates Metafilter on its best day.

The counterpoint guy even starts out by saying this:
So I’ve watched Community pretty much since the beginning. And yet my feelings about it remain as complicated (and conflicted) as ever. On one hand, Community at its best makes me laugh as much as any show on television, and wows me with the blinding intelligence it applies to deconstructing genres, narrative forms, and the very essence of what sitcoms are supposed to be. On the other hand, there’s something somewhat… troubling about Community.
I mean, what the fuck, Steven? By your own admittance you've watched the show from the beginning, it makes you laugh as much as any show on television, and wows you with its blinding intelligence in deconstructing genres.

So what more, exactly, were you expecting from one fucking show, you ungrateful twat?! That the cast then comes to your house and does your laundry on Saturdays?

I'm also astonished that he calls the show emotionally malnourished: as the man of twists and turns notes above, one of the other things that makes it special to me is that unlike most sitcoms, the character growth and changes persist. All the characters learn lessons that actually affect them- take the superb "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" episode- hell even the "gimmick" episodes like the Halloween/zombie one (which I preferred to the Remedial Chaos Theory one everyone raves about) had plot lines and emotional ripples that played out over the rest of the season. The fact that this show looked before the pilot aired to likely be a short-lived Joel McHale vehicle, and now has effectively back-seated him as a major character in danger of Pierce-like levels of being a grouchy outcast (that especially was demonstrated in the Remedial Chaos Theory episode)...

More than most dramas on TV, I think Community gets "right" the changing inner lives of the characters in subtle and meaningful ways. Sure, "The Wire" is a better drama for that... but "The Wire" is better than anything for drama, and it's not nearly as funny as Community, now is it?

But even if Community didn't get the character growth right, as that moron Steven opines right out of the gate... even if the characters were all like Abed or the Dean, a sort of cookie-cutter assembly of wacky stock types that never changed... it is at worst a hilarious, brilliant, and insightful show that is perfect for a meme-fed generation of oversatured pop-culture sponges like myself and most of the net-browsing western world. I mean, the fictitious clip show? The original paintball episode? The recent Christmas episode/Glee-bashing? These are hysterical on their surface, full stop- beating out any other sitcom on TV since Arrested Development.

Having any emotional resonance and depth on top of that would just be pure gravy anyway. I happen to think that gravy is there, but even if you don't, "Community" is one goddamned tasty steak.
posted by hincandenza at 5:26 PM on March 19, 2012 [39 favorites]


The AV Club's obsession with this show has puzzled me for a long time. For years, I've felt that their general viewpoint is totally aligned with mine, but I just can't help but find Community obnoxious.

I was kind of hoping that Hyden would take his point a step further and say what I'm thinking, which is that the show has always seemed to be too interested in being Great to bother being good.

Since the first season, it just hasn't made me laugh. I get the litany of references and the insanely well-constructed plots, but I just don't find any of it funny.

In a lot of ways, it strikes me as a bizarro-world Family Guy. Where Family Guy is all about trying to manufacture laughs without caring about creating any semblance of quality, Community does the opposite.

I'm sure that the critic-pandering (or insanely clever, depending on your perspective) aspect of Community says something deeper about the culture we live in today, but I can't really express it.
posted by graphnerd at 5:39 PM on March 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


The Wire isn't funny? Sheeeeeeeee-it.

But seriously, original paintball episode was one of the finest 22 minutes of broadcast programming I've ever seen. +1 to that.
posted by mcstayinskool at 5:39 PM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Where Family Guy is all about trying to manufacture laughs without caring about creating any semblance of quality, Community does the opposite.

This is the most succinct description of why I hate Family Guy I've seen. Thank you for that.
posted by mcstayinskool at 5:42 PM on March 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


“Remedial Chaos Theory” is a unique, undeniably well-conceived 22-or-so minutes of television. But to what end? So we could see, once again, that Jeff Winger is a jerk whose toxic presence is poisoning his supposed friends? Or that Harmon and his writing staff, once again, have proved themselves to be very clever?

What I got out of "Remedial Chaos Theory" is a lot more than that, and it's an episode that made me appreciate how good Community can be when it melds cleverness with a moment of emotional truth.

The point is not, "Jeff Winger is a jerk." The point is vulnerability. The point is that in our teens, in our twenties, we can spend so much time trying to arbitrate what is allowed and what isn't -- what you can single out and label as "gay" or "lame" or whatever. Jeff is right in the sense that Britta is not a good singer and even if she were better it would not be cool to sing raucously along to "Roxanne." He is wrong in the sense that the very process of making those judgments is often what pulls people apart from each other, and the willingness to make a fool of oneself is what can pull us together. I'm sure I'm beanplating here, but I found myself genuinely touched by that single moment of joy that can happen when we drop the bravado and the pretending. And by the fact that the universe went through seven iterations to get there.

(I know, I know, the universe doesn't actually have that telos; it's just imposed on us by the logic of narrative. It works for me anyway.)
posted by Jeanne at 5:43 PM on March 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


I get that Community isn't for everyone. I don't talk about it in front of my (idiotic) friends because I don't want to hear why they don't like it.

But to say the show doesn't have an emotional core and the characters don't grow? Thats just downright retarded.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 5:43 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


... but "The Wire" is better than anything for drama, and it's not nearly as funny as Community, now is it?

Obviously, you must be forgetting about the "fuck" crime scene investigation.

(But I get the overall point; it's silly to compare anything especially a comedy to The Wire.
posted by graphnerd at 5:44 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm glad that I (and apparently also graphnerd, whew) am not the only person on the planet who doesn't like this show, but I don't know what Hyden is on about here with self-reflexiveness and formalism and multi-paragraph digressions about Mad Men. I just don't think it's funny.
posted by naoko at 5:44 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've warmed to Community a bit, but my inherent discomfort with it has never been so eloquently expressed as by graphnerd right here. It has more heart than I originally gave it credit for, but I can't help but think that in some ways it coasts along thanks to our nostalgia and remix happy culture. Sure, the references are much, much smarter than most, but the episodes where it tries to craft something original mostly fall flat for me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:52 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a deep and abiding love for this show. Though let's be honest, that last wedding episode kind of blew. (The slow creep of studio meddling, mayhaps?)

You take that back this instant young man.

Let's go over why it did not blow:
1) The development of Britta's character, in finding the one thing she was good at, and how it drives her to drink (and Annie's amazing job playing off of Britta, like when Britta said "I come from a long line of wives of mothers!" and Annie quietly said "...most do."). This was honestly the source of most of my favourite jokes this episode. Also see: Britta dancing incredibly poorly in the background as Abed and Troy re-weird.
2) The first solid Shirley story in too long of a time (didn't like the pregnancy storyline), including the reveal of why she does the "Miss Piggy" voice, and general goodness with Mr. Cosby Show
3) Minimal Chang. Sorry, I love the actor, but he's usually written a whole level too broad, even compared to the Dean and Starburns)
4) Some new visual gags (the jumpcuts during Shirley's laughs/stares, Jeff Winger's heart)
5) Abed pretending to be unnervingly normal, and true to form, how he's much better at it than Troy.
6) Pierce's story also moved forward, but he generally is my least favourite study group-er, so... eh.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 5:54 PM on March 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


I bet Dan Harmon has put in more long-term thought and care into Community's characters and their development than the writers of massively fucking overrated critically acclaimed dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, whose characters were just as shallow at the start and quickly became even emptier as they were twisted and turned into mere narrative artifices just doing whatever had to be done to maximum the oopmh of the next scheduled ohnotheydidnt.
posted by fleacircus at 5:59 PM on March 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


YOU WANT TO SEE CHEVY CHASE IN AN ORGY?

I don't know, is Eartha Kitt involved?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:59 PM on March 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think I view The Mighty Boosh the same way that people see Community.

