They made people believe that in the United States the only universities are those of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. Community has now finally told the story of a side of America that no one tells, that of community colleges. But this sitcom series, which aired from 2009 to 2015, tells very much more than that.
The true-life experience of Dan Harmon, famous for the next Rick & Morty, is the premise of Community. In an effort to save his relationship with his girlfriend, he enrolled at Glendale Community College in LA. Harmon joined a study group and, unwittingly, became strongly attached to them, despite being surrounded by people with whom he had very little in common.
He wrote the series following his own experience and by creating a largely self-based protagonist. Like Jeff, he was self-centered and over-independent, before he realized the value of bonding with other people. The transition from misanthropy to openness to others, which is the hallmark of the protagonist Jeff, is also something very much of his own.
Jeff & co
The story follows a braggart lawyer, Jeff Winger (Joel McHale). When he gets removed from the profession for falsifying his degree, he’s forced to study in a community college. There, he meets a variety of characters: from the anarchist Britta Perry to the super-Christian Shirley Bennett. From the staunch Annie Edison to the unstable professor Ben Chang (the Ken Jeong of The Hangover). Not to mention the golden-hearted player Troy Barners, played by a young Donald Glover – today also known as Childish Gambino and the creator of the series Atlanta.
One of the characters the creator loves the most is Pierce Hawthorne, a millionaire who enrolls in college out of boredom and for a not-so-convincing attempt to find himself. He’s played by Chevy Chase, definitely the number one in a cast of initially less famous actors. Harmon here uses his own style at its best. From pop references, to the absurd interactions between the characters, from the obsessive recurrence of some jokes to the caustic observation of reality.
Harmon’s story circle
With Community, Harmon also brings his method of writing (the so-called circular history) to perfection. In short, the character starts out from a comfort zone but, desperately wanting something else, enters into an unfamiliar situation and must therefore adapt to it. Once he obtains what he wanted, by paying a price, he goes back to the start. But for now, he has learned something and he or she has somehow changed.
This style also shows this recursiveness in references to the clichés of the entertainment world. They form a sort of common thread in all episodes: the teasing about the huge forehead of Jeff, or the common hatred for the series Glee, or even phrases like “Shut up Leonard!”.
Famous are the meta-television quotes that Abed, the genius of the bunch, repeats all the time. He is quite intelligent, fluent in three languages (English, Polish, and Arabic), and possesses keen observational skills. The fact that Abed has Autism is only hinted at, reflected in his inability to pick up on social or emotional cues.
Comedy at its finest
There is also an episodic system, consisting of individual adventures that give the series great dynamism. The type of comedy behind this product is sought in the idealization of trivial situations, typical of our daily life. Community enhances simplicity, making even the most irrelevant events of life something epic. For example, the construction of a fort of blankets and pillows turns into a real war, as we can see in this episode.
There are many references to successful products such as Breakfast Club, Pulp Fiction, Glee, Doctor Who, Cougar Town, Law & Order, The Muppet, and many others. Most of the time Harmon mocks them because that’s what he promises you, the fun. But the narrative material is always accompanied by a real melancholy. It makes you more and more part of their group and their world. To date, Community has not achieved the success it deserves, but now that it has been placed in Netflix’s catalog there’s a chance that many more will discover its comic power.