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Community? More Like Some Unity! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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July 18th, 2011


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10:04 pm - Community? More Like Some Unity!
Community was on my radar very early on. I had heard good things about it, and it seemed to be up my alley. But I had so many shows already! It seemed like most people I knew were watching it, however, and when there was an outpour of fannish love for "Modern Warfare," I watched it on Hulu, and even though I didn't know the characters at all, I thought the episode was completely brilliant. I knew that I would one day watch this show. Then during Fandom Steel Cage Match March Madness, everyone rallied behind Troy and extolled the virtues of Community, and Amazon conveniently had the DVDs on sale, so it was clearly time for me to finally watch this show.

You guys, WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG TO WATCH THIS SHOW IT IS BRILLIANT AND AMAZING OMG.

tigeremme and I burned through the first disc in one evening because we didn't want to stop watching. It comes out strong right out of the gate, which is impressive, and it gets better. At one point, we very nearly died laughing (Community has some of the funniest tags I've ever seen, thanks to Troy and Abed).

The premise doesn't seem to have a lot of promise: a hotshot lawyer is found out for having a fake degree and goes to Greendale Community College, where he joins a Spanish study group comprising a ragtag group of misfits. Obviously, he will look down upon them and make condescending remarks, but then he will learn about the power of friendship and love and learn a valuable lesson. And, sure, that happens. Over and over again, really. But when you have a stellar cast and a staff of extremely clever writers, you can do much, much more.

Jeff is a vain, egocentric jerk, but he becomes the de facto leader because of his lawyerly ability to make bullshit speeches (that sometimes do contain a grain of sincerity). He can be surprisingly endearing when he shows that he does, in fact, have a heart. Joel McHale is dry and acerbic without being mean. Britta, who delights in being knowledgeable about world events but not actually doing anything about them, is only too happy to call him on his shit. She and Jeff provide the obligatory UST, which is annoying because it mainly consists of their sniping at each other, but, luckily, not only does the focus on them drop early on but the show understands that they are an annoying couple and does different tricks with them. Gillian Jacobs can make Britta brash and off-putting, the rain on everyone's parade, but she's secretly adorkable.

Annie is a repressed goody-goody with a warm, welcoming heart. She's more driven and motivated than you'd expect for someone at a community college. Alison Brie is not only super pretty but also super talented, showing various facets of Annie over the course of the show. Shirley is a mother who tries to be warm and welcoming but is also pretty judgmental (it seems to be a common theme among Community characters that they believe themselves to be better than they are). She's a Jeff/Britta 'shipper. Yvette Nicole Brown is great at switching between cloyingly sweet and abrasively brassy.

Troy is naively confident, a former jock no longer the BMOC. He has a very curious knowledge base that allows him to respond to a Jeff zinger like "Britta-dict Arnold" with "Colonial burn!" but causes him to muse, "Did you know that Go-Gurt is just yogurt?" Donald Glover is fucking hilarious, perfectly imbuing all of Troy's lines with the right amount of ridiculous sincerity, but he also sells the drama when needed. Abed is very likely on the autistic spectrum, unable to relate to people in the normal fashion. He relates to the world through pop culture references, frequently commenting on what TV show or movie some situation reminds him of. Danny Pudi is also amazing, spewing long lines of dialogue rapidly yet not sounding like an emotionless robot, and while I initially wondered whether he was just like that, a later episode showed me that, no, he's just a damn fine actor.

Pierce is a racist, sexist, homophobic old douchebag who got rich on moist towlettes. I have rarely wanted a character to DIE IN ALL THE FIRES as I do Pierce, and it strains believability that the study group would remain friends with this man, but, occasionally, the show does present a less terrible side of him, and I kind of hate caring about him even a little. Chevy Chase is essentially playing a version of himself, from what I hear, but he does bring a pathos to the character that at least makes Pierce a vaguely interesting monster. Señor Chang, though not part of the study group, is the reason for the study group, being the Spanish teacher. He is kind of a terrible Spanish teacher, preferring to yell at his students rather than actually teach Spanish, and his unpredictable shenanigans may make him actually weirder than Abed. Ken Jeong is completely fearless, and his manic energy always livens up the proceedings.