I love Boosh. I think it's one of the funniest shows ever made. Community just bores the crap out of me. To each their own and all that.
posted by Splunge at 6:03 PM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I bet Dan Harmon has put in more long-term thought and care into Community's characters and their development than the writers of massively fucking overrated critically acclaimed dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, whose characters were just as shallow at the start and quickly became even emptier as they were twisted and turned into mere narrative artifices just doing whatever had to be done to maximum the oopmh of the next scheduled ohnotheydidnt.

I understand that you're bristling, but this is pretty much just flatly untrue for Mad Men at least. Though if you want to see what you're talking about in vivid color, Weeds or Rescue Me are good examples.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:07 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love Community, but it isn't for everybody. What I like about it mostly, is that it is smart television in the way that Big Bang Theory almost never is; when in theory both shows should appeal equally to exactly the same target audience.

In a way it reminds me a lot of the early seasons of Futurama; genius to some but for most it was just blah.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:08 PM on March 19, 2012


But to say the show doesn't have an emotional core and the characters don't grow? Thats just downright retarded.

Why? I've seen a lot of comparisons to Arrested Development, but I think Community's real spiritual heir is South Park. South Park, at its core, is a cartoon about how it knows it's a cartoon. This is most evident in recurring Kenny's death gag. Community, likewise, is a sitcom about how it's aware it's a sitcom.

Beyond such self-awareness, both shows are primarily about parody, pop-culture references, and deconstruction of their formal trappings. Sure, they might deal with emotional topics, but only to the extent that dealing with such topics seriously is a reversal of the genre's standard tropes (for example, Kenny's actual death in South Park.) Ultimately, though, both shows have no real emotional core and their characters don't actually ever change.

On Community, characters might serve a different function then they started out as, but the "character" hasn't changed. Take Annie. Annie started out as a Tracy Flick-like over-achiever/control freak who tries to "be cool" but can't overcome her control issues. She's pretty much still that now.

In a case like Troy, there's actually less character. Troy started out as the stereotypical popular jock who has had everything handed to him, which has made him woefully unprepared for real life. Now, he's just Abed's sidekick.

I think Community can be downright hilarious at times, and is very smart and well-made, but it certainly doesn't have an emotional core, nor do I think it needs one. I think the fake clip-show perfectly demonstrated how formulaic the show is, while deconstructing that same formula.
posted by fryman at 6:14 PM on March 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I like a lot of nerdy things that are popular on Mefi (Doctor Who and Battle of Wesnoth for starters), but I can't stand Community: it's the smuggest dumb-smart-person show I've ever seen. It's got awful character development, but my issue is that it's not interesting on its own strengths: it's formal exercises are sophomoric and pandering (e.g., parallel universe episodes that reference goatees and Mirror, Mirror--red meat to the nerdy base). The show's alleged playfulness feels strained--it's decadent pastiche whose sole point seems to be audience identification. An example: Magnitude, the character whose only purpose is to say "Pop pop!"--I take that this is supposed to parody the pointlessness of sitcoms and student social scenes, but this is itself a pointless trope, one whose only purpose is for the viewer to note its repetition (not unlike Garfield's hatred of Mondays and love of lasagna). It feels like the Tofurkey of playfulness.

To be honest, I don't feel anger when I watch the show--I get depressed. Everything is so locked down with mediocre auteurism, that there's no air in the room, no unpredictability, life, or chaos. You never feel really uncomfortable by the incongruous juxtapositions or get high off the delightful randomness, the kind you'd get from the Simpsons or Arrested Development (episodes like the Remedial Chaos Theory feel tired next to the Japanese investors episode of Arrested). Rather the show is always "on." Instead of the moronic laugh track, what you get is "quirkiness," which serves the same quality: to tell you what to think. Everything in the show feels like it's already been commodified and digested for you. It's like Family Guy for nerds, nerds imagined not as lovable socially awkward intelligent introverts, but as a consumer demographic.

[Unrelated note one: My girlfriend just walked in to tell me that "Mefi" in French means "beware."]

[Unrelated note part deux: Can I say that the show is annoying on race? There are whole episodes drenched in liberal self-congratulation (like the episode with Chevy Chase's Chinese competitor). Meanwhile, Abed is ostensibly Arab American, but played by a South Asian.]

[Unrelated note c: Think about 30 Rock, a much denser, actually much stranger and referential show, that's been getting panned just as Community is getting back on the air. I think the difference is that 30 Rock's moments are often genuinely nihilistic and dadaist (think of Jack Donaghy's recent totally silent lecture on eye contact, the title of which is ). You don't get any of the easy entry points (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dungeons and Dragons), just pure alienating referentiality.]
posted by johnasdf at 6:16 PM on March 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


"I too love Community, but do notice a certain cult-like streak in the fandom that brings to mind certain Tori Amos and Joss Whedon adherents."

SHUT UP I LOVE ALL THOSE THINGS.

The best episode was "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design." I actually let out a little scream when the shooting started because a) I 100% believed Dan Harmon would commit enough to the story to kill characters and b) I was just that caught up in the story.

The D&D one was also hilarious.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:29 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, Abed is ostensibly Arab American, but played by a South Asian.

As a matter of fact, Abed is ethnically half-Polish, half-Arabic accordingly to this wiki. I recall it being explicitly mentioned by Jeff at some point.

Danny Pudi is half-Polish, half-Indian. It's not that much of a stretch (although probably that aspect of the character originated in Pudi, rather than the other way round).

I take your point, and I agree that minority casting is something that is often not done well by film, television and theatre, but if you require that all minority roles be played like for like, then Pudi will never get a role that is not specifically written for him, and that would be a shame. Ditto for many other mixed race actors. Other minority race actors would be even more limited than they already are.

It's not a simple issue, certainly. But I think that Pudi passes for half-Polish, half-Arabic. IMO, it's less contentous that casting, for example, a Chinese actor in an explictly Japanese role.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:33 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those too shortsighted to remember the past, (*cough*cough* Sports Night *ahem*), are forever condemned to repeat it.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:42 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So what more, exactly, were you expecting from one fucking show, you ungrateful twat?! That the cast then comes to your house and does your laundry on Saturdays?

Ooh, yes. I would not mind if some of the cast came and did my laundry. We're talking about orgies still, right?

I know there are a lot of problems with it. The show is more clever than heartfelt. It has its moments, but mostly it goes for clever. This is not entirely an objection -- I don't mind clever shows -- but it's not entirely a pro for me. I find that the characterisations of Britta and Jeff were hugely problematic until the end of last season, I hate Chevy Chase and his character, I think Dean Young is too one-note . . . my problems are always with the characters and any scene where Britta starts talking to Annie about how young Annie is, as the actors are very obviously the same age.

I also hated the stupid claymation Christmas episode. It turns out that even the vocal non-Christians are Christian at heart.
posted by jeather at 6:46 PM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you hated claymation Christmas in any of its incarnations, there is no hope for you.
posted by mek at 6:49 PM on March 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


"Chocolate cake is great, so you'd think that a chocolate cake covered with fudge, deep-fried in doughnut batter, and served up with truffles in an ice cream sundae would be super-amazing, but turns out no. "

You completely lost me there... that dessert sounds awesome. I will make it tomorrow.
posted by midmarch snowman at 6:49 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


blinding intelligence

Oh goodness, I really hate that this particular aspect of fan culture which is making Rodin mountains out of Gumby molehills.

I enjoy Community. It makes me laugh, like many other television shows. But it does not posses "blinding intelligence" for criminy's sake; it's clever, at best. I dunno, it's okay to like things - unironically - even if they're not actually incredible. This hyperbole - where emotional connection is mistaken for objective merit or intelligence - just kills me. I see it in fantasy/sci fi all the time, and wish people calling George R. R. Martin literature of the highest order would actually read some literature of the highest order just to put it all in perspective.

Grar grar lawn stomp etc etc. Put Community up against the King Of Queens or that Damon Wayans show or whatever. Obviously, it's orders of magnitude better. But being better than the King of Queens does not the bhagavad gita make, and nor is it necessary.
posted by smoke at 6:51 PM on March 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


It's the Ulysses of sitcoms.

