Pop Culture

Why TV needs a sense of 'Community'

Mitchell Haaseth/NBC / Today

It seems like the-best-thing-I’ve-ever-seen-on-TV changes every time a new episode of “Community” airs.

That's what I told my Twitter pals last week, after the recent "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism" episode raised the bar for just how much rapid-fire humor, rich backstory and unexpected anime can fit into one half-hour of television.

Thanks to such consistent quality, I feel confident I'll be able to tweet a similar sentiment shortly after Thursday night's tune-filled holiday episode airs. But after that? Who knows when I'll have the opportunity to chat with fellow fans about the latest and greatest from Greendale Community College?

That's because just three weeks ago, NBC announced a midseason schedule with a glaring, "Community"-sized hole in the Thursday night lineup.

(FYI: TODAY.com is powered by msnbc.com, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Since then, "Community" fans have petitioned, hashtagged and pop-popped every way they know how to ensure that broadcast gap simply represents a break in regular programming rather than the beginning of the end for the effort critics often dub "the best show you're not watching." (Of course, they call it that because, frankly, a lot of you aren't watching it. So those aforementioned fans just try all that much harder.)

But if a small, dedicated fandom was all it took to ensure a show stayed on the air, right about now we'd all be enjoying the seventh season of "Veronica Mars," the ninth season of "Firefly" and the no-doubt remarkable 12th season return of "Freaks and Geeks." That's not to say save-our-show campaigns don't have an impact -- heck, today's social media savvy fans make their voices heard like never before -- but a show known for modest ratings needs something more than the loyal few it keep it afloat.

It has to earn its own spot in primetime -- and "Community" does that every week. If for some reason the powers-that-be decided to ditch "Community" after the midseason hiatus, the boob tube wouldn't just lose a 30-minute sitcom. It would lose everything that sets this particular 30-minute sitcom apart from the rest of the TV landscape.

For instance:

Pop culture payoff

NBC / Today

If you've banked a hefty share of time in front of the TV and big screen -- and if you haven't, well, you probably aren't spending a lot time reading entertainment blogs like this one -- "Community" offers a payoff for all of those hours logged. Show creator Dan Harmon and his band of writing wizards rework classic TV tropes and weave movie send-ups into new stories in a way that works every bit as well, in a completely different way, as the source material.

While viewers don't have to be able to recite lines from "My Dinner With Andre" or "Pulp Fiction" from memory to be able to appreciate the mash-up nod in the "Critical Film Studies" episode, those with even a passing knowledge of either original effort had all the more to appreciate.  

Commitment to a joke

If even the smartest parodies are just too heavy-handed for some viewers' taste, Harmon recently pointed out a treat aimed to please the most discerning and particularly patient film fan. It's "Beetlejuice" Easter egg "that took three years to hide" and just one tweet to reveal.

See the clip (at right) for the full bio-exorcist-summoning effect.

Ensemble action

While boasting a big core cast isn't so unusual, it's rare to see a show that utilizes that group in a way that makes each member of the ensemble seem completely irreplaceable.

"Community" could have easily ended up a story about the charismatic and easy-on-the-eyes Jeff Winger and the sidekicks that pop in and out of his life as convenient. But three seasons in, while Joel McHale's character may be the presumed lead, he's no more vital than the rest of the bunch -- maybe even slightly less so than say Abed, who serves as the go-between for the audience and the on-screen action, or the dean, who simply steals every scene he's written into.

Repeats are welcome

"Community's" typical fast-paced humor makes reruns rewarding. During last week's foosball fun, there was barely time between one German-themed zinger aimed at the episode's "Deutsch-bag" baddies before another "das butt" was on the way.

Besides, sometimes a second or third viewing is required to convince viewers that what they just saw really happened, such as cartoonish rage turning into an actual cartoon.


NBC / Today

Can you think of any other series that packs an annual epic, action-movie-themed (and worthy) paintball battle? No? Enough said.

Catch the last pre-hiatus episode of "Community" Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Are you already eagerly awaiting the return of "Community"? Tell us on our Facebook page. 


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