Category Archives: Community

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Community

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Community

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of a series of posts analyzing individual show’s chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

Community is a great television show, and one that I enjoy a great deal, but I don’t necessarily know if this will equate to Emmy success.

Dan Harmon and company are likely hoping that the series ends up the new Arrested Development: the Russos directed both Pilots, both shows found limited ratings success, and both are self-referential to the point of alienating some viewers (hence the limited ratings success). It’s quite possible that Community could get noticed in the Writing (where they submitted the Pilot and the Pilot only) or the Directing categories (where both the Pilot and Justin Lin’s “Modern Warfare” are contenders), where Arrested Development saw some success, but breaking into the other categories may be considerably me challenging.

The problem for Community is that there are too many other narratives going on this year for this one to necessarily stand out from the crowd. Arrested Development was competing against shows which were nearing the end of their runs: Curb Your Enthusiasm was the closest thing to a hip show when FOX’s much beloved series won in 2004, and it was already four years old. There was no other big new series emerging, and no third year series turning into smash successes in the span of the year: in other words, there were no comparative Modern Family, Glee, or the Big Bang Theory. It also doesn’t help that Community is arriving at a time when two of the entrenched comedy nominees are also single-camera comedies on NBC, so it isn’t possible for Community to be that “one show” which Arrested Development became.

This is unfortunate, because the same sort of creative energy and narrative depth which existed on that show are present here: while the show can at times be silly, its cast represents such a deep bench that it can be silly in a different way every week without feeling repetitive. Its most high-concept episodes (“Contemporary American Poultry,” “Modern Warfare”) were grounded in characters, and the show’s improvement throughout the season was the result of better understanding who these characters are and what role they play within the community college environment. And so the show is filled with supporting players who may have seemed archetypal in the Pilot but who have become key parts of the series’ quality: Danny Pudi and Alison Brie’s work with Abed and Annie have created complex characters without abandoning the wonderful simplicity of their world views, which only makes them funnier as the show goes forward.

The challenge is that, for a show that is quite often criticized for being over-the-top with its cultural references, a lot of Community’s strengths are subtle. While Emmy voters could reward Chevy Chase due to his previous pedigree, they’re unlikely to notice unsung Pudi; while Joel McHale is announcing the nominations and has The Soup to increase his profile, chances are that Brie’s time as Trudy Campbell on Mad Men won’t measure up the same way. I have some faith, however, that the show won’t be ignored as a whole: while the low-profile supporting players are likely to be left off the nominations list on Thursday, there’s a better chance that McHale or Chase could sneak into their respective categories, or that the show could break into the Outstanding Comedy Series race. It may not be the new Arrested Development, but it captures many of the qualities that Emmy voters gravitated to with that show, and so it’s impossible to count it out.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Joel McHale)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series (“Pilot”)
  • Direction for a Comedy Series (“Pilot” and “Modern Warfare”)

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Chevy Chase, Ken Jeong)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Jack Black)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Danny Pudi, Donald Glover)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Alison Brie)

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Season Finale: Community – “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited”

“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited”

May 20th, 2010

Last week felt like a finale, or at least how I had anticipated a Community finale to feel like. It felt like it solidified the group dynamics, offering evidence that the show has grown a great deal over the past season. It was a confident statement on which to head into a second season, emphasizing the dynamics that we’ve enjoyed thus far and would continue to enjoy into the future.

“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” also feels like a finale, but I’m not entirely convinced it felt like what I anticipated a Community finale to feel like, or even what I want a Community finale to feel like. Throwing the group dynamics out the window, and focusing a lot of its time on supporting characters who aren’t part of the core group, the episode places the group’s future in chaos and delivers a traditional “shake up the status quo” finale that doesn’t feel like it reaches any of the series heights.

Instead, it feels like Dan Harmon and company have taken a small network note and delivered a slightly exaggerated, but never quite subverted, take on what you would traditionally expect from a sitcom finale. I don’t necessarily think that the events which transpire are bad, and I had a few good laughs in the episode, but the show I love was purposefully placed into peril, and I don’t really think that it resulted in a particularly great half-hour of comedy even if I respect the show for some of the choices it eventually made.

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Community – “English as a Second Language”

“English as a Second Language”

May 13th, 2010

A week after Community’s most “epic” episode yet, it’s a bit jarring to return to a low-key episode about Spanish class and study groups. However, after a bit of a re-entry period, “English as a Second Language” nicely falls into a rhythm that fits with the show at the end of its first season. The central premise of the show means that they might not be in Spanish class next year, which raises some logical questions about how the show will work if they’re not all in the same class with an excuse to see one another every day.

Frankly, I think Community could have gotten away with keeping them in Spanish class forever and just not caring, but the show isn’t going to settle for that sort of laziness. Instead, they throw the entire group into chaos over the pending changes, and eventually come to a conclusion which speaks to the ways in which the group dynamic is changing and (more importantly) a glimpse at what the show will look like in the future.

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Community – “Modern Warfare”

“Modern Warfare”

May 6th, 2010

This episode is a triumph, so let me first make a note regarding its tremendous (or, if you prefer for me to actually complete the reference completely, huge) success – the various action movie parodies which run throughout “Modern Warfare” are expertly designed, tremendously directed by Justin Lin, and result in a really funny and successful episode.

