Saturday, 2 March 2013

What is Community College?

Community 1x1 - Pilot.

September of 2009. I was just finalising my move into a business venture I had been planning for a while (I would open in October) but at least one other great thing happened. 
There were maybe two excellent network pilots that season. Both shared some similarities; taking place in an educational setting, a diverse mix of outsider types, funny gags and pop culture riffs and a heart firmly placed on sleeve. Glee, of course, when on to be a smash success (though it lost touch with the darker element that made it's pilot interesting and quickly became a mess) whereas Community cemented itself alongside it's characters. Marginalised, misunderstood, not well liked by the majority but loved somewhat intensely by a few (it's clear by occasional different forum perusal that some dislike for the show comes from a dislike of it's fanbase more than anything else), Community instantly clicked with me although it would be a little while before I found a deeper, even personal, connection that would push it beyond being a funny sitcom I enjoyed to something more revelatory and transformative. 

But that came later. To begin with it was just a show I liked a lot.
The first episode is one of the strongest comedy pilots I've seen. It has a bunch of wildly different types and does very well in sketching them out with broad strokes but beats that dig a little deeper than most shows. And whilst it does so it's already poking at the forms tropes and cliches and never forgetting to be very, very funny. Within seconds the show presents us 'the jock', 'the mom' 'the old guy' but shows them, with no dialogue, questioning this set up. Chevy Chase (pushed heavily by the marketing but relegated mostly this episode to sideline status) straight out the bat gives a great little visual double take.

The ensemble nature of the show is something not immediately apparent in this opener. It is firmly centred around the selfish Jeff (Joel Mchale) and his desire to bone the self righteous Britta (Gillian Jacobs) but the cleverness of the set up forces one character to define the others (for the audience) by first tearing them down and then building them back up again. The fact that both acts are not fully sincere doesn't matter because this is also the creator Dan Harmon telling you about these characters and each is given some nice beats to prove their comedy chops but also because that very insincerity is a telling detail of Jeff. Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley perhaps gets the least to do (something the show would often come to struggle with) but has a great sense of timing and brings a different energy to the room that is valuable.

There is a huge amount of Dan Harmon bleeding into the script of this one. An argument can be made (and has I'm sure) that each character represents different personality disorders that the incredibly intelligent but often morose and insecure Harmon himself has, or believes he has. But in the Pilot Jeff clearly is positioned as his mouthpiece and uses him to explore notions of moral relativism (unusual for a sitcom and doubly rewarding because it's so funny) and exploring our position within society and indeed what makes up society itself. Though 'reference' humour abounds (John Hughes gets a memoriam in the credits) particularly with a funny Breakfast Club running gag, this episode plays with the sitcom form fairly conventionally (the Jeff/Britta pairing seems like every other comedy ever) than it would come to in the future.

This was a remarkably solid foundation, full of great jokes and an interesting, talented cast that would go from strength to strength over the course of the first year and hit an amazingly solid run in it's second before stumbling a little in it's brave almost troubling third and a sharp drop for it's fourth (and probably final) season. If anyone expresses interest (or not I might do it anyway) I will probably cover the rest of the series in bursts of two episodes each, though with some I'm not sure I will have much to say beyond listing the funny lines. And then with some I may (or may not) offer up an uncomfortably personal expression of how the show affected me. No idea on what my schedule for it will be.

Choice Cuts.
  • No and, if I wanted to learn something I wouldn't have come to Community College
  • Bears have feet
  • People can connect with anything. We can sympathise with a pencil, we can forgive a shark and we can give Ben Affleck an academy award for screen writing.
  • I thought you were like Bill Murray in any of his films but you're more like Michael Douglas in any of his films.
  • Why are people trying to teach me things at a school that has an express tuition aisle?
  • You just wrinkled my brain man.
  • Funny thing about being smart is you can get through most of life without having to do any work
  • What's going on? Can you guys hear me? Am i going deaf?

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