Wednesday, 6 October 2010

TV REVIEW: Community Season 1

" I bring my own equipment."

There's something instantly derogatory about the term sitcom. Its a hard word to say without condescension or inferred snarl, and if I were to associate it with a workable philosophy it would be doing less to allow for maximum gain. It makes you think of My Family and Two And A Half Men type things, easily consumable and disposable comfort food that slowly consumes your soul, often in a way that you don't mind all that much. The traditional sitcom is not something I want to bash on too much though. It has a place, it can be funny and if done right can be a very relaxed and easy way to unwind. Not all TV needs to be challenging I guess.

Perhaps its not the most creatively explosive medium, But it makes people happy, right? This is what endless hours watching Friends reruns would have you believe, but the funny thing is that when given thought, doesn't the sitcom have the potential to be the most free, creatively anarchic form of pretty much anything around? Not a pre-disposed slave to story, character, sanity, sense, consistency or any concerns other then getting the laugh. In a way it can literally do anything that a film burdened with telling a self-contained story can not. If something like The Big Bang Theory is equivalent to that guy you know who's kind of funny, then something like Arrested Development say is like seeing a stand-up comedian whose jokes are not only hilarious, but perfectly crafted, painfully intelligent, concise and insightful that you come out thinking that what you just saw was pretty much genius. When a sitcom works like that, I can't think of any form of film or television making that's more enjoyable or satisfying. And while I'll admit that Arrested Development stands and probably will always stand alone in how ridiculously good it got (Unless you count The Simpsons of course, which in spite of its stubborn refusal to just die, can make similar claims.) its good to see that the ambition to use the sitcom as a means to trail blaze and occasionally blow your freakin' mind through comedy, still exists. And while Community is by no means perfect yet, there are kinks to be sure, particularly in the first half of the season. There are moments, and episodes, to suggest that given time, something special might happen here. If it doesn't get canceled that is.

Community has quite the pitchable premise too. Essentially a high school show, only without the poison challis of teenage acting. Set in a community college, the cast is a series of adult dropouts and failures making one last desperate attempt to make their lives worth something. The lead is disbarred lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) fired from his law firm for falsifying qualifications, is the kind of self-satisfied douchebag that should be the lead of more shows, but what's pleasing is the show doesn't just point and laugh, Jeff is funny and cool enough in his own right to justify his swagger, and McHale is such a likable and winning presence that the character is in that Houseish area where being a dick only makes it him more awesome. Its a great performance by McHale throughout the season, handling endless sarcastic, fantastic one-liners with aplomb and being strong in the more emotional moments to. It deserved an Emmy nomination, but much like Sons Of Anarchy, this show got entirely blanked.

The thing I love about Community is that its always trying to do things the smart way, balancing simple gags with intelligent and insightful ones, being smart but not smug and always tries to avoid predictability. and while it certainly isn't afraid of physical comedy and people falling over once in a while, its gleefully experimental and enthusiastic about being better every week. Perhaps most importantly, it's an ensemble show where everyone is funny, so you don't spend too much time waiting for the guy you like to come back on screen. It also might be the best piece of reference comedy since the Simpson's in its prime. Again, kinks, but by the end of the first season, particularly the last 6 episodes or so, it just found a stride. The now notorious ' Modern Warfare', or the paintball episode as it has come to be known, is the one everyone sites as being the one where Community really came to join the table, so to speak, an episode which was met with endless and bountiful internet adulation and for me was probably the best episode of comedy of anything since AD got shitcanned. A perfect mix of fanboyish, awesomely assured reference-fest to all things action movie, and thoughtful character comedy. The universe got heightened but the characters stayed the same, which is what you want with episodes like that. It was fucking awesome for lack of a better word. Similarly though, there's the ' Contemporary American Poultry' episode, which played as a perfectly elegant and inspired Goodfellas parody, in which everything down to song choice, camera movement and montage recalled the best things about Scorsese's movie, yet without forgetting to be hilarious. Not series of cheap De Niro jokes, but the kind of creative way reference comedy should be done. You see this episode, you think its awesome, you think Goodfellas is awesome, you watch Goodfellas. Everybody wins.

These two stand alone's, both in the back five of the season, were the creative peak, I don't think too many people will argue with that, but there's much to love in the conventional episode of Community. Particularly the group dynamic of the core cast, allowing the show to be more then just a showcase for McHale. Danny Pudi as the Asperger's stricken Abed, basically a walking meta-reference machine, made awesome by Pudi's terrific deadpanning and grasp of the character. Alison Brie, known to most I would imagine as Trudie Campbell of Mad Men, is near revelatory as overachiever Annie who had a colossal meltdown. She is basically Hermione Granger if the night before her exams she had a drug-fueled episode of self-destruction. Brie is always upbeat, comfortable with the broader humor and just plain hilarious throughout. Donald Glover as ex-quarterback Troy, another great example of a dumb character written intelligently, but to be frank, Glover kind of explodes out of the role into something better. I could go on, everyone is pretty awesome really. Many had issues with Gillian Jacobs' Britta, but I found the character and the performance to be funny and unique, particularly toward the end of the year. The Hangover's Ken Jeong is a little out of place perhaps, but the guy is funny enough to make it stick and has more then one moment of memorable awesomeness during the course of the year. But they just all work so well together, more then could have been anticipated.

Other notable episodes include ' Introduction To Statistics' and 'Debate 109', the later being a fresh and very much awesome take on the increasingly familiar debate club episode, but generally, Community is a fiercely intelligent comedy that turned finding itself into an art form and no doubt now that it has, season 2 should be nothing if not amazing. But much more important then that, its just very,very funny. There are weak moments and lesser episodes, it doesn't quite come out of the gate as strongly as it should, but its such a great ride and particularly if you're any kind of geeky film or TV fan, this show was pretty much made just for you.

Rating: 8/10


Simon said...

I love this show so much. It's the only one I consistantely look forward to.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Fantastic piece. I like that idea of the sitcom having the potential to be so free in form, if only more shows would go for it. I only started watching this recently on the recommendation of some friends and, yeah, it's really pretty good.

Louis Baxter said...

It really is very good and I'm glad its picking up a following, particularly because being british my being a fan is useless to this show's survival.