The best American sitcom of recent years returns this week for its fifth season. After the turbulent behind-the-scenes drama and increasingly-low audience numbers that Community has experienced over the years, that seems incredibly unlikely. A comedy this odd, this clever, this dense, this self-referential, would, under any normal circumstances, have been swiftly cancelled three seasons ago. But, thank goodness, it has survived. A cast member is absent, with another set to leave soon, and the creator of the show has been fired and re-hired, so the show has gone through some rough patches. But this season might just be the return to form every fan has been hoping for.
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. There will be plenty of people who have never seen this show, or even heard of it, who might be wondering what all the fuss is about. You could ask someone on reddit or something, but they might not give you a good answer, instead using catchphrases or a joke that would be completely meaningless to you. ‘Community is so good, it’s streets ahead of any other comedy!’ they might say. ‘But what’s so good about it?’, you might ask. ‘If you have to ask, you’re streets behind, LOLOLOL coolcoolcool.” they would reply, unhelpfully.
So, here’s my attempt to explain why this show is so good, and so worth your time. Let’s start from the beginning…
Community is an American sitcom about a sarcastic, smug lawyer called Jeff, who is forced to go to the local community college to get a degree after it’s discovered that his current degree is a fake. He sets up a study group as an attempt to get close to an attractive classmate, but this backfires when another classmate invites several other people to the group.
After lots of dismissive remarks and cynicism, Jeff gradually starts to warm to this odd group of misfits that he’s accidentally befriended, and finds the dysfunctional shithole of a community college that he’s enrolled in to be quite charming (“Greendale may be a toilet, but it’s our toilet”, he says, in one of the many big speeches that he gives).
Then it gets a bit weird, but we’ll get to that.
This show is what you get if you take the goofy surreal humour and absurdity of Scrubs, mix it with the self-referential meta humour of Arrested Development, the pop culture references and parodies of Spaced, and the fun, friendly atmosphere of, well, Friends.
Occasionally, it’s also extraordinarily ambitious and bizarre. At its best, it will often dazzle you with its imagination and cleverness, while also making you laugh like a lunatic, or even feel a little bit moved by the surprisingly heartfelt emotion it displays. The show is a lot like its main character – underneath all the attempts at being sarcastic, clever and ironic, there’s a big, soppy heart that just wants to be loved.