Community 101: Introduction to Quality Television

Community
(from left to right) Troy, Annie, Abed, Shirley, Dean Pelton, Ben Chang, Britta, Jeff, Pierce.

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.

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2013’s Top TV

2014 is fast approaching, and it’s that time of year where everyone looks back at the past 12 months and says ‘That was bloody good, wasn’t it?’. This sentiment is stretched out over hundreds of minutes and hundreds of words in numerous ‘Best BLANK of 2013’ programmes and news articles, including this one.

So, why not, let’s have a look back at the best episodes of the best television shows of the year*.

*(that I’ve seen. This leaves out plenty of shows that aired in 2013 which are probably really good, but I haven’t caught up on all of them yet. Anything I’ve missed? Mention it in the comments. Go on, it’ll be fun.)

Oh, by the way, be verrrrry careful, this article is going to be a spoiler minefield. If you haven’t caught up on some of the shows mentioned and want to avoid getting spoiled, heed the warnings, skip over a few paragraphs, and you should be fine. Anyway, in no particular order…

FRINGE – LIBERTY/AN ENEMY OF FATE

fringe finale

This feels like so long ago, I almost forgot that this aired in 2013. This bizarre, gruesome, heart-warming sci-fi drama ended in the first few weeks of the year with an instant-classic finale that concluded a fantastic final fifth season. Loose ends were wrapped up in a neat little bow, every character got one last moment to shine, and there was a tease of ambiguity in the final moments to leave just enough open for interpretation for fans who weren’t quite ready for the show to end.

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD) Walter Bishop (John Noble, best known for setting himself on fire and jumping off a cliff in Lord of the Rings) and the rest of the Fringe team face off against the Observers using a plethora of old Fringe cases, and attempt to change the future to stop the Observers invading the past. It’s all very wonderful and bittersweet and slightly insane, and there’s plenty of emotional final goodbyes, references to previous seasons, and moments where, for the first time in a long while, the team are actually winning against the bald, emotionless buggers. A surprise visit to the alternate universe is the icing on the cake. This is how you do a satisfying series finale.

BREAKING BAD – TO’HAJIILEE/OZYMANDIAS

ozymandias

This is how you do a satisfying series finale. Oh, sorry, I’m repeating myself, but it’s true in both cases. Breaking Bad had an enormous amount of hype and anticipation surrounding its final season, and the show’s writers pulled out all the stops to match the ludicrously high expectations everyone had. Its final eight episodes saw the show consistently trying – and succeeding – to better itself as it rocketed towards the grand finale it had been building to since the very first episode. Watching week-by-week, it would seem impossible for the show to get any better, then a week or two later, it would floor you by doing just that. And then it would do it again. And again. Several of these final eight episodes rank among the best the show ever did.

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My Favourite Christmas Episodes

Christmas

Christmas. Christmas! CHRIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAAAS! It’s almost here! So I’ve grown up, so people tell me I’m too old for an advent calendar, so Santa’s not real*, so what? It’s still a great time of year, but if you’re struggling to find some festive cheer, why not curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a mince pie and watch these, the best Christmas episodes ever shown on TV ever.

*(Oh dear, I hope there aren’t any young kids reading this. Ah, well, Santa’s not real! Deal with it.)

BIG DISCLAIMER: These are the best Christmas episodes that I’ve seen. I’m still working my way through some TV shows, and there are of course many which I’ve never seen, so you may have a personal favourite from one of those shows that isn’t on this list. But don’t be angry, maybe mention it in the comments instead. It would be nice to get some recommendations from everyone reading this. If anyone’s reading this. Is anyone reading this?

Anyway, shall we begin?

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