When glib, amoral lawyer Jeff Winger (McHale) is suspended from practicing law due to an invalid college degree, he’s forced to attend Greendale Community College in order to make up the qualification. Inventing a study group so he can get close to a hot blond named Britta (Jacobs), his plan backfires when she invites a group of misfits to join them; including awkward pop culture geek Abed (Pudi), former jock Troy (Glover), straight-laced swot Annie (Brie), sassy single mother Shirley (Brown) and insensitive tycoon Pierce (Chase). Gradually though, Jeff finds himself becoming the reluctant leader of the group, as they unite to pass Spanish 101…
If you classify yourself as a clued-up film-buff or avid TV fan (which is fairly likely since you’re reading this review) and haven’t seen Community yet, then chances are you’ve just found your latest obsession. While criminally unknown and existing as another brilliant show which perpetually teeters on the precipice of cancellation, Dan Harmon’s geek-friendly college ensemble is the smartest and most innovative sitcom since the rightly-acclaimed (and undeservingly-axed) Arrested Development. While similarly self-aware and self-referential, further complimentary comparisons could also be made to cult Britcom Spaced, given the occasional flourishes of surreal cinematic style and plethora of well-placed pop culture references.
Likewise, Community also offers its own film-skewered reality, layered with genre clichés, clever parodies and perceptive in-jokes. Admittedly, it takes Harmon a few episodes to find the show’s voice and audience, but once it fully embraces its geek-orientated, movie-referencing identity, the series blossoms into a creative playground which sings with knowing meta humour and zinging pinball dialogue. Littered with recognisable quotes and open cinematic references, it’s the sort of show which is written for movie geeks, by movie geeks.
And, while every episode is peppered by film-related humour and inspired spoofery (see Troy sneaking around the school fixing plumbing a la Good Will Hunting), others go to wonderful extremes. Among the most satisfying is gangster-riffing instalment Contemporary American Poultry (which sees the gang take over the cafeteria’s chicken fingers supply in the style of Goodfellas and with hat-tips to The Godfather), but there’s little doubt that the season peaks with the rightly-celebrated Modern Warfare (commonly referred to as ‘the paintball episode’). Directed by Fast & Furious helmer Justin Lin, it’s a dizzying assault on genre tropes which pays amusing homage to everything from 28 Days Later to Die Hard to Predator, while also finding time to slam Glee. Superb fanboy television.
In all honesty though, there are simply too many highlights and memorable lines to mention. Unquestionably, the gang begins as a bunch of archetypal stereotypes (the jock, the nerd, the straight-laced swat), but each one grabs their moment to shine; from Joel McHale’s likeable lead to Donald Glover’s quirky former quarterback to Alison Brie’s easy-to-fall-in-love-with over-achiever. Rescued from obscurity, Chevy Chase is a perennial scene-stealer, but the undoubted stand out is Danny Pudi’s pop culture junkie who sees and understands the ‘real world’ through movies and television. Oh, and in a recurring role as egotistical Spanish teacher Senor Chang, campy comedian Ken Jeong is funnier than he was in The Hangover and the sequel combined.
It takes time to find its identity, but Community is the smartest and most innovative sitcom since Arrested Development, while playing like an American Spaced thanks to surreal cinematic stylings and a plethora of film references. If you’re into film and TV, welcome to your new favourite show.