So, it’s time to come clean about something potentially very controversial. But I’m tired of keeping quiet about this fact. When you’re as immersed in internet discussion regarding popular or cult TV series’ as I am (I know, I’m a geek) you tend to notice certain staples that come up time and time again in discussion. I.e. Breaking Bad is incredible (true), Two and a Half Men is crap (true) and Community is essentially above reproach. It’s every geek’s favourite sitcom and it’s not hard to see why. Community is undeniably clever and original and occasionally shows flashes of brilliance. But here’s the thing; it’s not that good. Fans like to ignore the dud episodes, the many attempts at experimentation that just fall flat. Now maybe this is the price the show has to pay for its innovation, but the fact remains, you cannot rant about how perfect and amazing a show is when it is as hit and miss as Community.
Okay, let’s break this down. The paintball episode; a hilarious and surprising analysis and loving parody of action movies that makes perfect sense within the context of the show. It advances understandings of the characters, is very funny, and pretty damn cool. Likewise the Dungeons and Dragons themed episode, which coupled a touching plot about a potentially suicidal student with an awesome pastiche on fantasy films. My housemate tells me that it’s an inaccurate depiction of the game, but whatever. The episode is entertaining regardless.
But then, some episodes are just awful. Like, really, really bad. For example, the season three episode where Annie and Abed go into the dreamatorium and then… something happens which I guess is meant to be a cool, meta comment on the characters and… okay, COME ON, that episode was just ABYSMALLY bad. I have never been more gobsmacked by such a level of awfulness in an otherwise good show. Or what about the episode where Britta dates a guy called Subway, which is funny because his name is Subway. Right. Genius, eh? Or the episode which seemed like a clever space film rip-off at first, and ends up being a weird mockery of KFC… somehow. I’m sorry, but just being outright odd is not an adequate substitute for cleverness. It just seems like the fanboys around the world who bow down at the shrine of Dan Harmon’s boundless greatness are happy to accept any and all bad flights of fancy as part of the shows ‘quirkiness’. Ignoring the fact that they’re just not funny.
And what about the REALLY beloved episodes that are not as good as everything thinks? Like the zombie episode. Every time Community has taken on a genre, for all its contrivances, it makes sense within the universe and context of the show, which, by the way, is half the genius. The paintball episode would not be nearly as funny if they were firing real guns. Why, then, did all the characters become REAL zombies? Why was that a good idea? It made all of no sense and yet was just taken in stride by the characters. Obviously comedy shows don’t need to adhere to the same principles of believability as dramas, but there is a limit. Also, the critically adored ‘timelines’ episode where six different potential timelines are shown based on which characters went to get pizza. Great idea in theory, but the scriptwriting was just abysmal. In what way was Britta’s lame pizza dance funny? And why did we have to see the full lead in of Abed explaining the timelines theory before seeing each one? Sheer filler. And the Claymation episode was shit. It was corny, trite and not nearly funny enough to justify this.
But there is a deeper inherent problem with the show, and that is the characters. Not individually; they’re overall pretty well developed. No, the problem is the core concept of the ‘group’. There is just not that much chemistry between the characters and, as if the writers are aware of this, they have shoehorned in endless references to how ‘close’ the group are, and how important it is that they stay together. Compare this to say, How I Met Your Mother or Scrubs, where the core cast naturally developed a strong chemistry over time, rather than stating it as a fact halfway through the first season and assuming that was the same as a well-earned sense of camaraderie. These things take time, otherwise they just feel forced.
Look, at the end of the day Community is a really good show, and it is more genuinely original than pretty much anything else on TV. But that does not change the fact that it IS overrated. The thing is, I would rather watch old episodes of How I Met Your Mother, a show not nearly as critically adored, purely because I actually feel like the characters enjoy each other’s company. Or Scrubs, where I know that, aside from the later seasons, I can put on any episode and enjoy it, or at least, not feel like cringing. I find myself having to be way, way more selective with Community. Which is something that should not be ignored. After all, consistency is as important as originality, if not more so. That’s all.
Just some thoughts.