I arrived at Community the same way I arrive at most destinations: Ass-backwards.
I never watched a single episode while it was on the air, although I was aware of its existence. Of course, I knew who Chevy Chase was. I didn’t care for him on Saturday Night Live, back in the day, but I absolutely loved him in the Vacation movies (especially the first one and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation). He also deserves honorable mention for his role in Caddyshack.
When I first saw the television show advertised, I assumed it was a vehicle for a fallen movie star. Chevy Chase was obviously the star of the series. I was wrong.
I was familiar, somewhat, with Joel McHale as well. He was the host of Talk Soup, which I used to watch. He struck me as a smarmy, sarcastic asshat. Still does, actually, although I like him a lot more.
Along the way, as I was leading my parallel life to the television series, I discovered the creator of the series, Dan Harmon, through his podcast Harmontown, and the brilliant animated series Rick and Morty. I also experienced some of Ken Jeong‘s other work, through the Hangover movie series and, eventually, the reality competition The Masked Singer. Similarly, I was aware of Donald Glover‘s rise in popularity. Before I watched a single episode of Community, I knew Glover as a comedian, as a music star (Childish Gambino), and as a reboot of Lando Calrissian. I also knew Alison Brie as the character Diane Nguyen in the animated series BoJack Horseman. Yvette Nicole Brown was familiar to me as well, from her appearances on The Talking Dead, hosted by Chris Hardwick. She also temporarily replaced Hardwick as host back when he was being investigated for #MeToo allegations. I watched the entire Netflix series Love, starring Gillian Jacobs, months before I began watching Community.
I even knew who Jim Rash was. He won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay with his writing partner, actor Nat Faxon. I had even watched episodes of The Writer’s Room, which Rash hosted, prior to watching this series.
It appears that the only actor I wasn’t at least somewhat familiar with was Danny Pudi. Not surprisingly, he’s one of my favorites on the show.
Hindsight is always 20/20. It looks like I was destined to watch this series at some point. But, if it hadn’t been available on Netflix, I probably still wouldn’t have begun watching it.
But, I’m happy that I have. Community is one of those rare television programs that my wife and I enjoy watching together. Because Sharon is a natural binge-watcher (a fact she will deny even after watching five episodes-in-a-row of a series), this means I’ve had to violate my rule-of-recent-vintage of “no more than two episodes per week” while watching this series. At the rate we’re going, while in isolation because of this pandemic thing, we’ll make it through the entire series pretty quickly.
I enjoyed Season 1. I knew that I was going to from the very first episode. The reason why is simple: This is a character-driven situation comedy. There’s no real seasonal arc, even though the “Will they, or won’t they?” dynamic introduced in the Jeff-Britta relationship masquerades as an arc until it is resolved and turned on its head during the final three episodes of the season. While the individual episodes are entertaining, their events have about as much lasting impact as we expect from an episodic television series. The few serialized elements in the show are minimal at best.
No, this is no high-concept drama. The important part of this series is the unlikely Study Group formed in the library of Greendale Community College. This is a diverse group formed for the sole purpose of studying for a freshman Spanish class they are all part of.
Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) is a charismatic, fast-talking character in the classic Van Wilder/Ferris Beueller/Tony Stark mold, a man disbarred from his prestigious law firm for lying about having a law degree. He’s attending this community college in order to get back everything he’s lost. He becomes attracted to Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), a wannabe social activist, and the study group begins as a lie he told to get her to meet with him alone. Then, it becomes a real group.
In addition to Jeff and Britta, who represent one character dyad, we have Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), a socially awkward, pop-culture obsessed character who quickly forms a friendship with Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), who was a high school football star. Troy also has a connection with Annie Edison (Alison Brie), a naive over-achiever he went to high school with and who has a crush on Troy. Single mom Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown) and aging racist/sexist/homophobic millionaire Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase) round out our core group.
These aren’t the only characters who attend Greendale, naturally. There are other recurring characters in the series, but—a point that is made several times in the series itself—they all remain outside this inner circle. Two standout characters are Dean Craig Felton (Jim Rash) and Spanish teacher Senor Chang (Ken Jeong). John Oliver gets an honorable mention as psychology professor Dr. Ian Duncan.
The show doesn’t shy away from the surreal, with snarky meta-humor and pop-culture references. It seems determined to shine the spotlight on every typical sitcom trope and comment on it. In many ways it reminds me of Scrubs, only with the fantasy daydream sequences actually played out in “reality.” Those viewers with a low threshold for the ridiculous would probably not like this series as much as I do.
I love that the show demonstrates the burgeoning friendship of a group much more diverse than we’re accustomed to seeing on network television. In the episode “Comparative Religion,” we learn that our study group represents a spectrum of religious beliefs as well, so their differences aren’t merely age, race and sex-related. Jeff identifies as agnostic, while Britta is an atheist. Shirley is a Christian. Annie is Jewish. Troy is a Jehovah’s Witness. Abed is Muslim. And, Pierce belongs to a Buddhism-offshoot cult. Let the hilarity begin.
My wife and I enjoyed the twenty-five episodes in this first season rather quickly, and have already ranged ahead. Since the final three seasons have only thirteen episodes each, we’ll get through these faster than I can write the reviews.
Firewater’s I-Don’t-Have-an-Ego-My-Facebook-Photo-is-a-Landscape Report Card: an Easy A
This is what we would have called, when I attended college, a crib course. Looking forward to sophomore year.