The blogosphere has been set alight.
Picture the scene: outraged bloggers are typing ALL IN CAPS, the sirens and smoke of a cyber-riot are swirling, and the ‘Occupy NBC’ movement has had a surge in membership… all of this because Dan Harmon, the creator of a TV show called ‘Community‘, has been forced to leave the show by NBC.
“Whoa, whoa, what is Community?” I hear you say.
Well, that’s a good question. ‘Community’ is a sitcom set in an American Community College. Featuring the usual motley crew of misfits:
Jeff, the protagonist, is a disgraced former lawyer trying to pass the bar after being found to have faked his certificate whilst practicing.
Troy, a former high school quarterback, struggling to let go of his former glories.
Annie, an ex-classmate of Troy’s, used to be a legal pill-addict due to her inability to deal with the pressure to achieve.
Britta is a principled burnout who has run out of excuses to carry on travelling.
Shirley, struggling to avoid stereotypes as a middle-aged single mum trying to launch an online business.
Pierce is a retired millionaire dilettante whose antisocial ways have left him lonely.
Abed (my favourite) brings the fun: a Palestinian-Polish-American who has a form of autism that causes him to see life as a TV show, spoilers and all.
“So far, so standard sitcom”
Well, yes, but in practice, Dan Harmon and his cohorts have created a likeable and unusual comedy that contains numerous idiosyncratic references to films, music, TV, internet memes and other forms of pop culture. All whilst exploring themes of friendship and identity (and all that other ‘blah’ stuff). Whole episodes are satires, or tributes to, films (such as the episode that parodies ‘Goodfellas’), computer games, and mediums (an episode done in stop-motion animation). All of this, and Ken Jeong as Senor Chang gives the show some truly original comic moments. Dan Harmon has consistently been unafraid to insert these references, (often unexplained) into the scripts, and is a big reason for the show’s madcap appeal.
“I’m beginning to see why this has come so close to being cancelled”
Now you’re getting it! As a TV show that sets itself up to be an endless parade of in-jokes and unconventional humour, it’s perhaps not surprising it has struggled in much the same way as ‘Arrested Development‘ did before it. ‘Community’ has flirted outrageously with cancellation throughout its run, and it’s something of a miracle that, in the cut-throat world of American TV, it has taken this long for something like this to happen.
“Ratings don’t lie though, something must have been wrong”
I can see where you’re going with that, but in reality Nielsen ratings have long been considered flawed, and ‘Community’ has such an esoteric, oddball appeal, that it may even be a victim of its own success. A large part of ‘Community’s fan-base are the kind of people who will be able to laugh at an episode framed as a parody of ‘My Dinner with Andre’ and also know when ‘Call of Duty’ is being ribbed. People with that kind of eclectic and broad cultural knowledge aren’t as widespread as the legion of designer handbag-toting fans of ‘Sex and the City’ but there are enough out there to keep a show afloat.
Problem is, with standard TV watching receding in America, other methods of consuming media are coming to the fore: downloading, Sky+-like services, streaming, DVD rental and, let’s face it, torrents are all ways that young, tech-savvy people enjoy TV. The target market for ‘Community’ may not be watching in such a way that contributes to the ratings, thus meaning that their own targeted demographics are harming their brand in a world where an archaic and flawed measuring system is the industry standard.
“This is all very depressing, however, I do want to check ‘Community’ out now”
Yes, yes it is. However, we do some reasons for optimism:
1. ‘Arrested Development’, ‘Futurama’, ‘Family Guy’ and ‘American Dad’ are all recent examples of shows that have defied the “chew you up and spit you out” mentality of the American TV industry. With its loyal fans, perhaps ‘Community could be the latest phoenix from the ashes fan success story?
2. The show hasn’t actually been cancelled, there might be a possibility of it being as good as it was before. It can’t have all been Dan Harmon. Writers, actors and directors will have all contributed in some way.
3. Ken Jeong will still be involved:
It’s sad, it’s depressing, it’s the reality of the world we live in, but it’s always hard to take when interesting creators are prevented from doing what they do best by the economics of the situation. While we live in a world where the uneasy marriage of big business and creativity perseveres for the sake of the kids, this will happen again, and again, and again.
Let’s just hope that each time it happens, there are a few more laughs along the way. The link to Dan Harmon’s incandescent-rage-inducing blog post, is here. Drop a comment below.