Tag Archives: Community

Classic TV: ‘Community: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’

abed community dungeons dragons

Further proof the geeks have inherited the Earth: “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” a typically wonderful second-season episode of “Community,” which originally aired in 2011.

Other than a few melodramatic references in old TV movies, I’m not sure the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons has ever had the broad awareness it has now, with references – sometimes uncomplimentary – on a variety of shows on the air in recent years.

There was almost certainly no D&D story on TV as great, as true-to-life and as funny as this “Community” episode, though.

community advanced dungeons dragons

In “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” the Greendale study group plays D&D to befriend Neil, a fellow student with the less-than-charitable nickname “Fat Neil.” The study group, with a very shaky sense of the game, begins to play only to be interrupted by Pierce (Chevy Chase), the usually-unlikable group member. Pierce is outraged that he’s been excluded and forces his way into the game.

What the gang doesn’t suspect, however, is that Pierce has a plan.

The episode has genuine heart, but it’s also one of the funniest entries in the show. From Abed’s strict adherence to his role of Dungeon Master to Annie’s mimed performance as Hector the Well-Endowed to the relish of Pierce’s revenge … oh my gosh, so much goodness.

chang community dungeons dragons

Shirley’s reaction to Chang’s “dark elf” makeup: “So we’re just going to ignore this hate crime?” Priceless.

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‘Community’ canceled; it burned bright while it lasted

community modern warfare

When “Community” debuted five seasons ago, it looked like it might be just another NBC sitcom. A bunch of friends sit around a study table at a community college and yak at each other? It sounded like another “time porn” sitcom in the tradition of “Friends” or “How I Met Your Mother.”

But the show, in the hands of creator and producer Dan Harmon, quickly distinguished itself.

“Community” proved to be offbeat and hilarious and sometimes poignant and often surreal.

If audiences in 2009 didn’t recognize that and embrace it – or shun it – by the the late-first-season episode, “Modern Warfare,” a half-hour ostensibly about an on-campus paintball war to win priority class registration at Greendale Community College, they likely never would.

The episode was a note-perfect homage to action films – action film cliches, really – that showed just what Harmon and his cast were capable of. From the opening moments, when the campus looks post-apocalyptic after only an hour of paintball war, to the ending, which managed to take a shot at “Glee” and be sentimental at the same time, the episode was soooo good.

Other first season episodes – like “Physical Education,” in which attorney-turned-student Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) plays an epic game of pool with a crusty phys ed teacher – were better, more clever, more laugh-out-loud funny than much of what was on TV at the time.

And while later seasons had their highs and lows, almost every single one had some great episodes. The claymation-like Christmas special. The pillow fort episode. The trampoline episode.

Maybe, just maybe, best of all: “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” in the second season. That heartfelt, funny, geektastic episode might actually top “Modern Warfare” in my mind. Maybe.

Or maybe “Remedial Chaos Theory,” in which alternate realities and “the darkest timeline” were introduced.

Damn. I don’t know which I love more.

The show faltered in its fourth season, after Harmon – reportedly a difficult genius – was ousted from the show.

This past season, the fifth, showed a good return to form and return to the set by Harmon. It didn’t reach the heights achieved by the show at its best. But little else on TV did.

Since a couple of seasons into the show, when “Community” was threatened with cancelation nearly every season, the idea of “Six Seasons and a Movie” has been the mantra of cast, crew and fans. And a Twitter hashtag.

With todays’ news that NBC had canceled the series, goal is unlikely to be reached.

But I guess it’s possible. Really, the show was too funny, too odd, to have lasted five seasons on a major network anyway. So maybe the unexpected will happen and we’ll see more of Jeff, Britta, Annie, Shirley, Abed, Troy, Dean Pelton and all the rest.

In a timeline that’s not nearly as dark.

What I’m watching: Playing catch-up

The Man Under the Hood

It always feels like a new TV season when “Mad Men” starts up again on AMC. It’s not of course; we’re in the awkward part of the calendar when some shows have completed their seasons, others have a few episodes left and some – “Sleepy Hollow,” in particular – are long gone.

