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Mending Community: An Open Letter to Dan Harmon

Dear Dan Harmon,

Welcome back. No, I mean it. You are Napoleon returning from Elba. Except I’m sure this will work out much better for you than that did for him. I mean, you’d never invade Russia in winter, right?

I know that among my social circles your return to Community will be a hailed as the restoration of the status quo – the status quo being alternate dimensions, 16 bit video games episodes, and the culture on culture commentary that came to define the series in the first three seasons.

Yet I suspect you’ll also be returning to a different place than the one you left a couple of years ago. A thirteen episode season puts more pressure on the writers, cast, and crew to be on top of their game, all the time. Chevy Chase quitting the series paired with recent news that Donald Glover is only available for five episodes creates some considerable gaps in the study group. Say nothing for the fact that your predecessors pulled a West Wing, leaving the narrative in a really ugly place. How do you keep writing Jeff Winger into the series when he’s graduated and working at a local law firm? Do you know what I call a middle aged (Sorry, McHale) man who keeps hanging out at a community college despite having graduated? Chang. Or a professor.

Please don’t make Jeff a professor. Just bring back John Oliver.

In that light, I would, with great humility aforethought, like to offer a suggestion on one possible way to quickly and effectively undo the mess of season four while simultaneously stamping “Property of Dan Harmon” on season five.

Season five’s first episode begins with a flashback to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. In the story’s most crucial moment the camera pans back to the Remedial Chaos Theory multiverse graphic only to emerge in a reality where Abed rolls a natural twenty. I know, this may be one too many returns to the realm of alternate timelines. Considering the hit or miss way season four ended, I don’t think the fans will hold a meaningful application of parallel universes against you.

Anyway, Abed’s natural twenty ripples through the rest of season two in subtle, unexpected, and long-shot ways. Leonard becomes student body president. Chang gets charged with kidnapping despite Jeff and Shirley’s best intentions, but gets off on a technicality. A relatively short time spent in county lockup makes Chang more unstable but just vulnerable enough that he is actually welcomed into the study group. And maybe, just maybe, Annie pulls the trigger on Pierce during the Mexican stand-off. Pierce still has his hissy fit at the end of season two but this time he actually leaves the group. Fast forward to season three opening with a Hawthorne funeral. Only instead of Cornelius being dead, it’s Pierce who died in an airplane bathroom after banging Lee Meriwether. Jeff quips, “He died doing what he loved.”

Abed responds with, “This seems oddly familiar.”

The group retires to Troy and Abed’s new apartment. The camera pans across the room revealing a strategically placed box of Yathzee in the background. Abed suggests that Pierce’s death will foreshadow a dark year. In a callback to the S1 Halloween episode, Jeff will remind the group that Pierce, for all his flaws, knew how to live. By the power of a Winger speech, they vow to spend their year channelling Pierce’s love of living, only without the racism and early onset dementia. Thus does the fifth season become the third season in an alternate timeline.

Why would I suggest a course that some might see as a lazy copout? First and foremost, starting again in season three actually puts Community in a place to end with six seasons and a movie. Otherwise, the series will drift farther away from the study room and into the terrifying and unfunny realm of having to find a job after college or failing that Graduate School.

Additionally, I’ve always seen the third season of Community as the one where the hand of the artist, yourself, was most visible. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Mr. Harmon. But even season three’s opening musical number can be read as a giant raspberry to the powers that be at NBC and Sony, who wanted Community to be something more mainstream. The remainder of the season hardly pulls any punches on that note. And please believe me when I say, I wouldn’t see season three changed. It is what it is and I enjoy and admire it on those grounds. I do, however, wonder how season three and four might have naturally evolved were the Sword of Damocles not always swinging a hair’s breadth above your head.

Therefore, Mr. Harmon, I suggest, knowing that you will likely never read this letter – but it was fun to write it anyway – that you take a page from George Martin’s vast book: to go forward, you must go back.


Adam Shaftoe, would-be Greendale Human Being


Zero Dark Harmon – My Review of Community’s Season 4 Premiere History 101

This is not a review I’ve been looking forward to writing. To say that I was disappointed with Community’s first post-Harmon outing would be an exercise in understatement. If Community is, as Andy Greenwald says in his recent editorial, a demolition derby, then last night’s History 101 was a NASCAR race with the odd explosion of comedy. Without Harmon at the helm, the essential je ne sais qua of Community has vanished into the ether. After twenty-two minutes, I don’t know what has replaced it. Let’s start with Abed (Danny Pudi) and his happy place.

