By Joe Strange
Here’s the thing, Community was renewed for a sixth season last night, so today seemed like the opportune time to talk about a show that has had a huge effect on me since I started watching it. Today I want to talk about Community, and despite how good it may be, it’s just not as good as it was.
There’s just something about the feel of the first two seasons of NBC’s meta sit com. The later series make a point of togetherness, especially in the most recent series with the ‘let’s fix and save Greendale’ storyline, which I think might have been a metaphor for the return of show runner Harmon after the ‘gas leak’ season, but somehow these story lines kind of fell flat to me. The show told us it was about community, but didn’t actually show us, especially compared to when the show first aired.
I’m not sure if it’s the soundtrack, the cinematography or the writing, hell it’s probably all of the above, but the early days of the series really had the sense of community. Which I think was what they were going for, considering, you know… the name.
The thing I loved about Community was the references. The fact that this was a show in a world with television, with popular culture and with characters who talked about these things like real people.
By the first season’s midpoint it was these running jokes and the natural dialogue which effortlessly convinced you that these people were genuine friends. Unlike shows like How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory, where we’re told off the bat that these people are inseparable, Community showed the audience the crafting of the friendships and this made you feel a part of it too. And I think that’s where that all important sense of community comes from.
Later in the series, the references stopped being the tools of the show, and instead started being the whole point. Inspector Spacetime is the show’s Dr Who alternative. When it was first mentioned in Season 3 it was novel and charming, with references throughout the season, that on first look went unnoticed because they were subtle, like Troy and Abed’s Halloween costumes.
But in season four, definitely the weakest of the show’s five, they made an entire episode about an Inspector Spacetime convention. This killed it, they expanded on a joke that didn’t need it, and to that end Spacetime references are no longer appreciated.
Community took risks, and that’s admirable. There are so few shows that would have the plums to have an entire episode based on Pulp Fiction, risking the alienation of an entire demographic that hadn’t seen the film. But they subverted all this, by making the jokes simple, the references understandable and by having some characters who, like some of the audience, hadn’t seen the film, and unlike the Inspector Spacetime example, the references weren’t the draw of the episode, but the vehicle for a better story
There’s just an air to the first two seasons that makes it so much better. Maybe it’s because it was still fresh, with a lot of potential or maybe it’s because most of the story lines actually took place in the college, and you saw more of the place than just the study room and more of the community than just the Greendale six and a selection of the side characters (the Weapons chest).
My opinion is that during its infancy, the show was making new jokes, building these jokes over time to keep this familiar, community feeling, but in the later seasons, these jokes stopped being a structure and started being the set up and punchline of everything, that’s lazy writing.
But Community lives to make us laugh another day, and that’s amazing. The enthusiasm of the fans and the cast is the heart of the show, and I hope that it continues in the positive steps away from the Gas Leak season that season 5 started, but I have a feeling it just wont capture the finesse of the show’s beginnings.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still love the show, saying that I don’t think season 5 was as good as Seasons 1 and 2 is like saying I don’t like chocolate gateau as much as strawberry gateau, it’s still gateau at the end of the day, and gateau is delicious.
Even if it’s Yahoo Video Gateau.