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.
January 14th, 2010
There was a lot of talk early in 30 Rock’s third season about the proliferation of guest stars into the series, which was met with a lot of negative response from critics and viewers alike. The show felt as if it was being dominated by those guest stars, and that the stories were not so much about their presence in the show’s universe than they were about the characters themselves (which, in most instances, were indistinct enough to effectively become the actors playing themselves). It’s not that the show couldn’t write compelling guest stars (Dean Winters’ Dennis Duffy kills every time), but rather that something about the way they were integrating them into the show’s dynamic was off-putting.
Tonight, Community performed an experiment through the use of Jack Black, purposefully testing the show’s characters dynamics in order to see if adding another character to the mix would upend their rhythms. However, like many experiments where the facilitators are controlling every variable, the results are exactly what they want them to be, and Black’s character Buddy is a fundamental distraction who feels distinctly out of place. But by actually tapping into our expectations that the presence of a big star with a penchant for overacting would disrupt the flow of the series, and by allowing Black to essentially play an amalgam of his most annoying qualities without any context, the episode says something about how we react to interlopers on shows which focus on tight-knit groups.
In the process, the show gets quite a funny episode, and reinforces how much we like this study group as it is.
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.
“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.