“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.
“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.
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.