*dodges fruit*
posted by deathpanels at 6:53 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Britta starts talking to Annie about how young Annie is, as the actors are very obviously the same age.

That never occured to me, to be honest. I have always thought that Annie looked about 20, which I now credit to a decent performance. But yes, after having looked into it, both actors are born in 1982.

The more you know! [Brrrring!]
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:55 PM on March 19, 2012


... but "The Wire" is better than anything for drama, and it's not nearly as funny as Community, now is it?

"Where do you guys get those hats with the bills over the ears like that?"
posted by mannequito at 6:56 PM on March 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Community is a 22 minute network show. It's pretty cool that it is being compared to Mad Men and such, but the appropriate comparisons are other sitcoms: yes, Big Bang Theory, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock; previously, Seinfeld is an appropriately self-conscious show. People seeking the "emotional core" of Mad Men in a network sitcom are out of their minds.

In the linked article, the referenced "broad appeal" sitcoms which had massive viewership were shows like I Love Lucy and Leave It To Beaver. Were those more emotionally satisfying? At the time, in the historical moment, I suppose so. I'm not sure which sitcoms today people are going to for emotional content. Certainly not Two and a Half Men. The tear-jerking function of TV seems to be pretty much served by medical dramas and vampire serials now.
posted by mek at 6:57 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love this show. We came to it late, but we have been on a spree the past month or so. We just last night finished season 2. Ready for the current season. One thing I agree with the haters on, though, -Musical episodes. This is so not necessary. But that is my personal problem. I hate them. Whatever the show. Just, please, no.
posted by mkim at 6:58 PM on March 19, 2012


Yeah, the musical episode was really hard to watch, as my skin kept trying to crawl off and huddle in the corner.
posted by elizardbits at 7:03 PM on March 19, 2012


The tear-jerking function of TV seems to be pretty much served by medical dramas and vampire serials now.

FWIW: When Abed is sad, I too am sad.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:04 PM on March 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


Comparing Community to Mad Men? That's a weird path to take in explaining why you dislike the show. It sounds like the con position in this article is trying to both say the emperor doesn't have any clothes with one side of his mouth and comment on how fashionable they are with the other. I can understand not finding Community funny because of how it disappears up its own ass (although I must say that I enjoy watching Community disappear up its own ass and then somehow pop back out, doff its magician’s hat, and say ‘ta-da!’), but attacking it for not having well developed characters is not only wrong, but also misplaced.

Instead it’s more useful to consider the show which exists in the same timeslot, though altogether more popular, better rated, and more successful: The Big Bang Theory. The degree to which TBBT is the inverted image of Community is strange. It’s like TBBT exist as the Persona, and Community exists as a sort of shadow-self.

On the face of things they’re both sitcoms about nerds. The nerds in TBBT are, of course, the characters. They’re bizarre television versions of nerds, who are rich, successful, and have active sex-lives. You know they’re nerds because one of them says ‘N64 emulator’ and there’s a laugh track. You know they’re nerds because they’re foreign, or Jewish, or wear glasses, or have Asperger’s. They have adventures in 30 minute time blocks, some things happen, they’re resolved, the world is reset to its initial starting point. The beta-nerd spills an experiment on Sheldon’s Battlestar Galactica action dolls, laugh track, the ethnic nerd says something that clearly shows he is Not From America, smaller laugh track, end scene. TBBT is enjoyed because its audience may self-identify as a nerd due to the fact that they bought a computer that one time, and they can laugh at the characters who are far nerdier than them while occasionally getting a reference out of a 9th grade physics text book. It’s a perfectly cromulent comedy product.

Community, on the other hand, is different. The main characters aren’t really nerds on first blush (aside from Abed, of course), but rather just regular losers that one might expect to find at a community college: the failed jock, the geriatric boob, the sham activist, the desperate single mom, the failure overachiever, and the hollow primping shell of man who can’t experience any emotions which can’t be sated by either casual sex or a scotch. They live in a strange, unhealthy, codependent circle with one another, and they change about as much as regular people change (which is to say that they have brief moments where they realize ‘hey, fuck, I’m sort of an asshole’ and then quickly change back while perhaps internalizing a little bit of the truth). There is no laugh track. The references come quickly, and aren’t just one-offs about operating systems, but are instead a tight, neurotic knot of callbacks across all types of media, and even within the show itself. There are season long plotlines that simultaneously link science fiction, and noire, and police procedurals, and golden-age sitcoms in a frenzied orgy of meta-referential self-satisfaction that it would make TVTropes stand back and say, ‘that’s a bit much, don’t you think?’

So whereas TBBT is about normal people watching normal people pretend to be nerds, Community is about nerds watching a group of nerds pretend to be normal people. Abed, acting as the most obvious bit of meta-commentary on the show, is about as close to TBBT variety nerd as we get – he realizes he’s a television character acting as a nerd, which makes him the most normal out of the whole bunch. TBBT is all up-front: it’s a sitcom and it doesn’t pretend to be anything different. Community operates on both an upfront level (a dysfunctional family unit at a community college) and a referential level (a community college that has been destroyed twice in the last three years by cinematic paintball fights). Community pretends to be a sitcom, but is actually something else.

The constant inversion of the realistic plot driven elements, and the surreal commentary driven elements is dizzying and off-putting. This uncomfortable balance makes the grounded episodes (like the wedding in last week’s premier) seem strange because they don’t venture far enough to the boundaries of where the show has been, and it makes the fantastical episodes seem strange because the characters lose their emotional depth and become pawns to be moved around on a blank slate of a stage, able to act as a point of reference to any genre (a sort of macrocosmic imaginarium).

This transition can be jarring to some viewers – understandably so. The constant flipping between modes (‘sitcom’ and ‘elsewhere’) makes it hard to connect to the characters, and the character development episodes (what I usually call set-up episodes) aren’t anywhere near as much visceral fun as the further out ones. In spite of this, I would argue that the problem isn’t lack of character development. It’s just that the character development is (ironically) more realistic than with other shows. How much can you say you really change in three years? Don’t your old bad habits come crawling back under your skin, in spite of your best efforts to resist them? The characters haven’t changed much in terms of behavior, but they’ve become more aware, and as such have changed in very slight ways, mostly in becoming less one-note caricatures, and becoming more vulnerable, weird, awkward, and dark. The musical number that opened the season had Jeff wishing to become less strange – but strangeness (depth) is what happens when you open yourself up to other people: both the other group members and the audience. The sitcom caricatures of Community (Annie the know-it-all, Jeff the ladies-man) are constantly destroyed by the friction of whatever crazy situation the group finds themselves in, revealing the deeper weirdness of the characters beneath. The characters in TBBT never become more weird (and, in truth, aren’t that weird to begin with), because doing so would destroy the equilibrium of its formula. It would alienate an audience that wants easy three act plots with regular beats of joke-laughtrack-reference-laughtrack.

So if Community is something else pretending to be a sitcom, then what is that something else? The something else is hard to name, but I think it can be called a dialog (or a game) with the audience. There’s a constant state of play in the show, where you are catching references, making connections, and trying to find deeper meaning. It’s the game of a nerd: one who must overanalyze and dissect every minute thing, unable to simply live in the moment… an obsession with detail. The sort of people who will write a 1,250 word essay about a television show. Community is a reflection on, and an active dialog about, being not a ‘nerd’ as stereotyped and cliché as that term is made by TBBT, but rather on being a strange person with failed aspirations to normalcy.

This is a lot to do with a 30 minute television show, and it doesn’t always do it well. It’s uneven (with widely separated peaks and valleys) where TBBT is bland, constant, and predictable. I don’t think it’s a show for everybody, but I do think that it’s a show that’s deeply loved by people who are able to connect with it, and something genuinely new in the format of comedy television.
posted by codacorolla at 7:30 PM on March 19, 2012 [116 favorites]


People seeking the "emotional core" of Mad Men in a network sitcom are out of their minds.

