Friday, 13 May 2011

TV REVIEW: Community Season 2

Cool, cool, cool, cool.

This season of Community felt very much like a show from the mindset of a guy who assumed he was going to be cancelled. Everything about the show's genre-swapping, relentlessly meta stylings seemed to say fuck accessibility, let's just do what we want because we're living on borrowed time anyway. And that mentality has allowed for some of the most interesting, adventurous television out there, that in its audacity is pretty awe-inspiring. Season two of Community has undoubtedly pushed the boundaries of what can be done in a sitcom, and in many cases for people's conception of what a sitcom is. And for that it's almost impossible not to fall in love with this show critically, because it's almost a piece of criticism in and of itself. Yet there have been more than a few grumblings that in exceeding our wildest dreams at the complex (Structure, subject matter, scale) Community has failed to succeed at the simple, which is to say its ever so slightly less funny and its characters are ever so slightly broader to compensate for the ambitious mission statement of the season.

Yet what that mission statement has allowed for has been kind of extra-ordinary. I could make a pretty comprehensive best of episodes list solely from what this show has given me, because each time an episode blows my mind, it seems to do so in an entirely different way. ' Epidemology' for having the balls to put a legit zombie outbreak in the context of a sitcom and being so awesome, 'Co-operative Calligraphy' for it's ingenious use of the bottle-episode trait, 'Mixology Certification' for thankfully reminding me there can be some emotional sincerity in this universe, ' Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas' for managing to be the show's sweetest and darkest episode at the same time, you could go on. I think my favorite episode of this season though is ' Critical Film Studies, or the 'My Dinner With Andre episode', something I would say is the only absolute no holds barred success at blending the referencing and such in a real emotional place for the characters, and being hilarious and sad at the same time. In many ways it sort of showed the counterbalanced what the show once was and what it had become, seeing Abed (In an emmy worthy performance by Danny Pudi) trying to reconnect with Jeff via the means of a referencing a movie where two people have a reconnecting conversation.

Abed, a movie obsessed, borderline aspergers' stricken student, has very much been the protagonist of this season, as he kind of had to be by default as in many ways we shifted into seeing the world from his perspective what with the parodying becoming a more structural part of the show, and not simply Abed's dissenting voice, whereas in season one we saw it from Jeff's perspective, an outsider in a world of misfits. Abed's need to communicate With Jeff and his inability to do so out of the safety of movie-referencing hit a very strong note, and feels to me to be the place the show is in. It wants to have emotionally real characters, and it tries incessantly to do so, but it increasingly doesn't feel safe outside of the world of pop culture, and ironically the one episode that managed to be gloriously both dealt with this exact issue. Oh the meta. Another episode I greatly enjoyed was 'Intermediate Documentary Film-making' perhaps the funniest half hour of the show, and also one of the most intense.

Yet I don't want to give the impression I don't like the big theme episodes, because I really, really do. I think they are what the show does best, speaking in an informed and often hilarious way about these various pop-culture touchstones, and like Abed, its in these episodes the show feels most comfortable being raw with the characters, with that barrier of irony to protect it. Pierce had an arc that seemed to take place exclusively in these episodes, which saw his villainy escalate until it just became insane that the group would continue to accept him as a friend, something I was going to lobby as a criticism against the show until it was dealt with in the finale, seeing Pierce seemingly out of the study group for the time being.

Despite some of the problems I had with his character though, I'd have to say Chevy Chase knocked it out of the stratosphere this season. Honestly I think has been the best performance in a near flawless cast, showing some dramatic chops Chase has never exhibited before and excelling in his role as villain in both the dungeons and dragons and Hospital episodes so well it almost added to the problem. Chase was too good, too convincingly rotten that why anyone would have him in their life by choice became something increasingly hard to believe, yet if anyone deserves awards recognition this season, I think it should be Chase. It's been some great work. I'd lobby some similar praise at Donald Glover, who has been consistently the funniest person on the show, and obviously Pudi, who shows so much range its very easy to miss, but to be honest the entire cast is fantastic, the best ensemble on TV outside of Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Even Yvette Nicole Brown's Shirley is a character I enjoy, not because she's all that funny necessarily, but because she's a well drawn and consistent character.

Sadly I don't think I can say that about all the characters though. While some have been greatly served, others have been a might inconsistent. Particularly Jeff Winger, in an excellent performance by Joel McHale which the show increasingly looks at a loss with how to deal with, Community's one time lead who's been banished into the wasteland of goofed-up straight-men, being increasingly broadened to the point that he's a much less interesting character then he was in the first season. Similarly Ken Jeong's Chang worked as a one-note villain last year, but this year has had him just float around aimlessly, having absolutely no idea what role he plays or place he holds. Perhaps this is necessary to enable some of the grand things Community wants to do. But as a consequence the parody episodes driven by ideas and concepts are invariably stronger then smaller episodes of character driven comedy, bringing in to question whether it's raised the stakes so much it can't even execute those at all anymore, because its hard to care about Britta accidentally kissing a lesbian after you've just watched the most elaborate, awesomely executed Dungeons and Dragons parody.

Or perhaps because the parody episodes almost always require close to dramatic performances, in which everyone takes the reality seriously and intensely, meaning that its feels a cheat just to slide back into everyone acting goofy. For me this season of Community has been about putting the chapter above the book, so to speak, in which its been more important to create a great twenty minutes of television then it is to put together a great season, and while there are maybe 10 episodes in and amongst that are blow-your-mind magnificent, its meant that tonally the year hasn't flowed all that well, and more importantly some of the characters just aren't all that coherent.

These frustrations come simply because I love this show so much, and I would firmly stand-by that the outstanding highlights allow for the messy whole and I find myself having absolutely no problem with forgiving a show this immensely ambitious, this immensely entertaining and this game-changing. People will grow up and want to work in TV because of Community, its truly a landmark and while it's not quite my favorite comedy of the year, that would be Archer because I laughed a lot more, its certainly the most important, fulfilling on that first year promise of following no rules and endlessly raising the game with its seemingly boundless creativity. A fucking awesome show by any definition and seriously Emmy's. Come on.

Best Three episodes:

1) Critical Film Studies
2) Intermediate Documentary Film-making
3) Epidemology

Rating: 8/10

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