US comedy Community returned to the UK earlier this month with its second season, airing on Tuesday nights on Sony Entertainment TV.
It’s a spectacularly funny show but if you’ve never heard of it or seen it we can’t blame you: the first season aired without fanfare on music channel Viva, and even in its homeland of the US the show has always been a ratings underdog, albeit one that has an incredibly passionate core fanbase (and rightly so).
Here are five of the many reasons you should be tuning in…
Handsome Joel McHale is the ‘too cool for school’ Jeff Winger, a flashy lawyer sent back to community college after faking passing the bar. He’s a magnetic lead, made more so by the accomplished cast who portray the oddballs surrounding him.
Mad Men‘s Alison Brie (Pete Campbell’s wife) is almost unrecognisable as innocent Annie, and 30 Rock writer/Saturday Night Live actor Donald Glover is former high school jock Troy. Then there’s Yvette Nicole Brown as motherly Shirley, and Gillian Jacobs as annoying activist Britta. But it’s Danny Pudi who steals the show as Abed, a detached young man who treats life as if it was TV, and is on hand with fourth-wall breaking references to TV shows and movies.
The ancillary cast includes recent Oscar winner Jim Rash as the sexually-ambiguous Dean Pelton, and The Hangover‘s Ken Jeong as the unhinged Senor Chang. And if all that wasn’t enough there are cameos from the likes of LeVar ‘Geordie LaForge’ Burton, Betty ‘Old Woman’ White, and Josh ‘Sawyer’ Holloway.
Maybe, in the quieter moments of your day, you wonder what happened to Chevy Chase after his National Lampoon days? Did he fall down a well? No, here he is!
As the incomparably racist/sexist/homophobic Pierce Hawthorne, Chase is like the uncle you’re glad you never had. In Series 2 he’s at his craziest when off his head on pain medication or shouting at a computerised Colonel Sanders while trapped in a KFC-sponsored space simulator. You have to see it to believe it.
In recent weeks a rather unpleasant feud has erupted between series creator/writer Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase, which some have speculated threatens Chase’s position on the show. Frankly it gives you all the more reason to watch: come for the comedy, stay for the rumours of how insufferable Chase is behind the scenes. Catch him while you can folks, he may not be around come Season 4!
A masterclass in how to weave pop-culture gags out of movies, TV, trends and memes, there’s nary a film or programme Community haven’t already referenced in some form.
If the sound of so many postmodern winks and nudges sounds draining, don’t worry it’s not. Nods to pop-culture past and present are so deftly written that they never slow down the pace of the show or overwhelm the other myriad gags in it.
In fact, instead of simply creating a punchline, Community will often use a TV trope or reference to explore its characters further, as in Season 1’s Contemporary American Poultry, which takes a violin case full of Mafia movie motifs and spins them into a tale of poor Abed and how cut off from society he can sometimes be.
And what other show could structure an entire episode by fusing the disparate movies My Dinner with Andre and Pulp Fiction together? Season 3, currently airing in the US, even features a pretty darn good Doctor Who parody – ‘Inspector Spacetime’ – that fans loved so much there’s now a Kickstarter campaign to turn it into a web series.
It gets weirder and better
Season 1 was the show setting out its stall. Season 2 demolishes that stall and replaces it with a bouncy castle of lunacy, as the show becomes bolder and further unglued from sanity.
Episodes to look forward to include the entirely claymation Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas, a paintball-themed two-parter that’s part-Spaghetti Western/part-Star Wars pastiche, and a zombie Halloween episode with an all-ABBA soundtrack and narration from George Takei (which is especially special if your name is Kevin).
Community is a show that’s not afraid to take traditional sitcom formulae and make them elastic enough to play with. Some episodes are character driven and combined to one room, while others are great sprawling adventures.
One of the finest episodes of Season 2, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, takes place in one room and relies mostly on the audience’s imagination to work. It’s comforting to know that there’s a comedy out there brave enough to trust its viewers and try something so unusual in the first place.
It’s just incredibly likeable
Community knows it’s a ratings underdog, it knows it’s a show that not everyone will ‘get’, and it doesn’t care one bit. That’s part of its charm.
Ratings-obsessed execs see it as being in a precarious position, yet as Joel McHale told CultBox in our recent interview, Community has a large and highly mobilised fanbase, and it’s a show which proves that people are watching TV differently these days.
Just last week it beat its ratings rival The Big Bang Theory at the TV Guide awards in the US, scooping up ‘Favourite Comedy’ and ‘Favourite Ensemble’. There’s an immense fan-loyalty that drives the show forward, and that’s all due to the characters onscreen; a product of great writing and energetic performances.
Are you a fan Community? Let us know below…