Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

TV Review: Community

Viewing habits have completely changed.

Whereas once upon a time we’d anxiously plan our forthcoming unmissable shows in the Radio Times, carefully highlighting the key programmes and negotiating with family members for sole use of the television, and, or VHS, now we’re all on-demand, streamed and downloaded.

We’ve also lost, to an extent, that long drawn out process of watching a series. No longer do we (with a couple of exceptions) patiently tune in at a set time, watch and then curse that it’d be a whole week until the cliffhanger was resolved. Now I binge watch like a terrible addict, unwilling to sleep, desperate to know the next twist, a culture of “just one more episode” or “I’ll be up to bed after just… oh yes, another hour gone.” We overlook that we can pause shows, the whole story arcs have to be taken in, we’ve moved on from Last Of The Summer Wine to a world where episodes are episodic as part of a broader narrative rather than stand alone.

In the past 12 months I’ve watched the following shows: The Bridge (amazing), Hinterland (amazing), Line Of Duty (amazing), Making a Murderer (intriguing), Love (overrated but still good) and Breaking Bad (amazing). However I felt like I was needing a break, after all there are only so many shows about murder, deception, corruption and despair you can take, sometimes you need something fun.

Let me introduce Community.

It was one of those shows that popped up on Netflix, the type which looks like it might star Adam Sandler and thus be of no inherent value*. It wasn’t helped by Netflix’s categorisation of the show – “suggested for you” – no, fuck you Netflix, you don’t know me, I make my own choices in this world and don’t need your help.

Apparently I do.

Community is a show about an arrogant former lawyer (Jeff), fired from his job for faking his degree and qualifications, going to community college to retake the exams and, well, get back to lawyering. It’s about the study group he becomes part of and his journey towards humility**.

Let me start by saying the first 4 episodes are slow burners. There’s a lot of character work, the progression seems slow and the apparent lead, named Jeff Winger (played by Joel McHale) is unbelievably unlikable. It all feels very staged and a little bit like a sitcom by numbers. However don’t let that draw you into a false sense of security that this is another shit American TV comedy. Once you get past episode four you hit a clever, rich and silly series. It’s not serious, deep or going to change the world but it’s funny and experimental and is so heavily littered with pop-culture references that it constantly surprises.

The point where it really flies is where the focus moves from Jeff to the other cast members and becomes a more ensemble show. The cast includes Chevy Chase (who nails the role as the unintentionally racist, homophobic, elderly rich guy), Gillian Jacobs (who, despite having a story that starts around her being wooed by Jeff, develops a really interesting and rounded character), Danny Pudi (as Abed, my favourite character who acts as the vehicle to bring film and TV references into the series) in a great double act with Donald Glover (the ex-sports star) with reoccurring cameos from Ken Jeong and John Oliver.

So why watch?

It uses physical comedy better than many shows out at the moment – at a time where someone falling over is generally not added as a joke here it is included – included and done well. The film references – so far I’ve seen Apollo 13, Dawn Of The Dead, Battle Royale and Mean Girls – all clever, not always subtle, but always respectful of the source add a cool, weirdly alternative dynamic. It’s also fun, and light. It’s the pudding of the TV world. You don’t need it, it’s not going to fill you up or give you nourishment, but everyone will be happier with it.

*harsh, but he is criminally badly used as an actor, someone get him doing realism and he’ll be great.
**this is in no way a spoiler, it’s pretty damn obvious.