Community is no doubt a sitcom you’ve heard of before.
It started in 2009, first airing on NBC; under the care of writer Dan Harmon (most of the time), Community was able to cultivate a particularly loyal fanbase, all of whom recognise the show as something special.
For me, the moment when I realised that Community was more than just your average sitcom came in the third episode. I’d quite enjoyed the first two episodes - after all, that’s why I kept watching it - but up until this point, it had felt fairly standard. Funny, yes. Entertaining, yes. Special? Not the word I’d be immediately inclined to reach for.
There is something much more going on beneath the surface with this show. A lot of people would point to the absurdist humour of Community to explain why they love it - and don’t get me wrong, that’s part of why I love it too. Episodes like Contemporary American Poultry or Modern Warfare are genuinely quite fantastic - but I fell in love with Community far earlier than that.
For me, it was Introduction to Film.
On the surface, it seems a fairly simple episode - you could probably make the case that there’s not a lot going on, frankly. Our main character Jeff is trying to “seize the day”, to prove a point to a teacher who, as Jeff puts it, “thinks he’s in Dead Poet’s Society”. Certainly, it leads to a couple of entertaining moments, but it’s not what stood out to me about this episode.
You see, at the same time as this, another one of of the characters has been working on making a movie - Abed. The episode is, in part, about him beginning to take a film course; though his father only wants him to work in the family falafel business, what Abed really wants to do is be a director, and so Britta pays for him to take a filmmaking class. A problem arises, however, when Abed gets so invested in making his movie, he becomes increasingly difficult to communicate with - which leads to his father being quite aggrieved. The implication is that Abed has Aspergers syndrome; part of his father’s anger is because “he was already difficult enough to talk to”, but it became even more difficult now that he was so focused on making his movie.
At the end of the episode, then, Abed plays his movie - and suddenly, each of the awkward and frustrating encounters that people had with him across the course of the episode have been turned into a single narrative about his difficult childhood. It details his strained relationship with his father, how he felt when being taken to various psychological tests, as well as when his mother left - and how he thought that his father blamed him for it. It ultimately moves Abed’s previously stern father to tears, and convinces him to support Abed with his filmmaking; as he puts it, “if movies help my son to be understood”, then maybe there’s value in it after all.
And that was why I knew Community was something special. Because it had taken a series of jokes and turned them into something more; it was a clever narrative conceit that forced us to look back on the whole episode in a new light. It helped us to understand that these characters had a lot of depth to them - far moreso than it had initially seemed.
Most of all, though, it demonstrated that Community had heart. It was more than just a clever sitcom with smart jokes - there was a genuine emotional content to the show which really elevates into something more. Into something special.
And that’s when I knew I’d love Community.
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