In addition to the main characters, Greendale is populated with numerous recurring side characters who are good for a one-off joke here and there but also help make the college feel real. I would be remiss not to mention Jim Rash as Dean Pelton, who wants to make Greendale the best community college it can possibly be and has a not-so-secret crush on Jeff.

Now, you see, you do have a lot of promise. Put these disparate characters in a room together and let the fun begin! Every character serves a function and has an important role in the group (yes, even Pierce). Community examines the group dynamic continually; in fact, that is essentially the heart of the show. How do these people relate to each other as individuals and as a group? As Jeff lays out in the very first episode, the title is not just a description of the college but a description of the group: this is a story of the Families We Make for Ourselves.

It is important for me to emphasize that this show clearly loves its characters and is interested in them because what it is best known for is its penchant for metahumor. You see, Community is a sitcom about sitcoms. Not overtly, but in a self-aware, genre-savvy way. It is familiar with sitcom tropes, and it will either embrace or subvert them knowingly. If you don't follow, don't worry, Abed will point it out. While many episodes follow the template of "take a class, learn an important lesson," some of the most memorable are the homage episodes, which heavily reference specific movies or adopt a totally different style for one week. The true brilliance of Community is that it is able to do these homage episodes, heighten reality for a week in which the characters fully commit to their roles, and actually tell stories that matter, that develop the characters in important ways or deepen their relationships. I will admit that in some episodes, it feels like characterization is sacrificed for the plot, but it's made up for in the surprising ways that the show manages to wring real drama out of ridiculous situations.

Community is absolutely bursting with creativity and cleverness, endlessly inventive and full of one-liners and visual gags. I truly marvel at its ability to get away with all it gets away with. I have deliberately avoided mentioning specific episodes because so much of the delight is discovering what kind of episode you're getting. Every week, it challenges the idea of what you can do in a half-hour comedy.
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Current Music: Books - There Is No There

(44 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:loopychew
Date:July 19th, 2011 04:28 am (UTC)
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SET PHASERS TO "LOVE THIS SHOW!" *breaks down sobbing*
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 11:33 am (UTC)
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YOU CAN'T DISAPPOINT AN LJ POST!
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From:musesfool
Date:July 19th, 2011 09:23 am (UTC)
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Community! Yay! As much as Modern Warfare was spectacularly awesome, I think Paradigms of Human Memory (the clip show) is my favorite. "Feast your ear tongues on these memory pops!" indeed.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 11:34 am (UTC)
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Oh my God, they did a clip show where they spent more effort than on a regular episode. AMAZING.
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From:sisterjune
Date:July 19th, 2011 10:47 am (UTC)
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YAY another community fan. I love this show to pieces, the only show that rivals it for me is parks and rec. this is a great review and hopefully it will bring more people to the show. do you have a favorite character or do you just love them all? my favorite is troy <3
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 11:36 am (UTC)
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I am watching Parks and Rec next! Thanks for saying my review is great; I think it's not that great. But I hope it's convincing enough.

My favorite is Abed, followed closely by Troy, followed ever so closely by Annie.
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From:amberlynne
Date:July 19th, 2011 11:25 am (UTC)
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I can't believe you waited this long, either! It's like the perfect show for you!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 11:36 am (UTC)
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People kept saying that! NOW I UNDERSTAND.

DUDE THEY MADE A VM REFERENCE.
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From:darlingviolenta
Date:July 19th, 2011 12:01 pm (UTC)
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Troy and Abed in the mooooorning!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 01:29 pm (UTC)
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Donde, está, la biblioteca
Me llamo T-Bone
La araña discoteca
From:sabra_n
Date:July 19th, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
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Community! I swear, sometimes I want to take this show and draw little hearts around it. Yes, sometimes it travels a little too far up its own ass, but the writers are smart enough to back out again and remember their characters and the occasional theme.

For all the flack that Community gets about being self-aware, though, I actually find it to be a terribly earnest and un-ironic show at its heart. The writing and the characters are great precisely because they commit to the ridiculous with all their hearts. They'll sit around a table and pretend to be in a musical Christmas claymation special or lock themselves in the study room until they find Annie's pen or get really, really into a D&D game for the sake of a near-stranger because at that point in time those things are just that important to them.

