Friday, March 23, 2012

The Lilleby Community

Erik Lilleby provides his unique, left-of-center commentary on the first two post-hiatus episodes of Community.

(Author's Credentials: For a ballpark guess as to how much TV I've watched in my life, I ran the numbers and I can reasonably say I've spent about a quarter of my life watching TV. So to ballpark it: 27 years of life becomes 60,000 hours of TV watching. You do the actual math.  In later years of my life when I could stay up later to watch TV, I started logging in some LONG hours.  From age fifteen on, there’s an exponential growth in how late I was willing to stay up just to watch some bullshit, like a talking cup or reruns of Conan at 2:00 AM. And not to mention the DVD's of Family Guy (ugh, the lost time of my life). Anyway, this is all to say that I think of myself as having the credentials to comment on TV and what I think is good or funny TV.)

(Note: Here’s a fun drinking game to play; take a shot every time I use any of these words in this article: still, just, some, most and if.)

As a fan of Community these days, I know there is more pressure on the new episodes than ever.  Community was been off the 8:00 PM time-slot for more than three months and throughout that time, its rabid fan base (like me) has built an incredible amount of hype.  This hype might give a person certain expectations that can easily be let down, but I know Community well enough to not care.

(Note: If you read this post in Jeff Winger's voice, you'll understand why I like explaining things like you're babies, and why I use if/then statements too much.) 

If Dan Harmon checks Twitter too much, then he is going to drive himself crazy, as could any popular artist today.  But the pressure for greatness is hard fought because the first episode delivered the goods. The utter zaniness of the Community world combined with a heart-felt, sitcom sensibility in a surprisingly fresh way. Or several ways. Eight I think.  Jeff emoted like never before, Britta went housewife and Abed-Troy played characters—kind of like they always do, but this time, they were “normal” characters.  If you saw it, you know they stole the show. I know you agree with me reader: Troy and Abed kept you watching the show from the beginning with the tags and the jokey jokes. Well, they still got that thang. When you see them onscreen, you know you’re seconds away from a laugh. I have to say, my favorite part of the episode was a simple shot of the pair in the crowd of the wedding, when Britta is yelling about her marriage to Jeff (or something) and they're just smiling. Troy's wide, toothless smile made me fucking ball-up with laughter. If you can't appreciate that, the juxtaposition of emotions and situations, then you’re missing the comedy; the comedy of Britta's ongoing breakdown and Abed-Troy just sitting there, just being good wedding participants and smiling away. Great 
I can't really say enough about this show, but I also don't want to simply rehash all the amazing things I've heard Dan Harmon say about it already, so I'll just highlight some of my favorite moments from new episodes and try to elaborate on why this FUCKING TV SHOW matters so much to me.  It matters more because I thought I lost it for a second because of the hiatus, but I knew in the back of my heart that NBC couldn't cancel it yet.  The drought of a show does make you know how much it matters though.  And if these new shows somehow don't live up to an "expectation" of fans, I won't mention it.  I know this show is a gift; it could have been canceled early on.  Every fan should be grateful for the hard-worked entertainment these people give us.

When Dan Harmon started the show, he knew he wanted an ensemble cast that could really work together and actually be friends.  He wanted them to bounce off each other and each add a perfect bit to a grander model of a show.  The cast assembled has since shown they can rival most any other sitcom in history; a passive hyperbole there maybe, with the “most”, but these characters and these actors behind them were the luckiest things to happen to TV in a long time (for me anyway, and I know Dan Harmon agrees).

Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts

(Note: This was written last week immediately following the post-hiatus premiere.)

When the newest episode aired, after the unmentionable dark period in the middle there, I breathed a sigh of relief seeing the “community” back at their table in the lunchroom.  The excited banter felt a little fast and compressed to keep the story moving, but Troy got a good laugh by asking why Pierce “looked like a wealthy murderer” and Chevy has the Wall Street get-up with obvious nods to American Psycho and Gordon Gecko.  Now, I have to say, the jokes with the security camera were too easy and vaguely racist/Mencia. Even with Pierce in mind that was just an easy mine to dig.  I even think they missed a beat in editing the joke when the camera gives Abed a threat-level and then, to Britta, it says only "Your guest has arrived." Britta scoffs at the racism before we, as an audience, even get that the camera has read her differently. It's vague. So there might have been a lazy set-up for the camera's racism.  Then the return of the joke for the credit break really kind of pissed me off.

 "Should I alert the authorities?" 

Come on, I get that Pierce would invest in a racist security camera, but would it really be able to read human skin like that?  A tiny camera? With the power to analyze human traits? Technology like that doesn't exist! Does it?  Ok, I got one criticism out of my system without feeling too bad.  (I'm insecure about my racism.)

There was a great pull to this episode; when jokes and story are moving along so quickly you kind of catch up moment by moment and try to absorb as much as possible.  I think I entered the viewing kind of relaxed, but I had to buckle my seat belt quickly for the full-speed-ahead comedy/story assault-train. What? I mean the passing of the whole episode was intense.  They managed about four different stories between Britta-Jeff, Troy-Abed, Shirley and Lamar, and Shirley and Pierce. Crazy.

Contemporary Impressionists

(Note: This was written last night in a haze of post-Community fever)

How far are the producers, directors and writers of the television show Community going to push it?  Really!? If the TV medium and it's audience on a “Prime Time Thursday Night” can handle this level of Caddyshackian humor, then this world will be a better place and I will be a happy man.  I wish we could all return to those happy times when Animal House was a new movie and Monty Python still just confused most people. 

Tonight's episode, “Contemporary Impressionists” screwed me up in the head. Things are changing so fast I don't know where to begin or how to get my bearings at all.  I loved the whole thing, of course. After the final credits I was on my hands and knees thanking my lucky stars, but trying to summarize the bonanza I just watched is going to be hard.  I mean, just getting over the idea of an evil Abed that can arise anytime he enters the Dreamatorium alone? Imagining where that story will lead is scary.  Ugh, foreshadowing!  But the Chevy laugh gave this episode it's icing.  "Are you a fat Burt Renolds?" Classic.

Other more important topics were briefly covered/alluded to like Britta and Jeff's relationship. Because that's why we’re all watching right?  The will they!? Won't they!? But seriously, Britta is doing a psychological evaluation for a class and Jeff is taking happy-pills, which might make him a super-douche.  I mean that kind of setup, that's just good writing.

She creates the diagnosis and he tries to stop himself from becoming a super-douche, but the pills make him blissfully aware that he can't, because someone mentioned that he looks like a “taller, better looking” Ryan Seacrest.  Cue my mention of Harmon writing the actors into their characters.  Who watches The Soup? Everyone right? We get the McHale v. Seacrest thing.

The other thing that caught me the most off-guard was the animation.  When a live action comedy decides to integrate cartoon air bubbles, there is a chance that I might have a problem understanding.  But luckily I have a Caddyshackian view of comedy and I knew the animation only served to make it funnier.  So I am OK with this new advancement.  It took me a long time to understand that good art will be misunderstood upon first viewing, but half the reason you go back to it is because it pissed you off in the first place.  Then you look back and wonder what negative headspace influenced your first opinion. Then, finally, you grasp the fact that the thing that threatened you at first has become the reason you like it.  Nods to How I Met Your Mother, because that helped me come to terms with how I fucked your mother.

Is anybody still there? Until next time.

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