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History of TV: Why 'Community' is so important in every sense of the word

July 29, 2021
3 min read time

Community as the social unit. Community college. Community the comedy about a lawyer who’s been outed for his “Columbia” degree — turns out he needs an American one, if you catch that drift (and there’s a lot to catch in a very short amount of time in this show) — attends the fictional Greendale Community College, where he inadvertently forms a community of misfits.

Inspired by showrunner Dan Harmon’s (Rick and Morty) own experiences at community college, the low-rated yet fan favorite NBC (then Yahoo! Screen) sitcom ran for six kooky seasons (co-helmed by Chris McKenna) with the possibility of a movie in the works. 

Casting comedy

The deadpan delivery combined with intricately woven character moments intrinsic to the comedy of every kind — sight gags, farce and twists — was flawlessly delivered by its diverse cast: Jeff (Joel McHale) launches the Spanish study group in an attempt to woo fellow classmate and activist Britta (Gillian Jacobs), who invites TV-obsessed Abed (Danny Pudi); who in turn brings into the fold ex-jock Troy (Donald Glover), single mom Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), high-strung Annie (Alison Brie), and the eccentric Pierce (Chevy Chase).

Their band of oddballs lost a few, gained a few over the 110-episode run, such as volatile-teacher-turned-student Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) and Dean Pelton (Jim Rash), along with a star-studded guest list that included Betty White — who received a People’s Choice Awards nom for Favorite TV Guest Star for her turn as professor June Bauer — John Goodman, and even Anthony and Joe Russo in the directing chair.

Despite the show’s propensity to stretch plausibility to the very far ends of its tether, these character connections — the show’s heart and soul — provided a story throughline that seamlessly featured each of their eccentricities that made them both charming and comedic, yet inherently propelled their character development as well.

"If I wanted to learn something, I wouldn’t have come to community college," Jeff rattles off in the pilot. And oh how that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The ex-lawyer becomes a law professor at Greendale by the series’ end, and is perhaps the saddest to see his friends disperse into new lives. Thankfully what started as a one-note plot point about a guy (Jeff) trying to land the girl (Britta) isn’t played out to exhaustion. The show could’ve easily devolved into romance land with all of the characters pairing off, but Community continually subverted those expectations. In the end, community college didn’t just give Jeff the degree he needed, his Grinch-like character arc epitomizes what the overall college experience gives you: a community and the means and motivations to keep those bonds — where friendship trumps all — intact. All achieved through some pretty memorable...

Community ties through pop culture and meta-humor

One of the beautiful things about comedic art is that it’s often used to examine very dark places. Community doesn’t leave a stone unturned, including not shying away from the heavy stuff. Abed’s love of TV also allows the show to play with as many pop culture references, TV tropes, and clichés as possible, and ventures into meta-land frequently. LeVar Burton plays himself as Troy’s hero (thanks to a devious plan by Pierce). It achieves conflict resolution through a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Episodes riff on everything from 28 Days Later to My Dinner with Andre.

The show also delved into semiotics (the study of signs, in which they are anything that communicates meaning beyond themselves) through its episode structure in which titles reflected community college classes and took on the format of everything from mockumentary to action thrillers to deliver that episode's theme — all executed with zinging wit.

There’s literally something for everyone in Community, only further strengthening the theme that you can’t really go it alone in this world, and if you just try to find those common threads and show an ounce of understanding for someone else’s worldview, who knows what weird and wonderful things can come of it.

In retrospect

Community was nominated for Favorite New TV Comedy at the People’s Choice Awards in its freshman year, won the Primetime Emmy Award® for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation (for that Christmas episode) in its sophomore year, and received an Emmy nod for writing in its junior year, along with multiple other nominations and wins. Screenwriters, especially of the comedy ilk, can benefit from reading scripts of the show on scriptslug.com and re-watching all six seasons on Netflix for an immersive class on how to write outside the box — much like all the learning on the show was done outside the classroom.

Last year, most of the Community cast reunited for a virtual table read and Q&A in benefit of COVID-19-relief episodes, re-sparking talks of a potential movie in hopes of making dreams of #6seasonsandamovie come true — even if Abed’s wishes for The Cape never do.

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