Study Group in Session!

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Cool. Cool cool cool.

Previously I have taken critical looks at Jeff and Britta. When I think of Community, these two characters come to mind first, and in the pilot, these are the two characters that the audience encounters first. Linking Jeff and Britta with Community is akin to linking pancakes and syrup.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s an Abed special.

But how often does butter chase the thought of pancakes? Rarely, yet it is still an essential ingredient. Not that I think Abed is butter in this analogy, but he is a character that I am quickly becoming to associate with Community over Jeff or Britta. In a sense, Abed has snuck up on me, and it is rather unexpected. From season one, I wasn’t overly impressed or captured by his character, and I am unashamed to admit I was caught up cheering in the Jeff v. Britta war.

However, this season, Abed has seemed to take center stage, even if it’s up center. Whether it was the documentary episode or this most recent, Abed has played key roles in more episodes this season than I ever remember him having in previous seasons. I’d like to think that I didn’t just miss his part – and traditionally, he has been more of a background character. Season three, he played a crucial role in students’ lives who were never directly addressed. That little escapade began the night of the STD awareness dance and ended when he played midwife in a birth. Not that I don’t take Abed’s character as seriously, but he has been handled by the writers as this quieter, less involved game piece.

Destining Abed to this quieter fate was a purposeful decision on the part of the writers – but why?

In Britta’s psychotherapy episode, Abed tests as the only “normal” character. While this successfully strips the Study Group of their high and mighty self-esteems, in the broader picture Abed is deemed more important. In fact, behind Jeff and Britta, Abed is the next character the audience interacts with. Again, forever hovering in the background yet just as crucial.

The Study Group constantly berates Abed for his eccentric world view, filtering everything through TV and pop culture references. In the Abed Christmas special, the Study Group gets transformed into various misfit toys because that’s how Abed chooses to cope with his letter from his mom. Most of his lines center around this quirk, and in a sense, Abed is bringing the world of TV to life through his references. He watched a lot of TV as a child, and now he watches the world – as if it is merely a continuation of TV into the real world. Yet of all the characters, he is the most mentally sound. Perhaps Abed plays into the delusions and silly goals of those around him through these references because he recognizes how scripted, yet nonsensical they are. He fills the role that he sees fit through various TV personas to better serve as that background filler.

Abed’s character has changed in the fourth season, much like everything else,  but instead of his quirks getting quirkier, he is slowly inching down center stage. If Abed is the true center of Community, then wrapping up the senior year with Abed growing into himself would be perfectly fitting.

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All Mad Here

 

With a mix of shame and gratitude, I approach this post due to inspiration from a peer’s Community blog. In this particular post, she analyzes an episode from the third season in which the Study Group goes to therapy with Abed and is almost convinced that they are all in Greendale Asylum. Her review made me realize that this episode is not only crucial to rescuing the Dean from Chang but also rather obviously points up that most of the conflict within the group stems from their inability to see eye to eye.

While conflict and resolution make up the core of storytelling, Dan Harmon approached Community with such a skillful mind that made Community not just a couple story lines interacting with each other for twenty-something minutes. If anything, Community is constantly criticizing itself, a concept so simple that the show recalls to mind children’s cartoons. If the Study Group was truly as close friends as they perceive one another to be, they would never second guess Abed if he believes the Dean to be kidnapped.

Chang Crazy

From the start, not a single member saw eye to eye, and they never wanted or tried to. More than anything, they were all flung into a social group (and force!) together. Not unlike reality. Due to their stubborn perseverance, they stick it out as a group, and after a while, there is no one else. But that doesn’t automatically lead to group members’ agreements.

True cooperation and collaboration are only required when whatever conflict bigger than they are presents itself. For that, the members of the Study Group are redeemed in their flaws because in the end, they can put themselves aside. This is also eerily like real life. It is most often that greater issues are the uniting factors among differing people, and Dan Harmon perfectly captured this complex and unpredictable process in Community.

Thus, I arrive at the core of this post: why season 4 just can’t be the same. Guarascio and Port are obviously experienced writers. But they don’t see eye to eye with Harmon, and not only do they not want to but they also don’t need to. Community is evolving from its meta state, despite whatever its devout followers believe – and perhaps, if I may be so bold to play with your mind, this is Community’s swan song: the followers (like those in the Study Group) are diverse in all aspects sociologically, but when presented with this greater issue (Harmon’s absence, Community’s changes), the followers are moved to unite (outside of the world of television, in which we all live – like Abed – every Thursday night) and cooperate to make something bigger than a broken system.

Yes, I just went there.

A Study in Perserverance

According to tvbythenumbers.com and collider.com, Community’s episode last week was not a hit. Not that Community normally rates exceptionally high – it has a lower viewership than a lot of the other big shows of the same 8:00 PM time slot. Every Thursday, Community battles against The Big Bang Theory, American Idol, and the Vampire Diaries. In numbers, Community is closest to the show Vampire Diaries, which I suppose signifies that the two both target a specific niche, whereas Big Bang and Idol have over five times as many viewers.