Here’s some thoughts on what I’m watching or watched until just recently.

“The Walking Dead.” This season, after staging a battle at the prison that saw Hershel and the Governor die, seemed to build to a climax in the middle of its year. The last half of the season was made up of really-pretty-good character pieces. The finale, with Rick and the gang playing into the hands of the Terminus cannibals, was shocking in that it was not bombastic. Curiously, it made me look forward to next October more than almost anything else.

“Agents of SHIELD.” This small-screen Marvel flagship series struggled early in the season. I wonder if the “slow build” story the showrunners are maintaining now is really the case – if so, they didn’t do it very effectively – or if, like many other series, it just took them a while to hit a stride. With recent episodes, including tie-ins to “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “SHIELD” is finally clicking. I hope it doesn’t falter again in the final episodes of the season.

“Dallas.” I miss J.R. I miss Larry Hagman. But the series is good, soapy fun.

“Arrow.” It’s possible I’m not enjoying any series on TV more than this take on the classic DC hero. The cast is really good, the stories are fun and the show is stuffed with comics characters. What’s not to like?

“Justified.” One of my favorite series, “Justified” had an uneven series at best. Lawman Raylan and outlaw Boyd and their supporting players were good, but the messy Crowe family story just didn’t do it for me. Next year is the final season and the last scene of this past season forecast the story: Raylan vs. Boyd. Can’t wait.

“The Mindy Project.” This Mindy Kaling comedy is funnier than I ever expected. I wish it would run for 10 years.

“Community” and “Parks and Recreation.” With only one episode left this season – and its future uncertain – “Community” has bounced back this year with the return of controversial creator Dan Harmon. It’s so odd and inside baseball that it’ll never grow in viewership. I just hope it hangs on. And “Park” has grown from a series full of oddballs to a series with characters I really care about.

I’ve probably forgotten something. With “Mad Men” back tonight and “Orphan Black” returning April 19, we’ve got more weeks of good viewing ahead.

sleepy hollow cast

But you know what? I think I miss “Sleepy Hollow” more than anything.

‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ – ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’

Enterprise-d_bridge_yesterday's enterprise

“Yesterday’s Enterprise” might not be my favorite episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” – that top spot might go to “Best of Both Worlds” or “Starship Mine” or “Inner Light” or a handful of others – but it’s one that I stop and rematch every single time it’s on.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” was the 15th episode of the third season of “TNG,” airing in February 1990. The series had found its footing by that point. What seemed like an awkward, stilted attempt to reboot the “Star Trek” franchise became its own show, with relatable characters and a cohesive, intriguing universe.
That said, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” took a risk that a few series take at some point in their run: Twisting that established universe and showing fans what might have been. The original “Star Trek” did it, most famously, with its “Mirror, Mirror” universe. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” did it better than almost anyone. Heck, in recent years, even “Community” did it, with its “Darkest Timeline” stories, in which beloved Abed suggests everyone adopt Spock-style goatees to signify the twist.
With “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “TNG” went in a fascinating direction. A team of writers – four are credited with the screenplay and two with the story – and director David Carson took us to a dark place: An alternate universe in which the Federation has been at war with the Klingon empire for many years.
The familiar Enterprise, under the command of Captain Picard, encounters another ship coming out of a rift in time. The ship is the Enterprise-C, and its appearance in the “TNG” reality catapults Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D from the show’s familiar setting to the war-torn universe.

