Once every couple years I stumble blindly and haphazardly into a new sitcom. It happens one of two ways, I either fall into it before it hits super-big (How I Met Your Mother, season 1), or I find it while digging through Netflix (like Spaced).
This leads me to a show that I avoided at first (have you ever had a friend who hypes stuff up to the point where you don't want to acknowledge it, even if he might be right? This friend nerdgasmed over two particular franchises that I tried to ignore, 1) was Doctor Who, and 2) Community.
After a second friend (I HAVE FRIENDS, DAMMIT!) sat me down during a 6 hour Stand Up Comedy marathon involving Chris Titus, Robin Williams, and Hal Sparks, and she made me watch Donald Glover. I vaguely made the connection at the time, but didn't pursue it in any meaningful way. Honestly, even though it's only been a week, I can't remember what prompted me to watch the first episode of Community. We'll chalk it up to chaos theory.
And like many people before me (but not enough to make the show as sensational a hit as HIMYM) I fell in love with the misadventures of a pack of Community College misfits who are both recognizable and completely unique. I think this has to do with the strength of the casting. Unlike most sitcoms I've seen, they buckled down and really dedicated some heavy-weight talent to each character, so while they start off as stereotypes (as blatantly pointed out in the opening scene) they are portrayed by talented enough actors to run the gamut of absurdity.
This, I feel is what separates the show from most sitcoms I've watched. While the show promotes Jeff
Winger as the main character, it really does operate as a powerful ensemble. Winger might be the red ranger of the group, but even Chevy Chase's cantankerous Pierce is in many ways, irreplaceable. The show takes great strides to never marginalize any of its cast without ramifications (see again, Pierce). And for all the surrealism surrounding the hi-jinks the characters get into, they retain surprisingly human relationships with one another. It helps ground the show's more offbeat elements.
Community breaks apart the medium in a way I haven't seen done before (at least not that I can think of right off the top of my head) and is, as much as I hate the word, Meta. It deconstructs movies and shows with complete confidence and even a bit of swagger.
One of the main highlights of the show, whether it was originally intended or just happened that way, the best friendship between Troy and Abed ranks up there among bromances with Turk & JD, Bill and Ted, Ros and Gill, and/or Calvin and Hobbes, but there is something fresh and fun about their interactions. Also, I have to take a moment to appreciate the sheer existence of Abed, a character so amazing that for two days this week I actually talked like him. I'm an acting major and I can't always control it. I may have locked myself away in my room for the duration of my mimicry.
One last thing that sets the show apart from most sitcoms is, 3 seasons down and other than sporatic sexual flings, the characters don't fall into the inevitable trap of relationships. If anything (speaking as a former Community College student) the lack of heartfelt romantic relationships minus the hormone fueled bang in the janitor's closet is pretty much how I remember my time there, and it adds a level of tension to the characters relationships you don't get elsewhere, when the characters will-they-won't-they gets dull and the audience loses interest once they do.
Which leads me to my next point, much like Spaced captured British culture in a totally sincere way, I would contest that Community is the quintessential American sitcom. It celebrates its heritage in a variety of homages that, I'm still constantly surprised the show could pull off, shifting from Western, to Star Wars, to Noir, to Procedural Cop Show, with uncanny ease. It's actually really impressive.