Here’s the rub on “Community,” which returns to Hulu tomorrow after a nine-month-long hiatus: Rival network executives and critics argue that it’s not your father’s kind of show. That’s why it’s getting jerked around on the schedule. That’s why it was on Friday nights until it wound up never being on Friday nights at all.
First off, here’s the problem: You don’t know my dad. Lay off my dad. He’s a good man. He gives me access to his HBO Go account and bought me some of those super high thread-count socks for Christmas.
Second of all, here’s the other problem with that whole line of thought: It is your father’s kind of show. It’s every father’s kind of show. Because it is every kind of show.
Your father likes “Law & Order.” Your father will like “Community.” Or at least he’ll like that one time they did a “Law & Order” episode, kerklunk sound and all.
They go down every road. They have a witness that certainly seems like the perp but totally isn’t because, you know, it’s “Law & Order.” They have the useless detective, played by Britta, who’s really only there to ask why someone would do such a thing. And there are yams involved, just like every “Law & Order” episode.
Okay, maybe that last one goes off the rails. But it’s basically SVU for that one episode. It’s also an action movie in another episode, or a Christmas movie in the next episode, or a “Parks and Rec.”-style mockumentary in the next.
There’s talk that Community will return to more traditional sitcom elements this year. We talked to the cast about it. They assured us it won’t be much different than the show we loved.
“I mean, one of the main conflicts in the show right away is that not everybody can get into a class called ‘The History of Ice Cream,’” says Alison Brie.
What would History of Ice Cream entail?
“What do you think it would be about?” she says. “It’s called ‘The History of Ice Cream.’”
Your dad likes Law & Order. Your dad likes funny stuff. If he gets any of the references below, you should get him to watch this show. Because it needs saving once again. –Ben Collins
Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas (Rankin/Bass Christmas Animated Films)
I have to admit right off the bat: I was not a Community fan towards the beginning of its run. I tried really hard to like it, because of my love for ’70s Chevy Chase and, also, the Chevy Chase Show (haha, just kidding), but quickly realized that he was the worst part of a rather average show (at the time). Although I only watched the show sporadically in its second season, it wasn’t until this episode that I really started to see how special this group of misfits could be.
Never had I seen an entire episode of a sitcom go “stop motion animation,” let alone a sitcom that takes place pretty much entirely in a “study” room, and, in this case, entirely in someone’s imagination.
Not only was the animation well done, but it truly brought me back to the Christmas specials that creeped me out/warmed my heart from a very young age. This episode expertly balanced parody and homage, poking fun of Christmas as well as the cheesy, sentimental BS that’s often introduced in its specials.
Abed: We’re in the carol canyon. The plants here give off Christmas carols instead of oxygen.
Pierce: Will walking through here be expensive?
Abed: No, it’s all public domain.
This episode wasn’t just for the Community fan, but for every person who has ever seen a Rankin/Bass Christmas special and maybe shed a tear during what may be a particularly tough time of year in some people’s lives. It was for the person who has seen their fair share of crappy Christmases, and has grown through each of them.
For me this was a converter episode, a transistor that allows me to link Christmas to the first season of “Lost” without looking like a guy in a straitjacket.–Gabe Pasillas
Cooperative Calligraphy (bottle episodes from Seinfeld, Friends, Breaking Bad)
All’s well and good with the film references Community presents on the weekly with a Rain Man-like intensity, but we can’t forget about how it tackled a classic TV trope – The Bottle Episode.
Since the dawn of sitcoms (or bottles), the classic bottle episode has trapped its characters in a single room or location, in turn creating a more boiling plot than usual.
Whether it be for budgetary reasons (Friends’ “The One Where No One’s Ready”), just to add a raw challenge to the plot (Breaking Bad’s “The Fly”), or because the writers want to prove they can write a top-10 episode ever about really wanting Lo Mein (Seinfeld’s “The Chinese Restaurant”), a bottle episode relies on the strengths of the characters and their writers.
In Cooperative Calligraphy, the group is confined to the cardinal study room with the hopes of uncovering who stole Annie’s pen, all while missing out on a campus puppy parade. Real pivotal stuff, guys.
