Community: TV Review

Watch Community Season 1 | Prime Video

Community is a sitcom that ran from 2009 to 2015 and was set at a Community College in Colorado called Greendale. It centres predominantly around a group of 7 students at the college, who eventually became known on the show as The Greendale Seven, and the college faculty, as they navigate their dynamics and relationships in while together at Greendale. The show stars Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover, Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, and Chevy Chase among others. Community is also the original claim to fame for Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon, who created the show and served as Showrunner for all except the 4th season. Other notable names who worked on the show include The Russo Brothers (famous for indie projects such as Avengers Infinity War and Endgame) and Justin Lin (of the Fast and Furious franchise). The show is incredibly well acclaimed in spite of middling ratings, and laboured under behind-the-scenes drama after the 3rd out of its 6 seasons.

            Watching this show had been a long time coming for me. Weird as it was to be watching a golden age NBC show that had nothing to do with Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, I’d been looking forward to seeing Community for a hell of a long time. Whether or not it was worth the wait sort of depends.

            The first three seasons of this show are pure gold. It’s just Dan Harmon at his best: unbelievably witty and sarcastic, observational, smart comedy. There’s a meta-ness to his writing that’s obviously gone on to become a larger pop-culture phenomenon with Rick and Morty, but which was evidently birthed here. I like it better, if I’m honest. I’m a fan of Rick and Morty, I think it might be the funniest show on television right now, but the total utter lack of character development and continuity beyond the first two seasons takes away from the overall experience for me. Okay, I’ve been harsh. It’s not that that show has no character development, in fact, I’d argue the first two seasons do an incredible job of cementing characters into the conceptual quasar that is the show’s premise. It’s from that point on that the show kind of gets drunk on its own cleverness (which, to be fair, it’s pretty damn clever), and sort of phones in on its characters. Still a legendarily funny show, but not more than that. Community is kind of like that, but reeled in a decent amount. There are issues of inconsistencies (Britta’s character is probably the most butchered over the course of the show) and conceptual indulgences that detract from what the show could be, but it does keep some semblance of reigns on those pesky dramatic elements, keeping it coherent enough to give the comedy strong basis in the story.

            My God is it funny. The average episode is hilarious enough; some of my favourites are when Harmon decides “you know what? I’m gonna mock a genre today” and proceeds to use the show to parody tropes from a laundry list of genres from Noirs to Post-Apocalyptic-Warzone movies. It’s genius, so frickin funny, and it really paid to have directors the likes of the Russos and such when it came to capturing the cinematic-ness of Paintball or Ab-atman. It adds up to three seasons of a show that, for all its character inconsistencies and lack of scale in terms of the plot, ends up feeling larger than it was, a charismatic  juggernaut of comedic television.

            Then came the gas-leak year. You know, it wasn’t as bad as its reputation. For those who aren’t familiar, season 4 of the show is referred to as the Gas-Leak year. This is because, as a result of behind-the-scenes drama involving harassment and conflict between Dan Harmon and some of the writers and cast members respectively, Harmon was fired as showrunner, and that season was produced without his direct involvement. It’s seen to be the undisputed worst season of the show. That’s probably true, depending on your holistic opinion of the last season, but I will say that it didn’t disappoint to half the extent it was advertised; the benefit of low expectations, I suppose. It missed a certain edge, an intelligence that comes as part of a package deal with Dan Harmon. And, as the season wore on, it started using past plot development in ways that were perhaps less artful than the way Harmon would’ve done, the Darkest Timeline arc most notable among them.

            My seasons 5 and 6 opinions are mixed. On one hand, at least half of season 5 is arguably up there with as good as the show ever got, including a ridiculous number of competitors for best episode. The trouble is, the other half of season 5 doesn’t hold much more water than season 4, and I can’t even begin to make up my mind about season 6. It never felt like it took itself seriously anymore (or at least to the extent that it ever took itself seriously), and, while the new characters they introduced were pretty great in their own right, it felt like too much too late for me to commit to anyone, or anything, that happened. I think I actually really liked Elroy, for example, but he was introduced so late, and with the show literally running on auxiliary power (I’m told Yahoo couldn’t afford real electricity) that it didn’t feel memorable. The same goes for Frankie and, to a lesser extent, Professor Hickey: good characters that might’ve been welcome a couple seasons ago, but instead felt like they were being forced into existence to fill the hole left by Troy, Shirley, and Pierce. Realistically, the show never recovered from Donald Glover’s departure. Troy and Abed (in the mor-ning!) were the heartbeat of it all, and it was never the same afterward. The chopping and changing also meant that, by the time the last episode rolled around, the show was more or less unrecognizable as what it started out as. It was a sad thing that, by the last episode, I didn’t have as much left for the characters as I’d hoped.

            So it’s a topsy turvy ride. I maintain that the first three seasons are solid gold, but the decline after that is hard to deny. When you add it all up, there’s an element of tragedy, considering what could’ve been if not for behind-the scenes-drama. That having been said, if you took the first three seasons, the first half (and some change) of the fifth, and maybe the last three episodes, you’d be looking at one of the smartest, funniest, and, at times, wholesome comedy shows you’ll ever see.