I fully expected a foray into three camera sitcom land as a cold opening gag. Addressing the biggest concern of Community fans in a throw away joke would have been the best way to manage half a year’s worth of speculation and oh-god-they’re-going-to-ruin-it anxiety. Turning the one-off into a recurring gimmick was as unexpected as it was unpleasant.

If Dan Harmon demonstrated anything in the first three seasons of Community it’s that meta ends where repetition begins. In the mad scientist’s formula that is Harmonesque introspection a fast catalyst is the key to a comedic reaction. Drop a reference to The Last Starfighter and move on. Who cares if Starfighter doesn’t land because thirty seconds later you hit the audience with a Farscape reference. It’s not winking at the audience as much as it is drawing them into the scenario through common knowledge. When Abed was in his happy place, History 101 was winking at me so much I wondered if show was having a stroke.

The happy place itself is also problematic in the way it handles Abed’s psychological regression. While Community is rarely subtle in its delivery, it is always gradual in terms of character growth. It took Abed all of season three, a season which included a holodeck malfunction episode, to go from Abed to Evil Abed. If the idea of graduation is enough to make Abed Inception himself, where does the character go from there? It’s too far, too fast, leaving nothing believable for tomorrow. I’ll invoke Tropic Thunder when I say the writers have gone full retard with Abed.

Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) has described Abed as both a Shaman and a God. Abed knows himself in a way few people do. His aloofness is not a weakness but an absolute confidence which doesn’t mesh into social interactions driven by shame and insecurity. Where did that Abed go? Who is this new neurotic mess? Perhaps Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) meddling is to blame. The theory is plasuable but doubtful given Abed’s proven ability to use Sherlockian observation to get into anybody’s head. I don’t think Britta, now a student of Ian Duncan (John Oliver), has the analytical tools to break Abed in such a way.

Oh, and Leonard gets the Inception joke? Leonard? Not Troy (Donald Glover), but Leonard. Fine, whatever, what do I know?


Let’s talk about Chevy. Pierce Hawthorne spent the entire episode saying balls as if it was the “Meow” game from Super Troopers. Meanwhile, incepted Abed recasts Pierce as Fred Willard in his fantasy sequence. Does this reflect Chevy Chase’s phoning it in on a show he would quit mid-season, or were the writers’ marginalizing Pierce from the outset? Were I in Chase’s place and found out that famed public masturbator Fred Willard was upstaging me on my own show, I too might get a little sour and acrimonious.

Say nothing for the dishonesty to established character we saw from Chevy-Pierce and his balls. Pierce Hawthorne’s racism and sexism engenders endless tension within the study group. How then does it come to pass that he is silent on Britta and Troy’s relationship? Jeff and Troy now have carnal knowledge of the same woman; there’s a gold mine of Pierce material in that.

“Hey, it looks like Britta finally discovered affirmative action.”

“Back in my day sharing the same woman was a stone’s throw from having gay sex with each other.”

“Does the ‘Banged Britta Club’ come with secret decoder rings?”

“Why does Britta keep having sex with men if she’s a lesbian?”

How are the writers not ringing that bell?

Then there’s Annie (Alison Bree). Did Annie do anything other than wallow in self-loathing and regress about fifteen IQ points? What happened to the Annie from the end of last season? We’ve seen Annie doubt the course she’s set for herself, but never in such a vapid and incipit way. Were the writers trying to be meta with Annie’s lines in the Dean’s office; wherein Annie commented on the spooky feeling of knowing somebody has been intruding in your personal space. Are the writers throwing in the towel and admitting they are intruders into our world? And is popcorning the Dean’s car supposed to be an apology for said intrusion? Pair this with Jim Rash’s not-so-subtle line about change being good, and the arcing meta story starts to feel a little condescending.

Don’t tell me things are going to be okay, Community. This show has always been a dialogue with its fans; a turn toward the didactic is most unwelcome. We are not Greendale Babies, do not presume to speak to your audience as such.

In the episode’s defence, Jim Rash as Dean Craig Pelton was on his game. If only the writing was doing something more than putting him in a dress and double timing Dean puns to make up for the absence of Chang puns. But hey, what do I know, Community netted 4 million viewers last night, 35% more from where it ended in season 3.

So here I am, post-Harmon plus one episode with a foul taste in my mouth. Characters with 72 episodes of back story appear to be watered down into simpler tropes. Machine gun referential humour has been replaced with fodder more suitable for the non-pop culture obsessed. Tempting as it is to write the whole show off and embark on a Quixotic “Bring back Dan” campaign, I’ll give David Guarasico and Moses Port a few more episodes to win me over. I’m not expecting them to replace Harmon. Rather, I want this creative team to show me, as both a fan and a critic, that they understand the study group as well as Community’s audience does.