Taxi. All in the Family. It's not like it can't be done. The aforementioned Parks and Rec or The Office at its height.

Outsourced was actually pretty heartfelt, but I was just about the only person who liked it, soo...
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:32 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


All of johnasdf's comment depressed me (well, not the bit about what "MeFi" means in another language), because it is pure, unadulterated beanplating. There's a lot of words, a lot of definitions, a lot of phrasings like "decadent pastiche" to show off that you did, indeed, get a liberal arts education... but it doesn't seem to add up to anything, and seems disconnected to reality. "Magnitude" as some key example? A truly minor character, so yes his joke was a joke on the one-note characters- something a lead character (Jeff) explicitly pointed out in an episode. That can't surely be the hook upon which you hang your argument.

Community is very, very funny- I literally can't imagine how a person couldn't see at least that much. Every complaint I hear lodged about its lack of an "emotional core", it rings false. Look, I loved Arrested Development as much as anyone here... but those characters were far more cartoony and "South Park"-like than the leads on Community. Are you really suggesting people like Buster or Linsey or Tobias were more realistic and grounded than even Pierce or Troy or Abed? What was the AD equivalent of Troy's 21st birthday party episode, or Pierce's outbursts in AD&D? Even with 3(ish) seasons, we never even once saw a side of those characters that was touchingly and truly human, for even 10 seconds. It was all about the sight gag, the call-forward, the clever joke, and even the gooey soft-music moments were still setting up a rip on the TV trope of the "lesson learned" by having the 'lesson' go undone immediately or in the fake "next time" tag. The show was non-stop comedy stylings- which is why I loved it, and the density of its humor.

Community is that and some real human moments. Oh, and if you're really laughing at "The Wire" more than "Community"... uh, wow. :)
posted by hincandenza at 7:33 PM on March 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


So I hit "Post Comment", saw codacorolla's epistle, and realized I shouldn't have bothered typing anything. Well said.
posted by hincandenza at 7:36 PM on March 19, 2012


I love Community. I also think the 'Japanese Investors' episode of Arrested Development is the single funniest TV show I've ever seen. And you know, did anyone ever really undergo 'character growth' on that show? Not really. There was the occasional Hallmark homily at the end of the show, which was usually undermined or subverted before the narration ended.
posted by Mister_A at 7:38 PM on March 19, 2012


deathpanels: "It's the Ulysses of sitcoms.

*dodges fruit
"

Remember kids, an analogy is just a though wearing another thought's hat.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:38 PM on March 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


Remember kids, an analogy is just a though wearing another thought's hat.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:38 PM on March 19 [+] [!]


That's - I... uh...

huh.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:43 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


For those keeping score at home, I just Brita'd a quote from Brita THAT'S HOW BRITA I AM.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:44 PM on March 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


An example: Magnitude, the character whose only purpose is to say "Pop pop!"--I take that this is supposed to parody the pointlessness of sitcoms and student social scenes, but this is itself a pointless trope, one whose only purpose is for the viewer to note its repetition (not unlike Garfield's hatred of Mondays and love of lasagna). It feels like the Tofurkey of playfulness.

Magnitude is not supposed to be a parody of anything. He's just supposed to be fun.

'Pop! Pop!': The Oral History of Magnitude, the Party Machine of 'Community'
:
"Harmon: We’ve become tickled with the mystery of the character. I hate to overanalyze Magnitude, because he’s all in the name of fun. I actually see fans online having arguments about it, and it seems like the argument has to do with the assumption that either this character is a result of the show making fun of the viewer, or it’s a result of a show being stupid. And there’s absolutely no way for it to ever be anything in between. It’s kind of a silly, dumb thing. There’s no thesis that comes with Magnitude."
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:45 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obviously, it's orders of magnitude better.

pop POP!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:45 PM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


johnasdf: "To be honest, I don't feel anger when I watch the show--I get depressed. Everything is so locked down with mediocre auteurism, that there's no air in the room, no unpredictability, life, or chaos. You never feel really uncomfortable by the incongruous juxtapositions or get high off the delightful randomness, the kind you'd get from the Simpsons or Arrested Development (episodes like the Remedial Chaos Theory feel tired next to the Japanese investors episode of Arrested). Rather the show is always "on." Instead of the moronic laugh track, what you get is "quirkiness," which serves the same quality: to tell you what to think. Everything in the show feels like it's already been commodified and digested for you. It's like Family Guy for nerds, nerds imagined not as lovable socially awkward intelligent introverts, but as a consumer demographic. "

That's almost exactly how I felt about Arrested Development the first time I tried to watch. Every time someone repeated, "I've made a huge mistake!" or, "No touching!" my eyes rolled and every time Tobias said something that implied that he was gay it was all I could do to keep myself from shaking my head at the sheer predictability of it. The whole thing felt supremely smug and crafted just for the fanbase to knowingly quote at each other. Later, I re-watched the whole series, invested a bit more time and energy, and greatly enjoyed it. The biggest difference, other than paying more attention, was probably that I went in the second time with much lower expectations. I'd already been disappointed so it had nowhere to go but up. I think that's behind a lot of the Community backlash. People who like it (myself included) are so vocal that the expectations are completely out of control not just for what the show's actual ambitions are, but what's even possible for a mainstream network sitcom.

It doesn't help that meta/referential humor comes off as pretentious and/or mean if you're not feeling it. When I was not enjoying Arrested Development I found myself wondering why they spent so much time setting things up so that a few in the know could raise an eyebrow and say, "Oh, how clever," rather than just putting in actual jokes that people might find funny. Then, on re-watching, it all just worked. Not only is there no accounting for taste, there's no accounting for how certain things strike you at different times and in different moods.
posted by Copronymus at 7:48 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dr. Zira: "For those keeping score at home, I just Brita'd a quote from Brita THAT'S HOW BRITA I AM."

One better: you Brittaed Britta's name itself.
posted by Copronymus at 7:48 PM on March 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


YOU WANT TO SEE CHEVY CHASE IN AN ORGY?

I don't know, is Eartha Kitt involved?


There is a limit to how many people you can fit in an airplane bathroom.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:52 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


because it is pure, unadulterated beanplating

Ok, so what was your long comment?

It looks like "beanplating" here just means "analysis I don't like (optionally using big words)".
posted by kenko at 7:54 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I watch each new episode with my brother. We often take longer to watch than is normal as we each pause the show to point out a reference or something in the background that makes us laugh.

One of my favourites was during "Remedial Chaos Theory" where we noticed that Abed and Troy had put a decal on their refridgerator of them trapped in a vending machine (a callback to when they got stuck in a vending machine in season one).

Re: Magnitude; I always thought it was cool that his name was an abbreviation of "Magnetic Attitude."
posted by Start with Dessert at 7:55 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It doesn't help that meta/referential humor comes off as pretentious and/or mean if you're not feeling it. When I was not enjoying Arrested Development I found myself wondering why they spent so much time setting things up so that a few in the know could raise an eyebrow and say, "Oh, how clever," rather than just putting in actual jokes that people might find funny. Then, on re-watching, it all just worked. Not only is there no accounting for taste, there's no accounting for how certain things strike you at different times and in different moods.

Yeah, a big part of it is time commitment and expectations. I honestly think that Community and Arrested both work better when viewed end-to-end, rather than piecemeal.

It feels like the Tofurkey of playfulness.

I can see how one might feel this way, but I also think that there's a lot of original and less contrived stuff that the series has to offer. It occupies a weird space where it has to be commercial enough to fit on prime-time network television, but strange enough to satisfy an obsessive fan base. It's a difficult line to walk, and one thing that serves to explain why it's faring so poorly.
posted by codacorolla at 7:57 PM on March 19, 2012


When I grow up, I want to be like Leonard. Pffft!
posted by MegoSteve at 8:02 PM on March 19, 2012


When I grow up, I want to be like Leonard. Pffft!

