NBC Sitcom Understands
The ‘Community’ Experience
Image retrieved from NBC Community TV show website.
Hit TV Show Is One Of Those Network Attempts At Capturing A Slice Of American Life That Gets It Right And Could Seemingly Be Happening Right Now on Any Community College Campus
By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine
March 21, 2013 — I was once a community college student. I was actually the editor in chief of Mesa Community College’s school newspaper. My position allowed me a rather unique view of the community college experience by both experiencing it, and observing and reporting on it at the same time.
I learned a lot while I was attending MCC, and it honestly set me on the career path that I am currently following. I quite literally would not be writing this story if I had never attended Mesa Community College.
While I was in school and working for The Mesa Legend, I had this recurring idea for an opinion piece that I could never quite fully articulate. The crux of the idea was that community college was somewhat of a children’s museum for adults. A place that people could go, meet new people, and gain hands on — albeit simulated — experience in a variety of fields.
I do not mean the term “children’s museum” to be a put down on community college, it’s really just because the children’s museum is the only place I could think of where a person could be an auto mechanic, reporter, theater actor, and politician all in the same day. But the idea never really clicked until I watched — and now really, really like — Dan Harmon’s brilliant TV show Community.
Harmon has said he based the show off of his own experience at community college, and judging by the way he has portrayed his experience, I think his might have been somewhat similar to mine. Now, I know the show is very loosely based in fact, but I can certainly relate to this hodge-podge group of friends that were brought together by a more or less trivial occurrences.
In the show, the occurrence is all of them taking Spanish together — and becoming a study group due to main character Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) trying to get close to “the hot coed” Britta Perry played by Gillian Jacobs. Whereas in my life we were all brought together by hanging out at the same smoking area on campus.
The group on the show is comprised of archetypal characters. There is Pierce Hawthorne, played by the indubitable Chevy Chase as the out of touch old man and Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley Bennett, the overbearing mother type.
Troy Barnes and Annie Edison, two fresh out of high school straight to college students from opposite ends of the social spectrum, are played by Donald Glover and Alison Brie. Troy is the star quarterback and Annie the straight-A student.
Abed Nadir is played by Danny Puddy and is the epitome of the socially awkward nerd.
My group had many similar archetypes, we certainly had our group mother (those who know, know) and our people fresh out of high school, and all sorts of others who on the show are represented by the many layers of each character, and sometimes by side characters. But in my real life, as in the show, the group became fast and close friends quickly taking the friendships off campus and into the default world.
Dean Craig Pelton, played by Jim Rash, is another interesting character. Of course his inferiority complex due to his constant competition with “City College,” is far more played up than any of that sort of thing I experienced. The constant feeling of not being good enough is real for many community college students, and faculty, however. But in the show, as in real life, there are many moments where the characters realize that an A is an A and a good deed at a community college is the same as a good deed at a “real” college.
The show has truly brilliant writers who went farther than just my analogy that community college is a children’s museum for adults, and made the show somewhat of a children’s museum of TV. With all their allusions and homages in the episodes, it sort of seems like the writers are living out their own fantasy’s through the story lines in way. The paintball episodes, or the Law and Order episode are perfect examples of the writers finding ways to make stories that are seemingly completely different from the overall plot of the show fit into the “universe” of Greendale Community College.
With the paintball episodes, the first season’s “Modern Warfare,” and the second season’s two parter, “A Fist Full of Paintballs,” and “For a Few Paintballs More,” the show spoofed action films, spaghetti westerns, and even Star Wars. In a way that if you are willing to suspend disbelief and just laugh at what’s going on almost seems possible. The same holds true for “Basic Lupine Urology,” which masterfully spoofed Law and Order.
In making a show about a place where anyone can pretend to be anything, the writers decided that they can do the same. They don’t have to just write a sitcom about the trials and tribulations of community college students, but they can actually open up the premise and be any TV show they want while still building funny and interesting characters who are relatable to just about anyone.
Jeff Moses a senior contributor at Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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