Community 103: Reintroduction to Beloved Fictional Characters

This is the third in a series of blog posts about the wonderful American sitcom Community, which recently returned for its fifth season. Here’s the first blog post, which is a general introduction to the show and its characters. Here’s the second blog post, which is a list of the series’ best episodes so far. This post is a review of the first four episodes of season five.

So. It’s back.

As anyone with an interest in the show knows, there’s been plenty of cautious optimism and weary anticipation towards the critically-acclaimed comedy’s new season. The creator of the show is back (Yay!), but one of the show’s main actors has quit (Boo!). There’s a lot of great guest stars on the way (Yay!), but another of the show’s main actors is leaving soon (Boo!). Will this be any good? How will the show go on in the aftermath of the controversial fourth season? How will it deal with not one, but two main cast members leaving?

Well, judging by the episodes that have aired so far, things are looking good.

Community - Season 5

REPILOT

First, Jeff returned to Greendale and so did the rest of the study group, but it took a while for things to go back to normal. Jeff, after graduating from Greendale as a more mature, more sincere and a generally better person, went back to being a lawyer, but this time he tried his best to be honest and helpful.

A year or so later, we meet him in his office, homeless and skint, when he is offered a chance to make money. But to do this, he’ll have to regress to his pre-Greendale ways and become a manipulative, selfish jerk again to get his way.

When he bumps into his friends during a brief visit to Greendale, he finds that their careers have been going just as badly as his. Annie’s promoting pills, Britta’s a bartender, Shirley’s business failed, which caused her husband to leave her, Troy is aimlessly waiting for Abed to make money so he can piggyback off his success, and Abed’s film dreams have crashed and burned.

It’s quite a dark episode, metaphorically and literally – the lighting is dim and gloomy –  and the group’s first meeting around the study table turns into a heated argument after each member reveals how much their lives have sucked since they left the community college.

The group’s mood swings between supporting Greendale and hating it. Jeff points out how they’ve all changed since coming to the school, arguably for the worse, pointing out several problems that fans (including me) and critics have had with the characters becoming too cartoony. Season 4 is hastily written off as a period where a year-long gas leak caused everyone to act differently, which is a great, cheeky dig.

The group re-enrol at Greendale, but Jeff attempts to turn their underlying resentment of the school into a lawsuit. Fortunately, he has a change of heart after hearing some surprising advice from Pierce (!) who has an unexpected cameo as a hologram, inadvertently dealing out Obi Wan wisdom to Jeff.

Meanwhile, Abed is, of course, comparing Jeff’s return to Greendale to the plot of a TV show. Abed compares Jeff’s role to JD in the ninth season of Scrubs, where JD returned to Sacred Heart to teach instead of learn. Jeff laughs this off – a teacher? Jeff? Oh, please – and Troy criticises JD’s actor for leaving 6 episodes into that season*.

*(Troy’s actor is leaving five episodes into this season. Foreshadowing meta-ness! Ah, it’s good to have you back, Community).

Any reference to Scrubs is going to make me smile like an idiot, even if it is referencing the terrible ninth season (are the writers self-deprecatingly suggesting that this season of Community is going to be as bad as that one?), but this joke has a brilliant punchline later on. JD himself, Zach Braff, narrates the end of the episode using one of his old Scrubs monologues – a monologue from season nine, no less! For a few seconds, my old favourite comedy crossed over with my new favourite comedy, and it was just THE BEST.

Anyway, the rest of the group, still miserable and hateful towards the school, decide to burn the study room table. Jeff stops them and they decide to take new courses. Jeff ends up accidentally burning the table anyway, and reluctantly accepts a job as a teacher at Greendale. It’s a new era, a new start, a new table, a new Community that is an awful lot like the old Community. Hooray!

To read about the other three episodes, click ‘Read More’!

Continue reading “Community 103: Reintroduction to Beloved Fictional Characters”

Friday Night Lights

Hello, and welcome to this, the first ‘Rewind, Rewatch’ column/feature/thing. I started this for a chance to talk about shows that are no longer on the air, and as an excuse to write hundreds and hundreds of words about how wonderful and amazing they were. As well as acting like a long recommendation for a TV show, it also explains how I came across the show in the first place. Hopefully the feature will get more people to watch these modern classics.

fnl

At first glance, a television show about a group of Texas teenagers and their parents who all really, really like American football doesn’t sound like the most interesting thing in the world. It certainly didn’t to me before I started watching, mainly because I didn’t know anything about American football, or care to find out. Even after watching the series from start to finish, I still only know the very, very basics (touchdown = good, quarterback = important?). So, at the time, it seemed unlikely that a soap/drama centred around a weekly game of high-school American football in a small rural community, probably stuffed with cheesy, sentimental motivational speeches and ‘surprise’ last-minute victories, would appeal to me, or be anything more than dull or mediocre.