Shutup, Megasteve. We know about your collection of 'vintage' My Little Ponies.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:16 PM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Um....Megosteve. /jokefail, typingfail, callbackfail.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:17 PM on March 19, 2012


Magnitude is awesome. Not because he's some sitcom trope, but because he's just so happy. He's fun! He's a one-man party! Who doesn't love a one-man party?

When I see Magnitude, I see a person who has an awesome life, with a whole show following him around, and we're only at the periphery. But what we get to see is just a joy.
posted by meese at 8:25 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


they have brief moments where they realize ‘hey, fuck, I’m sort of an asshole’ and then quickly change back

Stop spying on me!
posted by Ducks or monkeys at 8:44 PM on March 19, 2012


hincandenza: Even with 3(ish) seasons, we never even once saw a side of those characters that was touchingly and truly human, for even 10 seconds.

Not that I don't see your point, but, quoting from memory:

Buster: Oh my god, this says you're an anal rapist!
Tobias: No, no, it's pronounced a-nal-ra-pist.
Buster: It wasn't really the pronunciation that bothered me.

And thus Buster proved he was human.
posted by atbash at 9:01 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The AV Club guy's critique of Community made it sound like it is trying to do the same thing as my favorite TV show, Police Squad! But reading everyone's comments on it has dissuaded me of this notion.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:01 PM on March 19, 2012


I saw both Chevy Chase and Blondie vocalist Debby Harry at a club one evening. It was one of those nights that you also saw Tiny Tim and a muscle guy.

Tim always wore a filthy striped suit. And he was all over the muscular guy there.

We all were sniffing coke in the DJ booth.

While Tim tried to pick up the DJ, because the muscle guy left I was allowed to play with the DJ stuff. I mixed White line Fever with Blondie's Alien Rap.

Then we had some heroin to sniff. It was the best fucking night. There I was, confusing the people dancing while Tiny Tim tried to get the DJ to show him his dick.

I kept fucking with the beat. I loved making people on the dance floor trip and look up and say what the fuck is he doing?

As well I also had control of the lights so I tried to keep a spotlight on Chevy. As he hit on every girl in the club.
posted by Splunge at 9:14 PM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was a big fan of Dan Harmon back in the very early Channel 101 days. In the pre-yacht-rock era, even. And while he made consistently hilarious shorts, and he clearly has a great deal of talent, I was always shocked at this attitude toward people viewing and commenting on his work who weren't at the screening. There used to be a pretty active forum there, and it always surprised me how abrasive he was towards anyone with comments, critiques or suggestions that weren't from his inner posse (and an equally hilarious and talented possie).

I always remembered being confused as it grew in popularity, how Harmon seemed to bristle at those very same viewers who were increasing Channel 101's fame and popularity. It served as a major launching pad for a lot of people (or at the very least, as a sort of booster rocket).

And now, it seems like the poor anonymously huddled Internet masses are the very people rising up to rally support for Community during it's tumult. Were they not there back then?

I wonder if the bogey on Community's six might be Harmon? Has he changed his attitude to criticism? I wonder if there are tense negotiations or battles with the network? Has he softened his approach to his loyal fans? I imagine that he is intensely stubborn. With Channel 101, if the ratings floundered or you were booted out of prime time, it just meant quickly scrambling to produce a new show and get back in the mix. You could stubbornly stick to your guns and then just go down in flames because you could always get something back in the lineup. There was always a chance to redeem one's self with an awesome new show. Here the stakes are higher, and it isn't as easy to get back in the line-up, but I wonder if he is playing the same game?
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 9:22 PM on March 19, 2012


I don't know. I've watched like 15 episodes of Community, trying to figure out the appeal. I get that it's clever. But it's not funny. It's fan service for nerds, which is why it's going to be cancelled (a la Arrested Development) but unlike AD, there's no warmth to the performances.

I could watch Chris Pratt read the phone book and I think I would enjoy it more than watching community. But with him actually delivering funny lines and being surrounded by an amazing ensemble cast and awesome writers (Harris Wittels is the world's funniest man) and I'll just stick to Parks & Rec. You can have Community for however long it lasts.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 9:36 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just realized while reading this thread that Community:Television::The Royal Tenenbaums:Film. I remember someone years ago doing a study of Netflix reviews and finding that Tenenbaums was the single most divisive movie in their library, and Community seems to be similarly divisive. Their both about a group of failures finding sanctuary with one another despite differences, both employ weird humor in such a way which could alienate those not on the same wavelength while simultaneously giving the impression that if you don't like it, well, apparently you're not good enough to like it, and both have a tone which is outwardly very detatched but in reality very intimate, provided one delves into the world.

Pointing to Magnitude as a problematic character in a comment which praises The Simpsons by comparison is insane, though. Magnitude is basically Disco Stu - a character brought in for one quick joke who has returned a few times because reminding viewers that this character persists on existing in this universe is, itself, funny.

Also, it's bizarre to me that people would claim that this show - which to me is special in that it truly loves all of its characters down to the bone - has no heart or soul. I don't think anyone is going to argue that "Remedial Chaos Theory" was the funniest episode of the series. It wasn't. But it gets labveled "greatest" because it was a tour-de-force of the dynamics between characters that the show's fans adore. (In truth, "Cooperative Calligraphy" was funnier, and probably even better at this aspect, but did not call as much attention to itself as "Chaos Theory" did.)

I dunno. I'm not going to write forever on this subject because some people will like it and some won't. C'est la vie. But this is a show which can bring me to tears, and can only do that because it is, yes, smarter than the other sit-coms on tv and willing to fight to be weird, and thus original. No other show would bring us the ending of "Environmental Science" or the personalized bequeathings in "Introductory Documentary Filmmaking" a thousand other weird things.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:37 PM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't know about the rest of you, but I see a show where there is a character who is mixed race, neurologically atypical, Muslim, with an ethnic Arabic name, and is a total geek about all things media, among other things. And he's the show's breakout character.

On nearly any other sitcom out there, he'd either be the Joke, the Teachable Moment, or the After School Special.

I consider that pretty remarkable.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:45 PM on March 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


Also, it's bizarre to me that people would claim that this show - which to me is special in that it truly loves all of its characters down to the bone - has no heart or soul.

This is exactly what baffles me the most when people criticize Community for having no "heart" or being a "cold" show. Community (and Dan Harmon) seems absolutely full of love for its characters. That is in fact one of my absolute favorite things about the show: it adores every single one of its characters in a way that I think is truly rare in both sitcoms and dramas, to the point that to me at least, the abiding tone of the whole show is affection. Look at episodes like the Christmas claymation episode, the Dean's documentary, the Valentine's Day episode, Remedial Chaos Theory, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Troy's 21st birthday....all of these episodes feature the characters being genuinely kind to each other after seeing or being reminded of each others' many and varied flaws and weirdnesses, which is not actually something you see that often on sitcoms, and I think that kindness and affection really permeate the whole show. In comparison, other sitcoms' "very special" episodes and moments always come across as forced and easily forgotten: there's a token "awwwwwwww" on the laugh track to tell you this is supposed to be a Moment, and then it's back to the laugh track and characters that stay in stasis. Compared to that, I'm baffled by people finding Community to be a cold exercise in formalism. Community has more of an emotional core than any other sitcom on right now, other than maybe Modern Family and Parks and Rec.
posted by yasaman at 11:31 PM on March 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


I like Community, and have seen and enjoyed every episode except the most recent one, but the hype is too much. It's just a sitcom. It's The Big Bang Theory for a slightly more intelligent group of people who fancy themselves nerds. I'm astounded every time I witness somebody actually use "you Britta'd it". That's a Friends-level gag. It happened on Friends and it was just as stupid then. Community is just a sitcom. It does some interesting things, but nevertheless...

