28 October 2010

Because it was on TV: Busting TV Tropes with Community

I steadfastly believe that the best show currently on Modern Television is NBC's sophomore season of Community. There is not a better written or executed live-action comedy by far, and its play with TV character and plot stereotypes, outstanding Holiday Specials and tight commitment to outrageoucity while grounded in character and setting render it one of the all around best shows on Television. Let's dive in:

Community is a seemingly innocuous show that comes pretty quietly as part of NBC's Thursday Night Comedy Line-Up. Currently it's the network's worst performing show of the block (especially this year going against the Satanic Big Bang Theory on CBS. How can people choose that rash over the best show on TV, this is the kind of shit that causes aneurysms). It's single-camera premise involves a gang of characters of varied backgrounds coming together at shithole Greendale Community College. This cast at first seems nutty:

Joel McHale is protagonist if you need him to be - it's more of an ensemble, but his arc is probably the most focused. So we've got the dude from The Soup. We add Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie who are absolute babes who haven't really been in shit else. Then there's the black kid from Mystery Team (2009) who also tried to be Spider-Man and the guy from the Butt-dialing commercials rounding out the youthful cast. Yvette Nicole Brown has also never been in anything too spectacular. Rounding out the main cast then...is fucking Chevy.

On the side is the naked guy from The Hangover (2009), a Daily Show Correspondent, this dude who has been in everything, the creator of Moral Orel and finally, a nice regular ubiquitous dose of Betty White. Phew. All these great comedians, a handful of them true icons, all sharing one room (as is often the actual case, not many shows allow for this much wide comic discourse at once) is an incredible feat on its own. It's well acted and the timing is consistent and hilarious. Just watch:

Donald Glover is growing into an incredible young talent and Danny Pudi's out-of-it but socially conscious Abed is an absolute delight. Alison Brie rounds out with incredible sweater meat alongside a carefully crafted character that is equally innocent with slowly emerging dark edges. The characters are so thoroughly developed that the show once viewed a few times becomes a solid investment.

Let's talk about some landmark episodes, most of which took place towards the end of Season One last spring. "Contemporary American Poultry" (S1;E21) is a spot-on Goodfellas (1990) parody which also serves to emphasize the film's themes, fund its own based on realistic character reaction and development as well as comment on its own meta through the aforementioned Abed character (Awareness of this awareness is also meta'd in "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples" [S2;E5], if the show ever becomes preachy or pretentious it tends to acknowledge and defuse it). Of course we must always consider "Modern Warfare" (S1;E23) a standard for any series in their first season, it's rare to see an episode this good any time during the lifetime of a show. It's part action parody / part apocalypse that also leads to some of the most important character interactions in the first season, setting up the Season Finale. It's continuously gripping, contains exhaustive cinematography, excellent pacing and story development as well as countless jaw-dropping moments rendered simultaneously comical and thrilling due to the tone, set-up and execution. There wasn't a better episode on television last year.

The season concluded almost typically. Community is a commentary on sitcoms as well as gangster movies and action films. "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" (S1;E25) ended with Joel McHale choosing between lovers (by the way, anyone notice every fucking NBC comedy ending this way last season?). Instead of milking a Jeff Winger (McHale) and Britta Perry (Jacobs) sexual tension for years (see anything else), Community was confident enough to blow its load during the last few episodes and knew it could move on from there. What cemented its status as the Best-Written Show on Television though, was the simple fact that "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" set up at least half a year's material for any other program, but Community spun out these ideas quickly during the Season Two Premiere, "Anthropology 101" (S2;E1), allowing it to create new storylines and not dwell on conflict that would soon become stale. I was thoroughly impressed with the shows' balls and cockiness, especially on the ever-present threat of cancellation. It is able to innovate these new broad plot lines while maintaining a high amount of solid character development, smaller intimate moments, and probably most importantly, jokes that are funny as hell. It hits you hard on all fronts and has been mostly ignored by critics and viewers for the most part. Diehard fans of the Greendale Humans however, know this is where to be Thursday nights. It's unexpected, brilliantly written and a refreshing step away from more typical sitcom bullshit.

Finally, I'd like to comment on the show's progressiveness. It contains two African-American characters in its ensemble cast who are special and unique personalities for reasons other than their blackness. It treats its woman, old man, Muslim, Chinese, British and Nerd characters the same way. This is pretty important. Donald Glover isn't making black jokes for a half hour. He's just making character jokes the same as the rest of them. It's fantastic and not commented on at all, amplifying its social significance. Watch this show. Every part reeks of awesome.

Tonight at 8:00 pm EST on NBC. See you there, mate.

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