AS SEEN ON: 'Community'

by Allison Levy | 2/22/11 11:00pm

By Allison LevyThe Dartmouth Senior Staff

I usually try to do more with this column than to give a simple thumbs up or down, discussing individual shows in order to reach some quasi-intellectual conclusion about the state of television or its audience. However, this week I have been overcome by so much love for a series that I feel obligated to abandon my mission statement to say simply this: watch "Community."

In case you're among the unlucky segment of the population not yet familiar with the quirky brilliance of "Community" which kicks off NBC's three-hour comedy block Thursdays at 8 p.m. the series revolves around a tight-knit study group of misfits at the fictional Greendale Community College in Colorado.

Executive producer Dan Harmon and the rest of the "Community" team have established the show's signature brand of meta-humor by devoting entire episodes to spoofing an iconic film or genre. In just this season the show's second we've gotten parodies of zombie apocalypse flicks, clay-mation Christmas specials and "Mean Girls" and its legion of teen-comedy spawns, to name just a few.

Parody in and of itself, however, is not a particularly new and exciting idea. What separates "Community" and makes it must-watch TV is its commitment to the subject of its parody.

Rather than limiting its satire to stand-alone scenes or throwaway lines, "Community" allows the writers to insert jokes directly into the structure of the episode.

For instance, last week's episode, titled "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking," does slightly more than wink at the mockumentary style popularized by several on-air sitcoms, including NBC's "The Office" and ABC's "Modern Family."

The episode adopts the guise of a documentary shot by the study group's resident film geek/pop-culture nerd Abed, complete with interspersed confessionals from the rest of the gang. The payoff comes when Abed tells the camera, "I'm excited about the narrative facility of the documentary format. It's easier to tell a complex story when you can just cut to people explaining things to the camera." Take that, "Parks and Recreation."

More impressively, "Community" avoids getting lost in its parodies. Even when an episode is lavishly decked with other genres' stylistic flourishes, there are plenty of moments when the comedy comes purely from our knowledge of the characters' backgrounds shortcomings, quirks and all. And some of the time, those jokes turn out to be the funniest ones.

That's not to say that it isn't awesome when "Community" gets so lost in its episodic parodies that even the theme song can turn into a punch line. Case in point: a recent Dungeons and Dragons-themed episode in which one of the biggest laughs comes from the transformation of the series' standard opening credit sequence into an instrumental version with all the grandeur of King Arthur's court.

According to Entertainment Weekly, "Community" ranks fifth among NBC's six Thursday-night sitcoms in terms of average season-to-date ratings for adults ages 18 to 49, the only demographic that matters when it comes to securing advertisers. To be fair, "Community" has recently been performing better than the higher-rated "Outsourced" a show which moved to 10:30 at mid-season and lost "The Office" as its lead-in.

Even though "Community" is probably not in any serious danger of being canceled, at least according to most entertainment pundits, it undeniably deserves more viewers. (Face it "The Office" kind of sucks right now.) So I'll say it once more: watch "Community."