I’m easily amused. I don’t require much for a TV program to make me laugh. I simply demand things I enjoy. And I enjoy pop culture references, parodic send-ups, unexpectedly hot-bodied cute nerd-types, high-strung Type A characters, hilariously stupid people and motley crewed underdogs coming together in friendship.
I’m really not asking for much in a television show to deliver all that.
For some reason, no one ever felt the need to give me all of the above in one delightful package until last year when Dan Harmon fell out of The Giving Tree of awesome (my imaginary Giving Tree won’t make you sad or learn life lessons, it just makes people write funny shit. This is where my metaphor loses ground.)
Cast-wise, I would go so far as to say Community rivals Arrested Development for finest cast ever assembled. Each character brings something integral to the show’s greatness, and people don’t realize how difficult that is. NewsRadio, one of the best television shows of all time, couldn’t even do it. For this show to manage it on a weekly basis is impressive and not to be taken for granted.
When it started, people took note of its seeming reliance on pop culture references. A lesser show would have backed off. Community embraced it and has, on a near-weekly basis, done something rarer than giving seven leads proper screentime – they’ve given us good parody.
Name the most recent parody movie that made you laugh. Fun fact: you will not be able to name one more recent than 1994, and if you can, you’re probably wrong. (Note: at press time, MacGruber is not out yet. Yes, I have high hopes for this movie. Leave me be.)
Leslie Nielsen, a national treasure (and by national I mean Saskatchewanese) has been relegated to sadness pang-inducing IMDb listings. Mel Brooks is rehashing his old greats on Broadway. Friedberg and Seltzer have not yet been executed by firing squad, no matter how many letters I write. Parody should technically be a dead art. The one place it exists, nay, thrives, is television. And no one’s doing it better than Community.
A few weeks back, the show did a brilliant Goodfellas episode involving chicken fingers and mafiosery. I loudly stated that this was the best half hour of television I’d seen in years.
Then came “Modern Warfare.”
A paintball-filled celebration of everything from Die Hard to A Better Tomorrow to the word “mamajama.” What could have been a simple gimmick was elevated into greatness by smart writing, impeccable performances and having no shame regarding going too over the top.
Possibly my favorite part of those 22 sublime minutes was the realization that in the midst of all the goofiness, craziness and awesomeness, I’ve really come to care about these characters. While they make fun of the constant need for sitcoms to create sexual tension between two leads, I’ve actually come to root for Jeff and Britta. I was more than a little bit heartbroken when Shirley “died” after Boondock Saintsing it valiantly. I audibly cheered when Abed did his jump off the wall, and it was more than just sheer enjoyment at a moment; it was happiness at seeing his character get to be cool. I even felt a little sorry for the dean, who is arguably the creepiest character ever committed to whatever-the-modern-TV-equivalent-to-celluloid is.
One would be hard-pressed to think of too many half-hour sitcoms who truly walk the line between insane and possessing of heart. NewsRadio was one, The Office does it at its best, but oddly the one that comes to mind quickest is one from the mind of Starburns himself, Columbia College Chicago alum (go we-didn’t-have-sports-and-thus-lacked-a-mascot-so-just-go-us!) Dino Stamatopolous.
Moral Orel not only walked that line, it danced on it, had sex with it then took it for breakfast in the morning, then never called it again. That show could feature an Amelia Bedelia-ily child character learning of sperm as God’s “delicious glaze from his holy pastry bag,” then end with clay figuring parent characters laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, hating themselves and their lives while The Mountain Goats played in the background. That show could go from hilarious and strange to completely devastating in 15 minutes.
Obviously, Community does not take it this far. But the presence of that line between emotion and wackiness is already set and they flit about it perfectly.
And this is only its first season. I have high hopes for what’s to come.
Courtney Enlow is a writer living in Chicago and working as a corporate shill to pay the bills. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.