Community: Season 2 — a review

I never watched this series while it was on the air.

It’s not that I never wasted time watching silly stuff. That’s kinda my non-job description. Read some of my posts and you’ll agree with me: I’ve wasted a lot of time during my life.

My parents would have agreed with this assessment when I was a child as well.

“What kind of nonsense are you getting into now, Firewater?” they would say.

You might think it odd that my parents called me by my chosen nom de guerre (which is French for “’None of your business,’ that’s what my name is!”). But, I’m the one telling the story here. You can’t know for a fact that I even had parents.

My wife would agree as well, I suspect. Any minute now, in fact, she’s going to stick her head in my office and say, “What are you doing? Writing more stuff about Star Wars?” And then she’ll name off some chore I’ve either forgotten, or need, to do. Bless her heart.

There’s nothing I can say about how much wives hate seeing their husbands sit down that hasn’t already been said by dozens of hack standup comedians. I try to explain that sitting down is a key component of a sedentary lifestyle, but she doesn’t want to listen to logic.

No, the reason I didn’t watch Community when it was on the air was simple enough: It didn’t look like something I would like. There are plenty of sitcoms, current and past, that I’ve never watched for this same reason. We make some conscious decisions about the things we’re going to waste time watching. A situation comedy about a group of diverse, unlikely friends at a community college sounds like something that’s been done to death. I could only imagine that it would be chockful of one-liners, tired tropes, an insipid laugh track and popular catchphrases.

There are sitcoms that transcend the medium, however. I’m happy to say that Community is one of those.

I mentioned, in my review of Season 1, how I came around to watching this series. In a world full of failed sitcoms which try to imitate earlier hit series such as Seinfeld, Friends or Cheers, this series emerges as something not just different, but hyper-aware of itself as a sitcom. The genius writers defy the usual tropes, while, at the same time, let the audience know they are aware of them. Pop culture references—some of which are already beginning to feel dated—come flying at the viewer a mile-per-minute. Many of them originate with the character Abed Nadir, played by Danny Pudi, a rather emotionless film student who’s somewhere on the Autism spectrum.

A quick aside about Pudi: Since The Big Bang Theory premiered a full two years prior to Community, the casual viewer might see Pudi’s character Abed as little more than a knockoff of Jim Parson’s Sheldon Cooper. There are similarities. But, I can also make the same comparisons to Brent Spiner’s Data and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, both of whom predated The Big Bang Theory by decades. The fact that Sheldon Cooper emulates Mr. Spock throughout his series seems to validate my hypothesis.

Season 1 ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger. After the series had already expertly rejected the usual “Will they or won’t they?” sitcom trope with Jeff (Joel McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Britta ends up publicly declaring her love for Winger at the year-ending school dance. Jeff leaves without responding and then shares a passionate kiss with Annie (Allison Brie) outside. Aside from the “ew” factor of Annie being just eighteen years old (the character if not the actor), this seemed like an event that would permanently fracture the character dynamic of the series.

The second season refuses to spend much time on these developments. As the season begins, no member of our study group is romantically involved with another member of the group, as far as we know. Yeah, there’s a little comedic fallout, as expected, but the status quo of this chosen family unit is maintained.

Another quick aside: I know I mentioned Dan Harmon, series creator, in my last post, but think I failed to mention the participation of the Russo Brothers in the creation of this show. Yes, those Russo Brothers! The ones who, just a few years after this, began shepherding the tentpole movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In hindsight, this doesn’t surprise me overmuch. Character building and storytelling are the same; it’s simply a matter of scale and special-effects budgets.

In addition to Jeff, Britta, Annie and Abed, the Greendale study group (they seem to be the only one) also includes Troy (a pre-Childish Gambino/Lando Calrissian Donald Glover), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), and Pierce (Chevy Chase). Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) and Señor Chang (Ken Jeong) still get honorable mention, as members of the Greendale faculty who both seem to want to become part of the group.

Something in the ensemble cast and anything-goes tone of the series reminds me of Scrubs, one of my all-time favorite sitcoms. While that show used outrageous daydream sequences for some of its more surreal humorous bits, Community takes a different tack, making the ridiculous a commonplace part of the show’s “reality.” Examples from this season include a KFC space simulator, a Halloween foodborne illness that results in a zombie outbreak, Abed’s brief stint as messiah, a Greendale course on conspiracy theories that doesn’t really exist, a high-stakes Dungeons & Dragons game, the stop-motion Christmas special, the Pulp Fiction-inspired party (with Abed’s My Dinner with Andre twist), and the two-part paintball competition co-starring Lost‘s Josh Holloway.

The season abounds with guest stars this season as well. These include Betty White, Drew Carey, Rob Corddry, Hilary Duff, Anthony Michael Hall, Tig Notaro, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Paul F. Tompkins and Matt Walsh, among others. Malcolm-Jamal Warner makes his first appearance as Andre Bennett, Shirley’s husband, and he seems to be wearing a different Cosby-type sweater in every scene (an Easter egg for classic sitcom fans).

Even at its most ridiculous (and this show has a high tolerance for ridiculous), the series somehow remains grounded in its characters. At its heart, amidst all of the various schemes and hijinks, this is a series about character dynamics and the strength and safety that can be found in an extended chosen family. Without caring for the characters on some level, this series wouldn’t have worked.

While remaining highly episodic, there is also some serialized character arc development going on in this season as well. Jeff Winger continues in his quest to be a better man, even if he’s not always conscious that this is his character arc. Shirley becomes pregnant, possibly with Chang’s baby, and reconnects with her husband. Of course, she goes into labor before the end of the season. It seems that, unbeknownst to the rest of the group, Jeff and Britta hook up throughout the season as well, a secret that threatens to break up the group.

What else can I say about this series? While never a genuine “hit” when it was on the air, the show continues to grow in popularity and influence years after its cancellation. With all of the pop culture film and television references and the various in-jokes, this series may be best enjoyed by those of us with a high Nerd Quotient. My wife and I watch this together, but I suspect that I like the series more than she does.

The surreal elements of the series may make it a harder sell for those who require more reality in their reality. As for me: I like it.

Firewater’s Cool-CoolCoolCool Report Card: A

I also forgot to mention that I knew Alison Brie from the series Mad Men, where she had a recurring role, over seven seasons, as Trudy Campbell. The period dress and hairstyles completely threw me off.

Trudy Campbell (Alison Brie) – Mad Men – Season 5, Episode 5 – Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

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