Thursday, November 24, 2011

The failure of Community

College is generally portrayed in popular culture as an experimental period following high school that serve as the best four years of your life. Portrayals of the college experience on TV tend to marginalize all the outliers to that experience such as:
-The commuters who simultaneously have a foot in the working world
-The people already in the working world who begrudgingly return to school because they have no other option
-Older students who don't get into the social aspects of college because they have little in common with the primary age bracket that comprises most of the campus
-The people who who view their current college as their safety school rather than shangri-la and subsequently view it as either a temporary stop or a necessary evil

"Community" is about marginalized types deciding to make the best of their second-rate lot by banding together to enjoy their college experience the way that they're entitled to enjoy it. It's an underdog story and the triumphant moments at the end of each episode revolve around the group uniting together. When Troy comes to Britta's rescue when she gets paralyzed up on stage at the dancing competition, or Britta and Jeff team up together to fend off some bullies, the group succeeds at being "the cool kids" on campus (or whatever it is their goal is in that episode) because their bonds to each other have been tested and strengthened.

From that point of view, the show initially had a good concept and framework that intrigued me and kept me going through the first season. While the show wasn't particularly funny and had some awkward kinks, it did have some genuinely gooey moments in the last couple minutes of the episode that would redeem the half-hour experience for me. At least that was the case in the first season.

Most of the people I know who love discussing TV, blog about TV, or write about it professionally, they have praised the show as one of the smartest and most enjoyable programs on television and that praise seems to have increased as the show goes on.

For me, it's been the opposite experience.

To me, the show's main crime is that it is so caught up at making the academic community salivate with its deft handling of filmic conventions that it forgets to be entertaining. In terms of the amount of conflict going on, the plots can be incredibly insubstantial. To their credit, Community is experimental so they take risks and sometimes miss. That's something I admire over a show like "Modern Family" (a best-case scenario) or "Two and a Half Men" but I think the show rarely ever has baseline episodes which follow the more familiar beats of a sitcom.

I also think for a comedy, the show's humor factor is very low. It's not a show that goes for one-liners often and relies more on character-based humor and I think your mileage may vary depending on how you find the characters, which to me is kind of a weak point.

For one, the characters on the show don't really get along as well as advertised. It seems everyone hates Pierce and the group routinely gets mad at Jeff. The show devotes much of its screentime to having characters arguing with each other, as if the writing room can't think of any way to build up to climaxes. I will concede that the show's magic is often how it comes to the other side on the denouement.

The ensemble as a whole feels vastly overrated to me. Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) seems rather stereotypical and Annie (Allison Brie) can feel increasingly like a caricature. To her credit, Allison Brie infuses Annie with comic characteristics and even has a penchant for physical comedy but her heightened reactions don't really match the tone of the show. Joel McHale comes off somewhat awkwardly as the rebellious cool kid on campus, but I think that's the writing which asks us to believe that someone in his 30's could ever be the coolest kid on campus. Pierce suffers a little bit from being whatever the show needs him to be week-to-week. His varying levels of kindness are inconsistent.

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