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.

Community College Book ReportNo, 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.

Note: This post also appears on

* * *

There are a lot of good things about HBO’s new series In Treatment. I won’t be sharing my thoughts on any of them, however, because HBO has pissed me off.

Having watched the very first episode of In Treatment while visiting family (I cannot afford cable at home, a result of “the artist’s life”), and having enjoyed it enough to want to watch more of the show, I did some research when I got home and was surprised to find that HBO was offering the show online, for free, via an iTunes podcast. This seemed too good to be true, but I tried downloading the episodes from the podcast, and it worked, so I shrugged and decided to just not worry about it. This was a pleasant feeling, and I privately congratulated HBO on the marketing move. I was still convinced that something fishy was going on, but my naive prediction was that I would be allowed to watch the first season of the show online, in this manner, before then being cut off.

This prospect did not bother me. I understand that even when your total production budget has been dramatically reduced – due to the fact that you shoot 90% of your show in one room, and that the majority of your cinematography consists of filming two actors sitting across from one another, at only a few different camera angles and under the same lighting arrangement – that these things cost money.

So on my merry way to therapy I went, for approximately three weeks. Due to the different sort of format they use for the show (each week features five different original episodes, but I am not going to go into any more detail, because I’m pissed off) I was able to watch fifteen half hour episodes, online, for free. That’s seven and a half hours of free premium entertainment. More than just a taste, this represents several separate meals. They might have been good meals, too. Actually, I can’t remember. I’m pissed off. Read the rest of this entry »