Community: A Review
by Mark Wilson
This is a review of the first three seasons of Community. Season four is currently airing in the United States, as of March 2013.
“Community” is a comedy set in the fictional Greendale Community College in Colorado. It focuses on a gang of seven unlikely friends, Jeff Winger, Abed Nadir, Britta Perry, Troy Barnes, Shirley Bennett, Annie Edison and Pierce Hawthorne, who form a Spanish study group. Each has their own reasons for attending community college which are revealed as the series progresses. Over the course of the first season, everyone grows and develops individually and collectively. They all take Spanish 101, which introduces them to their teacher Señor Chang who proves to be something of a villain, particularly during season three. Although some of the stories take place in the classroom, it is the group’s antics outside their classes which are usually the episodes’ main focus.
The series is a celebration of being different, relying heavily on pop culture references. The character of Abed Nazir in particular is an ‘outsider’ who is accepted into the group. “Community” shows collectively what friendship and family is all about. Some episodes are especially poignant and the character Jeff Winger tends to keep the group’s morale high with his stirring speeches. The one delivered in the third season finale is especially moving. Yet it is also the ensemble that creates some of the magic, for example with the character Craig Pelton. Pelton, who is Dean of Greendale, is rather flamboyant and funny, and dabbles in cross dressing. His affection for the group, particularly Jeff, is touching and Pelton, who becomes a regular in the second season, often provides extra comic relief.
Some of the stand-out episodes which really take the relationship with pop culture to heart are the paintball episodes, which occur at the end of the first and second seasons. The first one references several action films whilst the second focuses more on westerns and Star Wars. There is even a Doctor Who parody series which Abed watches, called Inspector Spacetime. Over the course of the three full seasons which have aired, the study group have been turned into computer game characters and stop motion animations as well as performing a catchy, upbeat, song-and-dance opening for the third season.
There are some very, very funny moments, such as the “Doomsday” device which Abed employs in the season three episode “Pillows and Blankets” which also parodies American civil war documentaries, or when Abed tells Jeff he has made a drink of warm milk and cold hot chocolate powder, something he calls his “special drink” to which Jeff replies it has another name – diabetes. But this series is not just about laugh out loud comedy; indeed if only that appeals to you, it might not be the series for you. Instead, its strength lies in the relationships between characters and their ‘adventures’, which include zombie fighting, Glee clubbing, being part of a computer game, going into space, as well as the spectacular stories involving paintballs and dungeons and dragons. Any lover of science fiction, fantasy, film, television or general geek/nerd/pop culture fanatic will love this series. This is a series not afraid to push boundaries and make fun of itself and its characters. For everyone else, there is the story of misfits of one form or another coming together to form a community. As Jeff says at the end of the pilot episode, ‘You’ve just stopped being a study group, you’ve become something unstoppable. I hereby pronounce you, a community’.
An underlying theme of the series is relationships. The relationships within the group fluctuate. One member of the study group, Pierce Hawthorne, the ‘black sheep’ of the group, is homophobic and racist, yet even he has some brilliant scenes: in episode 11 of season one, he helps fellow study group member Shirley Bennett with her presentation; in another he tells Jeff about failure and living life by failing. In the second season Pierce (and by extension the viewers) deals with death and what life is really about.
Season four is (as of March 2013) airing in the United States, minus the show’s creator, Dan Harmon. Whether this will be the final season, is unclear. If it is announced that the show is ending, it will be a great shame. The pop culture references, parodies, and characters, make this a damn good television series.