2011: The Year That Wasn’t – Community & Parks and Recreation

NBC’s Community and Parks and Recreation

Aired: January to December

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to write about television for a wider audience at The A.V. Club, no moreso than with my weekly reviews of The Office. However, as the show’s eighth season has signaled a decided shift in the show’s critical and cultural position, I’ve had a number of people effectively express pity for my position, forced to review a show that is pretty comfortably past its prime (but with just enough life left in it to remind us of the show it used to be).

And yet I’ve never felt it to be a pitiable job: sure, it’s nice when you have a show that you really like to cover in a situation like this one, but the show’s decline has been fun to deconstruct, and creating a dialogue with both devotees and spurned viewers has been a valuable insight how that decline is being received. While I might not love The Office, I love the process of writing about it, even though I can fully understand why others don’t feel the same way (which is why the number of critics reviewing the show has dropped off this season).

However, I will say that there is one thing I resent about covering The Office, which is that it means I don’t have time to review Parks and Recreation and Community, the two shows which precede it within NBC’s Thursday night lineup (or, rather, preceded it, given that Community is being benched for at least a few months). While other critics have been able to adjust their priorities, dropping The Office while continuing to cover the two shows that arguably merit greater attention, I’ve spent my Thursday evenings watching The Office, writing about The Office, and then using Parks and Community as a chance to unwind without a laptop in front of me.

It’s a different way of viewing than I was used to, and it seems as though it has affected my opinion of the two shows differently. While I actually feel as though my appreciation for Community has dipped slightly as a result of this viewing pattern, my general sentiments about the series less than they might have been a year ago, something about the comparative simplicity of Parks and Recreation has really suited this more casual form of viewing.

In the case of Community, it isn’t that I’ve suddenly turned against the show. However, there have been a few high concept episodes that have been met with a great deal of fanfare that simply haven’t connected with me on the same level. I don’t think this is simply because I’m watching them without writing about them, and I think any review I wrote would have been fairly critical of episodes like “Regional Holiday Music” (which felt overdone to me) and “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” (where the meta-ness was overwhelming). Rather, something about watching the show more casually has allowed me to better understand my relationship with the series: when free of the (voluntary) commitment to writing about the show, and free from the expectations of a hypothetical audience of that review, I think Community is a very well-made comedy that I don’t have a hugely emotional connection with. While I certainly don’t want to see the series end after this season, a possibility given its current hiatus, I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily leaping to join the “Save Community” campaign.

As a result, I didn’t really miss writing about Community. Part of this is because every other critic in the universe is writing about the show, which means that there was plenty of analysis of “Remedial Chaos Theory” to go around. This is not to say that I don’t have opinions about the show, or that I didn’t find “Remedial Chaos Theory” in particular to be a really tremendous episode of television, but there came a point this season where my appreciative ambivalence became more readily apparent. I still think Community is one of the strongest and more innovative comedies on television, but I have to admit that I have very little interest in exploring why on a weekly basis.

There were points during the fall when I almost felt my relationship with Parks and Recreation moving in the same direction. To be clear, I’ve always felt a stronger connection with Parks than with Community, likely because the show is more interested in fostering that emotional connection with its characters on a regular basis. And yet, when everyone seemed to be all choked up about Leslie and Ben (a couple that I had wholeheartedly supported at the end of the second season when it was first hinted at), I was left sort of perplexed: while I wasn’t vehemently against the coupling, something about the way they danced around the relationship had kept me at an emotional remove. However, I found myself plenty verklempt at the conclusion of “Citizen Knope,” an ending which focused on the more general character dynamics of the series as opposed to a single relationship.

Yes, “Citizen Knope” is perhaps too focused on just Leslie, but her position within the Parks Department is crucial to the show’s rhythms, and her relationship with each of her colleagues is a major source of both comedy and, perhaps more importantly, character development. That conclusion resonated for me because it put the viewer and the characters on the same page, all of us invested in Leslie’s campaign and its connection to her goal of making a difference in her community. And while I found that particular episodes of the season have worked better than others, that central principle has remained prominent throughout: even without reinforcing it through writing a thousand words about it every week, it has become clear that I truly do care about what happens on Parks and Recreation. And while part of me still wishes I had time to write about it, an excuse to spend more time in that universe, there’s something fitting about just sitting back for a half-hour trip to Pawnee every week.

It’s not uncommon for there to be comments on my Office reviews regarding the other NBC comedies, often comparing them in an effort to either disparage or defend The Office relative to its comic compatriots. We get this a lot, as people try to compare grades across shows (and across writers) as though they were considered relatively when the grades were given, which is simply not true. My general defense in these instances is to explain that I didn’t write those reviews, and that while I may agree or disagree with the scores in question none of it has any bearing on what I thought about a different show entirely.

Given that I haven’t been reviewing Community and Parks, my “evaluation” of them has been somewhat less formal. On some level, it comes down to where my remote control cursor wanders once I file my Office review. While the cursor will eventually get to Community later that evening, I will say that it pretty consistently moves to Parks and Recreation first – if you want to try to translate that into letter grades, be my guest.

Tomorrow: On the Double Death of “The 3 Glees.”

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2 Comments

Filed under The Year That Wasn't

2 responses to “2011: The Year That Wasn’t – Community & Parks and Recreation

  1. Oh, I’m so glad that you and Ryan McGee keep articulating the reasons why Community doesn’t quite emotionally click with you. I’m the same way.

    I agree, Community is a very worthy show and should remain on the air, but I don’t *love* it the way I love P&R. When I watch it, I’m all, “Yes, yes, you’re very smart. You’re so smart and meta, it’s almost to the point where you’re thumbing your nose, in your uber-smartness, at ME, a pretty smart viewer,” (if I do say so myself), and that just gets tiresome after a while.

    It doesn’t help that, although I like Joel McHale, who can nicely leaven his persona on The Soup, I cannot STAND the character of Jeff Winger. He never comes across as anything less than a flaming a-hole, and that just becomes tiring to watch. At this point, I’m watching the show pretty much only for Donald Glover, the underrated (IMO) Gillian Jacobs, and the sheer (though strangely soulless) inventiveness of the series.

    • Tammy

      While I also appreciate that there are critics who are willing to write about Community in such terms, I am actually more glad that someone shares my general coolness toward the Leslie-Ben relationship arc. I don’t find that opinion to be expressed much at all online.

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