It’s a new academic year at Greendale Community College and having passed Spanish together, the study group – consisting of cocky ex-lawyer Jeff (McHale), pointlessly defiant rebel Britta (Jacobs), pop culture obsessive Abed (Pudi), dim-witted former-jock Troy (Glover), Christian single-mother Shirley (Brown), sweet over-achiever Annie (Brie) and insensitive magnate Pierce (Chase) – decide to stick together for Anthropology 101…
Whilst the first season of Community took time to find its identity, it soon blossomed from a quirky comedy into the best sitcom on the box for film buffs. With season two, the good news is that instead of trying to broaden its appeal to the masses, Dan Harmon and his writing staff decided to concentrate on everything fans enjoyed last time, meaning that there’s more movie references, clever homages, perceptive in-jokes and knowing meta humour. Unashamedly aimed at TV junkies and those of us who frequently quote from movies, it undoubtedly results in the sort of show which your average viewer won’t get (meaning that the threat of cancellation constantly hangs in the air due to low ratings) whilst pop culture fans will embrace it as a passionate favourite.
Given that season one peaked with Modern Warfare, the infamous Justin Lin-directed ‘paintball episode’ which offered a dizzyingly-brilliant parody of the action genre, there’s more themed episodes this time around. Ignoring their actual titles, among the many highlights are the ‘Dungeons & Dragons one’ (which riffs superbly on the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and fantasy tropes), the ‘Zombie one’ (where Jeff comments on Pierce’s Captain Kirk outfit: “If you get any more sweaty and puffy your costume’s going to reach new levels of authenticity”) and the ‘Pulp Fiction one’ (check out Shirley as Samuel L. Jackson) – which is actually the ‘My Dinner With Andre one’.
To be honest, there’s almost too many stand-outs to mention, since there’s also a fully stop-motion animated Christmas special, a flashback episode (which subverts traditional ‘clip episodes’ by using all-new fake clips) and a quite-magnificent bottle episode which, as you’d expect, takes the piss out of conventional bottle episodes. Still, the season’s highlight is undoubtedly the sublime two-part finale, which essentially takes last year’s paintball instalment and doubles it. While the first part plays on Westerns (specifically Sergio Leone’s Dollars’ trilogy) and the second on Star Wars, there’s hat-tips to everything from Blade to Hot Fuzz to Blazing Saddles and a whole lot more. For film and TV fans who’ll appreciate the references, it’s a consistently inventive and endlessly re-watchable double-helping of creative gags, sharp writing and inspired moments.
Of course, none of this would work without likeable characters, and Community is often at its best in scenes when the gang are just bouncing dialogue off each other (typified in the aforementioned bottle episode). Admittedly, Harmon and his creatives don’t know what to do with Ken Jeong’s Chang this year (why not just have him teach a separate subject?), but without the added burden of having to establish who everyone is, season two has fun with how each of the group’s personality traits are beginning to grate on each other. Abed’s predisposition for likening any situation to a movie or television show, Britta’s relentless habit of fighting for causes as a hip outsider, Jeff’s persistent need to be the coolest and most attractive (“I’m a stylish American, I’ve been forcing myself to be into soccer since 2004”)… the character humour is really top-notch.
And, while Chevy Chase is an obvious scene-stealer as the brilliantly-insensitive Pierce (wisely re-styled this season as something of a villain), the cast is largely flawless. From Donald Glover’s frequently-hysterical Troy to Alison Brie’s sweet-yet-sexy Annie, from Yvette Nicole Brown’s cheery and judgemental Shirley to Jim Rash’s costume-sporting Dean Pelton. Elsewhere there’s cameos for Josh Holloway (as a paintball-playing cowboy), George Takei (narrating an episode and offering a voicemail message for any viewer named Kevin) and Betty White (who sings a rap version of Toto’s ‘Africa’).
Though the first season took time to find its geek-pleasing identity, season two offers more film references, clever in-jokes, knowing homages and movie parodies. Normal audiences won’t ‘get’ it in the same way, but for pop culture fans and TV obsessives, Community is quite simply the best sitcom on the box.