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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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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 – “Advanced Criminal Law”

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“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.

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Community – “Spanish 101”

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“Spanish 101”

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.

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