Friday, May 13, 2011

Community - Season 2

Community was my favorite comedy last year, and the show didn't have to do much besides keep being itself to maintain that honor this season. But the Community I know wouldn't rest on its laurels, so they pushed things even farther and took a lot of risks. It could have fallen on its face, but thanks to great writing and my favorite ensemble cast on TV, Community did the opposite, and became an even better series. I know some people do think it went a little too crazy, but I don't see it all. Community throws itself into everything it does, and the results are always at least pretty funny, and occasionally downright transcendent. There's just so much the show does well, and while it's far from flawless, the great way it always makes me feel always manages to make those problems seem like trifles.

What makes the show work is how it can bounce between standard sitcom storytelling and plots with much grander ambition without it ever seeming like there's a disconnect between the two. Part of it is how straight the pop culture send-ups are always played, despite the occasionally absurd scenarios. The most obvious example of this from season one was the finale, which used paintball guns to play out a typical action movie scenario. The thing is, if you took out the paint, the episode would basically just be a pretty good twenty minute action movie. Sure, there are jokes, but the genre tropes are laid bare and used to tell a fun story, instead of just being mocked and misused. This is the template season two often uses, whether it be a story about simulating a space mission, or pseudo-zombies attacking a Halloween party, or revisiting paintball guns in the two part finale, which managed to be a great Western AND a great war movie (with some Star Wars flavor, to be more specific). The tone is just right, which is what allows the show to keep working when it's just being normal. Or, as normal as this show can be. It's not disappointing when an episode is just about the group playing Dungeons & Dragons together, or trying to find Annie's special pen, or visiting a bar on Troy's 21st birthday. The characters are the same people every week, so there's no disconnect in either situation.

And then you just have standout episodes like the fully animated Christmas special, which worked both as part of the ongoing series and also as one of the best genuine holiday cartoons ever made. I can't think of another show that would even try something like that, let alone totally nail it. I love the way the outside cast has expanded, too. Only a few guys like Dean Pelton and Dr. Duncan are really more than caricatures at this point, but guys like Starburns and Leonard and especially Magnitude are just fun diversions that somehow stay amusing without a lot of development, and bring joy whenever they pop up again. Or pop pop up, as the case may be. As far as the actual main cast, Jeff, Troy, Abed, and Annie remain great, and I liked the work they did developing Britta and Shirley more this time. Pierce and Chang are a bit problematic, though. All season long there's a running story about Pierce butting heads with the rest of the group, and while I liked the payoff at the end, the way they handled it wasn't always consistent or interesting. And even though I continue to enjoy Ken Jeong in anything he's in, his Spanish teacher persona was a lot more consistently incredible than his reluctant student one, and I hope they find something better for him in season three now that's he's a permanent cast member. These problems seldom brought down the show though, and it was one of the best, funniest, and most imaginative single seasons of a comedy I've ever gotten to see. It seems like a miracle that the show is coming back again (thank God for NBC's consistent failure to find better ratings draws), and I'm going to enjoy this while it lasts.

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