OCTOBER 28, 2010
My buddy Mike suggested on Twitter that I review tonight’s episode of Community for my HMAD, and after watching it (he was on the East coast and got to see it 3 hrs earlier, the jerk!), I realized how right he was. Not only is it a legit zombie “movie”, but it’s also a way for me to help spread a little love for the show, which I often have no place to do so beyond Twitter.
If you haven’t been watching Community (and based on the ratings, no, you haven’t), it’s a single-camera comedy not unlike Arrested Development or 30 Rock, where it feels more like a real show than a staged sitcom with canned or studio audience laugh tracks (i.e. Big Bang Theory, its now-timeslot rival that I’ve tried to watch a few times over the years and just cannot fathom why it’s even still on the air, let alone hugely popular). And that approach makes episodes like tonight’s work like aces, because you can turn it on for a second and think you were watching an actual zombie movie.
The show, usually, concerns a group of folks who shared a Spanish class in season 1 (this year it’s anthropology) and formed a study group. 99% of the time they don’t seem to even have their books out, let alone be studying in any meaningful way, but the show is very much a college based show – they rarely leave the campus and many of the plotlines revolve around either a new class or a campus event (such as tonight’s). Our lead character is Jeff (Joel McHale), a lawyer who got disbarred for having a fake degree. The other folks are the typical varied lot – the cute blonde who Jeff (at least initially) had a crush on (The Box’s Gillian Jacobs), an old man seeking a new lease on life (Chevy Chase – hence why I started watching it in the first place), a Ken Jeong type actually played by Ken Jeong... it’s a really great ensemble and the best episodes give everyone a moment to shine.
But it’s also kind of a weird show, which probably doesn’t help its ratings. Like 30 Rock, the jokes can be very obscure or just plain random, and it can be uneven at times in terms of the humor. Because the show’s creators put so much effort into making fully realized characters and kooky but plausible stories, sometimes there’s not a lot of room left for laugh out loud jokes, relying instead on the occasional sight gag or just the sheer absurdity of the situation. So there might be an episode where you don’t laugh very much, but it doesn’t make it a bad episode by any means – if anything it just proves how much richer a show it is overall. However, I can see how this might turn someone off, especially with “easier” fare airing on the other channel, with helpful prompts telling you when to laugh.
Tonight’s had a number of laughs though. Chevy dressed as Captain Kirk, which allowed for a couple of zings at William Shatner’s expense, and the other costumes all paved the way for a few jokes apiece (“Why did I think this was a good idea?”). The writers also played with the conventions of horror movies, featuring a cat that was seemingly hellbent on jumping out at our hero at every turn, and careful viewers will note the homages in most of the “death” scenes, which often paid tribute to zombie movie classics.
And even better, it wasn’t all a dream or a fantasy scenario, like something from Scrubs. No, due to ingesting some government research matter that looked a lot like the surplus ration meat that the Dean bought at a discount for the annual Halloween party, everyone got “infected” and began biting each other, which would spread the infection. And the end had a goofy but still not completely out-there explanation that will allow everyone to not only survive but pretty much forget the whole affair, without erasing the existence of the event entirely. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the stuff came back into play in future episodes (i.e. Troy’s voicemail during the end credits).
So check the episode out on Hulu, and if you’re still not convinced, I urge you to watch “The Psychology Of Letting Go”, which aired a couple weeks ago. Not only is it one of the show’s best episodes, but it also makes a perfect example for how rich the show is with details – keep an eye on the background (perhaps watch a 2nd time, or if you missed it and don’t have time, google “Community Abed Background” (no quotes) and see what you missed). The show does OK enough in the ratings to stay on the air, but it would be really nice if a “smart” comedy could match its critical praise with ratings for once.
What say you?
P.S. This episode also had a reference to The Human Centipede. I guarantee you, no other show on the air this week can claim that.