Matt Risley performs his own kind of Community service
If it’s one thing that SFX ’s Honorary Sci-Fi shows feature taught us, it’s that a programme doesn’t need sonic screwdrivers, fire-breathing dragons or voluptuous vampires to strike a chord with the nerdcore.
Arguably the greatest and geekiest show on your tellyboxes right now, Community , is either the best show you’ve never seen or you’re already a convert and more than likely exploding at the sight of its very name.
Sure, the set-up is fairly sitcom-y (seven quirky community college students form a study group – misunderstandings, calamity and ridiculous plots ensue), but the execution is sublime, offering a humour that revels in pop culture gags, unobtrusive continuity threads aplenty, the nerdiest and most loveable character on TV today ( The Big Bang Theory ain’t got nothin’ on Abed Nadir), and the celebration and embracing of just about every sci-fi, fantasy and genre TV trope going.
It Loves Its Fans
First and foremost, creator Dan Harmon and his team of writers should be applauded for presuming their audience can survive a whole 21 minutes of American comedy without an IQ-dribbling laughter track.
Throw in a whole series of quickfire witticisms, clever nerd-vana merchandise (how about a T-Shirt promoting a fictional hashtag used on the show ?), and some frankly incredible long-game continuity gags (see below) and you get the feeling that not only does the show appreciate, respect and credit the fans, but they revel in rewarding them.
Case in point: a gag three years in the making. Not only that, but a background gag. I think we all know what happens when you say, “Beetlejuice” three times out loud.
And if that’s a little too subtle for you, then how about this?
Like any good show with a hardcore geek following, there are “Shipper” fanmade videos aplenty. When one crazy/devoted fan crafted a Jeff/Annie romantic montage to the dulcet, weepy tones of Sara Bareilles, the showrunners went one better.
Not only did they directly reference it, they remade it with extra, specially shot scenes.
It’s quite literally the thing of fanboy/girl dreams.
The Writers Are Nerds
You’re guaranteed meta-gags and pop culture references with every episode courtesy of everyone’s walking enyclogeekia, Abed (imagine Rain Man by way of Buffy’s Andrew).
But it’s the episode-centric homages that’ll stop you in your tracks. Sure, the Apollo 13 meets 1980s KFC space simulator story was gigglesome, and the Dungeons & Dragons sub-plot was fun, but how about an entire episode made up of stop-motion plasticine animation or completely unexpected anime segments ?
The best by far though? Community ’s now fan-infamous Halloween episode, which turned the entire campus into a horde of flesh-eating zombies, pastiching and subverting every genre trick in the book.
And just when you think you couldn’t love it any more, they even brought aboard George Takei to provide the episode voiceover.
Pop culture references are all fine and dandy but there’s one in particular that’s so ludicrously blatant, it’ll take a Blorgon-sized blast to wipe the smile from your face.
Introducing the 48-year-old British sci-fi series with a space/time-travelling, companion-loving, phonebox aboding superhero.
That’s right – INSPECTOR SPACETIME !
It Loves a Good Crossover
Like any good genre show intent on delivering a little fan service, Community ’s flirted with the crossover moment.
Admittedly, Cougar Town isn’t the most scintillating of shows to blur the lines with, but brilliantly, Community knows that too.
Abed’s increasing obsession with the show is repeatedly and casually mocked by the rest of the gang, culminating in an uncredited, unreferenced and superlative Cougar Town background gag that instantly gave the other show a warmth, humour and intelligence that we never knew it had.
Parallel Universes Galore
Like any good sci-fi show, Community has dabbled in the idea of the parallel universe.
And while Buffy , Star Trek , Doctor Who and Heroes are all prime examples of playing around with fan expectations, Community went one better, offering up seven alternate timelines in one 20 minute episode.
While each offers LOLS galore (in particular one Final Destination -esque mini-horror epic that kills off and delimbs a couple of the leads), it’s all the more admirable for each mini-segment making subtle but pointed character observations amidst the troll idols and Indiana Jones dioramas.
Even better, the episode ends with the creation of an “Evil” universe in which the newly-twisted versions of the cast embrace their nefarious dark sides, donning “evil” goatees and teasing a return to the “prime timeline” in a future episode.
In short, Community is the freshest and funniest thing to have hit screens in years, which obviously means that its American parent network is close to cancelling it.
So if you’re not on board already, there’s still time to profess your nerdy love from the rooftops: you can either struggle to find the show buried amidst VIVA’s schedule, or buy the whole first series RIGHT NOW on DVD.
You can thank me later.