Community might just be my favourite sitcom of all time. Fuelled by the singular voice of creator Dan Harmon, Community barrels between the self-referentially silly and the character driven serious, and at its best achieves moments of the sublime when it combines the two to create something bordering on the philosophically profound within its own world.
The premise sees cynical lawyer Jeff going back to community college to get a real law degree after having faked his way through the legal system for years, only to meet and be changed by a ragtag study group of assorted misfits. I understand I’ve made it sound like the world’s most soul-crushingly generic show, but this is intentional on the part of the show, which uses the recognisable trappings of the scenario to create a wondrously bizarre world, elevated by career making performances (looking at you Donald Glover), writing and even direction (hello Russo brothers!).
It manages to (for the most part at least) avoid falling into the trap of smug ‘clever-clever’ for its own sake non-humour, in favour of genuinely interesting and funny fourth wall breaks and outright format shifts.
Community is a sitcom for the cinéliterate, packed with references to movies and wider popular culture ranging from explicit homage episodes to subtle background details. It relishes in meta jokes, with the character of Abed seemingly constantly aware of his existence as a character within a sitcom. However it manages to (for the most part at least) avoid falling into the trap of smug ‘clever-clever’ for its own sake non-humour, in favour of genuinely interesting and funny fourth wall breaks and outright format shifts. It’s a show where one minute characters can be engaging in rapid fire self aware banter, and producing a spot on parody of Hearts of Darkness the next. It’s weird yes, but never weird for its own sake, rather embracing its unorthodoxy to make innovative and funny episodes about a world just on the edge of surreality.
It’s a show that’s not ashamed to wear its heart on its sleeve without descending into mawkishness, and is uniquely genuine in its emotionality because of it.
But the real reason I love Community above shows like Archer or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, both of which probably deliver more laughs per minute, is for the times when it’s not primarily trying to be funny. Although they may start as broad sitcom archetypes, the characters of the show grow in depth as time rolls on, and by Season Two Harmon and co. bring us episodes such as ‘Critical Film Studies’ and ‘Mixology Certification’, which are unafraid to eschew out and out comedy in favour of deeper psychological explorations of the show’s characters and their relationships with one another. It’s a show that’s not ashamed to wear its heart on its sleeve without descending into mawkishness, and is uniquely genuine in its emotionality because of it.
If this makes Community sound like a show somewhat at odds with itself, that’s probably because in a way it sometimes is. True, the show doesn’t always fully succeed in melding together comedy, drama, format shifts and metatextuality, but its sheer ambition and the clear creative passion behind the show makes it consistently interesting at the very least. At its best however, Community transcends the label of ‘sitcom’ and creates something truly special and truly original, and I feel everyone owes it to themselves to at least give this gem of a show a go.