When it was originally on: 2009-2015
Original network: NBC
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: I was a pretty loyal viewer of Community through its first couple of seasons. I most likely fell off the wagon around 2011, when I started college. I remember loving Community, but can’t recall any specific episodes.
What IMDb says: A suspended lawyer is forced to enroll in a community college with an eclectic staff and student body.
Why I picked it: Community is highly entertaining, and somehow managed to combine some of the best qualities of its NBC contemporaries. It had the zany characters and off-the-wall plotlines of 30 Rock. It had the warm heart of Parks and Recreation. And it had some of the hilarious awkwardness of The Office. And yet, the legacy of Community seems minuscule compared to these other three. It’s remembered as a cult favorite rather than a mainstream success.
I’m curious to know how much of its later charm was captured in the pilot, and I’m also curious to see what (if anything) sets it apart or holds it back compared to sitcoms of the same era.
What I liked: The premise of Community was always brilliant to me. A community college gives you an excuse to throw together people of varying age groups, demographics, and walks of life. It’s a wonder that no one thought to use a community college backdrop for a tv show sooner.
The pilot also does a great job of showing us the slimy douchebaggery of Jeff Winger while also keeping the show as a whole quite charming. As it becomes more and more common to center shows around unlikable people, I’ve noticed that whether or not it works lies in your other characters. Community nails this. We get a great sense of who Jeff is and how he’ll try to circumvent rules and ethics in order to get what he wants.
But we also see Britta and Duncan call him out. We see them lead him on only to say “hell no” to his bullshit. Yes, Jeff is a lying douchebag, but the show doesn’t ask us to like or pity him. Instead, much of its entertainment value comes in Jeff getting what he deserves. A sleazy lawyer protagonist may not be likable, but a sleazy lawyer who’s used to getting his way suddenly coping in an environment where his old tricks don’t work anymore? That’s something I can watch over and over again.
Also, I tend to forget John Oliver was in this show, but literally every interaction he has with Joel McHale (Jeff) is brilliant. The two have great comedic chemistry.
What I didn’t like: The pilot spends a bulk of its time in developing what are potentially the least interesting characters. Or at least, the characters that most closely resemble the ones we see on other network sitcoms. Much of this story line is about Jeff pursuing Britta and her continued rejection of him, and it works on several levels. However, here are some of the other characters they had to work with:
- A football playing prom king coming to grips with the fact that the real world doesn’t care if you’re a football playing prom king.
- An overachieving bookish girl who dropped out of high school to deal with an adderall addiction.
- A single mom.
- A senile old man.
- A young man with aspergers (maybe?) whose parents are divorced.
Britta seems comparatively basic, despite the fact that the pilot spends WAYY more time telling us about her than telling us about these other characters. It makes sense that they can’t fully develop every character in the study group in just 25 minutes, but if you’re only going to focus on 2-3ish characters, couldn’t you make those 2-3ish characters a little more interesting? I wish we could’ve seen Britta interact with people besides Jeff. Sure, she mentions a couple fun facts about herself, but her resistance to dating Jeff is still her primary character trait.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes. It’s both an interesting show to study as a writer, and generally entertaining. I should get into it again.