However, I am sort of at a loss about what to really say about it, if only because I haven’t seen a lot of the action movies that the show parodied, and the brekaway narrative used by the episode (and most action movies) meant that the number of characters onscreen diminished as the episode went on. While the episode embodied the show’s propensity for pop culture references and for its meta-subversion of sitcom stereotypes, it also disrupted (as we saw in “Contempoary American Poultry”) the show’s traditional character dynamics. With only twenty minutes, the show rushed head first into the central dynamic between Jeff and Britta while largely “writing off” the other characters, which helped get to the various cliches the episode wanted to address but which kept me (who, as with the Goodfellas parody, was sort of left on the outside here) at arm’s length.

It still really freaking cool from my vantage point, but it wasn’t so much a high water mark for the show so much as it was an important test for the series’ future that it passed with flying colours.

Which were, you know, paint balls.

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Community – “The Art of Discourse”

“The Art of Discourse”

April 29th, 2010

Episodes of Community have been airing out of order for a while, so once I heard a moment in “The Art of Discourse” where Vaughn was mentioned I presumed that it wasn’t in chronological order. Turns out, contrary to the original review written under this false assumption (it was Annie and not Britta that it made mention of, it was in fact in order: however, my confusion still makes me wonder about whether it really matters where this episode was placed

Regardless of whether it was out of order, the episode works: there were some funny moments, and while the episode seemed like it gave into the show’s gimmicks a bit more heavily than others there remained a clear sense of purpose and character within the story. My confusion was likely the result of some strange “early group dynamic” material about why precisely characters like Shirley and Pierce are part of this group; placed at this late point in the season, it seemed a little bit unnecessary, and while the episode ends up being funny enough to survive it doesn’t quite feel as evolved as some of the more recent material.

Or maybe I’m just bitter at myself for writing the review under false assumptions and now having to rewrite it to look like less of an idiot – sorry, “the Art of Discourse,” if you bear the brunt of my frustration.

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Community – “Contemporary American Poultry”

“Contemporary American Poultry”

April 22nd, 2010

Pop culture references are something that Community tends to lean towards on a regular basis, especially when you consider that one of the show’s characters (Abed) is largely built around them. It’s a part of the show which usually flies by at its breakneck space, references dropping in to make us laugh for a moment and then moving onto whatever storyline the show is investigating.

“Contemporary American Poultry” is the first time the show has done an extended homage to popular culture, and I feel like I’m trapped between objectivity and subjectivity. On the one hand, I have never seen the movie that the episode extensively pays homage to, which means that I can offer my opinion of how the episode worked independent of Goodfellas and the connections therein; however, on the other hand, I really like chicken fingers, and so I spent the entire episode salivating.

However, I ended up salivating through laughter, so I think that’s a good sign.

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Community – “The Science of Illusion”

“The Science of Illusion”

March 25th, 2010

We all knew going into Community that Chevy Chase is both a gifted physical comedian and great at playing someone who’s a little nit aloof , and in the supporting role of Pierce there is plenty of room for the show to just sort of run with that. And so we get Pierce having falling down, and Pierce being the brunt of various jokes, and the show tends to default to that role for his character.

You could probably try to claim that the rest of the show’s characters could fit into similar categories, but part of what make Community so great, and what makes “The Science of Illusion” so enjoyable, is that these are rigid structures. Characters are able to become something different in the context of other stories, and more importantly characters want to try to be something different, which makes for the kind of episode that says as much about the show as it does the show’s characters.

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Community – “Beginner Pottery”

“Beginner Pottery”

March 18th, 2010

My lack of knowledge about the Community College system is something that Community takes advantage of quite often: I don’t know if they’re being accurate, but it’s clear that the show isn’t concerned about it. The show wanted to do an episode about “blowoff” classes, and it wanted one of those stories to be about a sailing class being held in a parking lot, so who are we to stop it?

At this point, the cast is gelling enough that just about any story is going to work so long as it doesn’t force the characters too far into a particular mould. “Beginner Pottery” isn’t one of the show’s best efforts from a conceptual standpoint, but its stories are full of either some fun running gags or some strong one-liners that make this a really enjoyable half-hour of television.

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Assessing through Assessments: NBC Thursday Comedy Roundup

Assessing through Assessments: NBC Comedies

March 14th, 2010

I don’t have a whole lot to say this week about the Thursday night comedies that’s particularly new, since I’m a few days behind, but I’ve rarely let that stop me before. However, rather than prattling on about all four shows, I figured I’d highlight some passages from other reviews of the episodes; this is an intriguing time for all four comedies from a critical perspective, so there’s some diverse thoughts floating around that I relate with to varying degrees.

And so, in a longer form than I had initially intended, I’ll highlight some of those great reviews and offer my own thoughts on “Basic Genealogy,” “The Possum,” “St. Patrick’s Day,” and “Future Husband.”

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Community – “Physical Education”

“Physical Education”

March 4th, 2010

This is going to sound like an insult, but every now and then my reviews of Community might as well be like a focus group response from small children. Every sentence would start with “I like the part where…” or  end up devolving down to “It was funny when the _____ did that thing with the _____,” and that’s probably not all that fun to read.

However, it really does reflect my love for this show: while I might be able to analyze individual plots, I’m rarely that concerned about particular plots, as in I don’t learn what an episode is about ahead of time and fear that things might go off the rails. I have an inordinate amount of confidence in the show’s ability to turn just about anything into comedy, a confidence justified this week as Dan Harmon turned his own personal shame and billiards dress code into top-notch comedy.

And so some part of me truly would be entirely content to respond, in my best impression of a five-year old, that “I liked everything” and grin wildly while shifting awkwardly in my seat. However, since I was probably already long-winded and overly analytical at the age of five, let’s stick with some more detailed thoughts after the break.

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