In case you aren’t aware it’s a bottle episode by the end of the whole thing, Abed (in his oh-so-meta way) alludes to the fact and Jeff Winger – or is it Joel McHale in that moment? – calls off his date with ‘Gweniffer’ and proclaims “I’m doing a bottle episode!” At the very least, you can see the gang in their skivvies.–Shae Ryan
Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking (The Office/Parks & Rec./Modern Family)
Abed’s a little scornful when Pierce, pretending to be on his deathbed to get revenge on the study group, asks Abed to capture his final moments on film. “It’s easier to tell a complex story when you can just cut to people explaining things to the camera. Fish in a barrel.”
What we get next is a priceless parody of mockumentary shows like “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Modern Family” – and an episode that captures a lot more emotional gravitas than we’re used to from the gang.
Abed goes all out to document the action, spying on his friends from other rooms, and using their interviews for exposition as shamelessly as other mockumentary shows do:
But by the end of the episode, Abed’s disenchanted with the format. He pulls a pro trick by wrapping up the show with a series of shots, which “when cut together under a generic voiceover, suggest a profound thematic connection.”
Modern Family did this excellently last week (and does almost every week):
The highlight of the episode is Troy’s unfortunate encounter with his idol LeVar Burton (“Reading Rainbow,” “Star Trek,” “Roots”) which causes him to go catatonic with fear.
And because it’s adorable, here’s Leslie Knope meeting her hero, Vice President Joe Biden, on “Parks and Recreation” recently. She handles it a little better, but in a way, no less awkwardly.–Naivasha Dean
Modern Warfare (28 Days Later, Die Hard)
To say that “this is the one that started it all” is a well-worn cliché, but that’s probably fitting. Modern Warfare set the template for so many future Community episodes: Embrace the cliché, call yourself out on it, and then take it a step further.
And you know it’s a game-changer for the series from the very start. Jeff, our star, had entered a completely new world. Sure, it was still Greendale Community College but the cinematography had changed, the camera now moved like it hadn’t before, and it revealed more dynamic lighting. And the view was of a “28 Days Later”-style post a-paintball-lyptic community college, all reinforced by Jeff having to come to grips with what’s happened while he took a nap.
But it’s not just about parodying a mid-2000s horror movie. It’s about breaking down every beef jerky-chewing, save-this-helpless-female device in an action movie. When Community tackles a genre it makes sure that the episode is a fully fleshed example of that genre, honoring it and following in its footsteps rather than teasing.
While some references are in your face like Abed’s “come with me if you don’t want paint on your clothes” line (that’s from “Terminator,” by the way), the true brilliance of this episode is in the less obvious stuff.
The story structure follows any standard “Die Hard” movie. They’ll drop an “I thought you were dead,” or Abed will notice something wrong from something impossible, like freshly dripping paint on the wall. And then there’s the “breather” scene where our heroes sit around a fire and share stories of what they’ll do if they survive. And then the writers acknowledge that the “wounded soldier” scene usually leads to the romantic couple screwing, then giving in and having them do it.
And then there’s Justin Lin from the “Fast and Furious” movies. He’s responsible for directing that scene when Chang apes John Woo’s The Killer, replete with infinite ammo, dual pistols, diving slow motion and all. Or when Jeff goes all John McClane on us, stance and taped gun included.
But the true brilliance of this–and every other genre tribute episode that follows it–is that they don’t stop the show to make these things happen. This episode is still a turning point for Jeff and Britta. It wound up being a big moment for the show’s writers as well. Modern Warfare is the moment Community found its groove.–James Goux
Critical Film Studies (Pulp Fiction)
Here’s a pretty straightforward one: “Critical Film Studies” is an elaborate homage to My Dinner with Andre, the cult classic starring Wallace Shawn. (Princess Bride, anyone? “Inconceivable!” That guy.).
So it’s Abed’s birthday, and Jeff (to Troy’s chagrin) has arranged a Pulp Fiction-themed surprise party for him. Every member of the study group is a character in the Tarantino classic. For an episode heavy on voiceovers and intense dialogue between Jeff and Abed, it’s not excessively static. For that, much credit is due to the brilliant direction of British comic and BAFTA award-winner Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd).
Of course, Pierce is the gimp. And, of course, Chevy Chase got his body double to sweat through 98% of the episode, finally making his appearance (sans mask) while Jeff is confessing to cross-dressing as a child. Yeah, it’s a weird one.–Katherine Rea