I was disappointed, early on, that the show defanged Jeff a bit after the pilot and backed off some of its initial cynicism, but that turned out to be such an essential part of what Community is. And I love it for that.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 01:35 pm (UTC)
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I agree with all of this and look forward to reading your Community posts next season! I will probably go back and read your old ones too.

"In about 13 turns, he will die of exposure. Jeff?"
"I wait 14 turns."

I cannot believe they got away with that episode. And I was glad to read in that Dan Harmon interview that they almost didn't because otherwise the world would not make sense.
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From:gwyn_r
Date:July 19th, 2011 02:07 pm (UTC)
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Your post is much like (though way better written) one I wrote a few months ago when I too discovered this show I'd been avoiding. (I also appreciated Ken Jeong's fearlessness, yay.) THe thing that still kills me about it is that I have developed a crush on Jeff, when one of the main reasons I didn't want to watch it was that I thought Joel McHale was smarmy and jackassy, and I thought watching him be that way for a character was less than pleasant. And yet, now I have a crush on Jeff. Go figure. This show does that kind of thing to us.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
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(I also appreciated Ken Jeong's fearlessness, yay.)
I respect the willingness to make yourself look like a fool for the sake of comedy. Gillian Jacobs is also not afraid to make up silly hand motions. Donald Glover and Danny Pudi, well, they'll also do about anything. Great cast all around.

I thought Joel McHale was smarmy and jackassy, and I thought watching him be that way for a character was less than pleasant. And yet, now I have a crush on Jeff.
I really didn't like him at first, but then I met Pierce, and one of Pierce's functions is to make Jeff look good. And as Jeff softened a bit, I grew to actually like him a little, even though a lot of episodes do seem to have him flip-flop between jackassery and warmth and back again. I guess that's just Jeff!
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From:madcap_shiny
Date:July 19th, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)
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UGH YES COMMUNITY. Annie is my favorite, but really I love them alllllllll (outside of Pierce, who is not funny and generally very repetitive in the ways that he's not funny :/). I think my favorite episode was Mixology Certificaton; it's surprisingly touching what this show can do when it actually tries to be sincere about where its characters are coming from.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
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YES!! Loved that episode, especially Texan Annie! (As I noted above, she and Troy and Abed are my favorites, but I do love them alllll except Pierce, yes, whose gay jokes are increasingly tiresome. Hey, look, they're all in your icon! I can't tell what it's from, though.)
[User Picture]
From:sophia_helix
Date:July 19th, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC)
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Just wanted to say that I am glad you finally let Abed into your life.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 04:31 pm (UTC)
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Why would you do it in front of me? I'm not a coat rack.
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From:lembeau
Date:July 19th, 2011 10:26 pm (UTC)
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*covers eyes*

Can't read it yet, I have the first two season and am trying to find time to watch it. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have the same reaction as you WHY DID I TAKE SO LONG?! Glad you found it awesome.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 10:47 pm (UTC)
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I look forward to your reaction!
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From:soundingsea
Date:July 19th, 2011 10:47 pm (UTC)
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I am so happy to have watched this show so I can read this post and know what you're talking about. I love your love-letters to various fandoms!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 19th, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC)
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Aw, thanks.
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From:sterope
Date:July 31st, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
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Parks and Recreation is the best NBC comedy, but Community is a close second. RIP, The Office.
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From:zimshan
Date:September 14th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
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Community is SUCH a hard show to talk about and do justice to. I have tried and failed on multiple occasions. THAT is what makes this review so BRILLIANT! You totally captured it, EXACTLY. I am so linking this to anyone that wants a brief intro on what it's all about since I've failed so miserably doing it myself.

More than anything though, this:

I truly marvel at its ability to get away with all it gets away with.

Captures the essence of my reaction to the show. Really, I can't think of a week I haven't thought, ARE THEY REALLY DOING THIS??? While, you know, laughing my ass off. Zany, brainy, and irreverent.

Although, I do wonder how they can keep it up going into S3. How much MORE can they get away with? How much is TOO much? Is there EVER too much for this show? It says something that I'm even asking that.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 14th, 2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
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THAT is what makes this review so BRILLIANT! You totally captured it, EXACTLY.
Aw, thanks, you.

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