Does this get adulthood right?’ is a blog series where a yr an adult writer watches or re-watches or reads a cultural work about adulthood and consider whether it’s depiction of adulthood is reflective of real life.
What’s the thing called? Community
When was the thing made? The show premiered in 2009 and is nearing the end of its third season.
What’s the thing about? Community is about the relationships between a the members of a study group at a fictional community college in Greendale, Colorado. Each character in the group comes from a different background and has enrolled at the college in attempt to get their lives back on track. As the series has progressed, the group has become tighter knit while the show itself has gone off the hinges, getting weirder, crazier and more self-referential. Many episodes play either as homages to different movies or genres while others are inverting generic sitcom the tropes. Despite being one of weirdest sitcoms in the history of network television, Community still hinges on the emotional growth of the characters at the heart.
In terms of the characters, Joel McHale plays a disgraced lawyer who never got a bachelors degree. Gillian Jacobs plays a former anarchist who is trying to get her life together. Alison Brie is an uptight honor-roll student with a past as a prescription pill addict. Danny Pudi is a pop culture addict with an Asbergers-esque lack of understanding of social situations. Donald Glover plays dimwitted but big-hearted former high school jock. Yvette Nicole Brown is a bible-thumping single mother who wants to start who own business. And finally, Chevy Chase is a slightly senile, old rich guy (essentially playing himself).
Who made the thing? Dan Harmon, a longtime stalwart of LA’s comedy season. He was co-creator of the Sarah Silverman Program and also wrote the cult classic, never-picked-up TV pilot Heat Vision and Jack, which starred Jack Black as a super intelligent former astronaut and Owen Wilson as his talking motorcycle(!). Harmon has said he got the idea to create the show after going to a community college Spanish class, where he found that he really enjoyed the people in his study group, even though he had nothing in common with them.
What’s the take on adulthood? In a word, I’d describe the series’ take on adult life as whimsical. While terribly dark things happen, such as Nicole Yvette Brown’s unplanned pregnancy or the intervention into the possible suicide of a nerdy outcast named Fat Neil, there is an underlying sense of magic to Greendale Community College. Each member of the group can reinvent themselves as they please, depending on the scenario. McHale is the cynical, beating heart of the show, who, every other episode, finds himself won over by the power of friendship and the way the school has connected him to, yes, a community.
In one the of the best known episodes of the series, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”, we are taken into Danny Pudi’s mind, where he is in the midst of a nervous breakdown and viewing the world as if it is claymation (thus the entire episode is animated like an old time Christmas special). He then leads the group on a quest to find the meaning of Christmas, which of course, all comes down to spending time with the people you care about. If it sounds cheesy, it’s because the show embraces its emotional core, while also filling itself with zany sight gags, weird callbacks and as many inspired jokes as it can fit into a twenty-two minute episode.
In general, the shows depicts adulthood as time where you can still invent who you are, where you can get caught up in flights of fancy (building the world’s largest blanket fort) and where you’re friends are what mattered most. It’s a fantasy version of adulthood, but at least the fantasy is rooted in characters seeking redemption after a fall from grace.
Does this thing get adulthood right? Nope. Not even a little bit. I don’t imagine community college is anything like Greendale for anybody, and obviously, some of the more far-fetched episodes (the zombie outbreak, the days long paintball games, the world’s largest blanket fort) have nothing to do with reality. Though, I’ll say that the affection each character has for each other certainly feels real, but that has to do more with the actors’ chemistry than it has to do with with connection to what people are really like. I just can’t imagine these people hanging out in real life.
One thing the show does get right, though, is the fact that most grown-ups don’t really want to be grown up. We love the chances to revel in childish things, dressing up for Halloween or a good game of paintball. One of my favorite episodes is when McHale and Glover find a secret trampoline garden the school’s (racist) janitor has been hiding for decades. McHale’s abject joy as he jumps up and down on the trampoline is a feeling that many new adults still seek out regularly
If I was to watch one episode, which one should I watch? Oooh. Tough one. Some of the show’s best episodes, such as “Fistful of Paintballs,” “For a Few Paintballs More,” “Paradigms of Modern Memory,” or “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” aren’t terribly good entry points to the show. The first episode I saw that made me think, “whoa, I should watch this show,” was “Remedial Chaos Theory.” It’s a good introduction to the characters and the show’s warped sense of itself, without being too inaccessible. Please. Everyone. Watch Community.
Henry Goldman is founder of yr an adult.