 

Castillo_and_Yar_yesterday's enterprise
The change in timeline means more than a change in the look of the ship. Klingon officer Worf is, obviously, no longer on the ship. But Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby, most recently seen in “The Walking Dead”) is back. Yar has been dead for a couple of years in the mainstream universe, but no one knows this in the rebooted, twisted universe, just like no one knows the Federation really isn’t at war with the Klingons in “our” universe.
No one but Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), the enigmatic alien who tends Ten Forward, the Enterprise-D’s bar.
Against all probability, Picard finds that Guinan’s warnings of the disrupted timeline make sense and has a fateful decision to make. If he sends the Enterprise-C and its crew, including Captain Rachel Garrett and helmsman Richard Castillo, back into the time rift and certain death. But doing so might “correct” the twisted timeline.
It’s a fascinating, spooky “what might have been” episode.
Random thoughts:
The crew did a lot to suggest the wartime Enterprise-D with darker sets, more “war room” type display panels and a few minor costume adjustments. Neither “TNG” or any TV series of the time had money to burn on individual episodes, so a little had to go a long way.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” was an example of what “Star Trek” always did best: Raising the stakes and building to a suspenseful climax.
The weight of Federation history weighs heavily on this episode and the writers, director and cast rise to the occasion.
The guest cast was good. Richard McDonald played Castillo in a kind of Ryker-ish style. McDonald has been a good character actor for years now, and he’s maybe best known for this and his role as the idiot husband in “Thelma and Louise.” Not to mention Shooter McGavin in “Happy Gilmore.”
And I’ve always loved Tricia O’Neil, who played Captain Garrett. She’s gorgeous and authoritative. I wish we had seen more of her adventures. Or more of her in this episode, for that matter. Her early death leaves her ship in the hands of Castillo and Yar.

 

‘Community’ – watching and hoping

Community

“Community” has always been an offbeat sitcom. It’s kind of hard to imagine that the Dan Harmon creation ever got on the air.

Ostensibly the antics of a wacky and diverse bunch of adults attending classes at a community college, the show – which had its fourth-season premiere Thursday – quickly took off on its own path.

With its self-absorbed and sometimes even hard-to-take characters, its odd stories and its completely off-kilter style – an entire Christmas episode in Claymation-style animation? Another mostly depicted in old video-game style graphics? One that takes its cues from a “Law and Order” episode? – “Community” is one of those shows that inspires either absolute fanhood or absolute irritation.

You don’t have to be a fan of the show, in other words – but it helps.

Over the course of the first three seasons, Harmon and cast created some truly classic episodes, including the first-season-ending paintball war that exploded action movie cliches; the most high-stakes and heartfelt game of Dungeons & Dragons ever; an epic blanket fort; the machinations of the evil heating and air conditioning wing of the school; the characters exploring various timelines, including the darkest, complete with “Evil Spock” goatees; the highlights go on and on.

There’s no question that “Community” is unique in TV history.

Harmon was, by some accounts, a “difficult” personality and clashed with Chevy Chase, who by almost every account was as big an ass on the set as was his character.

So Harmon got fired from his own show before this fourth season began.

I watched the season opener and liked it pretty well. The story’s conceit – that mentally fragile Abed (Danny Pudi), confronted by the likelihood that their community college careers were coming to an end, retreated into a world that played out in a standard sitcom format where the characters were simpler, the laugh track made everything seem easier and Fred Willard played Chase’s role – seemed like vintage “Community.”

But something about the show seemed … off.

I’ll still be watching “Community.” I’ll have my fingers crossed that the low-rated show gets a full season – although I can’t imagine it will achieve the Twitter hashtag #sixseasonsandamovie goal – and that the show won’t wither without Harmon.

I’m hoping for a good timeline, in other words.

My favorite TV shows of 2012

sherlock and irene adler

Summing-up articles: It’s what writers do at the end of the year.

I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts on movies, TV and books in 2012, the first full year of this blog, and have enjoyed getting feedback from readers. The blog had almost 100,000 page views in 2012 so obviously a few people are checking it out.

I’m not going to rank my favorite TV shows – or the movies and books that will hopefully come in later blog entries – in order of preference. I’ll note, at times, those that I thought really stood out. But I didn’t see enough of any TV and movies and couldn’t come close to reading enough books to say conclusively these were the best of the best. They were just my favorites.

