Another late night working on cartoons. I now have five candidates to put into the competition but I’ll keep working until the deadline. Then I’ll either post them here or start another round of sending them to various publications so I can amass more rejection letters to insulate my office walls.
The weather has definitely turned. It’s cold so I’m happy but also late rising, late getting to my desk, later still writing this blog. But for that, I partly blame the gods of good comedy. I always work later than normal when I’ve got a good comedy series playing in the background. Since I finished an entire run of all eight series of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, I’ve had to find myself a new show for late nights. I’ve settled on the US comedy ‘Community’ and last night I started the third season. To say that I like ‘Community’ is to reduce my emotions to something overly simplistic because I also hate ‘Community’. But to say it’s a love/hate relationship is also reductive. It’s a remarkable show in that I’ve never seen anything with so many bad ideas. One moment it’s sublime and the next just insane. Yet that’s its charm. It’s more off-the-wall than is usual with mainstream American shows.
I could compare it with ‘Portlandia’ except ‘Portlandia’ suffered from more bad writing; sketches which were just bad and went on for too long. ‘Community’ isn’t badly written as much as sometimes it stretches its conceits to points where I’m unwilling to go when I’m tired. Scenes can still be good but I’m more likely to write off an entire episode because, late at night, I want something familiar in my comedy. ‘Community’ is rarely familiar. It constantly ‘subverts the genre’ but I now hate myself for having written that. It’s one of those stock phrases that you usually hear from university postgrads who haven’t thought deeper than their dissertation on some lousy vampire novel. It’s like the phrase ‘doing interesting things with the genre’, which also means very little but sounds faintly intelligent.
However, ‘Community’ does do interesting things with… Oh, now, stop it! No it doesn’t do interesting things. It just plays games with genre, using the world of the community college to act out different generic plotlines. Sometimes the allusions to films work better than others. A few nights ago I watched the episode made in the style of ‘My Diner with Andre’ (crossed with bits from ‘Pulp Fiction’) and it worked really well. One involving zombies sent me to sleep. It’s a show which I look forward to, sometimes can’t get enough of, and occasionally, struggle to make it to the end of an episode.
Yet what impresses me most about the show is the cast. It’s a brave ensemble piece, which does little for the vanity of the actors, Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Annie Edison, Donald Glover, and Chevy Chase. I could spend 1000 words talking about each of their characters without even scratching the depths of their complexities and neuroses. Yet what impresses me the most is that it’s the minor roles that have also developed and made stars of their actors. Ken Jeong holds nothing back at Chang (and like Kramer (Seinfeld) and Klingler (MASH), is one of the great supporting characters of American TV comedy), and Jim Rash is outrageously camp as Dean Craig Pelton. Both began in support roles but through the sheer force of their characters, have become the comic show’s comic staples. They both remind me of David Cross playing Tobias Fünke in ‘Arrested Development’, ostensibly a minor character who quickly became a comic lynchpin.
In fact, ‘Arrested Development’ is a good place to end. ‘Community’ is much stranger than ‘Arrested Development’, braver comedy and, for that, perhaps harder to love. Yet when it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s the only show of this kind that comes close to reaching the same comic heights.