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Review Wednesday: Community

Today we have a guest post from my friend Mike. He usually puts stuff up at Mike Sucks at Writing, but he graciously decided to do a Wednesday Review over here this week. Thanks Mike!

I consume nearly all of my TV via DVD or internet streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. This means that when my wife and i sit down to watch something, we generally do so in large chunks, sometimes as much as four or five hours at a stretch. We’ve done this with Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13, Eureka, Torchwood, Doctor Who, etc etc. I think this affords a unique view on a medium that is meant to be consumed one piece at a time with a week or more in between, and i’ve decided to try and capture some of the observations that arise from that view.

I nearly ran all the way home to tell my wife that Community, the show i have been dying to watch based on the word-of-mouth of my frequented podcasts, was finally available on Hulu Plus. This would have been ridiculous since it’s a half hour drive from my work to home, but such was my enthusiasm. When i received her saintly tolerant “that’s nice dear” smile after delivering this news, i made a resolution: i was going to watch this show with or without her. So, later that night, when she was in her office tending to her facebook garden, i sat down in front of the LCD fireplace and lit up Hulu. I selected the Community pilot and pressed play. Within the first five minutes, i turned the show off. There was no way i was going to watch this without her. Craftier methods were necessary.Community is the story of Jeff Winger, an ex-lawyer who must attend junior college in order to get a legitimate undergraduate degree, at the behest of the bar association. Being a law school graduate herself, i knew that my wife could not be allowed to miss this brand of hijinks. I made my decision with this little slice of dialog: “I thought you had a Bachelors from Columbia.” Jeff: “Now i have to get one from America.”

So, later that night, after i had her settled on the couch and trapped her there with dinner, i restarted the pilot without the benefit of our usual “Whatcha wanna watch?” banter.

We ended up watching eight episodes that night. She was the one who insisted on playing the last two.

The show is really something special. The characters themselves are some of the best that i’ve seen on TV. Also, the amount of character that the creative team is able to pack into a half hour show (22 minutes without commercials) is something to be marvelled and envied. The pop culture references are many, varied, and sophisticated to the point where they are not necessary to enjoy the show, but add a candied layer of joy and laughter that makes the experience better without dragging it down. Internal continuity is treated in this same manner, so that you don’t NEED to understand why Dean Pelton’s desk has become overrun with Dalmatian spotted paraphernalia, but doing so will make his odd little countenance that much the funnier.  Not even Big Bang Theory is working with this much personality and smarts.

As much as i love that other geeky sitcom, Community is also doing more than Big Bang could ever do to erase the stigma of the outcast. While BBT uses stereotypical characters and makes them lovable, Community creates characters that are more real and of the types that would not normally be shunned by society (the high school quarterback, the silver-tongued lawyer, the driven obsessive, the middle-class mother of two, the successful businessman) and presents them to us after life has really done a number on them. All of these characters are trying to get back something and finding it nearly impossible to do so without each other. They don’t fit anywhere else within the extremely odd social structure of junior college, but Community shows us week to week how and why they fit together. The results are hilarious, heartwarming, and altogether insane. i’m particularly partial to Abed, the Muslim film-buff with the (alleged) aspergers, who is the only one who really understands the group, though none of them really understand him.

My only complaint about the show comes from the ten thousand foot level afforded me by watching several episodes a night. The show as a whole does a tremendous job of keeping each episode fresh and memorable without much repetition or formula. However, quite a few come to a conclusion with Jeff learning a “lesson” of compassion, leadership, tolerance, or friendship, most often centered on the core group. By the seventh time you see this happen in a single night, it can get a little old. But, given that i live in the age of the internet, and i would not have even had the opportunity to view these episodes had this show aired 10 years ago, i think this is definitely a #firstworldproblem.

Did i mention the show is funny? I laughed so hard at one point last night that we had to pause the show and i had to leave the room to catch my breath.

If you’re not convinced by the pilot, feel free to skip ahead to ep 23 of the first season, Modern Warfare, and bask in the glory.

Posted in Life.