IMO Community's thing of slipping absurdly in and out of different modes and genres is done in a much purer, more pathological and more interesting (though less expensive and lovable) way in Stella.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:02 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't care what Dan Harmon says, if you don't understand Magnitudes bit then you've somehow missed something that has been roaming around TV forever. Characters who have stock one-liners have been around a long time, I think most characters on The Simpsons have one. That is basically what Magnitude is, reduced and distilled down. As a matter of fact he doesn't even have a line or even say anything; he uses words that are sounds, onomatopoeia. I'm kind of surprised some people are thoroughly duped into thinking there's something there beyond the vacuous noise. He might as well be that wide-eyed hamster with the dun-dun-dunnn music. When Dr. Kane asked Magnitude if he knows that "they're laughing at you", he was spot on. You can't not laugh at the guy.

That said, I would not want him out of the show. He serves his purpose well.

Community is brilliant in how it lays bare what a sitcom really is. It's miles away better than most other shows, including The Big Bang Theory. It's kind of hard to try to compare it to anything that isn't a situational comedy though, but that's all right because it sits at the top of that hill. Comparing only results in flaws coming up in the other shows.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:30 AM on March 20, 2012


Increasingly, one of the things I love about Community is how it is willing to drop the comedy at times and embrace some extreme honesty about its characters. There's a moment in this past week's episode in which drunk Jeff, trying to find something good to say about the institution of marriage, starts crying and says "My daddy said he would stay with my mom forever, and then he left me!" Gives me chills just typing it again.

Then it's right back to the self-referential meta-humor and silliness. And the character is all the better for having expressed that. As has been mentioned a couple of times, these characters are growing and changing, which NEVER happens with a Raymond or a Tim the Tool Man.
posted by jbickers at 5:51 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jumping off of Bunny Ultramod's comment, I think what people want in a sitcom is continuity in the characters' development. Or, from the viewer's perspective, the exposition of the characters. We want our characters to behave as if they are real people that we are getting to know more and more. We will not feel comfortable if something the character does in season 4 is completely anathema to what they would have done in season 1. At the same time, if a character learned a lesson in season 1, we expect them to at least acknowledge that they learned that lesson before ignoring it. George Costanza is a great example of this- as the show goes on, we get the sense that every time he does something underhanded, he KNOWS it will go wrong, but he cannot help himself because he is a weasel.

And I see this in Community. A bunch of people forced to be friends because of a study group. And like all real life situations where this occurs, the characters appear to be one-dimensional. We judge them based on our initial impressions. We find out why they are stuck in the situation, and they start to open up and expose those squishier parts of their personalities they try to hide. But they aren't different, we just know more about them. Brita isn't as smart as she makes out to be, Jeff isn't as cool and detached, etc.

I love Community, my only complaint is that the conceit of the show (community college) will require us to suspend our disbelief after a few seasons, because it will be harder and harder to explain why they haven't met their goals and graduated.
posted by gjc at 6:00 AM on March 20, 2012


I love Community, my only complaint is that the conceit of the show (community college) will require us to suspend our disbelief after a few seasons, because it will be harder and harder to explain why they haven't met their goals and graduated.

I'm pretty sure they're not going beyond a fourth season, even in the unlikely event that the ratings improve to the point where NBC would actually consider it. They're going to graduate, leave Greendale, and the show will be over, precisely because it would be ridiculous to have them still hanging around years later.
posted by Copronymus at 6:12 AM on March 20, 2012


Has anyone else noticed that this intensely detailed argument about a television show is recursively an example of exactly the attitude toward television shows that allows a show like Community to exist?

In order to appreciate the show, you must understand all the memes, the allusive mentions, the inside jokes. It's a television show aimed at television and comedy writing nerds. If it don't think about zombie movies as a genre with a set of tropes and stock characters, for instance, you might not understand what the hell was happening during the zombie episode. Believe it or not, most people do not think about these things. Meta-television has a selective audience by its very nature, and that audience is people who spend too much goddamn time thinking about television.

For some reason, the conversation in this article is getting stuck on this detail – that you need special knowledge to "appreciate" it – and whether or not this is okay.
It's like Family Guy for nerds, nerds imagined not as lovable socially awkward intelligent introverts, but as a consumer demographic.
I just don't get this outrage. Of course they're aiming the show at a demographic. That's how marketing works. I suppose you're calling into question the nerd cred of a show that tries to write for TV nerds, which only further proves that they've succeeded in targeting their demographic square between the crosshairs: you.

When I'm talking about movies and TV with friends, I sometimes wonder how different the conversation would be if we didn't know about editing or directing or acting. If we had no domain knowledge at all of the thing we were critiquing, if TV was as ephemeral and mysterious as an avant garde art installation, would we notice its little flaws? Or would the whole thing just be puzzling?

I think with a show like Community, the whole thing is built around manufacturing these little easter eggs that only someone with a domain knowledge of television writing will "get". In previous eras, this would be an untenably small group of people. But in the age of cheap video software, everyone has done a little editing or a little directing, and every TV show in history is available cheaply for download or streaming.

The result is nerds. Lots and lots of TV nerds. That a television network might want to cater to their tastes does not, to me, seem especially worth fighting about.
posted by deathpanels at 6:20 AM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I miss professor Duncan.
posted by Pendragon at 6:35 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure they're not going beyond a fourth season, even in the unlikely event that the ratings improve to the point where NBC would actually consider it. They're going to graduate, leave Greendale, and the show will be over, precisely because it would be ridiculous to have them still hanging around years later.

This is actually kind of thematic of the show as a whole. For a risk-taking show it's a perfect safety valve because you have a built-in two-year sunset (assuming people get their degrees from community college in two years). If the show gets canceled in the second season you just write a graduation episode and that's that.

But now that we're in the third season, the setting becomes another element in the show's metacommentary on television and sitcom formulae: the setting is a status quo ante which requires more and more effort to suspend the viewer's disbelief.
posted by gauche at 6:42 AM on March 20, 2012


I miss professor Duncan.

Me, too. He raps to the beat in a rappy way.
posted by gauche at 6:44 AM on March 20, 2012


Magnitude is basically Disco Stu - a character brought in for one quick joke who has returned a few times because reminding viewers that this character persists on existing in this universe is, itself, funny.

Pretty sure you mean Normal Stu.
posted by Edison Carter at 6:51 AM on March 20, 2012


Magnatude is basically Dan Harmon's Marty Stu.

No, that's not right at all...
posted by gauche at 6:59 AM on March 20, 2012


This is actually kind of thematic of the show as a whole. For a risk-taking show it's a perfect safety valve because you have a built-in two-year sunset (assuming people get their degrees from community college in two years). If the show gets canceled in the second season you just write a graduation episode and that's that.

Yeah, I never quite understood all the talk around why the show should expire in four years. Two years. That's how long it takes to get an associate's degree.

However, I've kind of always squinted at people who thought the whole idea of setting a show at a community college was hilarious. I've wondered if there's some odd classism underscoring that--like, LOL community college, often from people who never went to one. In the traditions of sitcoms, there have been plenty of realistic, lower-class settings, from the aforementioned Taxi to the inner city high school of Welcome Back, Mr. Kotter. Sure, they were more common in the seventies but it's not as if there's no precedent.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:27 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I never quite understood all the talk around why the show should expire in four years. Two years. That's how long it takes to get an associate's degree.

If that's your concern, at least one of the premises of the show was already invalid, since Jeff is clearly there to get a bachelor's degree and not an associate's degree. Greendale in general strikes me as much more like a mediocre small college or the obscure branch campus of a big state school than a community college.
posted by Copronymus at 7:38 AM on March 20, 2012


If that's your concern, at least one of the premises of the show was already invalid, since Jeff is clearly there to get a bachelor's degree and not an associate's degree. Greendale in general strikes me as much more like a mediocre small college or the obscure branch campus of a big state school than a community college.