It’s curious, then, that Community succeeds at all.

However, what makes a show successful is subjective. Is it the producers, the writers, the actors? A great concept, intriguing story line, perfect time slot, or the network? Or is it the “wild card“? But CNN insists that what really makes a show stick is its ability to take a well-established genre and add a zesty twist. And Community’s zesty twist is that it never lacks its twisted zest.

So, it really is that simple: people like Community because it is a strange show that exists to be strange.

But it is a niche show, and as such, the Nielsen ratings, in my opinion, don’t do justice to the exquisite tastes of the Community fanbase. The Nielsen ratings rely on how many people out of the entire social group aged 18-49 watch a show, and a niche show, which purposefully neglects to target people en mass, should be expected to score lowly. Because of Community’s wild card, their acclaimed quirkiness, Community fears its demise.

Once again, Community places the meta card on the table: Greendale Community College is constantly a hot mess struggling to prove itself as a school. Greendale prides itself on accepting any and all human beings while offering everything under the sun. The list of class offerings comprises of one ridiculous course after another, and most are unbelievable. In short, Greendale succeeds because of its strangeness, even though that same strangeness is what threatens its existence.

So, the key to Community’s success is simple: never stop doing that thing that will probably force it to cease. Ironic. No wonder Community has a niche fanbase.

Structured

The Study Group consists of the infamous seven characters, but the telling of Community wouldn’t be complete without the Dean or Chang – which sums the main cast at nine. Unfortunately, from episode to episode, not every character maintains their lead/lesser degree, though there is a general scale that they ladder themselves against. Jeff Winger is obviously at the top, most commonly the lead character, and since the beginning of the fourth season, Pierce has been hanging at the bottom of lesser characters.

Lesser Dean-ing

The Dean is a constant lesser character with more involvement than Pierce but not always as much as Britta through Abed, and until very recently, Chang wasn’t even in the running. However, since his return, Chang is rising the character list – as much as he seems to be edging toward another sinister plot – further displacing Pierce down the rungs. (Guarascio and Port really aren’t hiding the fact that Chevy Chase wants out.)

Among Britta, Troy, Annie, Shirley, and Abed, Britta and Abed seem to take the lead more than the others, and Shirley appears to be grouped more with Pierce as a lesser character. However, these are not always constant and vary greatly between episodes.

Inter-chang-able Lessers

The common plot structure, in my opinion, follows this: Jeff sees something he wants and starts for it; by the end of the first third, he is well on his way to succeed; by the end of the second, however, everything has begun to go to Hell in a hand basket, but still Jeff pushes on; and by the final third, Jeff has relented in his pursuit, changed in his ways, normally finishing with an inspirational speech. Then, each episode ends with either a quirky (particularly Troy and Abed) moment or a foreshadowing teaser. (In the episodes that Jeff is not the main focus, the plot still tends to follow this curve, a moment of catharsis wrapping everything up.)

On the whole, each episode stands apart, the conflict resolved by the end, but occasionally, the story line will stretch between two episodes. What’s more frequent is revisiting a story line or way of storytelling in episodes that are not consecutive, even across seasons. For instance, there are several stories told in documentary styles, emphasizing Abed’s love of filmmaking – like the most recent episode “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking.”

Socially Acceptable

Community Online

 

 

NBC’s Community is online – no, scratch that. It’s not just online; it’s connected. Community’s site lets you keep up with new episodes, exclusive interviews and other footage, and it crosses social media boundaries with options ranging from Facebook to Google+. The site is for hardcore fans, kinda devout followers, and complete newbs. The “About” page explains the concept behind Dan Harmon’s cult creation and introduces each member of the cast, with the rest of the important people from executive producer to bottom.

But of course, in Community’s meta way, Greendale Community College also has a website. You can read about the college, the various facilities and amenities they offer, some of the classes you can take, the campus newspaper, and lists the key administration, faculty, and students…meaning our Study Group, Chang, and the Dean. This website is another look inside the brilliant world of Community.

Greendale

 

But I do believe my favorite part about this website is the blatant sense of humor. For instance, if you click around the webpage (read: if you’re interested in applying), you’ll find this page:

NBC Community - Greendale Community College - Watch Episodes Online for Free - NBC Official Site (1)

Yep. You read that correctly. You are already accepted to Greendale Community College. While this website doesn’t link you to other social media, it does get you more in tune with the feel of the show and its objective: comedy out of a community college.

But the fans aren’t just interacting with Community-run sites. They’re running some.

Community Things.

 

This one to be exact.

Here you can find links to interviews and other fanblogs. You can also watch blooper videos and news. For a fan, this is heaven. But this Tumblr particularly provides a network for fans, by fans – a network hat involves reblogging, submissions, discussions, and shipping.

