How “Community” brings us back to campus

By Olivia Montes

Elm Staff Writer

It is an all-too familiar premise: a charming yet insufferable, recently-axed lawyer (Joel McHale) attends classes at a two-year college, finds himself attracted to an independent, liberated fellow student, and somehow finds himself the unexpected leader of a, shall we say “unique”,study group. 

This group includes a maternal figure looking to make a second act for herself (Yvette Nicole Brown), a former Adderall addict-slash-overachiever trying to keep herself stable enough to earn a degree(Alison Brie), an all brawn and no brain jock type just trying to get by (Donald Glover), an old man whose oddball behaviors dangle between creepy and senile (Chevy Chase), and an overly-observant film devotee who can possibly predict the future (Danny Pudi).

These are the characters that make up the show you feel like you’ve watched a hundred times before, and yet you’re seeing it all for the first time.

That, in a nutshell, is what Dan Harmon’s series “Community” is: chock full of nods to other familiar enclosed products — “The  Breakfast Club,” anyone? — while  also being a magnetic force of its own, taking on the familiar setting of a small college with a unique cast facing unique problems, as well as managing unique solutions, that only this show can carry.

“[Not] many shows in the history of American network TV…have managed ‘Community’s’ trick of being…a goofy, shenanigans-driven comedy, a self-aware commentary on pop culture, and an examination of ethical and philosophical concepts,” Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture said in 2012.

And, at the same time, allows us to escape back into a world we deeply miss.

Similar to other go-to series such as “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” and “The Office,” viewers are finding themselves rewinding to a place and time where the world seemed less contained and less threatened by an ever-impending outbreak. Using the projections of the show, audiences can transport themselves to a familiar screenshot of their once-normal lives to restore their sanity, whether it be in that one spot in the library one’s study group occupies, surrounded by wall-to-wall cubicles with caricatures of human beings for work mates, or just hanging out at that casual hangout spot with, well, friends.

Friends. Family. Co-workers. The occasional study group. These are the people that, at some point or another, we have depended on to liven up our hectic days with the occasional quip or witty line.

But now, in an uncertain age where in-person, face-to-face togetherness is strictly discouraged — and  the length of time without the comfort of our loved ones appears far too stretched out — viewers  are relying on their favorite characters to bring them the much-needed laughter, tears, and overall good times craved by all.

Through creating a semi, pre-coronavirus pseudo-environment with series like Community, viewers have the chance to immerse themselves back into the lives they once knew and loved — while also granting them the building opportunity to take advantage of the people and sights around them once released from quarantine.

And while it isn’t helpful to think of what’s going on in the world as citizens across the globe try to escape it, there is a balance that needs to be maintained while watching.

“The words ‘escape’ and ‘escapist’ are built into our language for entertainment,” James Poniewozik of The New York Times said.

“Art doesn’t exist to make you forget your life. It has all of life in it — the good and the bad and the awkward reminders. Art isn’t an anesthetic–it makes you feel things; this isn’t a failing, it’s the point,” he said.

That’s what these shows, especially those with a setting all college students can connect with, give their fans: a community to come back to, to rely on in this time of crisis and unfamiliarity. A community to depend on to bring the joy and laughter now needed more than ever to get through the day.

But more importantly, a community that makes us feel as if they are truly there — as if, for about a half hour program or two, audiences can remember what it feels like to be there, to be with those we interact with, even if the premise itself seems a tad bit exaggerated.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Alissa Wilkinson of VOX Media said. “[When we tell stories] we trace lines between events, forcing them into arcs that make sense to us, that let us extract meaning from the world.”

And, now, with the entire six seasons available on Netflix, there’s no stopping dedicated fans and newbies alike from sitting down in the library, cracking open a book, and taking in the French fry oil smell of Greendale Community College with the rest of the Spanish study group.

And for a while, and for current and incoming college students, as escapist as it sounds, it just might be the simulated reality we need now more than ever.

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