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Community: Season Three

by on August 14, 2012
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Networks want security with their sitcoms. They want a broad-enough concept that could last a dozen seasons — easy money once you factor in syndication rights, DVD sales and ad revenue. NBC is a network that used to be the top dog with shows like “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “Will & Grace” on the air. Now they are a network that can’t make a hit even when it really tries. Hello, “Smash”!

This has nothing to say about the quality of shows on NBC. “Parks and Recreation” is one of the best comedies on the air, and “30 Rock” still provides many strong laughs per episode. But despite being well regarded by critics and their cult audiences, they still can’t bring in big ratings. On any other network, they would be canceled, but thank goodness NBC is desperate.

At the apex of critical adoration and no audience is “Community,” the little show that could … go nuts on a week to week basis. It’s about a disbarred lawyer who has to go to the worst community college in order to properly get a law degree. In an attempt to win over a blonde, he forms a Spanish study group full of misfits. All of them are at this college for an upsetting reason, but together they are able to be at their best.

It’s a perfect premise that can allow for plenty of shenanigans where the study group could split up or stick together through wacky things that happen on campus. Technically, they do the latter. It just happened to be in the weirdest, most obscure and niche-est way they could. Season One was weird, but Season Two was nuts. They had an episode devoted to “My Dinner With Andre,” one in stop-motion animation and a zombie episode that all culminated in a paintball Western finale.

In the opening scene of Season Three, Jeff has a musical dream where the study group sings about how they are going to be normal this year. It’s charming and colorful but also very sad. Through silly humor, the scene is conveying characters who believe they are wrong simply for being who they are. It’s also a meta-commentary on NBC wanting them to be more mainstream. Jeff tries to achieve this goal, but he ends up being gassed by a monkey toxin that makes him hallucinate the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

The season goes to even weirder routes as it experiments with having a more overarching story to this season — another thing networks hate because then you can’t just watch a random episode. However, as a fan of television, this was golden. “Community,” much like its English cousin, “Spaced,” has a reality that can be stretched because it keeps its characters consistent. So we can have a plotline involving an evil version of Abed trying to break through another universe or Chang starting an uprising because it always reflects back on the characters trying to evolve through their personal issues.

Did I also mention it’s funny? It’s really, really funny. There hasn’t been an episode yet of the show where I haven’t laughed consistently. “Remedial Chaos Theory” is a perfect episode of comedy writing with its seven different timelines converging seamlessly. “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” gives Dean Pelton his best episode yet as he relives “Heart of Darkness.” The most likable thing about the show, Troy and Abed’s friendship, is called into question in a fight that evolves into a Ken Burns documentary.

The season is filled with hilarious guest stars like John Goodman as the Vice-Dean battling for Troy’s soul, Michael K. Williams as the biology teacher just out of prison, John Hodgman as the psychiatrist questioning the group’s sanity and French Stewart as a French Stewart impersonator.

“Community” is a show that can be whatever it wants from week to week. There can be high-concept episodes and smaller ones that have the same resonance. After a year of ridiculous madness, the season ends on a really personal note — undeniable evidence that these are not the same people from the pilot but well-developed characters that have grown up. This is a show about people struggling and not knowing what to do. Through all of the cynicism and meta-ness, this is a show about their hope, and that’s why this has the best season finale of the show to date.

The sad note is that Sony and NBC have put a lot of doubt into its next season. It’s truly phenomenal the show is even getting a fourth season, but this doesn’t seem right. NBC moved the show to Friday nights at 8:30, which is a death slot. Then they fired Dan Harmon, the man behind the show. This was an uncomfortably personal show for Harmon. It wasn’t just his baby, these characters were him, especially Abed and Jeff (in that order). The show may be great this October, but Harmon was the mad jester pushing the show into unprecedented territories. He was the spirit of the show, but if this had to be the final episode of his reign, it’s even more fitting.

The Season Three DVD is filled with extras for the fans, including commentaries for every single episode, a gag reel that just shows off how talented the cast is and a couple of featurettes that focus on their “Glee” parody and their Ken Burns-style documentary.

Season: 5 Yaps
Extras: 4.5 Yaps