It wasn’t long ago that watching the National Broadcasting Company on Thursday nights was like the giant box of Laffy Taffy next to the cash register at your local Mexican eatery, providing a sweet treat to offset the refried slop occupying the room, and for just cents. A great deal requiring no extra convincing, that transaction was always started with Dan Harmon‘s tale of a motley crew and low education, COMMUNITY. Built around the premise that students of different ages, ethnic and sociopolitical backgrounds, and mental dispositions form a study group, clash, and are then educated by their shared experiences, it quickly became an internet and pop-culture darling for it’s brassy (for mainstream) sensibilities and meme literate attitude. Rightful so, but as quickly as it came it also went, alienating many fans who were it’s first champions, myself included, to the point of no longer watching and even pumping out explanatory essays at request, which is why I’m now here. Where and how did a genuine show with massive potential turn itself into a contemptuous ruse?
COMMUNITY has always been a show massively interested in itself, like the main character Jeff Winger, played by Joel McHale, an accomplished lawyer found out as a fraud and forced to obtain an actual degree so that his life may one day return to being one of success. Usually the coolest head in the group, Jeff more often than he would like to admit succumbs to being befuddled by his own bullshit to the point of meltdown for himself and the gathering of peoples he considers friends, in some ways family, and the show itself mirrors this. In various interviews creator/showrunner Harmon has likened his mess of a program to CHEERS and GILLIGAN’S ISLAND but no amount of wanting Sam Malone to have a coconut fall on his head makes either association true or apt as there is one critical difference between these programs. As silly as the plots on that lone, deserted island and as familiar the bar patrons in Boston, those shows both knew exactly what they were and invested heavily into establishing a baseline of disbelief which neither would transcend, no matter how easy or convenient it may have been. They had thematic anchors. COMMUNITY, on the complete other hand, has gone out of it’s way to destroy any such semblances it had to a world that can rely on itself, with the ultimate seed of it’s destruction being planted when there was a spoiled food-induced zombie outbreak that became the most heavily referenced event in the show, even if nobody remembered it. The latest and greatest case in point: in an attempt to seem unnecessarily clever, and failing utterly, the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” took so long to edit that it aired out of order and many of those obtuse enough to still watch the show legitimately and rightfully believed that multiple timelines were actually at play. The reality is that the writers are so self-involved (another mirror to the show) that while attempting to beat themselves in a pissing contest they successfully confused anyone and everyone paying attention, which leads to the next layer of this specific problem which is preoccupation with continuity. A necessity of serialized dramas, a strong continuity is a reward to the dedicated viewers for their time and energies, providing a deeper and stronger understanding of not just the characters but the world they belong to, an already moot aspect. In COMMUNITY it’s a parlor trick so convoluted that even as events domino, the characters stay so painfully static that they could all be plucked directly from the pilot and placed into any episode from any season with no discrepancies. Even in order, there is absolutely no order here.
The characters themselves are another gargantuan problem here. Ignoring (which we’re not) specifics like Alison Brie‘s Annie Edison being as close to downing a bottle of pills and going on a rampage as she was on the first day of school despite countless mentions of her “growing up,” Gillian Jacobs‘ Britta Perry realizing how vapid she is in numerous instances but still mindlessly waving a false flag of caring about legitimate causes every chance given, that Danny Pudi‘s Abed Nadir is some savant of media knowledge who literally knows so little that he poses questions and theories about a television series he loves, FARSCAPE, while anyone who has watched the series once is rolling their eyes at how insidious his lack of knowledge of it is (in addition to all the other entry level data he doesn’t come close to possessing), and so forth down the line- they’re supposed to be believed and simply cannot be. More caricatures of cartoon characters than actual people, not a single one of them is relatable or sympathetic. The bounds of the absurdity and unlikableness of this gathering of miraculously functional mental cretins is ever expanding, exacerbated weekly by the previously mentioned self-involvement of the writers, mirrored. A fun gimmick from the show FRIENDS was the titles. For ten seasons the writers kept with the tradition of naming each of the two hundred thirty-six episodes based on what occurred in it, all starting with the words “The One”, such as “The One Where the Stripper Cries.” If COMMUNITY were to adopt this habit over 80% of the episodes would share the same exact title, “The One Where the Group Needlessly Fights Amongst Itself and Nothing Changes.” These people and their collective dynamic couldn’t be more phoned in if the writers tried, and they do! Very hard.
Tearing apart a turkey is easy when you’re famished but this Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings has been turned into an exercise in dumpster diving, more than watching Ken Jeong being given any type or responsibility to carry a plot would initially indicate. If the meat and gravy were simply taken back to the kitchen the fix would so simple as carrying them back out to the table, but it’s not. Like your student loan debts, the bankruptcy here is compounding on itself. The characters have cashed out their logic worse than those of HEROES, contradicting themselves so that the writers don’t have to write anything believably, as illustrated by Troy and Abed being unsuited to live together and then suddenly being fit to out of the convenience it would bring. It’s a gross lack of foresight and an excruciating over-eagerness for escalation of the asinine that took the yummy cranberry sauce and shoveled it down the drain. When the cast initially met on screen they lived in a world very much like our own, which then found it’s voice in a slightly heightened reality where the fantastic can exist but was used sparingly, as a tool for accentuation. Now the world of COMMUNITY makes that of SCRUBS look like a serious medical drama. When it began, Jeff worked at a law firm with other humans but it would shock not a single person now if he once represented Miss Piggy against the battery charges filed by her ex-husband Kermit. Where are we when the world can’t be relied upon for consistency, the characters behave however needed for bizarre concepts to be realized, but one character having a coin, a nickle, is a mark for the plot to progress? THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, a genre show almost exclusively aimed at young females and airing on a considerably small network, has taken more of the 18-49 viewership than a major network comedy custom tailored to those exact ages. It’s no surprise to me, seeing how little care and regard has gone into maintaining COMMUNITY as a viable option for new and old fans alike who feel that their support and time should be compensated with reliability and humor. Instead, the show delivers on a weekly basis a drastically inconsistent image of adults behaving like discipline challenged elementary school students because the adults behind the camera feel a need to do whatever they want, because they can.
At the end of the day it’s up to all individuals to decide what they want to put into themselves, and those with the word “subjective” at the tip of their tongues may have no qualms with the dizzying spinning that COMMUNITY spews forth and attempts to sell as jokes. Personally, I’d rather experience objective goodness with characters that are more than outlines and shells, worlds that have real physics and gravity, with nearly any other offering on television right now, including the stale saltine cracker that is WHITNEY. But I won’t, even though saltines are good when there’s vomit. More than anything else, I’m just disappointed. Not in the structure of the show or how it’s being made even a quarter as much as no longer enjoying something I once thought terrific. I’ve been forced to dump friends in my life for being so stuck up their own asses that they never noticed the walls they were walking into and watching COMMUNITY fills me with a similar feeling, and that is why I parted ways. The study group should take a hint and do the same because they have nothing left to offer each other, or the viewers at home who are starting to notice.