Community – the best show you’re not watching

It's a hidden gem with all the spark and insane inventiveness of Arrested Development

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Community might be the best show you’ve never watched. A US series from network giants NBC, the college-based comedy is just reaching the conclusion of its third season across the pond, but has barely registered with audiences over here.

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So it’s probably fair to say that the debut of its superb second season on Sony Entertainment Television tonight will have passed you by without incident. Sony’s satellite station is hardly one of the first channels you come across on the EPG. But this hardly befits the most inventive comedy to have come out of America since Arrested Development.

So what’s it all about?

Seven quirky college students form a motley crew of adult learners, around which the show’s offbeat antics are set: a simple enough premise, brought to life by a great cast that includes Chevy Chase, former stand-up star Joel McHale and Mad Men’s Alison Brie. 

At its heart Community is a sitcom and, like all US shows of the same ilk, it devotes a good five minutes of every episode to letting us know that its characters have learnt a valuable life lesson. But rather than simply exist within the confines of the well-worn comedy staple, Community ingeniously and overtly plays with them.

Community isn’t afraid to take creative risks: in fact it revels in them, which is perhaps no surprise given that it was created by Dan Harmon – an executive producer and writer on The Sarah Silverman Program – and counts Arrested Development alumni Joe and Anthony Russo among its creative team.

As a result, those who do tune in to the second series will be treated to everything from episodes shot entirely in stop-motion plasticine to a two-part, paintball-fuelled homage to Western movies. And don’t be surprised if you hear the characters themselves referencing the absurdity of these instalments. Community is self-aware, a TV show that knows it’s a TV show and doesn’t shy away from that fact.

Meta referencing

But its self-referential moments are just part of the meta-referencing that’s become the show’s calling card. Every episode is punctuated with a smorgasbord of pithy pop-culture nods. From The Breakfast Club to Beastmaster via Cougar Town, Glee and Doctor Who, visual gags lurk in in every frame of every episode, while the script is just as likely to offer up throwaway references to your favourite films and television shows.

An example of just how far the show’s writers will go in pursuit of their geek-fuelled agenda is this slowburn Beetlejuice gag that’s been more than three seasons in the making. Watch closely…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayaRznft9H4

The writers obviously enjoy rewarding their eagle-eyed audience, so it’s easy to see why the show has often been described as America’s answer to Spaced.

So why aren’t more people watching it?

Ironically, given how obsessed with mainstream pop culture Community is, its lack of popularity among the mainstream might well prove to be its downfall. While the offbeat humour continues to appeal to the show’s devoted fans, Community simply isn’t designed for the masses, and the lack of ratings success across the pond is no doubt what’s relegated the show to the scheduling graveyard over here.

Simply put, it’s a joke that not everyone’s going to get. But for those who do, there’s every chance that Community will become appointment viewing. Completists will want to get a hold of the show’s freshman season on DVD or catch up via Virgin Media’s on-demand service; but you can just as easily hop aboard tonight’s second season opener without missing a beat. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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Season two of Community starts tonight at 10:30pm on Sony Entertainment Television (Sky channel 157, Virgin Media 193)