As the online TV age hits its stride, the original commissions from Netflix, Amazon et al are coming thick and fast. But just as exciting as the onrush of brand new shows is the resuscitation of old favourites. So far, we’ve seen Arrested Development and Ripper Street brought back from the dead after being dumped by their terrestrial channels, and this week sees the greatest save of all: the sitcom Community, cancelled by the NBC network last year but now being revived by the new streaming service Yahoo Screen in the US from Tuesday.
For the uninitiated, Dan Harmon's sitcom centred on the misadventures of a study group of mature students in a community college is, let’s not skimp on the superlatives, one of the greatest television comedies ever made. However, just as it has struggled in the ratings across the Atlantic, so it’s remained under-the-radar here, having only ever been shown on the obscure Sony Entertainment Channel, where the new season will also premiere this week. But wait! Those yet to discover it are in luck, because all previous five series have also just been added to the life-hub that is Netflix. So, here, to mark these happy occurrences, is a 10-point guide to its genius:
1. The setting
If sitcoms are one of our premier sources of escapism, then Community is the full cloud nine experience. As disreputable as educational establishments come, Greendale Community College is a place where fully grown adults untether themselves from ambitions and responsibilities and embrace the full under-employed, over-analytical fecklessness of student life: who wouldn’t enrol if they could?
2. The cast
From sleazy lawyer Jeff Winger to hipster quasi-activist Britta and Christian single mum Shirley to cantankerous billionaire Pierce, Community’s sitcom gang is joyfully eclectic. Though, by the same token, the way it embraces diversity in race, gender and age among its leads is entirely unselfconscious, with silliness being the natural unifier.
3. The hero
Community has a conventional leading man figure in Joel McHale’s roguish, T-shirt hugging, attorney Winger. But the show’s real hero, Danny Pudi’s Abed, is anything but. A socially dysfunctional pop-culture obsessive who has offered a running meta-commentary on events from the off, he encapsulates why Community exists in a different galaxy of smarts to every other mainstream sitcom going.
4. Chevy Chase
That the comeback of the comedy veteran as wet wipes heir Pierce Hawthorne hasn’t brought him Michael Keaton-like acclaim is a sore injustice. Set against all the lovable, perma-grinning doofuses he played during the 1970s and 1980s, his performance as a bigoted, raging misanthrope was a brilliant volte-face, even if it finally turned out to be rather close to home. Chase left the series before the fourth season after falling out with showrunner Harmon and ranting that the show was a “fucking mediocre sitcom.”
5. The joke-rate
So crammed is it with quips, asides, allusions, and visual gags, it’s sitcom as the world’s most casually witty, crazily hyperactive Twitter feed. And in that way is the most in-real-life comedy imaginable for our hyper-mediated age.
6. The pastiches
An already on-aim show hit a true sweet spot towards the end of Season 1 when it started channelling its pop-culture mania into full-on, episode-long genre take-offs, beginning with “Contemporary American Poultry”, an inspired tribute to Scorsese-an gangster films which saw Abed become the power-crazed head of a chicken fingers crime racket. Since then, we’ve had everything from space (simulator) epics to bleak David Fincher-esque procedurals, and episodes that played with form as well as content, such as Season 3’s 8-bit computer game homage or Season 5’s GI Joe-esque animation. The real key to their success is their sincerity: tributes rather than spoofs, they are mini-masterpieces of tone and narrative.
7. The Dungeons & Dragons episode
Season 2, episode 14, and the ultimate expression of the show’s ability to alchemise epic majesty from the premise of some people sitting around a table.
8. The feels
Clever-cleverness in comedy often comes hand in hand with a certain coldness, so Community has always done well to ground itself in an aw-shucks sweetness that means the hi-jinx and artifice is in the service of homespun lessons about friendship, self-realisation et al. Most aw-shucks of all is the puppyish love between best friends Abed and Donald Glover’s ex-quarterback Troy: a bromance that is simply too pure to be sullied by the term.
9. The troubles
Oh, there have been a lot, from the continual threat of cancellation to the aforementioned Chase-Harmon feud and temporary sacking of Harmon for Season 4, before he was thankfully reinstated. But its stormy passage has only made its cult underdog status more assured, and the show has made joyful postmodern play of its problems in recent times: take the Season 5 finale, which saw the “unmarketable” Greendale fight for its survival against the corporate bigwigs of NBC, cough, Subway.
10. The #sixseasonsandamovie
Deriving from a throwaway Season 2 comment, this famed hashtag has been the joyful refrain used by Community fans to galvanise support for the show and will its continued survival. And now that we’ve arrived at the six seasons, miraculously enough, the movie is surely but the only fitting conclusion.
‘Community’ Season 6 premieres on Wednesday at 10.05pm on the Sony Entertainment Channel. ‘Community’ Seasons 1 to 5 are available on Netflix now