Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why You Should Watch Community

The men and women of Greendale

Tonight at 8/7c is the third season premiere of NBC's highly underrated Community. The show has been a cult darling for most of its existence, though that hasn't translated into ratings or Emmys (seriously, nomination committee what is your problem.) This means I have the unenviable task of trying to get you to listen to why you should really give this a try, trust me, you'll love it, etc. Fan evangelizing is annoying, I know, and yes I'm going to get started on The Wire at some point, but the job of even an amateur blog critic is to call attention to these sorts of things, so hear me out.

Community focuses on a group of students at Greendale Community College who have formed a study group and reasonably tight friendship. Joel McHale stars as Jeff Winger, who was a highly respected lawyer before someone found out he'd faked his college degree. Jeff is the informal "leader" of the group as well as the star of the show- the reason for this is because, though he's often cynical and shallow, he's still a Hell of a talker and can often tie the group together just with his words. He got into the study group because of Britta (Gillian Jacobs), a woman whose beauty is matched only by her awkward attempts at coolness and insufferable political sensitivity. Annie (Allison Brie) is a young, idealistic, deeply repressed girl who is often the soul of the group. Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) is a middle-aged mother (formerly separated) and good Christian woman who can be polite and deferential to a fault. Troy (Donald Glover) is a former football player and frequent comic partner-in-crime with Abed (Danny Pudi), a probably autistic pop culture geek who views the world through the lens of television (and so often provides commentary on the show's own use of sitcom tropes.) Chevy Chase is Pierce Hawthorne, a rich, strange, bitter old man who quit the group at the end of last season, but is too helpless on his own for them to let him leave. We'll see what happens. And finally there's Ben Chang (Ken Jeong), who starts as a terrifying Spanish teacher but is downgraded to student when people find out he doesn't know anything.

So why is this show good? Well, it's a balance of brains and heart. This is a very clever show that pokes constantly at the genre boundaries of the single-camera sitcom, whether by doing note-perfect spoofs of other films and genres (an action-movie parody set during a paintball game, a stop-motion Christmas special) or working with the structures of the sitcom itself. (There's a "clip show" episode flashing back to episodes that never actually existed, a bottle episode set entirely in the study hall that Abed labels as a bottle episode, and an episode featuring Jack Black as the kind of annoying "new addition" to a sitcom cast that everyone hates.)

But it's not just about the parodies and the structural weirdness. This is a surprisingly warm and loving show; while the characters fight and insult each other as often as you'd expect, they are, deep down, friends who never stop caring about each other and trying to help each other. It's a show that earns its heart-tugging moments, and is willing to go into serious territory despite its weirdness. And the acting helps a lot: it's a very close and well-chosen ensemble, who clearly have a lot of actual rapport with each other. Not only is the main cast great (with Chase doing some of the best work of his career), but a number of recurring characters fill out the show's universe and make it feel like a real place- there's Jim Rash as a dean who loves dress-up, John Oliver as a sleazy school psychiatrist, and coming this season, John Goodman and Michael K. Williams as new professors.

Where to start? Well, tonight's premiere should be good unless they've had a total meltdown between seasons. The show took a few episodes to find its feet, but I was won over by the second episode in which Jeff and Pierce create the most ambitious Spanish class sketch known to man. I'd recommend catching up when you can anyway, because there's absolute gold in both seasons, from Modern Warfare (the aforementioned paintball episode) to Contemporary American Poultry (a Goodfellas spoof centered around cafeteria chicken strips), and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which is what it sounds like.

This is a show that deserves a wider audience, plain and simple. NBC have stuck with it rather admirably, but it's on against the super-popular Big Bang Theory (which I don't dislike at all, but I like this more), so it needs whatever help it can get. Give it a try tonight, rent the DVDs, see if it grabs you, and if it does, get the word out. It'd be a shame for class to end early.

Also, if it helps any demographically desirable young males make up their minds, Allison Brie is really, seriously hot.

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