Last night’s Community was chugging along nicely and fairly normally, bouncing between four very sitcomy stories, until the Dean Craig cajoles the identically dressed Jeff into a duet of “Kiss from a Rose.” What might have been an unabashedly silly moment for most sitcoms (or just another contrivance to force those gorgeous adults pretending to be kids into singing, on Glee), slowly revealed itself to a beautifully wrought encapsulation of where each character stood emotionally at the given time in the form of a musical styled medley. It was masterful and so incredibly Dan Harmon (Community’s creator), and provided the heart at the center of what was the season’s best episode. All in all it left me inspired and affected, but mostly frustrated. I used to wonder why more people didn’t watch Community but at this point it’s pretty obvious—it’s insular, mentally demanding, and smarty-pantsy. Does it matter that Community is the proverbial unheard tree, if it’s revolutionizing what it means to live in the network forest (Get it? The forest is television. Nailed it, right? No? OK, well let’s continue anyway, shall we?).
I love Community with all of my heart (except that part that loves Parks & Rec and the part that loves Chinese food) but I love it like a father loves his child who dropped out of college and won’t get a job (i.e. how imagine Britta’s parents feel). On one hand, Harmon has often said he wants the show to become more accessible, while on the other he is a sucker for the praise of his more conceptual side from both critics and fans alike. In a revealing interview (one of his many) with Digital Spy he spoke to this:
“In our first season, we wanted to try to still be smart, still be funny and yet be appealing to everyone and their mother. By the end of that season, I was feeling like we probably weren’t going to be back for a second season, and so things started to get a little crazier! And as they got crazier, we started getting something that we weren’t getting before – recognition.”
So a Goodfellas homage begat a sly action movie send up, then came a bottle episode bottle episode, a Claymation Christmas special, a Dungeons and Dragons episode, a clip show that wasn’t a clip show, and this season’s back to back episodes that examined how a story can be told in a 30 minute sitcom format, leaving Community with a fanbase made up exclusively of comedy writers, writers about comedy, and nerds (me, me, and me and probably most of you). To help visualize, this I made these pie charts of (entirely made up) stats to represent the viewer demographics of Community, Big Bang Theory (the comedy that steals many, many viewers), and The Vampire Diaries (the show who’s rating a very similar to Community’s*):
So why does it even matter if anyone else watches? Primarily, it’s because I don’t want the show to get canceled, which is 50-50 by most accounts. However, also to a lesser extent, I do believe television is supposed to be a populist medium, a water cooler medium. I used to laud Community for being the first avant-garde network sitcom without questioning if network television was the place for the avant-garde. Dan Harmon feared this same thing when the show started, comparing it another three-season wonder:
“There was a struggle to avoid being the new Arrested Development which in the States is the totem of a show that’s ‘too good for TV’ – the audience is too small, people love it and then it gets canceled after a short run. Nobody wants that, because all it does is waste a bunch of their money.”
Even more so than Arrested Development’s home, Fox, NBC doesn’t have money to waste. So if Community does “graduate early,” it will seem fitting; like Arrested Development (until the recently announced comeback tour/season) and like Kevin & The Zits, it was born to have a life that is short fast and tragic. Maybe we should start the “Community Movie” campaign now.
* I KNOW! VAMPIRE DIARIES! It’s true, Community is as well watched as a show about pale, blood-lovin’ teens writing in their journals. OK, maybe I haven’t seen it (I haven’t) and maybe that isn’t what it’s about (yeeeeeeeesh, I hope not).