Tag Archives: Dan Harmon

Why would Dan Harmon return to Community?

HarmonImageAs news broke of Dan Harmon’s potential return to Community, it felt like an Internet rumor that Deadline would start in order to drum up potential hits. That’s because that’s what it was, of course, another one of the myriad of “scoops” that Nellie Andreeva gets from her sources at Sony TV who use her as a pipeline to the Internet rumor mill. This doesn’t mean the story is untrue, of course, but rather that there’s a good chance it’s an idea being floated as opposed to an actual, factual thing that’s happening. And so I admittedly didn’t give it a second thought, at least until it became clear that it was—at the very least—something that Sony and Harmon were negotiating about following the confirmed departure of season four showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port.

My immediate reaction to this was confusion. Why would Sony want Harmon to return to a show that he publicly admitted to mismanaging? And why would Harmon want to return to the show after making a show of moving on with his career? After asking variations on these questions on Twitter, I got some interesting responses, and I think I’ve got a clearer sense on the circumstances that would lead to both parties reconciling their differences to work together again on a fifth season; I also think we need to disassociate this development from any sort of idealistic notion that either party is in this for the fans’ best interest.

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Community – “A Fistful of Paintballs”

“A Fistful of Paintballs”

May 5th, 2011

“That was a game. This is paintball.”

“A Fistful of Paintballs” is unquestionably a sequel to “Modern Warfare,” but I’d argue that it’s a fundamentally different episode on some level.

It follows the same basic principle from a story perspective: the school’s descent into paintball-related madness brings out some of the pre-existing relationships between the characters, specifically focused on Britta and Jeff’s consummation of their ongoing sexual tension. However, in terms of the actual methodology of the episode, it was a fairly extensive collection of pop culture references which only occasionally connected with the show’s overall mythology.

Now that the show is ending its second season, “A Fistful of Paintballs” is much more interconnected with ongoing storylines, building much of its structure around the season’s central conflict. While I have had my issues with how Pierce has been portrayed this season, believing that the character’s unpleasantness has not been funny enough to justify its omnipresent nature, this episode is much stronger in its use of the power structures within the latest paintball-based warzone to draw out ongoing character relationships.

With a more straightforward pop culture reference point paired with a more complex serialized component, “A Fistful of Paintballs” is the logical maturation of the “Modern Warfare”-template and a strong first half of what feels like a suitably strong finale.

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “Modern Warfare” (Community)

“Modern Warfare”

Aired: May 6th, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

I liked episodes of Community more than I liked “Modern Warfare.”

When I first watched the episode it couldn’t live up to the mountain of hype, and my general lack of emotional connection with the specific films being referenced meant that I didn’t have the same thrill that others might have found in the episode. I enjoyed it, as I’ve enjoyed most if not all of Community’s first and second seasons, but the episode was not as life-changing as it seemed to be for others.

And yet there was no single episode of Community more important than “Modern Warfare” this year. It was evidence that this was a world which could sustain these flights of fancy, that Greendale could become a paintball battleground without losing that which made the show tenable. It was indulgent and self-reflexive without being reflexively self-indulgent, never stepping back from the parody and yet never allowing that parody to swallow or bastardize the character arcs caught up in this conflict.

The show achieved higher highs, and perhaps even took greater risks as the year went on, but I feel pretty confident that none of it would have worked as well were it not for the confidence and goodwill gained from the day that Greendale went to war.

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Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

December 9th, 2010

As if Community weren’t meta enough, my immediate response to “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” was a desire to sit Dan Harmon down in a study room and journey into his mind in search of the meaning of Community.

I say this not because the episode undermined or threatened pre-existing notions of the series, but after the episode I wasn’t sure if what I’d seen was the very embodiment of the series’ general approach to comedy or something completely unique. Because it looked decidedly unique, I first leaned towards the latter category, but then it was put into context with the sense of generic parody that Daniel T. Walters wrote about this week, and even Abed’s general trend of seeing the world through pop culture that friend of the blog Cory Barker wrote about on his publicly-available term paper.

The episode was lovingly crafted, comically inspired, and willing to delve into some darker emotional territory, but I ended up feeling that this ended up in a liminal space between what Community wants to be and what I often fear it will become. It was sort of like I was Ebenezer Scrooge, and the episode manifested as ghosts of Community Past, Present and Future all at once.

And I don’t know whether to be extremely excited or mildly concerned.

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On Zombies: Community and The Walking Dead

On Zombies: Community and The Walking Dead

October 31st, 2010

I’ve already written enough about Halloween episodes (both in my review of The Office at The A.V. Club and in my piece on Halloween-themed TV episodes at Antenna) that writing a review of Community’s “Epidemiology” in that context seems like a waste of time. In fact, part of me feels as if it’s too late to really add anything new to the discourse.

However, having now watched the first two hours of AMC’s The Walking Dead – which premieres tonight at 10/9c with a special 90-minute opener – I think that I want to talk about zombies, and their function as genre. In a movie, zombies are easy: you introduce zombies, chaos ensues, heroes emerge, a conclusion is reached (which is either the heroes proving themselves capable of subsisting within a zombie-infested nation or the zombie outbreak being contained, presuming a happy ending is desired). Admittedly, I’ve only watched a handful of zombie movies thanks to being largely averse to suspense, but the point I want to get across here is that there’s a clear timeline. There is a situation, there is a conclusion, and you move on from there.

When you move this notion into television, however, you’re forced to live in that space, which is a problem that The Walking Dead will have to face should it join the rest of AMC’s lineup. Community, of course, is a very different situation, but it is nonetheless interesting to note that seriality plays a pretty substantial role in how their zombie story is told, and so I think tackling them both simultaneously will speak to some of the things which impressed me about Community and some of what concerns me about The Walking Dead.

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Season Premiere: Community – “Anthropology 101”

“Anthropology 101”

September 23rd, 2010

In the interest of complete disclosure, I do not know if I was exactly “excited” for Community to begin its second season.

Mind you, I do think that if I had gotten a screener, I probably would have immediately popped it into my DVD player and consumed it. However, I feel as if I would have done so because I was expected to, not necessarily because I wanted to. This does not show a dislike or even a disinterest with the series, but rather the fact that Community’s first season was something I enjoyed, not something that I truly loved. The show is unquestionably funny, and there are individual episodes, moments, and characters that really stuck with me (and continue to make me laugh), but there was also something about the show which kept me at a distance.

When I would sit down to review the show, I would find myself in a self-aware state where I was writing to service the fan culture surrounding the series instead of actually writing what I was observing – this was no clearer than in “Contemporary American Poultry,” which I think is a brilliant piece of writing but which I did not “get” to the degree that others have thanks to my lack of experience with the source material. I am not one of those who is turned off by the level of pop cultural humour in the series, but I do think that its presence is part of why approaching the series critically has been somewhat of a challenge.

This is a long opening spiel to lead up to the fact that “Anthropology 101” was a cleverly organized premiere which successfully paid off the more traditional dramatic conflict created by last season’s (honestly unsatisfying) finale while indulging (or, perhaps more accurately, engaging) with the series’ signature referentiality, successfully kick-starting a season which will be an important test for the series.

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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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