We’re Back: Community

Ben Vernel will be taking a look at a few of the programs that have returned from the holiday hiatus – next up, NBC’s latest single-camera ensemble comedy, Community.

The best new comedy on television returned last week, with Community bursting back onto NBC with a new semester and a guest star (or two). Jack Black featured as Buddy, an enthusiastic and unwanted addition to the study group. Buddy was, basically, a fantastically self-referential caricature of Black himself, and his appearance heralded a mountain of jokes about the whole concept of guest stars in sitcoms. Community is a sitcom that derives its humour from the mocking and celebration of classic sitcom tropes and conventions, and ‘Investigative Journalism’ may have been its best episode yet. This episode didn’t just mock guest stars, it also explored (and mocked) leading man archetypes; Jeff’s struggle for identity (is he good or evil, fun or mean, rebellious and ironic or on the path to redemption?) crystallized when the Dean asked him to serve as editor of the college newspaper and assume a position of leadership (and a nice office), with Abed pointing out that he’s essentially a modern-day Hawkeye (Alan Alda’s character in M.A.S.H). Abed continues to serve as the voice of both the incredibly geeky writers and the incredibly geeky audience members, picking up on film and TV conventions and cliches and broadcasting them aloud, thereby altering our perception of what Community is presenting to us and undercutting any formulaicism that may have otherwise crept in.

This episode explores both the concept of celebrity guest stars (do they upset the balance, the timing, the story, the ratings?) and the concept of snarky leading men (ala Ted Dansen in Cheers, Hawkeye, Frasier). Not bad for a half-hour sitcom. Oh, and it’s funny. As I said at the top, it’s the best comedy on television – not just because it’s so damn intelligent, but because it provides more laughs per episode than anything else on TV in the world right now. Troy (Donald Glover), Abed (Danny Phudi), Annie (Alison Brie), Pierce (Chevy Chase) and Jeff (Joel McHale) are all brilliant characters played by excellent actors, and the rest of the cast do a fine job supporting them. If, for some strange reason, you haven’t seen Community yet, please do seek it out. For your own sake.

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