[Warning: This topic is likely to contain discussion of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. and sexual harassment, as well as spoilers for all six seasons of Community.]
I currently find myself finishing a semester abroad with little to do and littler money to do it with. Having taken advantage of a few non-US Netflix offerings already, I decided to get a Hulu trial while I have time to use it. Hulu has all six seasons of Dan Harmon’s cult sitcom Community. When the show premiered in 2009, I was a high school freshman and not yet TV-savvy, so its entire run, including all the drama and controversy of its production, passed me by. However, I have loved shows that share Community’s DNA, such as Arrested Development and It’s Always Sunny, so I trucked through its entire hundred-odd episode backlog. I have emerged on the other side, largely entertained, but also highly ambivalent.
Community is a highly flawed show. It utilizes troubling stereotypes and depictions of marginalized people in ways that are sometimes critical but often exploitative. Jeff and Annie’s attraction and flirtation was played straight as a dramatic thread (that kiss in the finale, ugh) and she is sexualized constantly, even though, when the show begins, he is in his late thirties and she is eighteen. Pierce is a character, which is bad enough, but the writing insists that he be treated as sympathetic. And, of course, this show should not be discussed without acknowledging the sexual harassment that creator Dan Harmon perpetrated against a female writer.
As far as the conventions of the show go, it lampshades out-of-place plot points and character beats to extreme excess. It leans on catchphrase and running gag, which grate even through the show’s wink-nod acknowledgement of them. Sitcoms aren’t known for excellent character arcs in general, but Community’s ever-regressing ever-dysfunctional cast seems a particularly bad instance.
However, there’s a lot to love. The joke writing is snappy, the high-concept and homage/spoof stuff is Extremely My Shit, and I loved Troy and Abed’s interplay. The first three seasons are really solid television.
But then there’s the behind-the-scenes stuff: Harmon getting replaced for season 4, resulting in the Gas Leak Year, Chevy Chase being himself and leaving the show, the replacement of main-cast characters who left with characters who, though still decent, never felt quite right. Basically, there’s a lot in both columns.
When I think about how I’ll look back on it, I know I’ll remember a lot of things fondly, but will also have a deep and abiding sense of Ugh about it. For those of you who have also seen the whole show, how do you feel? Did bingeing this show ruin it for me? Does the bad outweigh the good? Has Always Sunny destroyed this kind of show for me entirely?