Then, yeah, that's a problem. I've seen maybe a third of the episodes, and the core premise and setting always seemed more "crappy state school" than "community college" to me, too, but I wasn't sure if I was just picking nits or not.

(Answer: probably! But I'm a pedant. *shrug*)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:43 AM on March 20, 2012


The community college setting is just setup - the series pretty much dropped any commentary on community colleges (or college in general) midway through the first season.

The show's community college is really just a shortcut to make a raunchy high school sitcom featuring people over the age of 30. A college show would be about people trying to figure out what to do with their lives. A high school show is about people dealing with the drama of being trapped in a single setting (school) and forced to work with other people. The archetypes are all there: the nerd, the jock (who realizes he prefers being a nerd), the goody two shoes, the wacky guy, the smart aleck male lead.

Also, I beg to differ that the show transcends these archetypes. All those moments of awareness ("I'm not cool...I'm a selfish jerk!") codacorolla praises as innovative? Have you watched any episodes of Saved by the Bell?
posted by bittermensch at 7:48 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


but the appropriate comparisons are other sitcoms: yes, Big Bang Theory, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock

One of these things is not like the other.

In case that is too vague, what I mean to say is that BBT is a heap of dogshit and should not be placed in the same sentence as other, better shows, in order to avoid cross contamination.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:11 AM on March 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's just the AV Club now.

[/pedant]
posted by Peevish at 9:26 AM on March 20, 2012


Yeah, I never quite understood all the talk around why the show should expire in four years. Two years. That's how long it takes to get an associate's degree.

If you can attend full time, don't have a job or other time requirements.

I've attended two community colleges, one a vast complex in Orange County that indeed felt like a small four year college and another, smaller and in a rural setting in the middle of the country. Other than the mixed student base, the show doesn't really tap into much that screams community college, unless your definition of community college is doing everything on a limited budget.

If people don't like the show, they don't like it. Though, the premise of it not loving its characters, etc, just does not hold up after a viewing of every episode.
posted by Atreides at 11:06 AM on March 20, 2012


Can I say that the show is annoying on race?

While there are any number of criticisms one can make of its handling of race, Community is a rare example of a TV show (outside of cable or isolated Very Special Episodes) that acknowledges that racism exists and has real effects on people.

And half the cast are people of color. It even acknowledges men of color as sexual beings and has shown them kissing on-screen on several occasions. (And for anyone who thinks it's weird that I'm commenting on it, yes, this remains unusual enough to be worth mentioning -- once you start paying attention, you can't stop noticing how often men of color are desexualized in media portrayals, or how often tv and movies conspicuously veer away from portraying a man of color doing so much as kissing.)

So, for whatever flaws it may have, I think Community's bringing up the average.

Its content related to sexual orientation is a different story...
posted by Zed at 11:21 AM on March 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I never quite understood all the talk around why the show should expire in four years. Two years. That's how long it takes to get an associate's degree.

There are community colleges offering 4-year degrees. That Greendale is one of them and that most of the characters are pursuing such doesn't seem to me to be the greatest challenge to suspension of disbelief the show asks of its viewers, but that's ultimately a personal matter.
posted by Zed at 11:45 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Other people have already said what I would about what's problematic with the non-fan's complaints in the linked article. Interesting read though despite that.

Also: Harmon's talked on several occasions about having loose plans for the show beyond the four years it would take Jeff to earn his bachelor's degree. In particular, he points out how they've been moving outside the campus settings increasingly over time. Some of that is just normal broadening-of-the-show's-universe stuff that happens to every show over the course of time. However, some of it is also that were the show to go beyond that... They want to have places for the show to go. It's part of why they've started establishing everyone's apartments (they've hung out at Troy and Abed's now as a group on several occasions and we're only midway through S3).

I don't get the point of debating how many years the show has before expiry compared to real life community colleges when the creators have already talked about having to deal with the fact that time actually does pass on the show, and loosely what they're trying to do to setup for that.

All this said, I think if the show were to come to a natural close at the end of a 4th season, that would be a perfectly good place to leave off, and assuming the quality level remains where it's been, I'd be satisfied.
posted by sparkletone at 11:49 AM on March 20, 2012


There are community colleges offering 4-year degrees. That Greendale is one of them and that most of the characters are pursuing such doesn't seem to me to be the greatest challenge to suspension of disbelief the show asks of its viewers, but that's ultimately a personal matter.

It's still a rare set-up, relatively speaking, and when the show is ostensibly based on the creator's experiences at a 2-year college and it contains the premise in the title, I don't think it's unreasonable to have an expectation that the more common community college culture would be reflected there.

In fact, you could do or say a lot of interesting things about community colleges in a show like this--a discussion of the functionally transitory nature of the experience there or the itinerant personality types that you're likely to meet (not just "people from all different demographics," but the fact that the people you meet your first semester are unlikely to stay with you past the second semester, much less all the way through). It's not about limited budget but about deeper demographic differences which exist between two and four year schools, but which are rarely reflected on TV.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:12 PM on March 20, 2012


4 year degrees at community colleges are not rare. The show portrays what it's like to go to 2 year college quite well actually, aside from the over the top gags. Also, if the show needs to play out in real time for you to be able to suspend disbelief then I suspect the only show you have ever enjoyed was 24.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:53 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I've never heard of one, despite working at one for several years (and attending one a few years before that), but that might be geographic.

Also, if the show needs to play out in real time for you to be able to suspend disbelief then I suspect the only show you have ever enjoyed was 24.

Oh, don't be ridiculous.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:58 PM on March 20, 2012


Community has more of an emotional core than any other sitcom on right now

Seeing Troy and Abed model their idealized friendship has been super energizing and affirming to myself and Mrs. Sauce.

We both want a marriage where we can make blanket forts and dress in paired Halloween costumes and do rap duets in Spanish.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:02 PM on March 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, don't be ridiculous.

Seriously? I'm the one being ridiculous by stating a fictional show doesn't not need to take place in real time?
posted by P.o.B. at 1:06 PM on March 20, 2012


No, you're ridiculous for suggesting that someone looking for a realistic calendar in the television program would only be happy with real-time shows.
posted by Edison Carter at 1:19 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not the one puzzling out the idea of how a show about college students can proceed past 4 years. If I'm ridiculous than that is flat out idiotic.

Yay name calling!
posted by P.o.B. at 1:47 PM on March 20, 2012


Look, MASH went on for, what? 20 years? The Korean War only lasted three. And how many freaking years were Ritchie, Ralph and Potsie in high school? I'm sure there are lots of great meta jokes to be made about spending ten years at Greendale without anybody ever actually graduating or transferring.

And it saddens me that Chase doesn't get more credit for his role. He is the outcast, because he's old and different in so many ways, but he's had some of the best dramatic moments, and Chase was very good in those moments. His character is an interesting mix of bravado, arrogance, snobbishness, and overweening entitlement on one hand, and vulnerability, loneliness, insecurity and child-like bewilderment on the other. And the more we learn about him the more it all makes perfect sense. His savvy businessman persona is an act to cover up the reality that he is a sheltered child of privilege, with nothing to prove he's capable of anything or worth one penny more than what he's inherited from his father. When he has to confront this about himself - when Annie finally turns against him during the second paintball apocalypse, or when he has to come clean with Shirley in the latest episode - it is poignant and beautifully played by Chase. And when he finally accomplishes something worthwhile and saves Greendale at the end of the second apocalypse, we get a wonderful scene where we see him briefly empowered and genuinely proud of himself - not just pretending to be - when he confronts the group on his way out the door, and Chase handled that perfectly too.

If Chase ever left the series it would be a great loss. I think most fans would miss him more than they realized.
posted by Max Udargo at 1:57 PM on March 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


MASH went on for, what? 20 years?

