Community is a show with a simple message. Be a good person, do good things for the people in your life, and discover that being good is its own reward. It’s a cheeseball lesson for pussies, largely. That doesn’t make it wrong. Community is my favorite show on television, so don’t assume I dislike it. I very like it. For all of season three I had a Thursday night ritual centered around watching it twice. I’d take a 30 minute break between watches for Wednesday’s The Soup, so I could have my extra Joel McHale fix. I do love Community and every cast member on the show, and that’s why my honest heart knows that the show is just too cheesy to be accessible to a lot of people.
I grew up in the 80s. That means I was subjected to some of the most horrifyingly cheeseball television that has ever been sucked into my television’s antennae (remember those?). I grew up with after school specials and Saturday morning cartoons. It’s how some of my generation learned morality. It’s why when Jeff is asking Britta why she needs validation from her carnival worker ex-boyfriend, people like me can understand that he’s asking any of us why we need to be validated by anyone else at all. That when Jeff realizes he’s willing to do anything for his friends, including fetching sarcastically created imaginary hats, he’s reminding me that sometimes, doing for others is more important than doing something for myself. It’s an easy lesson to forget. I think the concept was introduced in the first episode. Jeff clearly stated that we re all better than we think we are. We’re just not designed to believe it when we hear it from ourselves. So Community is trying, instead, to remind us every episode, the same way they hoped those cheesy motivational posters loosely scotch-taped to the yellow walls of our high school classrooms would. Community is arguably more effective, for some, because those lessons were taught so long ago that we hardly follow them anymore.
I think Community is also sometimes skipped over because of it’s lack of sexual or romantic tension. I usually watch the show side by side with The Big Bang Theory. TBBT is a funny show. It’s funnier when it focuses on niche humor related to delightful nerd-dom. However, the show’s aim is really focused on different types of relationships and the complexities encountered when you’re sleeping with/not sleeping with someone. Three out of the four principal male characters on the show are in relationships. They’re exploring love. Marriage. Sex. Being single. Learning about each other. Avoiding sex, in Sheldon’s case. Yes, it’s funny. But it’s not interesting, because we’ve seen it. We’re so accustomed to examining ourselves within our relationships. Am I a good girlfriend? Wife? Mother? Take away all the sexual tension of TBBT. Imagine the Sheldon/Amy relationship without Amy’s pent-up sexual desire. Snoozefest. Relationships are old hat. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy TBBT. It’s just not new, clever, or smart.
I mean, relationships are weird and complicated. Community is weird, but uncomplicated. There are only handful of episodes that center around the seven principal characters being put in romantic situations with each other. The tension between Annie and Jeff isn’t progressively worsening. Britta and Jeff, unbeknowns to all, have been engaging in a sexual relationship that has almost no bearing on their relationships in the study group, because as characters they are capable of that kind of detachment. Community doesn’t need to center around sex and romance to create drama. This season we saw a budding relationship between Troy and Britta. Or did we? We have no idea what Troy sent to Britta that made her smile. We also have no idea what happened on their date. It’s not central to the show, and I appreciate it for that reason. Find drama elsewhere. Find conflict and solution elsewhere without sex and love as a tool. How many shows can create multi-episode story arcs centered around best friends breaking apart and getting back together?
I suppose what I find charming and whimsical about Community is what a lot of people can’t always grasp. Pillow wars. Filming television commercials that are blown way out of proportion. Dreamatorium. Alternate dimensions. All things Chang. You have to have a really strong imagination and really be able to suspend disbelief to understand the show. And you have to be young. Community is a show that most people over the age of 45 wouldn’t be able to grasp. Case in point: Season 3, Episode 20: Digital Estate Planning. The majority of the episode centered around the principal characters on the show competing in a virtual videogame environment. The graphics would look right at home on the Super Nintendo. There are robots, towns to explore, world enemies, and power-ups. These concepts would be entirely alien to someone who has never played a video game. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so funny that Pierce can’t control his character. Give a Nintendo to someone in their 60s and see what happens. If they last more than 10 minutes before they get bored, it’s a miracle. Actually, that’s not true. I got my mom to play Tetris once. I was so happy that Mom could enjoy the same thing I was enjoying, even if I did come home to find her playing Tetris when I wanted to beat The Legend of Zelda again. But that’s rare. Older people playing video games is something that is hard to come by. Older people don’t have nostalgia for it like people my age do. And we are nostalgic about shows, music, and videogames from 20+ years ago. We are NOSTALGIC, 80s children. That’s why we buy beat-up too-tight tee shirts that reference old video games and television shows. It’s why Levar Burton’s visit to Greendale hospital resulted in him singing the theme song to Reading Rainbow. It’s why people my age watch Robot Chicken.
The point is, Community isn’t made for everyone to grasp. It’s made for people like me, who need a weekly dose of self-affirming television therapy. Like Sesame Street for adults. It’s for people who are sitting at home, stoned, looking for something ridiculous to make them laugh, and make them reflect. It’s for smart folks who can follow a story that moves at light speed, is meta-meta, and is unabashedly weird. It’s for those of us who actually do think a gimmick like stars being carved into sideburns would be hilarious. But that’s why Dan Harmon only managed three seasons before getting fired. NBC wants a show for everyone.
I’ll be lighting a candle, hoping that season 4 isn’t a giant pile of poop. And if it stinks like relationships and sex, I’m going to Febreeze my television.