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Gazetteers :: The Return of Community

Posted by Kristin on February 6, 2013

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The Gazetteers are women with a genuine passion for what is going on in nerd culture. We aren’t about gender-bias; we’re about sharing ourselves, our fan love, our ideas and opinions, and writing about the nerd world as we see it.

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When TV is good, it can be so good. So with the wickedly clever, nerd-centric, genre-bending comedy Community about to return, Jessica, Kaymonstar and Kristin jumped at the chance to let you know why they’re fans and expound on their hopes and fears for this forthcoming, controversial season. A lot is changing, and hopefully some very important things are staying true.  Don’t touch that dial, tune into TV goodness that is Community Thursday, February 7th at 8pm Eastern, but before you do, get primed with the Gazetteers:

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jessicacar01Jessica: For those of you not among the faithful Community watchers, please allow me to clue you in on what seems to be a very well kept secret.

Community centers around seven individuals attending Greendale Community College. Together they form a diverse study group, ranging from the high school jock who lost his college scholarship to the retiree looking to find activities to fill his days. As classic sitcom formula dictates, each group member brings his/her own set of quirks and flaws which spawns the trials and triumphs for each episode.

It would be incredibly easy for Community to adopt hackneyed plots in order to achieve high ratings a la The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. Instead, Community accomplishes the far more daunting task of capturing the very essence of nerd culture. It’s not only that the show pays homage to geek staples such as Dungeons and Dragons, Doctor Who and zombies; it’s that the show highlights the simple fact that nerdhood lives inside each and every one of us.

We could be reluctant nerds like Jeff and Britta or proud nerds like Troy and Abed. We could be playing in the Dreamatorium or fighting in a rousing game of paintball – either way, it’s there. Community doesn’t exploit nerds or poke fun at them, because it knows we all geek out about something.

If you haven’t yet, in Community, you may just find a tribute to your very own inner-nerd.

gazetteerkris01Kristin: When it first aired, I didn’t have high hopes for Community. The premise of a lovable group of misfits who get into weird shenanigans together while trying to survive the perils of community college could easily be the same old sitcom crap we’ve been served up for years. I was quickly won over by the show’s layered writing, subtle references, and hilarious twists.  After three amazing seasons, Community faces some big changes this forth season and excited as I am, I do have some concerns about how it will fare.

The biggest change is that this will be the first season without show creator and hands-on executive producer Dan Harmon.  I trust the writers, actors, and producers will keep the magic of the show alive but Harmon’s vision and dedication to keeping things weird helped the show stand out from other sitcoms on the major networks. Community doesn’t rely on one-liners written to amuse a laugh track nor does it opt for the easy dig at a subculture for being different.  With Harmon at the helm, Community has rewarded the careful viewer and celebrated imaginative takes on the world.  The episode “Cooperative Calligraphy” revolves around the study group trying to solve the mystery of Annie’s “stolen” purple pen. At the end of the episode and unbeknownst to the characters, the audience finds out Troy’s monkey, (See previous episode: “Contemporary American Poultry”) affectionately named Annie’s Boobs, has been taking the pens.  That’s already a clever twist since the monkey had been all but

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written out of the show, BUT WAIT, if you look at the very beginning of the episode, in the bottom corner of the screen, you actually see the monkey take the pen.  This is one of many easily-missed easter eggs that show absolutely everything that happens is canon and may be essential to the plot later. Little twists, seemingly throwaway characters, gags, jokes it all stays in the story and all works together beautifully as the series progresses.  Will this kind of unexpected, subtle writing make it to the screen without Harmon?

One of Community’s biggest claims to fame, and of personal value to me, is that it is nerdy without being offensive to nerds.  In the episode “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” the Study Group uses D&D to connect to suicidal secondary character, Neil.  On a lesser TV show, the notion of playing Dungeons and Dragons would be considered a joke in and of itself.  Community however generates humor by exposing the boring truth of the real world and embracing the more fun and interesting fantasy.  Since another major change this season is the departure of Chevy Chase, it is worth noting that his character, Pierce Hawthorne, is particularly good in this episode.  Rich, sexist, and severely racist, Pierce is a surprisingly lovable antagonist who you are both rooting for, and eagerly anticipating the downfall of.  In this episode, Chase takes on the role of scorned villain completely and the writers remind us that Pierce is at his most dangerous when he is left out. I hope this depth of character, complexity of plot, and respect for others are ideas that the remaining team can bring to Season 4 of Community. We will have to wait and see, but all I can say is BRING IT ON!

BiopicKayKaymonstar: The moment the pilot for Community aired on September 17th 2009 it as if the universe was whispering to me “Happy Birthday, here’s some great TV, now shush.” It was one of the few shows that I kept up with and actually waited to watch when it aired.  I’m hard pressed to find shows that are as consistently funny as Community. At its core, the show is a wonderland of TV and movie tropes. Instead of coming off as a parody or a mockery, each episode is more like a love letter to a particular genre of pop culture. It is as self-aware as a show can be without becoming obnoxious. The characters are enjoyable and malleable and above all else, entertaining. Community is miles above any other multi-camera sitcom. Not to mention they spawned an entire fanbase for a show within a show: an homage to Doctor Who called Inspector Spacetime.

The first time I broke down crying as I wrenched my guts with laughter was during “Epidemiology“. It just caught me so off guard, every time I watch this episode I have to pause what I’m doing and just give the laughter a moment to pass. My second favorite episode is “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” where guest star, Levar Burton’s interaction with starstruck Troy (Donald Glover) goes to just the right extreme and makes for some priceless moments. (On top of that, at one point Levar reads Troy one of my favorite Gris Grimly books Little Jourdan Ray’s Muddy Spud!). They’ve been really smart about using guest stars (Nick Kroll, Hillary Duff, and Josh Holloway to name a few) really add to the shows rather than being a cheap novelty.

Greendale_flagI was disheartened to hear that series creator, Dan Harmon had been let go. NBC decided to end their relationship with him without so much as a break up text.  You can view Harmon’s response here. We could go on about how he was difficult to work with or that he was a whiney prick. But any person who blogs or tweets every time he makes a bowel movement is usually an egocentric douche. The important thing was he produced results. He was the chief creative force behind the show, making sure that it stayed different from everyone else. Without him, how could Community possibly have the same flavor it had before?

I was not sad, however, to hear that Chevy Chase was leaving the show. He was decidedly the weakest link in the Study Group. I can’t even say he was ever a draw to the show for me. I’ve followed the career of Donald Glover for a long time since the days of Derrick Comedy and learned about the show through him. I stayed for Joel McHale. To me, it seemed like Chase didn’t care about the show after Season One–perhaps due in part to friction with Harmon. There were instances where Chase would leave the set mid-scene because he didn’t like something.  He grew more and more upset about how bigoted Pierce was and didn’t actually see the character development.  Lastly, anyone who talks shit about a project that brought him to the edge of relevance after years of relative obscurity doesn’t deserve to stay on board.

I will remain optimistic that the decision to get rid of Harmon doesn’t drive the show into the arms of the “quirky mainstream”.  The last thing I want is for Community to turn into a shittier more politically correct version of itself just to broaden its audience for the sake of ratings instead of existing as a monument to modern television and creativity.  I have confidence that new producers, Moses Port and David Guarascio care as much the fans do about preserving the integrity of the world that Dan Harmon worked so hard to build. Now it’s up to them to not let us down.

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Check out the new season of Community Thursday, February 7th at 8pm Eastern!

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