Okay, by “next week” I obviously meant “two weeks from now,” but that’s only because more important things intervened in both of our lives between then and now. (Note to readers: Not our story to share, so I’ll leave it there, vague as it is.)
This is the second-to-last week of the Summer Series for me, and the last entry on what might in any way be called a “cult classic.” Next week will be about as mainstream as you can go. (Think about that for a week, and see if you can guess what I’ll be writing on!) But this week, I share my love for something so niche (apparently) that it got cancelled several times, and a considerable piece of its legacy is the constant labeling of the audience as both “devoted” and “small.”
An NBC sitcom – sort of – about a diverse group of people becoming friends and finding second chances in a community college. But of course as we now know, it was really about paintball, pop culture references, and behind-the-scenes drama. At least those are what it will be remembered for.
Community premiered in the fall of the year I started teaching at a community college, and I started watching only in order to snark at how wrong this silly network sitcom was going to get the college realities. As I remembered it, the pilot was a little too neat, the first episodes generic, and then it got good around Halloween. I have no idea why I thought I had kept watching that long if it wasn’t all that great.
I just rewatched the pilot again, and now I know why I kept watching: it’s because most of the elements of what Community would become were there from the beginning. The eventual weirdness was certainly toned down, but it had the arch, clever dialogue; certain ridiculous elements (like agreeing to trade a Lexus for a semester’s worth of test answers); and the good-heartedness that provided a foundation for the group of main characters.
The show’s presence on Facebook recently did a Top 5 episode countdown, which saves me some trouble (all of these are good; maybe not my top 5, but good):
- Remedial Chaos Theory – the group is at a party and rolls a die to see who has to go get a pizza from the delivery person at the front door; depending on which number comes up, reality changes. Incredibly inventive and clever in a Groundhog Day kind of way.
- Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – the group plays d&d with a suicidal student to make him feel appreciated. They take it way too seriously but accomplish their mission. Impressive for how complex a fantasy world is created in the mind of the viewer just through dialogue.
- Modern Warfare – “the paintball episode” where reality was thrown out the window and all the stops pulled out. Epic fun considering it’s taking place on a community college campus.
- Pillows and Blankets- this one features the world’s biggest pillow and blanket forts, and their associated communities (North and South), which are at war with one another. Think Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Don’t really remember this one well, to be honest, but I do remember it being ridiculous.
- A Fistful of Paintballs – another paintball episode that was Western themed and just as clever as the first, although it didn’t seem quite so funny since it was no longer unexpected.
I’d also add the epidodes “Epidemiology” (a Halloween party turns into a real-life zombie scenario) and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (the whole episode is done in stop-motion animation).
All good – if you like that kind of thing. If you’ve been following this series, you might have a good idea of what I like, and it’s usually cute, clever, and/or weird. Often all three. Community is just the same, and it really doubles down on the clever and weird fronts, so be warned. You might not want to be a part of that “small but devoted” fan base the show was known for.
Next time, we go mainstream.