Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Box Set Blues: Community, Series 1

One of the great advantages of being behind in your consumption of culture is that when you find something you like, you can often burn through a lot of it very quickly. This is why I read all of A Song of Ice and Fire in a four month burst, for example, or watched four series of House at the rate of an episode a day until we'd ran out of actually produced episodes. I'm fond of bemoaning that I'm often behind, and have to play "dodge the spoiler" across the internet but it does mean that recommendation from up-to-date people acts a filter against some real dross and often means we can pick up whole TV series on the cheap.

All that said, I wish I'd seen Community sooner.

The main reason I think I missed it was that it's a sitcom. For whatever reason I'm not really a sitcom person. Sure there are exceptions, but on the whole it's not a format I get on with, and rarely seek out. If you look down my boxset shelf you'll find Spaced, and Black Books, and certainly none of the US-style ensemble shows that dominate the format. I'm probably missing out a lot of good stuff, but I just don't feel the pull, and even the best shows, at the height of their powers, rarely became "must watch". So I'm a little unsure of what Community does differently that made me tear through it like such a rapid fanatic.

I think it's mainly the knowing, pop-culture heavy writing welded to a surprisingly varied cast. The latter takes a while to settle in; at the start of the show there is too many heavy hints to the "alpha" and "beta" couples directions, and which characters are going to be buddies, and so on, but suddenly, about 5 or 6 episodes in, all that gets thrown out and a more fluid set of relationships emerge. I don't know if it was planned that way, or just a realisation from the writers as they went into production, but it makes the show free, in some ways, and able to become a little more unpredictable in it's plot lines.

Structurally you get the usual "A" plot and "B" plots, an episode being "about" a character with the rest of the ensemble offering support in the background, but Community is a show rooted in pop culture convention and very keen to play with the sorts of characters and structures that come with the genre. Even when you see a joke comming you're not always going to see how it plays out or what it will nod too. I mentioned Spaced earlier, and if you imaging a US version of that, set in a Community College, then tonally I'm not sure you'd be too far off.

Oh and it's funny. Really, really funny. The paintball-centric episode "Modern Warfare" is one of the funniest half-hours of TV I've seen in a very long time - stacked full of homage and references but also rooted in it's established characters and pleasingly determined to move things forward in amongst the craziness. Even the weaker episodes are littered with snappy writing and engaging performances, and at it's best it's effortless. It certainly passes the key test of just being happy to spend time in the company of the show.

Sadly the second series doesn't have a DVD release date in the UK yet, although I believe it starts on some cable channel or other in April, so that's one for the PVR!