1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
2. the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.
The above definition is what I imagine showrunner Dan Harmon held at the forefront of his mind when he first created his critically-acclaimed NBC series, Community, but instead of producing something predictably formulaic, he introduced us to a set of characters that are genuinely relatable, imperfect and flawed, yet loveable. Community’s first season follows disbarred lawyer, Jeff Winger, who is allegedly based partly on Harmon himself, as he transitions to Greendale Community College to reclaim his illegitimate law degree and falls in with an eclectic group of fellow misfits, forming an unlikely bond through the groups shared experiences and eccentricities. Whilst Jeff initially starts up a Spanish study group to further his own self-interests, namely his pursuit of his attractive and anarchic classmate, Britta Perry, the appeal of Community’s first season stems from the surprisingly heartfelt, yet tumultuous, friendships which flourish within the group. Alongside Jeff and Britta is insecure and overachieving high school graduate, Annie Edison, the group’s youngest member, as well as fellow high school graduate and star football quarterback, Troy Barnes, who quickly forms a close bond with quirky and out-of-touch film student, Abed Nadir, boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge of film and TV trivia. Making up the rest of the group is the incredibly maternal Christian single mother, Shirley Bennett, and bored, narrow-minded and egotistical millionaire, Pierce Hawthorn. Packed with film references to please viewers of all persuasions, season one of Community showcases Harmon and co.’s exceptional writing abilities, providing a unique and refreshing brand of meta humour and wit which transcends all six seasons, yet perhaps is never as potent as the initial three seasons.
Season two is perhaps the most accomplished instalment of Community, with its iconic meta dialogue, creative production and character arcs making this season even more original, engaging and hilarious than before. Harmon’s imaginative approach to scriptwriting is clear to see, as almost every episode feels like a special, involving the study group embarking on both physical and metaphorical journeys with one another. It’s intriguing and unusual to see the variety of animation styles employed, with a stop-motion Christmas episode truly exhibiting the show’s ability to surprise its audience and attempt something new and impressive at every opportunity. We also see the return of fan favourites such as season one’s notorious ‘Modern Warfare’ episode, which sees Greendale divided by a college-wide game of paintball. The introduction of new recurring episodes such as ‘Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’ also extending the show’s penchant for popular and nerd culture. Each character continues to be crafted and developed meticulously, to the extent at which the loss of any of them would leave a gaping hole in the amalgamation of different personalities which form the basis for the show’s likeability. It was pleasantly surprising to notice that the rise and fall of any romantic relationships between characters didn’t damage the group’s dynamic too negatively, yet wasn’t altogether ignored either, like they have the potential to be in a comedy show of this nature. Season two also delivers marvellously in terms of supporting characters, with recurring characters from season one now stepping into spotlights of their own, such as the endearing Jeff-obsessed Dean, Craig Pelton, as well as the unpredictable and often unruly professor-turned-student, Ben Chang. Community’s second season is full to the brim with laughs and ensures the show remains as vibrant, idiosyncratic and impulsive as ever.
Unsurprisingly after two exceptional seasons preceding it, Community’s third season offers up even more ingenious ideas, superb writing and laugh-out-loud humour. As creator Dan Harmon himself pointed out, season three focuses slightly less on themed episodes, and more on the concept of valuing others more highly than yourself, a startling realisation that protagonist Jeff comes to accept after finally letting down his guarded exterior. In his own words, season three explores ‘the price you pay when you figure out that you love a group of people’, which by his own admission is very similar to his own experiences. My personal favourite episode, Remedial Chaos Theory, features early in season 3, which not only explores and strengthens the group dynamics further, but also adds a sci-fi flavour to the show and garnered prestigious accolades in the process, beating The Simpsons’ Marge vs. the Monorail episode to win Splitsider’s Best Sitcom Episode of All Time. The balance of comedy and depth is a winning combination and provides a platform for Jeff, Britta, Annie, Troy, Abed, Shirley and Pierce to develop and examine their own best attributes and most damaging faults. It’s no surprise that Community has acted as a source of comfort and solace for many who consider themselves ‘outsiders’ within society, an idea which is explored insightfully in Harmontown, the self-titled documentary about the show’s creator. The show continues to please both audiences and critics with its self-referential humour and Abed in particular’s explanation of film and TV tropes which the show itself displays. Its meta humour is particularly prevalent in special 8-bit animated episode, Digital Estate Planning, which once again puts an unexpected twist on the show’s format, which truth be told, rarely remains consistent for more than an episode. Community’s third season consolidates the show’s excellent reputation for novelty ideas and innovative episode premises, yet is not without substance either. It’s almost impossible not to become enraptured with the show’s ever-compelling and ever-growing characters, and leave each episode in tears of laughter.
