Community! *Wherein we avoid a Marxist analysis
January 17, 2010
Community is the best new show on TV. Normally that would be an uncontroversial statement, as we’ve been in something of a sitcom dark age, but people really love Modern Family. Reuters actually selected it as one of the ten best shows of the decade. I like Modern Family. Actually, every time I watch it I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it; I forget how funny it is between episodes. But one of the best of the decade? Frankly, that The Wire wasn’t on this list shows that the critic in charge has no standing. Maybe season 6 will change his mind.
No, Community is the funniest situational comedy of the year. And I mean that in the truest sense. As Freud writes:
The comic turns out first of all to be something unintended we find in human social relations. It is found in persons, in their movements, forms, actions and traits of character—originally perhaps only in physical characteristics, and later in mental ones as well–and in their respective ways of expressing them…However, the comic is capable of being detached from persons if the circumstance that makes a person appear comical is recognized. This is how ‘the comic of situation’ arises, and this knowledge brings the possibility of making a person comic at will, by placing him in situations where these conditions for the comic attach to its actions.
The comedy of the situation depends on merging social roles with circumstance, with creating character traits that are exploited by putting the character in a dissimilar or disadvantageous circumstance (or, as we say in the biz: “hilarity ensues’). For Freud, situational comedy is different from a joke, a self-contained unit that depends on verbal economy for its humor; the sitcom depends on character traits.
This is why Community is the funniest new show on TV. The writers consistently invert classic sitcom plots, adapting them to the strengths of their characters. They may sometimes seem one-dimensional, but there are enough one dimensions to go around.
In one episode, it’s Abed whose situation makes him the funniest; in others, he might disappear. The show has more jokes-per-episode than just about any other show on TV, but, ultimately, it’s the way the jokes are tied to the comedy of situation that make them so successful.
Combine that with rotating situations and you have something that few other shows have: a truly funny ensemble series.