January 21st, 2010
After a particularly noteworthy return last week, where the show played with some very dangerous material with Jack Black and came out of it funnier than ever, there’s no question that “Interpretive Dance” is a step backwards. This isn’t to suggest that the episode is unfunny, and if we’re judging purely on the level of character development there’s some nice stuff going on here.
It seems like a bit of a sudden turn for the show, however, especially since a lot of the issues it is working with here haven’t popped up in a while. I like to see shows like Community engaging with more long-term character arcs and development, but the show has to avoid seeming like it is just going to stop in on occasion: there’s some subtle stuff here which indicates that this is not necessarily the show’s strategy, however at the same time they stayed away from these stories long enough that it felt like the show had to take some time to rediscover the rhythms of those interactions, leading to a weaker episode if one that could prove beneficial in the long term.
“The Politics of Human Sexuality”
December 3rd, 2009
There was some discussion earlier this season surrounding ABC’s Modern Family about whether its eleventh hour moralizing (where a character, usually Jay, clearly states the episode’s theme so as to wrap everything up in a neat little package) was damaging its credibility. No one was arguing that the morals were themselves issues, but rather it was a question of whether their impact on our impressions of the characters was being limited by the repetition. Every comedy in its first season is out to define its identity and where its characters sit within that identity, but to actually draw attention to that fact in such a blatant way simply turns me off. Since that point, Modern Family has done a number of nice episodes that avoided this crutch, so the dialogue has drifted off.
What keeps me from raising the same issue with tonight’s Community, which is also about morals and what characters learn about themselves in the span of the episode, is that the show has always shown a deft hand with how it handles its more sentimental material. While Modern Family feels as if it started to end on that note regardless of an episode’s content, Community loves revelling in the fact that sometimes it’s a mature female escort who teaches you to respect women, and sometimes what makes you comfortable with your sexuality is entirely ignoring that sexuality.
I think this is an episode that wouldn’t have worked early in the season, and yet here feels like a nice bit of character work and comic execution for the folks at Greendale.
November 12th, 2009
Community, effectively, operates on two levels. One of them is a broader investigation of the community college lifestyle, this week in the form of a debate competition. The other is a character-driven model where archetypes are either challenged or substantiated in an effort to create comic interest. The show doesn’t necessarily need for both to work in the same fashion, but it depends on both to be present in order for the show to seem moderately balanced.
“Debate 109” is intriguing because of how it brings to the surface the question of how unique these characters really are, and as Jeff and Annie debate about human nature everyone else discovers that in the eyes of Abed they are as predictable as they are quirky. The former storyline offers some fun interactions and more opportunities for Alison Brie to outright steal this show out from under the rest of the cast, while the latter manages to give the episode the sort of manic connectivity that made the show’s Halloween episode so effective.
It was just a really well balanced half hour, something that I’m not sure the show had a handle on during early episodes.
November 5th, 2009
One of the greatest qualities a comedy have is being both indulgent and nuanced at the same time, a task that Community has taken on with varied degrees of success in its first season. There are times when something like Abed’s love of pop culture references feels forced, but then there is something as hilarious as BatAbed (which is nuanced in the sense that it is both unquestionably funny and is worked into the plot of the episode) and it’s largely forgiven. That’s an important quality for a successful comedy, and what’s interesting with Community is how it seems like nearly every character is on that tightrope between becoming insular and one-minded before eventually breaking free and showing a more complex side.
“Home Economics” has nearly every character approaching the precipice of one-dimensionality, but the twists and turns within each story either perfectly service the nuances of their characters or, just as effectively, stick to what they’re best with. While Jeff went through a transformation in the episode that smartly humbled the character, Annie had a chance to experience a similar transformation and was unable to walk over the edge (of self-actualization – the edge of crazy was easily overcome). In both instances, elements of the storylines seemed like indulgences (of Joel McHale playing a complete slob, of Alison Brie playing a crazy person), and the supporting characters largely operated in their most base modes, but yet it managed to shed light on their characters even with that sense that this was more fun than it was functional.
