Surrealism isn’t a trait I usually associate with network comedies. There are plenty of premium and basic cable comedies that revel in bizarre, almost nonsensical plots (Flight of the Conchords, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, South Park ), but network television needs a lot of viewers to justify its existence, and surreal, post-modernist humor just doesn’t have the kind of mainstream appeal that it should. Perhaps that’s why Community has had to fight with every last breath to stay on the air as long as it has (and not suffer the kind of premature cancellation that Arrested Development faced though only 13 episodes have been ordered for a final fourth season so it only got one more season than AD). Though it took Community half of the first season to realize that it could differentiate itself from the crowded (and let’s face it, stale) sitcom market by really letting its freak flag fly, when it embraced its metatextual and pop-culture nerd personality, it become one of the most unique network comedies in years. Season 2 is off to a much better start than Season 1 and it includes an episode that was possibly even better than “Modern Warfare,” the best ep. of season 1 (maybe).
After a summer away from school (and the cliffhanger ending for last season where Britta proclaimed her love for Jeff but Jeff and Annie wound up making out in the parking lot), the Greendale Community College Spanish study group (who are now in anthropology together) return to school. Britta tries to pretend like she only told Jeff she loved him to compete with his ex-girlfriend/statistics teacher and Annie is unabashedly in love with Jeff. Jeff is able to calm them both down to keep the group together all while dealing with their new and basically psychotic anthropology teacher (played by Betty White) who tries to murder Jeff to teach a lesson in class (she’s suspended and replaced by John Oliver’s psychology professor who just has the class watch Youtube videos). Other stories from the disc include Shirley and Abed feuding over who can make a better Jesus-themed Youtube video with Shirley wanting to make a traditional video and Abed wanting to make a Charlie Kaufman-esque head trip. Greendale Community College gets a space-flight simulator (that’s basically just a Winnebago) that leads the gang down a hilarious Apollo 13 parody. In another awesome, awesome parody episode, it’s Halloween at Greendale and the students at a party get infected with a rabies-like disease which essentially turns them into ravenous zombies.
This particular disc was chock full of a never-ending stream of great gags, pop-culture jokes, and even some fresh insight into these characters. In “Messianic Myths and Archetypes,” the series manages to poke fun at itself and the fans who instantly think that anything “meta” is good without some real substance to back it up. If Community‘s fanbase weren’t so small and loyal, I’d argue that the commentary would go over everybody’s head and then some, but I think if you’re still watching Community at this point, you get why the joke is so clever. Casting Betty White (at the peak of her renewed cultural relevancy) was a pitch-perfect decision to both wink-and-nod at how “hip” the show is and then also really subvert what you’d expect from a Betty White role. She’s 90 (so she was probably 89 or 88 when she played this part) and her character’s name is June Bauer (think 24’s Jack Bauer cause I’m positive that was the joke) and she goes H.A.M. on Jeff and crew. It’s brilliant stuff. The more I continue watching the series the more I realize how almost every second and every scene contains at least one joke or gag. There are nearly as many sight gags in this program as there are in the old Zucker brother comedies like Airplane!. Ken Jeong has also had significantly more screen time this season which is great because I could use a lot more Señor Chang and a lot less Shirley and/or Pierce.
I could write more about this very enjoyable first disc of the second season of Community (which is the sitcom I’m watching while I watch my hour-long dramas, i.e. Mad Men and Angel) but I still have to review the tenth volume of Bleach which surprisingly took me a while to get through even though I thought the series was starting to get its momentum back by the end of the volume. I also want to watch Fellini’s 8 1/2 today and play more Mass Effect 3 so I just don’t have a ton of time to devote to reviewing Community. I definitely feel indebted to my friend Sadie though for introducing me to the series and getting me hooked. I’m just sad that I’m moving back to WV in a week and that I won’t have her to discuss the series with anymore when I’m back home.
Final Score: A-