Eleven.
posted by Edison Carter at 1:58 PM on March 20, 2012


In real time.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:59 PM on March 20, 2012


Look, MASH went on for, what? 20 years? The Korean War only lasted three. And how many freaking years were Ritchie, Ralph and Potsie in high school? I'm sure there are lots of great meta jokes to be made about spending ten years at Greendale without anybody ever actually graduating or transferring.

For what it's worth, my objection isn't necessarily about slavish dedication to real-time accuracy, but presenting the show as depicting a community college on one hand and reflecting an experience closer to a state commuter school on the other. I think most viewers won't notice or care (how many have experience at both, or either?), but it's stood out to me when watching.

Clearly it doesn't bother other viewers. That's fine, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:00 PM on March 20, 2012


I've been to community college and a university. Coincidentally, I'm back at a (different) 2 year college to finish out my Bachelor's through a program they have there before I move onto grad school. Although I never falsified some papers and acted as a lawyer, but I am around Wingers age and I had a "career" before coming back to school. For me, it reflects rather well the day to day in and outs of a diverse group of people in a not-a-full-on-college, college atmosphere.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:22 PM on March 20, 2012


For what it's worth, P.o.B., I'm also speaking from experience--I went to a community college and then a commuter state school (then a large university for grad school, which was another kettle of fish entirely and closer to traditional college depictions on TV and in movies). The show seems to do a good job of reflecting what things are like in 4-year commuter schools, from the presence of dorms to the majors to the odd cross-section of students just out of high school as well as older returning students. My community college experience felt much more transitory. There weren't the same opportunities to form core social groups for longer than a semester. There were no dorms. And so on. (Later, this feeling was reaffirmed for me when I returned to work at a community college for a few years--new students, semester in and semester out). It's the latter experience that I don't find really reflected on television at all, and so that's what doesn't jive for me about the central premise here.

But again, I know that my own experiences aren't universal and clearly these things don't bother most other viewers.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:30 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know that most community colleges don't have dorms, but I've seen a couple that have apartments across the street integrated into their pricing plans with deals for students. You are right that dorms and apartments are a different experience. I had to think a minute about Troy and Abed's place because it essentially could be an apartment, but they did explore the dorm experience with the pillow fort show. But then again, they moved Annie right in which isn't really how dorms work either.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:43 PM on March 20, 2012


Speaking as someone who spent 4 years at a community college (though I finished my A.S. in just 3...) I have to agree with PhoBWanKenobi: it's a fair cop that Greendale seems more like a 4-year commuter school than a community college.

they moved Annie right in which isn't really how dorms work either.

Troy and Abed have been in their own apartment since the beginning of season 3, and Annie was moving from an apartment -- no dorms were harmed in the making of #anniesmove.
posted by Zed at 3:03 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, right, so it is an apartment. Wait, does Greendale have dorms?
posted by P.o.B. at 3:08 PM on March 20, 2012


Yes, the dorms are where the blanket fort happened and where Troy and Abed lived second season.
posted by yasaman at 3:13 PM on March 20, 2012


Yeah, Abed was definitely in a dorm the first two years. I think Troy was too for the first year.
posted by Zed at 3:14 PM on March 20, 2012


Second year, Troy lived with Pierce, though the show did very little to portray it.

jeez, people, how much of a community nerd and pedant do you want to make me out myself as?
posted by Zed at 3:17 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heh
posted by P.o.B. at 3:17 PM on March 20, 2012


[back up the name calling, otherwise carry on, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:36 PM on March 20, 2012


Max Udargo: "If Chase ever left the series it would be a great loss. I think most fans would miss him more than they realized."

Even within the show, the other characters, especially Jeff, would miss him because he's a perfect scapegoat (come to think of it, I think they already called this out at some point). It's very true, though, that in those sorts of semi-toxic social situations, the person who has the most to lose by evicting the least-liked member of the group is the 2nd-least-liked member of the group. This is pretty much what happened in the Jersey Shore with Angelina. As soon as she left, things actually got worse because while she was still there they could at least all gang up on her. It's the same with Pierce in Community. If they lose him, the whole thing seems likely to splinter and everyone would turn on Jeff. Perversely, in both of these situations, it's the person who has the most to lose who seems to spearhead the movement to evict the least-liked member, probably because both Jeff and The Situation want desperately to see themselves as the leaders of a group that neither needs nor wants a leader, and the easiest way to do that is to rally the troops against a common enemy. See also: Abed's comments on Jeff slouching into the Han Solo role by default.

I'm sure there's a better example of this situation than old seasons of the Jersey Shore, but I can't think of any off the top of my head and I find it a fascinating social dynamic. We all lose if Pierce leaves.
posted by Copronymus at 3:44 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Max Udargo: "If Chase ever left the series it would be a great loss. I think most fans would miss him more than they realized."

I love the way that every now and then they just say 'bring it', point him at something and start filming. That bit last week with the icecream machine was pure genius.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:19 PM on March 20, 2012


Just to kick the horse, one of the community colleges I attended does have dorms.

Incidentally, I, too, went to a commuter four year college (followed by a large state university). We need to start a club or something. Maybe meet in a library study room somewhere.
posted by Atreides at 5:03 PM on March 20, 2012


I just don't find it funny. Call me old fashioned but that, to me, is a requirement in comedy.
posted by evilDoug at 6:42 PM on March 20, 2012


I've never been diagnosed, but I've been called "borderline autistic" by former friends who found my social ineptitude and analytical approach to interpersonal interactions upsetting, or assume I must be faking it, because come ON, how can you not get what 'flirting' is? On the show, Abed often frustrates people, because people hate to think their super-important feelings and lives and upsets can't be simplified into bulleted lists, but that's what he does, because that makes more sense to him than the "common" understanding of social etiquette and non-verbal cues. Abed understands people as a series of motivations, actions, and patterns, but he doesn't get them. In many cases, this is played as some kind of justification to be different or 'above' other people (In one episode of "House", he explains his motivation for becoming a doctor was that it didn't matter how nice a person you are if you are the best at what you do, etc) or this same ideal played as a joke (i.e. Sheldon Cooper from TBBT), a stereotypical "nerd" (Screech, Urkel, the rest of TBBT), or mentally challenged "Rain Man" type savant.

At risk of trivializing anyone else's struggle, seeing Abed, or a character like him on a tv program was what I imagine a young black kid seeing The Cosby Show or A Different World felt like... like "hey, look, it's me, portrayed as a real person"... as a white male, I know the stakes aren't nearly as high, but it's nice to have a tv character on a popular network sitcom I can point to like "No really, despite my occasional manic bursts, I'm just like that at the core."

This is in addition to the SCADS of humanity, emotion, vulnerability, character growth, group cohesion, and honesty that permeate the rest of the cast, in addition to Abed, but I feel that's been covered here and elsewhere.

I don't say all this to insult or degrade people for their difference of opinion: I get that Community is a niche interest and not for everyone. But for people to point at the first time TV has held up a mirror to me in a way that didn't feel insulting or alien, and say it's "shallow" or "emotionally malnourished" just makes me sad, because it's just not true.

Not to me.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:52 AM on March 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


I love Community, I love claymation, I love musical episodes, and I love Christmas specials. But somehow I did not love the Community claymation musical Christmas special. Both the songs and animation seemed slightly shoddy, enough that it constantly bothered and distracted me. Some of the characters were barely recognizable, and I think the cast had trouble working as voice actors instead of actors.

(The songs in the glee club episode were a bit better, but it still wasn't one of my favorites.)
posted by mbrubeck at 4:46 PM on March 23, 2012


By jove I do believe we've just witnessed a classic episode.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:31 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Leonard favorites this post.
posted by Atreides at 6:10 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just don't find it funny. Call me old fashioned but that, to me, is a requirement in comedy.

Is that you, Chevy?

Chevy Chase: "It's just a fucking mediocre sitcom!"
posted by mrgrimm at 1:35 PM on April 10, 2012


Did Britta mention having a two year old in a text to Blade in the last episode?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:52 PM on April 14, 2012


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