It also didn’t help that when I think ‘television show about the lives of people in a small community’, I think of a show about a place where miserable, humourless grumps spend all their time in the local pub yelling and arguing with each other over nothing, a place where every happy occasion is interrupted by some ‘shocking’ melodramatic tragedy, that leads to more misery and shouting – nothing actually interesting really ever happens, but the death rate sky-rockets during the festive season. EastEnders, basically.

The last thing I wanted to watch was an American EastEnders, mixed with a sport I knew or cared little about, and a high-school drama full of love triangles and teens whining about their problems. So many different elements I didn’t like, so much potential for bad acting and overwrought melodrama. No thank you.

Yet it had received glowing reviews, enthusiastic praise and pleas from fans and critics that ‘it’s not just a show about American football, honest, it’s good, it’s really really really good!’ (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea). So, one Tuesday evening, the first episode popped up on Sky Atlantic. There was nothing else on so, hey, why not give it a try? I could be pleasantly surprised if it was any good, or feel smug and superior if it was awful.

One of the best things about Friday Night Lights, for me at least, was that it consistently and thoroughly defied my expectations. Every pre-conceived thought I had about the show was proven to be completely and utterly wrong. Are there big motivational speeches and last-minute victories? Well, yes, plenty of them, last-minute victories, last-minute defeats, last-minute everythings. Are there love triangles and teenagers complaining about their problems? Oh, all the time. And yet, and yet, somehow, through a combination of brilliant performances from actors young and old, great writing that makes conversations seem completely natural, and a a hand-held way of filming that makes you feel like you’re standing in the room, watching over someone’s shoulder, none of these things became annoying or problematic*. Instead, you become immersed in the show’s world.

*(OK, there are some exceptions in Season Two)

Continue reading “Friday Night Lights”

Community 102: Advanced American Tomfoolery

Hey, Happy New Year!

A few days ago, I wrote a general overview of Community and it’s awesomeness. Since I’m not done telling you how good this show is yet, here’s another blog post, this time highlighting the best episodes of the series so far.

If you’re new to Community, just start from the very beginning and watch the first, let’s say, seven episodes. If that hasn’t hooked you, then skip ahead to any of these to see this hilarious, clever comedy at its very, very best.

DISCLAIMER: Entirely subjective, opinions may vary. Episodes listed in no particular order.

MODERN WARFARE (Season 1, Ep 23)

paintball

This is probably Community‘s most famous episode, and for good reason. Though the series had experimented with genre parody before (most notably in the Mafia movie homage ‘Contemporary American Poultry’ a few episodes earlier), this is the first example of the show doing something completely different to any episode that came before it, committing so totally to an idea that, for twenty minutes, the show looks and sounds completely different. It’s a stylish, funny, pitch-perfect action movie parody, and a sign of things to come.

What makes it stand out is that this isn’t just done for the hell of it. OK, there is an element of ‘Well, fuck it, why not?’ to the episode, but it also changes character relationships significantly, and events in this episode effect the rest of the series. It’s far from a tossed-off, half-thought-out idea done for shits and giggles. There’s more to it than that.

The show would return to the paintball well for an epic two-parter that is half Western (part one), half Star Wars (part two) parody, which is just as stylish, creative, plot-important and spot-on as this one. It features the group facing off against Sawyer from Lost and a paintball machine-gun-turret. It’s brilliant.

BEGINNER POTTERY (Season 1, Ep 19)

pottery

To focus entirely on the wackier episodes of Community would do the show a disservice. If it had chosen to stay more like it was for most of the first season, with episodes based around whatever class Jeff was taking rather than a crazy parody of something or other, it would still be a fantastic show, full of episodes like this one.

Jeff takes a class on pottery as it has a reputation for being a really easy way of getting credits for a diploma. He becomes unexpectedly competitive when a good-looking, charming classmate gets all the attention from the teacher (Tony Hale, Arrested Development) and his fellow pupils.

Meanwhile, Pierce tries to prove his skills in a sailing class (done in the middle of the parking lot, as Greendale is not near any body of water), but his incompetence may cause his friends to fail the class with him.

We see a new side of Jeff in this episode. Far from the cocky, suave lawyer he presents himself as, here he is reduced to a desperate, obsessive mess who starts talking like Jeff Goldblum. Pierce, meanwhile, gets a chance to offer some surprisingly wise advice as he faces failure over and over again. The whole sailing sub-plot is entirely worth it for that and a brief, but memorable, sight gag near the end.

Continue reading “Community 102: Advanced American Tomfoolery”