FYI you can probably find earlier reviews of most of these by clicking on the tags at the end.

Here are my favorite TV shows of the year:

“The Mindy Project” is maybe the biggest surprise (and one I haven’t written about yet). Mindy Kaling left “The Office” and struck out on her own with a smart and absurdly funny series that makes me think of “Community” in its mix of smart, funny and strange.

“Mad Men” struck some people as somehow deficient last season. I disagree. The tensions at home and in the office, the relationship between Don and Megan and the awful, horrible, sad end of Lane Pryce added up to a very good season.

Likewise, I’m sure some preferred the first or second season of “Justified” over the third, and I can’t totally disagree. But the third had so many wonderful moments and wild card characters like out-of-town drug dealer Quarles. And there’s no cooler lawman on TV than Tim Olyphant’s Raylan Givens.

“The Walking Dead” is only in the middle of its third season but has improved greatly over the second, farm-bound season. The prison, Woodbury, Michonne, the Governor and the return of Merle. How could you not like that?

“Parks and Recreation,” “Community” and “30 Rock” are my favorite comedies on TV right now. “Parks” is just so consistently funny and goofy, like the scene showing how people drink from the water fountains in Pawnee. “30 Rock” is about gone and “Community,” after losing its creator, could soon follow. But the bizarre “Liz Lemon as the Joker” episode of “30 Rock” and the meta chaos of “Community” will live on in my memory.

Last but definitely not least, we were treated to another three-episode season of “Sherlock” this year. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are close to becoming my favorite portrayers of Holmes and Watson. And Lara Pulver as Irene Adler? Wow.

Classic TV: ‘Community’ ‘Remedial Chaos Theory’

I’m not sure there’s anything on TV like “Community,” and that’s probably worked against the viewership of the show.

The NBC sitcom is about as atypical a situation comedy as anything airing now. The premise – a diverse group of misfits forms a family while attending a community college – isn’t novel.

But during its first three seasons, under the guidance of creator Dan Harmon, “Community” became something more.

There were inklings of the show’s inherent “different-ness” in the first season, certainly. But the first-season finale, in which the regulars and the large supporting cast wage war in an on-campus paintball match to win “priority status” for class registration, established the show as surely as “Prophecy Girl,” the first-season finale of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” established that series as one for the ages.

The paintball episode played, with furious and hilarious seriousness, like an action movie, “Terminator” by way of John Woo, with standoffs and ambushes and devilish double-crosses. All played against expectations.

My favorite moment is when off-kilter geek Abed (Danny Pudi) rushes up to snarky lawyer Jeff (Joel McHale) and intones, “Come with me if you don’t want paint on your clothes.” Fans of the “Terminator” movies recognized that line.

Throughout the second and third seasons, “Community” deepened its characters – a group that is frequently at each others’ throats but can’t live without each other – and raised the freak flag higher. An episode revolving around a game of Dungeons and Dragons was funny and touching.

By the time “Remedial Chaos Theory” aired early in the third season, Harmon and the cast and crew knew they could get away with a lot. And they did. As the characters gathered at a housewarming party for roommates Abed and Troy (Donald Glover), they rolled dice to see who would go downstairs to meet the pizza delivery guy.

With each roll of the dice, another reality unfolded. Friendships ended, relationships began and lives were lost, for god’s sake. It was all funny and incredibly clever and mind-bending in a way precisely unlike any show on TV right now.

The show has mixed in a tremendous amount of geekery in a manner that’s less showy but more genuine than the amusing “Big Bang Theory.” After “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the series explored the other, “darkest timeline” and, with a nod to the “Star Trek” mirror universe, Troy and Abed donned Evil Spock-like goatees.

When “Community” returns on Oct. 19, it will be without Harmon, a creative man bounced from his own show, if we’re to believe his own account and those of others, over huge differences in temperament and people skills.

So I’m not sure what “Community” will be like when it returns. Will it be just a silly sitcom? Will it continue to defy expectations and conventions? We’ll know soon.