Creating a character that everyone is supposed to hate is easy: make them a jerk. One of the reasons why fiction is so effective is that we as humans empathize with the characters on screen. When we see someone being mean for little to no reason to others, we don’t like them. Easy.
However, it’s much, much harder to create a character with significant jerk qualities who audiences are supposed to like. Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but Michael Scott isn’t close to the best part of The Office. He’s funny, yes, but he is mean, inconsiderate, narcissistic, and incapable of adult behavior unless it’s convenient to advance the plot. Michael’s best quality is as a catalyst to create funny situations for the other characters, who aren’t despicable human beings. Worst of all, Michael’s function as a boss—and a good (?) one at that—make absolutely no sense whatsoever within the world of the show.
My wife and I started watching Community recently. I had seen it before, about seven years ago, jobless after graduating college and living in my parents’ basement like the ideal sabermetrician. The show is fantastic, and watching her reacting to it for the first time is great. But every time I watch it, I wonder why Community didn’t get the love that other shows, like The Office, did.
I mention Michael Scott because Community has its own Michael Scott, except he functions much better within the context of the show. Played by comedy legend Chevy Chase, Pierce Hawthorne is a 60-something former CEO attending community college to accumulate knowledge and, well, find himself. Like Michael, Pierce is narcissistic, completely oblivious to others’ feelings, shockingly racist, and utterly capable of honest self-evaluation.
Unlike Michael, however, Pierce works because of his position in the show. Pierce is the guy nobody wants to be around, the guy at the bottom of the totem pole, rather than the feared bossman at the top. As a result, his antics are less central to the show, and others’ reaction to them makes Pierce a sympathetic character. Pierce not being the driving force of the show really does matter—as does the writers’ consistent handling of Pierce’s flaws and the more whimsical nature of the show.
But while Pierce and Michael share similarities, and while there’s an ensemble cast driving the whole thing, The Office and Community are two different shows. That’s a good thing. Community is self-aware, which leads to some utterly bizarre moments, fantastic throwaway lines, and some plots that are so nonsensical that they could have been Riverdale episodes in and of themselves.
Community’s killer cast and great writing power the engine. Troy Barnes and Abed Nadir, played by Donald Glover and Danny Pudi, respectively, are my personal favorites. The two develop a seemingly odd friendship until you realize that the two are perfect for each other, and their friendship shenanigans are the stuff of legend. Troy and Abed in the morning, their fake morning TV show, is an elite running gag that is never, never not funny.
Honestly, Community makes me wonder what the now-superstar Glover could have done with a comedy-centered career, because he is clearly the funniest person in nearly every scene he’s in, which is a feat considering the rest of a talented cast that includes Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Ken Jeong, and the aforementioned Chase.
In any case, if you’re looking for an easily binge-able show with a decorated (and famous cast), quick banter, and low stakes, Community is a great show that has a surprising amount of heart underneath its wit.
Watch it on: Netflix or Hulu
Length: 110 episodes, 22 minutes each
A good watch for: Fans of fast-paced witty banter, people who want to watch a cast of familiar faces, people who enjoy a healthy serving of nonsense in their shows, fans of Gilmore Girls
A bad watch for: Anybody who expects show quality to maintain all the way through, people who don’t like sitcoms, non-fans of Gilmore Girls