How Community Can Make You a Better Storyteller

You can’t handle the moist towelettes! 

 -Pierce Hawthorne, CEO Hawthorne Wipes

If I’ve learned anything from TV, it is that to gain an audience’s attention, all you have to do is insert any Jack Nicholson quote into your statement. And what I want to draw my audience’s attention to, is the lasting legacy and sad early demise of that cult favorite, inexplicably forced to combat against Glee, which endured (once again, inexplicably) without the ever-looming threat of cancellation.

The past ten years has seen a renaissance in television programming, with HBO, Showtime, AMC, and FX coming into their own, delivering cinema-style high quality programming within a longer time frame, hybridizing the best of the long form, with the best of the highest budget Hollywood blockbusters. Network television has also boomed, showing us that premium channels are no longer the only means of accessing premium content.

Community was a network show, and, is the missing link in the fossil record of television between multi camera, laugh track-heavy sitcoms to serialized single camera comedies. If we only had known its significance, maybe it would have endured? Alas, this is just wishful thinking from an oft-academically inclined purveyor of all things entertainment. Nonetheless, I would like to discuss why I’ve come back to Community for my third re-watch, and why I’ll continue to re-watch it long into the future, much as I would reread a book to revisit very dear friends.

On the surface, the show is a straight-forward ensemble comedy, with endearing, cooky characters that engage in witty banter. This is why I keep coming back to the show: its entertainment value. But the reason that I stay and keep watching, through all 6 (finally!) seasons, is the show’s commitment to high conceptual construction. The more you watch, the more you realize that through its multi-season arc, Community becomes a reference to itself and all similar comedy programming to come before and after. Abed serves as our Greek chorus of construction, and we come to love and accept the conceit that Community knows that it is a television show. It’s kind of like breaking the fourth wall, but the only people who acknowledge the breach are the characters, and they only ever acknowledge it by refusing to acknowledge it. Convoluted? Perhaps. Ridiculously clever? I certainly think so.

But, I would like to reiterate, that while I derive my Community jollies from this particular facet of its construction, the beauty of the show is that you don’t have to think about it this way at all to enjoy it. I’ve probably said this before, but that is one of the truest marks of high quality entertainment: the ability to enjoy it on multiple levels, over and over again.

If you are a student of storytelling, of film and television, I implore you, do yourself a favor… put in your disc, or turn on your internet streaming platform of your choice and re-enroll in Greendale Community College. You will not regret the decision. If you take the time to watch Community critically, analyzing its construction, beginning at the script level, you will become a better storyteller yourself.

 

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