Entry updated 8 August 2022. Tagged: TV.
US tv series (2009-2015). Harmonius Claptrap, Krasnoff Foster Productions, Russo Brothers Films, Sony Pictures Television, Universal Media Studios (UMS). Created by Dan Harmon. Directors include Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Rob Schrab and Tristram Shapeero. Writers include Andy Bobrow, Megan Ganz, Andrew Guest, Dan Harmon, Chris McKenna and Hilary Winston. Cast includes Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, Gillian Jacobs, Ken Jeong, Joel McHale, Danny Pudi and Jim Rash. 110 circa 25-minute episodes plus 28 short webisodes. Colour.
Lawyer Jeff Winger (McHale) has to enrol at Greendale Community College after it is discovered that his college degree was "less than legitimate". Hoping she will succumb to his charms, he invites left-wing (gesturing rather than active) Britta Perry (Jacobs) to study Spanish with him; she, aware of his base intent, invites pop-culture fixated Abed Nadir (Pudi) to join them: Abed, in turn, invites his friend, former college footballer Troy Barnes (Glover), as well as devout middle-aged divorcee Shirley Bennett (Brown), academically ambitious Annie Edison (Brie) and elderly businessman Pierce Hawthorne (Chase). Rather than an intimate pairing, Jeff finds himself part of a study group. Despite the enthusiasm of Dean Craig Pelton (Rash), Greendale Community College is comfortably third-rate – as reflected in its Spanish teacher, Ben Chang (Jeong), whose knowledge of both Spanish and sanity is limited. Though intending to get his degree with as little effort and as much cynicism as possible, Jeff finds himself entangled in the lives of his study group, supporting them and they him. The set-up changes later in the series, but stories are still centred on the College; Pierce, Troy and Shirley leave during the 4th and 5th seasons, with the Dean and Chang becoming more prominent.
Strictly speaking, most episodes are not genre, though there are a couple of grey areas. Nevertheless, storylines are often high concept and taken to Absurdist though more or less rationalized extremes that can mimic genre media (Cinema, Television, Videogames etc.). Season 1 has little in the way of sf, but towards its end the superb paintball episode "Modern Warfare" points the way forward: Post-Holocaust in structure, it nods to Predator (1997), 28 Days Later (2002) and Chronicles of Riddick (2004), among many others. From then on sf and other forms of Fantastika are sometimes employed in the storylines – particularly when circumstances are seen or extrapolated through Abed's perspective (see Perception); some events might be considered Abed's Thought Experiments.
The closest to overt sf is the season 2 episode "Epidemiology". The Greendale Halloween party's refreshments are bought from an army surplus store: one batch of rations (with unrecognized Biohazard markings) turns party-goers rabid, biting and infecting others. The army orders the Dean to lock the doors until they arrive. Within, those still unbitten barricade themselves in a study room as the afflicted try to get at them: in other words, a classic Zombie movie scenario. In "Remedial Chaos Theory" Jeff tosses a dice to decide who answers the door when the pizza delivery arrives: following Abed's speculation, we see the different timelines (see Alternate History) for each roll. One is the Darkest Timeline where everyone is the evil counterpart to the original characters: Abed makes fake goatees for all to wear (see Clichés). The episode received a Hugo nomination.
Abed and Troy become hooked on Inspector Spacetime, a British television show that has been running since the 1960s, whose protagonist's Time Machine is a red telephone box (see Doctor Who; TARDIS). The pair also have a Dreamatorium, an allusion to Star Trek: The Next Generation's Holodeck, though here just a painted room; in the Inception (2010)-influenced "Virtual Systems Analysis", Anne uses it to explore Abed's anxieties. Most of the episode "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" is spent at a table playing that Role Playing Game. In "Curriculum Unavailable" a fake psychiatrist tells the group they have hallucinated everything up to this point and are actually the inhabitants of a lunatic asylum (see Paranoia). "Digital Estate Planning" has the group inhabit an 8-bit Third Person Shooter Videogame (unlike the Dreamatorium this a genuine Virtual Reality experience), with nods to many such games such as Jet Force Gemini (1999). "App Development and Condiments" involves a prototype app tested at the college that enables people to rate each other between 1-5: this being Greendale, a futuristic class-based Dystopia promptly springs up: the likes of Logan's Run (1976), Zardoz (1974) and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) are referenced. The almost entirely animated "G.I. Jeff" episode has a traumatized Jeff hallucinating that he is a character in the cartoon G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1983; vt Action Force). In "Basic Sandwich", Greendale's founder is discovered alive in a hidden college sub-basement: a Scientist, he has spent the decades building a Computer that processes human emotions. "Recycled Cinema" has Chang becoming a national celebrity; the group tries to cash in, with Abed shooting a Space Opera movie (Chief Starr and the Raiders of the Galaxy) built around the few seconds of Chang he has on film.
Though characters are variously eccentric (the Dean intently watches someone in a dalmatian costume online: "This better not awaken anything in me."), they are drawn deeply enough to allow the show to be more than simply an exercise in cleverness and Humour. Community was one of the finest, funniest and most intelligent sitcoms of its era. Harmon was fired at the end of season 3 but returned for the last two seasons (season 4 – though fairly good – is far and away the weakest, leaning into self-Parody). Harmon had previously co-created Heat Vision and Jack (1999) and would go on to co-create the excellent Rick & Morty (2013-current). [SP]
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