Community season 2 review

s2“Six seasons and a movie!”

This throwaway line by Abed became the rallying call for those of us who have fallen in love with the strangest college TV show of all time.  But can it be done?  Community has existed on the knife-edge of life and death for most of its run, struggling just to survive.  As of this writing, the show is in its half-sized fifth season with no word whether a sixth will be made — nevermind a movie.  No matter how Community ends its run, I’m just overjoyed that we have so much goodness to go back and enjoy.

Following my season one review a while back, I wanted to go through the successive seasons and give each of them their due consideration.  So let’s get jammin’ with season two!

There are two things to expect with Community.  The first is that the show is unrelentingly post-modern, using a strange community college as a staging ground to riff off of various movies, TV shows, and tropes.  The second is that it acknowledges that change happens and the show rolls with it.

Because of this, the study group (the “Greendale Seven”) is no longer in Spanish, but has moved on to take Anthropology together.  Former Spanish teacher Ben Chang is now enrolled as a student himself and is trying — mostly in vain — to become part of the group.  The fact that the study group always has eight chairs and only seven members suggests how much another member is needed and how much the group has become insular and cliquish.

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“Feast your ear tongues on these memory pops.”

That doesn’t mean that this group of misfits isn’t entertaining and likable, because they are and they are.  The running theme of the study group as a surrogate family (with narcissist Jef Winger as the dad and clueless Britta as the mom) is examined from multiple perspectives, just as the study group is taking a class on humankind and the social dynamics that are formed.  If season one was about communicating (Spanish class), this one is about everyone figuring out how they fit together and work together to be a functioning family.

Overall, the second season is quite strong.  My favorite episodes include a hilarious Apollo 13 spoof (using a KFC “space simulator” in an old RV), one where Jef is tempted to go back to his former sleazy lawyering ways, a zombie/Halloween party, a very twisted conspiracy story, a D&D session, and one episode where we’re treated to a slew of flashbacks to other adventures we have never seen before.  These are so engaging and memorable that I’m inclined to forgive the weaker outings, such as Troy’s birthday and the claymation Christmas episode (which was great in concept but dull on laughs).  I also liked the addition of a rival community college as an occasional threat for the students to fight against as well as the gradual expansion of the show’s ancillary characters (Magnitude, Leonard, etc.)

The sheer freedom to go on these bizarre adventures without breaking the internal logic of the show is another balancing act that Community does well.  Creator Dan Harmon treated every episode like a little movie and you can see how well it works.  The characters each get turns to grow and develop, but also to show their own flaws and have their mistakes.  That none of them is the basically good “normal” lead asks the audience to stop rooting for just one person and instead root for the group as a whole.

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“It’s called a Complisult. Part compliment, part insult. He invented them. I coined the term. See what I just did there? That was an explainabrag.”

Season two also got me thinking about how Community doesn’t tip-toe around controversial topics or treat them with that sacred brand of after-school special, but instead the show just plows through them, has fun with them, and keeps the conversation light.  In an episode where Britta befriends a student who she thinks is gay, the show has a lot of fun with tweaking how over-the-top people get when trying to be sensitive and tolerant of others.  Another episode has Abed making a sacrilegious film elevating himself to the status of Jesus Christ (and himself a Muslim) much to the dismay of Christian Shirley.  I fully anticipated that story to embrace the mockery, but it instead takes a wonderful twist to finding the characters displaying grace and compassion.

I’m of a divided opinion about how the season ends.  Chevy Chase’s Pierce goes on a journey over the course of the season to becoming somewhat of a villain to the group as he’s caught in a catch-22 loop of offending everyone which causes him to be excluded which causes him to offend even more.  The culmination in a two-episode paintball war — which switches from a Western theme to Star Wars, because why not — examines this fracture in the group and how they might repair the damage done.  Pierce is a frustrating character but there are sympathetic elements to him and, well, we all have that relative who is completely inappropriate.  It’s relatable.

But did it have to be paintball?  Season one’s Modern Warfare was such a genius episode that this feels as though it’s riding on its coattails.  Then again, the season two finale is really well-done and I can understand the concept of traditions in shows.  So I guess it’s a wash.

Season two is exactly the follow-up that Community needed.  It wasn’t and never will be a show that the larger viewing audience gets, but for those of us that do, each episode is a treasure in and of itself.

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