Season 4 of Community saw a big change backstage, the creator and show runner Dan Harmon was fired and replaced by the duo of David Guarascio and Moses Port. Not only that but multiple producers left, and beloved directors Anthony and Joe Russo (The Russo bros.) who had taken turns directing a plethora of episodes, had to leave in order to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I personally didn’t notice much difference in this season compared to the first 3 however, I was especially looking for the signs too. If I had never known I would have never noticed the departures behind the scenes, while course Season 4 is not the best season of Community it still holds up well (at least in my opinion) against the others. Funnily this is the one season of community most fans detest, accusing it of being a wreck or disaster. Season 4 boasts the lowest rating on Rotten Tomatoes at 76% (which is still pretty good anyway). There were some truly brilliant episodes in this season, just not really any memorable ones. ‘Advanced Documentary Filmmaking’ is a stand out, in ‘Heroic Origins’ we learn just how the characters of the show effected each others lives before becoming a study group, and the finale ‘Introduction to Finality’, a sci fi epic were the darkest timeline story finally pays off (I guess). Like every season after the third, the writers thought this to be Community’s final outing, in some ways they panicked, making Jeff finish his time at Greendale by taking extra classes is a VERY uncharacteristic move…But as a final season it holds up for the most part and stays true to the spirit of the show, witty humour, different genres, homages and nice meta nods to the audience.
With Season Four having a solid ending, Season Five’s premiere and second episode had a VERY VERY unnatural atmosphere, and this I didn’t like at all. The idea of everyone failing in their individual lives and having to return to Greendale left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like this was because Dan Harmon returned with a bitter ‘in your face!’. Not only did he erase the events of Season 4, meaning that everything that happened in Season 4 isn’t a part of the Community timeline of cannon, according to Dan Harmon anyway, but it seemed as if Harmon spent more time trying to intelligently say ‘f*ck you! I got my show back!’ to the studio in the first couple episodes that they failed as episodes. Subsequently this Harmon comeback was too little too late for me, Pierce is dead, Troy leaves within the first few episodes with honestly the most anti climatic departure I’ve ever seen in TV and Jeff becomes a teacher. Jeff being a teacher seemed like natural strategy and I wish the show would have picked up on a good note with Jeff choosing to be a teacher because he wanted to do it, and the study group choosing to comeback because they want to be with each other a little longer rather than picking up and focusing on the lowest point of the overall timeline, feeling completely out of balance versus the shows usual optimism and feel good happy endings. While the show does get back into it’s usual groove, Season Five fails to hit it off and is summed up through Professor Hickey. A new character that never really felt like a worthwhile addition apart from the ‘Advanced Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’ episode, Hickey eventually disappears by next season (I genuinely don’t know where he went or what happened to him). The one very original episode that joins the group of ‘those Community episodes you just don’t forget’ was the Class wars episode, ‘App Development and Condiments’. Season Five remarkably ends with 3 very strong episodes though, a stark contrast to Season 4 but still not enough to make the whole 13 episodes anyway near the consistent quality of the first three seasons. Even when Community isn’t at it’s best, it’s still entertaining…Season Five represents that.
I was weary coming into Season Six, the season before was pretty disappointing to me. But with the show moving over to Yahoo as an online exclusive, I knew there would be more creative avenues available, leaving me with a slither of hope. And since the original first 3 seasons, season 6 is the best one yet. Really returning Community to it’s origins in witty dialogue, lovable characters and genre cliche’s you can’t help but adore. Almost every episode of the short season delivers, new characters Elroy and Frankie also feel like welcome additions to a cast and study group that was wearing very thin. Especially Frankie who spices up the dynamic between the group, it was fulfilling to have a female character that hadn’t been seduced by Jeff again too, her strong and realistic persona added to the wackiness of the study group and the shenanigans of Greendale college. My one disappointment with the Season was the paintball episode, it was becoming a tradition to have at least one paintball episode per season, while it was awesome to see it comeback, it wasn’t quite as fun or inventive as the past paintball episodes: probably due to the lower budget of having the series online instead of on TV. We also get to the see Dean Pelton as integrated into the group as he could possibly be, in having an episode dedicated to him ‘Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing’. The finale of the season far outshines previous finales, with this one really pinpointing where the characters are going and where they aren’t going, a beautiful character study for Jeff. The only thing that did feel strange was having such a emotionally charged finale without Troy or Pierce, and having characters that still felt new like Elroy and Frankie.
Our Rating: 9.2/10
Words by Levi Eddie Michael & Georgia Welch