Then, there are the usual, boring choices: twitter and facebook.

So does Community successfully use the internet? I’d say so…especially with that “You’re already accepted” line on the Admissions page.

Hypo-Britta-cal

This is Britta Perry. Way back in season one, Britta’s role focused on being a leader, a mother, a fighter, and since then, she’s deteriorated into a more delusional, more nonsensical overgrown child.

Greendale is a community college, a school for any and all human beings, and generally as students progress through their studies, choose their major, and get involved, they mature and learn, both about themselves as well as life. However, Britta seems to have a case of the Backwards. She’s roughly thirty something. She’s been an anarchist, in the Peace Corps, traveled to 13 different countries, and experienced life in a way most college students (whose ages usually range from late teens through mid-twenties) haven’t yet had a chance to. If she’s so cultured, so learned, obviously capable of being on her own, why reverse tracks and head to school?

Britta claims that she decided to wake up and do something with her life, so she pursues a degree from Greendale, where she joins a study group, ends up in paintball fights, in Jeff’s…and Vaughn’s…and now Troy’s arms, and studies Psychology. She’s even seen her name become slang for messing things up.

Clearly, college hasn’t been good to Britta. She accomplished more out there in the world and became more of a real person than here at the home of the Human Beings, and as she regresses into her childhood, sounding more unintelligible and less real, Britta is approaching a static flat line.

This contradiction that is Britta Perry isn’t entirely her fault. In fact, the writers have shaped her more than anything else, forcing her from one extreme to the other, pointing up her hypocritical nature in a meta way. Not only have the writers (including Harmon) Britta’d Britta, but Britta is Britta-ing Britta.

While her relationship with Troy is probably the first positive, constructive thing we’ve witnessed her do that is rational and logical, yet also based one hundred percent on living in a childlike world (Troy is very naive, and Britta definitely isn’t) – Britta isn’t really going anywhere. She attempts to provide therapy for Abed, whom she already feels very maternal toward anyway, but on the whole, she isn’t very successful at being a psychologist, especially as she shoves Freud down Jeff’s throat (lol). In fact, if anything, Britta is taking Abed’s place as childish as he seems to be maturing, replacing him next to Troy.

However, regressing into naivety isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it obviously is bringing positive things into her life…like a healthy, carefree relationship. It merely only stresses the contradiction that I’d like to think the writers of Community have built into Britta Perry. Hopefully as this season continues, Britta will finally find some true direction in her life, which, I suppose, is truly the point of growing up.

Acting the Part

Bad Boy Jeff

Jeff Winger is a jerk. He’s selfish, egotistical, and doesn’t believe in doing things.

But everyone loves him anyway.

Guarascio and Port have revealed that in season 4 Jeff is going to meet his real father finally and along with the premier last Thursday, with the “new” Jeff, it appears that Jeffrey Winger isn’t just anxious to graduate and leave Greendale; Jeff Winger is, indeed, a human being with feelings.

See what I did there?

Underneath Jeff’s snobby, fashion-concerned lawyer persona, past the hardcore, bad boy act, and beneath the flaunted sexual prowess – Jeff isn’t such a bad guy. In fact, if it weren’t for this guy, the Study Group wouldn’t exist; Community wouldn’t exist! So, at the end of the day, we at least owe him that thanks.

Jeff bonds (in his own way, of course) individually and intimately with each character. He forms close ties with the rest of the Study Group, and even with Chang and the Dean, whether he realizes it or not. When he was determined to win everyone a spot in History of Ice Cream, it wasn’t just because he wants to graduate. Without the Study Group, he has very little meaning. No quipping with Britta, no being mothered by Shirley, no parenting Troy, Abed, nor Annie (though maybe less parenting with Annie and more subconscious flirting), and no fearing Pierce – because ultimately, Jeff sees Pierce a possibility for his future self.

See? Pierce is totally shadowing Jeff.

Each of the characters grounds Jeff in a different way, including Chang and the Dean. Even though Jeff adamantly doesn’t believe in doing things, both Crazy Chang and the Dean propel Jeff into fighting for the things he does  believe in: the Study Group. Jeff is highly protective, particularly of Abed, and when Chang (like when he became a dictator and took over Greendale) and the Dean (like with his Hunger Deans) not only stand between Jeff and his goal but also in some form attack the Study Group (because the entire group suffers even if it’s just one character specifically targeted), Jeff does put aside his goal long enough to defend his turf.

Though, he always comes back to himself. Despite blaming it on his overly doting mother and never existent father, Jeff is just shielding his inner, still immature child-self. Which naturally he denies doesn’t exist.

So, as long as anyone is (or possibly is) looking, Jeff is a jerk, and probably when he’s really looking, too. But there’s no escaping that his jerk-ness is more a tool to help him achieve his goals (and ignore others), an act.