Friday, May 18, 2012

Micro Review [TV]: Community, Season 3

E. Pluribus Anus

The Meat

What do you say about a live-action cartoon that's been yanked back from the brink of cancellation at least twice by it's small (*real* small) but fiercely nerdy fan base, features an Oscar-winning writer dressed mostly in drag, and has gone down a rabbit hole of meta so dense that it's probably referencing pop culture that doesn't even exist yet? Welp, if you're me, I guess you say this:

Season 3 of NBC's Community represents two milestones in the series: 1) Making a final break with any sense that the show takes place in the same world in which the rest of us exist, and 2) The creative team shrugging their shoulders and saying "They're going to cancel us and probably not air all these episodes, anyway, so let's do every single damn thing we please. And then yell at Chevy Chase."

The results, then, are predictably uneven. Some of the best moments in an already fantastic show take place in Season 3 - the musical opening of the first episode that promised less weirdness, the creation of the Dr. Who analogue "Inspector Spacetime," the gang going 8-bit in "Digital Estate Planning," and every second of "Remedial Chaos Theory," which is possibly the best 21 minutes of a sitcom I've ever seen. But it got to the point where every episode was based around a gimmick. The conclusion of Troy and Abed's pillow-vs-blanket-fort conflict was a pitch-perfect parody of Ken Burns' Baseball and "Basic Lupine Urology" (Get it? Dick Wolf?) was a spot-on Law & Order send-up, but...what was the point? Dean Pelton's attempt to make a commercial for Greendale was a great hybrid of both Apocalypse Now and its making-of documentary Hearts of Darkness, which is no mean feat to do in 21 minutes, but all of these gimmicks take time away from the characters. "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" and "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" from Season 2 both bring the clever, but have honest emotional payoffs Season 3 mostly lacks.

I marveled at Creator/Executive Producer Dan Harmon and his team's technical mastery, but missed Troy, Abed, Jeff, Shirley, Annie, Pierce, and Britta in the process.

The Math

Objective Quality: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for the darkest timeline; +1 for landing another 13 episodes next season.

Penalties: -1 for putting clever before characters; -1 for the start-stop nature of the Security Guard Chang season-long arc that disappeared for weeks at a time; -1 for the public meltdown between Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase, which cast a pall over the last several episodes and puts the future direction of the series in doubt.

Cult Coefficient Value: 8/10

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]