We Need to Talk About “Community”

Is Community still worth watching? Should you start it if you’re new to the study group?

The first five seasons of Community yielded more drama than all of your Thanksgiving dinners combined. Consistently low ratings, the pain of going from a unique new show to a cult classic (which is basically a backhanded compliment), and a collective realization among male and female viewers alike that Alison Brie might be a perfect human being were only some of the subplots to be found during the show’s run on NBC.

Now, Community has moved on from the peacock pastures of NBC for the tenuous terrain of Yahoo! Screen. The sixth season premiered in March and is halfway through as of this writing.

Because of its low ratings and dubious status as a cult TV show, the question to ask here is less “Should you keep watching?” and more “Should you invest your valuable time in this show that’s already in its sixth season, when there are so many other shows out there?”

Well, it depends. Community is a little polarizing and something of an acquired taste, with its greatest and most distinct strength also being its greatest weakness. There’s a very specific demographic that should watch a quirky, pop culturally inebriated show like this – not many shows dedicate entire episodes to spontaneous animated parodies of G.I. Joe, after all.

Of course, the idea that “appeal” is relatively subjective is nothing new, especially in pop culture’s context. Pretty much everything from books to movies are all created with an ideal audience in mind – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia appeals to those who are in touch with their crass, immature, and adolescent side while The Sopranos appeals to those who want a more well-rounded and (allegedly) more realistic portrayal of Mafia life.

As for Community, there are some people who think it should instantly connect with community college students, just because the show is about a group of them basically wreaking havoc while they’re at school. Well those people are wrong… but not completely wrong.

The show is constantly walking right up to the cliff’s edge and looking down at the swirling waters of pretentiousness while a bunch of hipsters wait at the bottom with black-framed glasses and welcoming arms partially covered by rolled up cardigan sleeves. That kind of reputation can rub a lot of people the wrong way.

And like I said before, the tidal wave of pop culture references in each episode and the meta-humor are unconventional, and what’s too different makes people uncomfortable.

On the other hand, there are some comforting aspects of the basic community college experience that seep through, like meeting psychos and inexplicably becoming close friends with them, teachers that are a little shaky in the whole “qualified to teach” area, and a general naivety to what’s going on outside of your little bubble, or study group.

Aside from the show’s insane drive to be different, the fundamentals are all there. Acting, directing, you name it – all excellent. The transition from NBC to Yahoo! Screen has gone well too, aside from a bizarre aesthetic downgrade where the sets look too fake at times.

But make no mistake: the Community of today isn’t the Community of yesterday. The cast is different, with Chevy Chase (Pierce), Donald Glover (Troy), and Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley) gone. Ken Jeong (Chang) and Jim Rash (Dean Pelton) have larger roles, while Paget Brewster (Frankie) and Keith David (Elroy) are new.

The show appears to have calmed down as well, although the absence of crazy shenanigans hasn’t deterred the show from continuing to be excessively meta (and condescendingly smug). There are still a handful of episodes left this season, so who knows what will happen? With series creator Dan Harmon, anything is possible.

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