With an explosive cast and concepts, it was only a matter of a time until NBC’s “Community” graced streaming services with its impassioned comedy. Added to Netflix April 1, the show's zany capers of lovable misfits is sure to bring respite to TV sets in need.
While going toe-to-toe against the network’s other sitcom giants such as “The Office” and “30 Rock” during its original run, “Community” always went underappreciated by viewers. Its struggle to stay on air, eventually transferring to Yahoo! Screen in 2015, created the power of a TV underdog. Now with many still stuck at home and the departure of binge-heavy “Friends” on Netflix, “Community” has swooped in to woo couch audiences with its meta-humor and heart at the center of a community college.
The show follows a motley crew of community college students banded together to study for neurotic Señor Chang’s Spanish 101. What ensues next is a series of spoof episodes, self-referential jokes and a few tender “Full House”-style lessons along the way.
Creator Dan Harmon, later known for “Rick and Morty,” based it off his experiences in his community college. The show succeeds by focusing on a well-rounded cast, one to take on the complex and intricately constructed characters that meet in the iconic study room. From comedy legend and renowned jerk Chevy Chase to young blood and rising star Donald Glover, “Community” had the benefit of drawing from all corners of talent. Even a sideline amalgamation of folks including Dean Pelton, Garrett, Star Burns and the Human Being create hilarity; it is impossible not to mention one of television’s greatest oddballs, Ben Chang, played by Ken Jeong.
Joel McHale plays the no-nonsense leader, Jeff Winger, who was discovered to fake his bachelor’s degree of law and now must take courses at Greendale Community College. While the first season mainly follows his exploits in self-redemption and romance, with Gillian Jacobs' Britta Perry, the installments quickly turn to other avenues of storytelling.
Notable story arcs include the dastardly paintball wars, a zombie outbreak and even a pillow-versus- blanket fort war. Harmon and company play out a masterful presentation of many movie tropes through these exaggerated scenes, ranging from a “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” parody to Ken Burn’s documentary style for the episode format.
Where other programs such as “Parks and Recreation” are more grounded in real-life situations, “Community” is not afraid to break the mold in what its troupe does on screen. There is an unabashed love for other genres of TV and film that are skillfully played through the whimsies of Greendale.
It also noticeably dabbles in science fiction ideas: split timelines, darker timelines, virtual reality, memory wipes, dreamatoriums, a class system based on app-ratings and Britain's famous Inspector Spacetime, of course!
Another standout member, Danny Pudi’s character Abed Nadir is a pop-culture-spewing and fourth wall-breaking window for viewers into the maniacal world of “Community.” It often has the chance to rise above its contemporaries as it calls out some of the redundancies or common plot devices of situational comedies:
“This is starting to feel like a bottle episode,” Nadir comments, as the cast spends a whole episode in their study room. At the end of season five when the series’ return was uncertain, Nadir remarks, “We’ll definitely be back next year; if not it’ll be because an asteroid has destroyed all of human civilization, and that’s canon.”
The stories draw their strength from avoiding pratfalls and stereotypes, and by focusing on absurdity that just makes sense. Silly plots of “Dungeons & Dragons” and the first Chang Dynasty work only because the actors make it believable and the writing is fresh. Without this combination, the little world of Greendale would feel flat.
Where often the humorous and unlikely scenarios are the highlights, Harmon’s crew grows with their adventures. Having all come to college for personal reasons, they learn to master their insecurities and bond with others in their struggle. Viewers can relate to the shortcomings of the “Wingman’s” bravado or Britta’s identity crisis.
Its low point came in season four in the hands of new showrunners. The departure of Chevy Chase due to disagreements with Dan Harmon and Harmon’s subsequent firing as showrunner left a huge gap in the show’s humility. The jokes felt hollow, the stories were tasteless, and the “oomph” was gone.
Regardless, through these tribulations, the cast stayed true to the essence of their characters. Harmon came back on board with season five and deftly defied any blows thrown their way. The absence of Donald Glover’s Troy Barnes and Yvette Nicole Brown’s Shirley Bennett in the later seasons was adequately matched with increased presence from Jim Rash’s Dean Pelton and classic episodes such as “App Development and Condiments.”
After having ended five years ago, “Community” retained its cult following through the power of the internet and its appearance on Hulu in late 2016. But the ad-free experience and increased activity in 2020 on Netflix has given the show a newfound spotlight. After all, with many indoors to keep safe during uncertain days, television is a way to feel as if you’re doing your part in squashing the curve.
In a timely fashion, McHale and Jeong started “The Darkest Timeline” podcast in late March to talk about their time on set. They even brought back a majority of the cast on the May 9 podcast through a Zoom application conference and will reconvene again May 18 for a table read; they hope to raise money for José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen and Frontline Foods to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
The show’s core of giving life to a small study group of so-called losers never falters. Through six seasons (and possibly a future movie), “Community” offers quirky escapism found nowhere else. To anyone about to venture into the hallways of Greendale, here are some words of encouragement from Brutalitops, aka Ben Chang: “This is gonna be awesome, yo!”
Contact Manny Rea at [email protected].