A contentious headline like the one above is likely to elicit one of two reactions. The first and most common response will be, “Urgh! An American Spaced? Don’t make me vomit into my shoes and then beat you to death with my vomit filled shoes”. Which is fair. The second response will simply state, “How dare you infer that I haven’t seen Community, I’m a huge fan. Furthermore why are you covered in bruises and vomit?” For the first group, we promise boobs to suppress your anger. To the second group, we promise Annie’s Boobs.
To the readers armed with loafers and mouth waste, let’s be clear, Community isn’t as good as Spaced. One reason for its inferiority is that a good five minutes of each show is taken up letting us know that characters “learned something today”. Like all US sitcoms that aren’t made by Larry David, it’s too preoccupied with morals and hugs to leap the cynicism barrier. It’s comparable to Spaced, however, in that Community constantly plays with the conventions of what a TV show is supposed to be. And it also has a tonne of movie references.
With the set-up for the show reducible to “small screen version of The Breakfast Club, with bigger misfits”, it’s no surprise that film plays a big part in Community‘s draw. It’s packed full of nods to Die Hard, Hard Boiled, The Terminator, The Matrix, The Warriors, Battle Royale – and that’s just one episode (see video below). Not since Wright, Hynes (nee Stevenson) and Pegg joined forces late last century has a show given such affectionate tribute to the big screen and its wondrous joy-giving power. Like Spaced, whether all the cap doffing is ingested or not shouldn’t prevent your enjoyment. As soon as a Pulp Fiction homage ends there’s a My Dinner With Andre skit to pick you up. Or perhaps that should be the other way round.
As fast and hard as the film references come they still fight for space with the small screen citations. Again the range of targets, from Star Trek and The Wire to Who’s The Boss, is encyclopedic. But it’s the aforementioned conventions that sets Community apart, ripping up the postmodern/meta playbook in a way that something like Family Guy could only dream of with conversations about televisual relationship dynamics, bottle episodes and the overuse of the straight-to-camera setup. A host of TV’s finest – John Goodman, Michael K. Williams, Betty White – also lend a hand to both fellate and dissipate the power of the fragile idiot box.
Away from the mega meta and leaking geek juice, the strength of Community lies in its characters. The first season may have requested patience as the show found its feet (“It’s like a comedy The Wire!”), but once the actors had settled into their respective roles and became more than just “the jock, the nerd, the old white guy, etc” they leapt to that wonderfully psychotic realm where they felt as if they’re actually your friends. They’re not. Obviously. If they were your friends you’d have hit on Annie on day one and felt weirdly uncomfortable around the group until they threw you out. Because Annie isn’t for sexualising.
Ironically, considering how in love with TV Community is, TV may well be its own downfall for the simple reason that, while the show has a fervent, passionate fanbase, not enough viewers have been tuning in to make the show a ratings success. Middling figures recently led to the show getting a mid-season hiatus with its future uncertain. Cue a Twitter nerd get-together of levels not seen since the last Dark Knight Rises trailer and Community is back. But for how long? Just as it becomes Your New Favourite Show it’ll come to an end. Until then though…
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Oh, and by the way, it’s not really an American Spaced. This is.
And look how fucking awful that is.
Community returns to US screens, Thursday 15th March on NBC. There are currently no plans to bring it to the UK. Which makes downloading it fine. We think.