While I’m not quite sure if Pierce has been getting the same treatment, even his subplot seemed to hit just as hard when it needed to, demonstrating that the show is definitely back in the pocket, so to speak.
“Advanced Criminal Law”
October 15th, 2009
I am not one of those people who needs every episode of a comedy to establish something new about the show, but early on in its run Community has actually done a pretty good job of expanding its collection of stock characters into something more diverse than I expected. As a result, “Advanced Criminal Law” is a step back not in terms of quality (it’s still a fine episode) but in that it relies on basic stereotypes and offers us combinations that either have already been done or were not given enough time to really click.
And yet, for the most part, I think the episode succeeded in finding humour in each of the storylines, something that should really be the goal of any comedy early on its run. Even if the storylines didn’t feel like they were bringing anything new, the various situations fit into these characters very well, giving us new takes on old dimensions and making me laugh enough to look past the relative simplicity compared with some of the show’s better segments.
“Introduction to Film”
October 1st, 2009
I feel a little bit awkward writing a review of “Introduction to Film,” as if I should be out impulsively making out with someone or climbing a tree or telling 10 people I love them. The week’s class, considered a bird course and a chance at an easy grade, is all about “carpe diem,” with a professor straight out of Dead Poet’s Society and the kind of class that seems like the ideal fit for this cast of characters in that it is in fact that most awkward fit imaginable.
It’s an episode that, like the class in question, lulls us into a false sense of awareness, making us believe the episode is about one thing when in fact it’s about something else entirely. It does it in a really subtle way, like a sneeze that just keeps threatening to arrive but doesn’t, as the show demonstrates a mastery over the sneeze that one did not expect.
All in all, it’s a simultaneously funny and kind of heartbreaking episode that continues to show some really great tones to the show’s brand of humour.
September 24th, 2009
While I love being able to follow and communicate with TV critics when it comes to the Fall TV season, sometimes they ruin some pleasant surprises. I don’t mean that they spoil episodes or anything of that nature, but rather that they ruin the pleasant feeling you get when you watch “Spanish 101,” an episode which confirms that Community’s pilot is not a one-hit wonder and that this is a very funny, very well-constructed series. By learning that the second episode lived up the expectations of the first ahead of time, I knew going in that this was going to be an entertaining half hour of television, so I don’t have some sort of catchy opening about how this broke down all of my apprehension.
What it did do, though, is make me laugh a whole lot. In many ways working like Modern Family’s pilot and many episodes of 30 Rock where the final sequence is a lavish and bombastic affair which has enough laughs packed into it to fill an episode of a lesser sitcom, in others it did still manage to surprise me by taking characters in directions I didn’t expect them to go. By only visiting the study group session once, and yet remaining central to the shared experience of these characters, it humanizes the characters who needed to be humanized while lampooning (but not insulting) those who are still rife for some simple comic pleasure.
The result is a fast-paced episode of comedy which out-paced The Office for me tonight, although the two shows are obviously peddling different styles of humour.
September 17th, 2009
While I understand the logic behind putting the Community behind The Office for its first month or so, I will say this: for now, sound logic or no, it’s not doing the show any favours.
Yes, the show has a strong lead-in and a higher success rate in terms of ratings, which are financially speaking the lifeblood of a series. However, Community’s “Pilot,” which is about as cookie cutter as it comes in terms of the way it sets up the show (you can almost see the show yelling “Setting!” and “Character” with its collection of scenarios), cannot help but seem contrived and simplistic when placed against The Office, which now in its sixth season is totally confident about who its characters are and has no such awkward transitions. I’m not suggesting that it’s a fair comparison, but it’s one that you can’t help but make: after writing reviews of two season premieres for shows that have put their setup days behind them, Community is jarringly disassembled.
I think that the show’s pilot, ultimately, does assemble into a solid foundation for a series, and through a strong sense of humour and some great casting has me extremely interested to keep watching. However, as a pilot, there is something about it that lacks that element of surprise, and which is vague on specifics in a way which makes one worry if it’s all going to fall off the rails with time – critics who’ve seen second episode say it doesn’t, which is great news, but I still think that there’s some warning signs around.