So the second series of Community is finally on DVD over in the UK just as it's fourth has been delayed in the US. It seems the travails of the show off-screen have intimately linked with it's enduring cult appeal, and I don't intend to go into it here, but there is something that fits about Community being a threatened, under the radar sort of show, that it's too wierd, too clever, and just too goddamn beautiful to live. On the surface, this is seven "wacky misfit" characters at a community college for losers, each for their own loser reasons, comming together and a study group and having "wacky adventures". Many episodes even end with the "leading man" making speeches about how we should all be good to each other, just a little more often. So really, what is so strange about that, in sit-com land?
But Community is something else, something far, far stranger.
First of all, it passes the "characters I like to spend time with" test with flying colours. Each of the "Greendale Seven" (plus the Dean and newly enrolled former teacher Senor Chang) are complex characters whose role in any given episode can remains fluid. The smart one isn't always the smart one, the guy that knows it all, often doesn't. There is a big effort from the writers to keep the characters deep though allowing the situations that they find themselves in to bring out different sides of them. But even when they are exposing their dark, dysfunctional hearts, they remain curiously sympathetic human beings that you want to see back around the Study Room Table.
So by this second series Community is a much more confident beast in what it's trying to do, and we have a mix of full-on "theme" episodes (which riff off a particular genre) and more traditional sit-com sort of plot-lines (like "hey! lets have a student election!"). For all we rarely leave a fairly small range of sets, it feels like almost anything can happen week to week, from Zombie Apocalypse ("Epidemiology") to roleplaying ("Advanced Dungeons and Dragons") to mind-shattering conspiracies about the nature of Greendale itself ("Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design"). There is even a "clip show" episode consisting of clips of episodes we have never seen.
In some ways though, it hard to quite explain the attraction of Community, which is why I think it's struggled to find a wider audience. It looks likes a sitcom, quacks like a sitcom, is certainly funny enough to be a sitcom, but it's not interested in being just a sitcom. It wants to say something about its characters, and it's medium, and the very pop-cultural waters it swims in, and that is hard to define and hard to explain. But it is so very much worth watching...