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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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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 – “English as a Second Language”

“English as a Second Language”

May 13th, 2010

A week after Community’s most “epic” episode yet, it’s a bit jarring to return to a low-key episode about Spanish class and study groups. However, after a bit of a re-entry period, “English as a Second Language” nicely falls into a rhythm that fits with the show at the end of its first season. The central premise of the show means that they might not be in Spanish class next year, which raises some logical questions about how the show will work if they’re not all in the same class with an excuse to see one another every day.

Frankly, I think Community could have gotten away with keeping them in Spanish class forever and just not caring, but the show isn’t going to settle for that sort of laziness. Instead, they throw the entire group into chaos over the pending changes, and eventually come to a conclusion which speaks to the ways in which the group dynamic is changing and (more importantly) a glimpse at what the show will look like in the future.

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Community – “Modern Warfare”

“Modern Warfare”

May 6th, 2010

This episode is a triumph, so let me first make a note regarding its tremendous (or, if you prefer for me to actually complete the reference completely, huge) success – the various action movie parodies which run throughout “Modern Warfare” are expertly designed, tremendously directed by Justin Lin, and result in a really funny and successful episode.

However, I am sort of at a loss about what to really say about it, if only because I haven’t seen a lot of the action movies that the show parodied, and the brekaway narrative used by the episode (and most action movies) meant that the number of characters onscreen diminished as the episode went on. While the episode embodied the show’s propensity for pop culture references and for its meta-subversion of sitcom stereotypes, it also disrupted (as we saw in “Contempoary American Poultry”) the show’s traditional character dynamics. With only twenty minutes, the show rushed head first into the central dynamic between Jeff and Britta while largely “writing off” the other characters, which helped get to the various cliches the episode wanted to address but which kept me (who, as with the Goodfellas parody, was sort of left on the outside here) at arm’s length.

It still really freaking cool from my vantage point, but it wasn’t so much a high water mark for the show so much as it was an important test for the series’ future that it passed with flying colours.

Which were, you know, paint balls.

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Community – “The Science of Illusion”

“The Science of Illusion”

March 25th, 2010

We all knew going into Community that Chevy Chase is both a gifted physical comedian and great at playing someone who’s a little nit aloof , and in the supporting role of Pierce there is plenty of room for the show to just sort of run with that. And so we get Pierce having falling down, and Pierce being the brunt of various jokes, and the show tends to default to that role for his character.

You could probably try to claim that the rest of the show’s characters could fit into similar categories, but part of what make Community so great, and what makes “The Science of Illusion” so enjoyable, is that these are rigid structures. Characters are able to become something different in the context of other stories, and more importantly characters want to try to be something different, which makes for the kind of episode that says as much about the show as it does the show’s characters.

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Community – “Communication Studies”

“Communication Studies”

February 11th, 2010

There’s a scene early in “Communication Studies” where Jeff is asking Michelle about her Valentine’s Day expectations. What he wants to know is whether he has to change anything to make the day more special, whether there is something he can do (flowers, chocolates, etc.) to better fit her expectations. However, she says she wants things to remain the same, even though we later learn that she would like some small changes (like Jeff being willing to pick up ice cream before Law & Order nights).

In this metaphor, Jeff is the show’s writers, Michelle is the audience, and their relationship is Community. Like Michelle, as an audience member, I don’t want the show to change in any major way to improve upon itself, as I quite like the show it has become, and it certainly doesn’t have to go out of its way to be quite clever with its attention to Valentine’s Day (the Cupid Being was more than enough). However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, even if “Communication Studies” ended up pretty satisfying.

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Community – “Investigative Journalism”

“Investigative Journalism”

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.

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