By Charles Kershaw
The fate of my degree is uncertain. All my summer plans are either cancelled or postponed. I have no idea how long I will be stuck indoors, unable to see my friends in person. And yet I find some solace in my favourite show of all time: NBC’s Community.
Community centres around seven members of Greendale Community College, who are tricked into forming a study group by fellow student Jeff Winger, a lawyer who has been recently disbarred for lying about having a degree, in order to get his classmate Britta to spend more time with him. While the plan fails, the members of the group grow together as they face the unexpected challenges of studying at community college.
The premise lends itself to lots of unique and hilarious moments: Greendale isn’t quite the Ivy-League college typically seen on American TV. It’s instead a struggling school desperately trying to stay afloat financially and academically amidst annual school-wide paintball contests, the threats of the neighbouring City College, and the wide but rather dubious array of classes on offer, from “Pottery” to “Ladders”, to a class simply called “Can I Fry That?”. At the helm of this dysfunctional institution is a dean desperate to make it seem like a “proper college”, and going to great lengths to do so, hosting multiple dances every year commemorating some quite odd things such as STDs and 90s pop star Sophie B. Hawkins.
The main characters are just as ill-fitting and incongruous as the college itself, consisting of almost every stereotype of someone who might attend community college (or as we formerly knew them— Polytechnics): Britta, the anarchist who dropped out of high school “to impress Radiohead”, Troy, the football jock who lost his scholarship after getting injured while doing a “keg flip” at a party, to Pierce, the old man trying to combat loneliness and keep his brain busy before it starts turning to mush.
And yet over the course of the first season, they grow together into a still-dysfunctional and often selfish group, but one that is lovable all the same— the show crams a lot of witty dialogue and character development into each twenty minute episode, and every character has their moments, like when Pierce, often the more antagonistic of the group, dispenses some sage advice: “What some men call failure, I call living. Breakfast. And I’m not leaving until I’ve cleared out the buffet.”
What really makes the show stand out as a cut above most sitcoms out there is its unique brand of meta-humour, satire and parody of conventional television and film tropes. One of the members of the study group, Abed, grew up watching tv as a means to understand people, who he finds difficult to relate to in real life. In doing so he gives the show a self awareness that most sitcoms lack, always ready to take a jab at a tv or movie cliché that the show inevitably stumbles upon given the confines of writing a traditional sitcom. At the same time the show jumps wholeheartedly into genres such as Christmas specials (where one episode is filmed entirely in stop motion to achieve this), heist movies, documentaries, procedural crime dramas, among many more.
When you’ve seen the show enough times, like with any good sitcom, the characters become like good friends, and every rewatch is another chance to see them. Watching the show in the midst of this pandemic, as we are separated from our friends, Community offers all of us dispossessed students a brief escape back into the chaotic yet fun world of university for a while, or at least until the next BBC breaking news alert.
Image: Matt Ragland on Unsplash