Community spirit

With US sitcom juggernauts such as _30 Rock_ and _How I Met Your Mother_ garnering a lot of attention, and with _Modern Family_ scooping up most of the accolades nowadays, it’s strange to observe that Community has been mostly overlooked. Snubbed by TV award ceremonies, criminally neglected by UK broadcasting networks (thanks for picking it up though, Viva!), it’s a wonder that this critically acclaimed show is very gradually slipping into the ranks of the Seriously Underrated, along with _Arrested Development_, _Freaks and Geeks_ et al, destined to be slavishly and belatedly appreciated by a cult following once it’s been cancelled. Why, I ask, must this fate befall one of the funniest TV shows in a long while? Strong words, I know. But it really is one of the best comedies around at the moment. Just hear me out.

The pop-culture references, for one, come thick and fast – there haven’t been this many since _Spaced_. _Community_ (which, in case you didn’t know, chronicles the friendships within a community college study group) is the ultimate homage to just about every genre that exists. Take the episode ‘Modern Warfare’ (S1E23): the likes of _Rambo_, _Die Hard_, _The Matrix_, _Hard-Boiled_, _Terminator_, _Scarface_, _Predator_, _Warriors_, _Alien_, _Battle Royale_ and, er, _Glee_ are all affectionately parodied in the space of one half-hour episode. And that’s just the references that I recognised. Best of all, this all generally comes with a healthy dose of hyper-conscious meta commentary, particularly from Abed (Danny Pudi), whose Asperger’s-like way of processing emotional and social cues prompts him to relate movies and TV to real life (a connection that he amusingly and mind-bendingly overdoses on in ‘Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples’, S2E05).

One of the best things about _Community_, though, is how smartly designed it is, and the payoff the viewer gets from it when they pay a little attention. Take, for example, the episode ‘The Psychology of Letting Go’ (S2E03), in which Abed is seemingly absent from unfolding events, appearing only at the end to talk to Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) when she notes, “I barely saw you this week, Abed! What have you been up to?” -“Not much…”). But wait keen viewer! Rewind back to the beginning! He’s lying! Because if you look again, a whole other story is subtly taking place throughout in the background, without any explanation or attention from any of the characters in the main storyline. I won’t say any more in case you would rather see it yourself, but it’s a great example of how cleverly constructed and confident this show is in a way that several, considerably more bloated, US sitcoms would be hard-pressed to rival (_The Big Bang Theory_ – I’m looking at you).

It is sometimes misconstrued that, with its hefty reliance on referential humour, _Community_ lacks creativity. I argue that it’s the complete opposite of that. Countless shows and movies are thrown out there, yes, but they’re done incredibly sharply, in unpredictable combinations and with hilarious character interaction, with perfect comedic timing to boot. It’s also an incredibly diverse comedy. In one episode you can get a profound theological debate masquerading in comedy (S2E05); in the next, a comically all-out zombie fest (S2E06), all of it entertainingly self-knowing. Props also go to the ensemble cast, which really could not have been better put together. I can see how, if you are just generally not hugely into movies or TV, _Community_ could hold limited appeal, but this sitcom leaves no genre unturned: I can guarantee that there is at least one episode out there that’ll do it for you. (Seriously. They referenced _Farscape_ the other day. _Farscape_. I’m not sure that it gets much more obscure than that.) Meanwhile, if you’re a bit of a loser like me who just so happens to know, say, _The Breakfast Club_ shot-by-shot, or _LOST_ quotations off the bat, I reckon this is a show you’ll enjoy. Plus, there’s no annoying laughter track.


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