            I’m not going to go through every character, I’d still be writing this if I did, but I do address a few specific things. If this show contributed anything to the cumulative goodness of the world, it was Troy and Abed. My new favourite double act of all time, and a beautiful mix of wholesomeness and comedy. Abed’s probably my favourite character in the show, but I do contend (as does Dan Harmon, as I found out while reading up about it) that the show never recovered from losing Troy. What they do to Britta’s character is very unfortunate, although it was kinda hilarious. Jim Rash delivered the pretty much undisputed best performance out of all the cast as the Dean. Troy and Britta’s relationship was one of the most weirdly handled things I’ve ever seen on a screen. Its development wasn’t bad at first, but it was like the writers were scared of committing to it. I think I’m for Jannie? But I honestly don’t know anymore.

            I think the show is best explained in short by none other than the creator and showrunner of all non-gas-leak years: Dan Harmon. The following is a quote, an excerpt from the actual last line of the whole show. It’s not a spoiler, it’s a summation, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so fully encapsulated in my life. It goes: “Dice not included, some assembly required. Lines between perception, desire, and reality may become blurred, redundant, or interchangeable. Characters may hook up with no regard for your emotional investment. Some episodes too conceptual to be funny. Some too funny to be immersive, and some so immersive they still aren’t funny. Consistency between seasons may vary. Show may be cancelled and moved to the internet where it turns out tens of millions were watching the whole time. May not matter. Contains pieces the size of a child’s oesophagus.” If I may add my own, it’s an hilarious bowl of fun with some genuinely meaningful moments sprinkled in there. We still haven’t gotten what we were promised though. 6 seasons and a movie.

#andamovie.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 85/100

An Education: Film Review

An Education - Wikipedia

An Education is a film set in 1960s London and follows the story of a 16-year-old schoolgirl, her heart set on Oxford, and the way her outlook on her future change when an older man takes a liking to her. The film essentially launched Carey Mulligan’s career, earning her an Oscar nomination for her leading performance. It also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, and Emma Thompson, and was adapted from Lynn Barber’s memoir by Nick Hornby, acclaimed scribe of About a Boy and Brooklyn.

            I’d been meaning to watch this film for quite a while, and finally got down to it yesterday. I’d heard a lot about it, mainly about Mulligan’s performance. And yet, despite all I’d heard, I somehow had the wrong idea about the tone of this film. The premise of the film sort of paints its own picture; one of grittiness and burn-out-syndromes. Or, at least, that was what I envisioned when I read the premise. I assumed it was going to project a warning in what we’ll call a Beautiful Boy kind of direction.

            But that wasn’t the film I saw. We’ll get to the messaging in a minute; while remarkable, it wasn’t as large a surprise to me as compared to the tone of the film. From a very interesting opening sequence, the film’s pulse is a lot lighter, more innocent than I saw coming. It’s really funny, and genuinely has you guessing in moments about whether or not her decisions aren’t completely valid. This might be a result of other films I’ve seen that cover similar thematic material, but I wasn’t expecting to be as sold as I was in the early stages about on the potential positives of what she was doing. It’s impressive writing, and two particularly strong performances from Sarsgaard and Mulligan, that make this film very watchable, very easy to digest, and give it a plausible balance between the impending assumption that something’s about to go horribly wrong and the innocent play of the story. It amounts to a tone that, far from bringing the gloom I anticipated, actually allows for some intellectually sound whimsy, balanced very well with the more intense, reality-check scenes (one in particular comes to mind, with much credit to Molina).

Of course, a warning is a component of what this film communicates. Jenny makes mistakes, real ones, and she suffers very real consequences for them, but there’s a larger idea that comes across in her character. She’s not a burnout, she never was, and she doesn’t become one over the course of the film. The bad choices she makes are hers, but there’s an argument that’s made about the point of education, and the way the future is, for want of a better term, marketed, to young people. The fact that Jenny, the intelligent and sound of mind young woman that she is, would turn to an older man, this older man specifically, and the life of colour that comes with him, over the alternative that’s presented to her, the supposedly dull, unexciting life that follows an education, is a reflection of the fact that we spend entirely too much time focusing on the product, the end result when we talk to our children about school and education in general, the ideology brought out exceptionally well via Molina’s performance, and not nearly enough time answering the question “why?”. Possibly my favourite moment in the film is near its end, when Jenny sees her teacher’s flat (played by Olivia Williams), and the real end product of it all is revealed to her. It’s a really potent point, and, as someone who just finished up with the high school system, it’s something that could stand to be mentioned more along the way.

All of this is achieved a result of some real heavy lifting from a fantastic cast and crew. The opening sequence, which demanded a certain amount of animation, really stood out for me as a mood-setter. The performances are great all-around. Obviously special mention must go to the two leads, particularly Mulligan, but Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike are fantastic as well. Molina actually lands the emotional centre of the film, a scene outside Jenny’s bedroom near the end. And, as is almost always the case, the quality of the performances compliment the quality of the characters on the page, and for that we have a fantastic screenplay from Nick Hornby to thank.

All in all, a fantastic film. An Education hits all the right emotional notes, lands its comic relief when it needs to, does it at an expert enough rate to maintain a tone for a thoughtful coming of age film (as opposed to simply a PSA), and makes a subtle point in an unsubtle way. But, aside from the intellectual idea put across here, I was also really appreciative of another point of communication for this film, specifically, the way they address making mistakes. It’s a refreshing thing to see, in a modern world that condemns even the smallest mistakes, a film that chooses to forgive its character at the end, and remind the audience that no mistake, however large, necessarily defines any person entirely. The depiction of that is a tad rushed; a flaw in the design, but not one that sinks a very sturdy ship. An Education is a fantastic film that I’d recommend to anyone.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 84/100