Erik Lilleby provides his thoughts on the return of the NBC comedy Community, in the first of what will be a weekly series documenting his reactions to each episode.
I am a fan of Community. A lover and friend to the end. So this is not any critique of the show. It is a blind allegiance to follow wherever they want to take me. More specifically wherever Dan Harmon wants to take me. Back-alley's not excluded. With no other show have I seen a show runner give back to his audience more. Sure I look for all his interviews online because I'm a fan and I search for his stuff, but Dan Harmon seems to me to be more outspoken about his show than most. He takes time during a running season, when he's working non-stop, to do panels at events like Comic-Con. And he'll speak eloquently and verbosely for long stretches, always giving his answers with more analogies than they needed, but I know true fans really appreciate this. Harmon will actually explain how a character's story arch and character progression will change and how that change is influenced by the actor's actual personality. As a fan, that I eat that shit up. You can get to know a character with traits that are true to the actor in real life and you get a sort of “meta” grounding to the actor’s character and you feel closer to them because it's more real than a actor working for a pay-check; the actors can relax and be themselves and it shows in their performance and in the over all feel of the show. Everyone can appreciate art when it is really just reflecting truth (I think I listened to Dan Harmon too much and his voice is influencing my writing but whatever—if you’re going to copy someone, copy a genius).
The point of good TV is a feeling of connection and an investment in the creation of a show. The product is so good and the work put into making it high quality because the people fucking cared. I want to know that the actors have personal qualities that make it into their performances. I want to know everyone put their full heart into it. The best thing I heard recently from Harmon was of his fear of the "Dinner with Abed" episode and the risk he took with it. On the night it aired, Harmon could not keep himself from obsessively checking Twitter to see the feedback of either hate or love. And when people loved it, he cried. I know that episode will always stand in the highest rankings of my favorite episodes because of how many achingly great the laughs were that it gave me. Right from the start, with Jeff's voice-over, you knew you were in for a different game and you just had to open yourself up for the ride (mixed metaphors alright!). The plot was perfectly crafted to have two great storylines that each end up in a mess but come together for a heart-warming wrap-up. The two stories got fucked up apart, but when the gang regroups they party anyway and Abed gets act human for once. Or uber-human. When Danny Pudi, as an actor, changed from Normal-Abed back to Regular “Meta” Abed, he did so by simply tilting his head and looking away; his face did all the work and just like that, you knew the running character of Abed was back. Chills went down my spine. An actor should know he has created a great character when a look and a gesture can imply the whole person. Or in Abed’s case, idea of a person.
Either way, Harmon got the praise he deserved and fans knew the show had turned a corner and was going to race ahead with more themed episodes and story models. The hiatus scared the shit out of everyone. But it's over now, and if this first episode back proves anything, along with the expectations built up from cast interviews about future stories, this will be an absurd, outrageous end of the year for all involved.
My highlights from Episode 11 are coming on Monday. So why don’t you take the weekend to get drunk, rewatch the episode a million times and then come back and see what I thought.