First Impressions of a Web Series that is Legally Distinct from Anything Owned by Sony or NBC

Travis Richey is known on the internet as the creator of the Sesame Street spoof Smiley Town, the roommate comedy Robot, Ninja and Gay Guy, and the internet parody 2 Hot Guys in the Shower. However, fans of the NBC series Community will probably recognize him by another name, Inspector Spacetime. Back in February Richey launched a kickstarter campaign to fund a web series charting the adventures of the Community created Doctor Who send up. One business day after he came on my podcast to promote the project, then known as Inspector Spacetime: The Web Series, Sony and NBC lawyered up. Rather than bowing to corporate tyranny, Richey gave the Inspector a different coat and officially changed the name of his project to Untitled Web Series About a Space Traveller Who Can Also Travel Through Time.

After months of fan supported work, the Inspector’s first web adventure, Boyish the Extraordinary, has gone live. And if the entire series is as sharply written as the premiere episode then we are all in for a treat.


As a series taking some level of inspiration from the ephemera of Community’s screw-ball comedy, it would be easy to expect the same from UWSAASTWCATTT. Yet the tone of this series draws much more from Douglas Adams than it does Dan Harmon. The story is set on “Second New Old Earth 7”, which is described as a planet that came to be recognized as the pinnacle of human culture and civilization by the time we got up to the 42nd copy of Old Earth. Viewers familiar with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will no doubt revel in the absurdist exposition, while anybody who hasn’t read the book will probably be as temporarily confused as the Inspector’s associate Piper (Carrie Keranen).

Despite having fun with Douglas Adams’ style, Richey and co-writer Eric Loya have not neglected the Inspector’s origins as a Doctor Who parody. Piper’s name is an obvious nod to actress Billie Piper who played Rose Tyler, companion to the ninth and tenth Doctor. There’s a sign in the background of the episode’s first scene that in true Steven Moffat fashion demands, “No Spoilers.” Though Community saw the Inspector square off against the Dalek inspired Blorgons, this episode changes the antagonist to the creatively distinct, yet Cyberman derivative, “Circuit Chaps”. As clever as these ideas are, it is the BOOTH, the Inspector’s means of conveyance, which almost steals the episode. Though only a set piece, the special effects which usher the BOOTH into the frame are some of the best that I have ever seen in a web production. Truly Mr. Richey has mobilized some fantastic post-production talent for this project.

Now we must ask who is Boyish the Extraordinary? (Travis may have left a few hints during the podcast, but the sign said no spoilers, so I won’t say) And will he be so easily hand waved out of the story as the Circuit Chaps? (Probably not since his name is in the title).

UWSAASTWCATTT releases new episodes on Mondays. Kudos to Travis Richey and team for a fantastic start.

The Untitled Web Series About a Space Traveller Who Can also Travel Through Time is written by Travis Richey and Eric Loya. It stars Travis Richey and Carrie Keranen. The first season is directed by Vincent Talenti.


Podcast Episode 21: Mourning Community with Matt Moore

Despite hiccups with recording, construction above my closet studio, and problems with the theme music, I’ve finally managed to put together the first official episode of the second season of the Page of Reviews podcast.

Thanks to Matt Moore for coming on to talk Community with me. You can check out his work here.

Also, Kari Maaren’s article on gender and How I Met Your Mother, which Matt and I mention during the podcast, can be found here. No word of a lie, it’s one of the best critical inquires into television character development that I’ve read in quite some time.

As is the case in many of our conversations, Matt and I were all over the place with this chat. As such, I’m not even going to try and offer up a podcast by timeline breakdown.

Generally the topics under discussion included:

-   Did Dan Harmon and team know their days were numbered?

-   A brief history of turfed show runners.

-   Ways season four might be good.

-   If season four is the last, could Community continue in other mediums?

-   How Community fans could be more like Jericho fans.

Music: Bionic Commando stage 4 (Dale vs Wray mix) (NecroPolo) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0


Arrivederci, Community; Our Battle is Done

In the ancient city of Sparta, wives would tell their husbands to return with their shields in hand or carried home dead upon them. The idea was that only a coward who discarded his heavy bronze shield would return home absent it. After Thursday’s season finale, the Greendale Seven began their journey home, shield in hand. Community had triumphed against cancellation rumours at the end of season two, perpetually low ratings, and a mid-season hiatus where once again the spectre of cancellation loomed in the air. NBC might have abridged season four, but it was still going to happen.

Then Friday came along. That’s when NBC and Sony fired Dan Harmon as Community’s show runner, relegating him to a consulting role that would have no actual creative input in the series. Interested parties can get the details direct from Dan Harmon’s blog. With that act, the conquering heroes, through no fault of their own, through no act of personal cowardice or treachery, found themselves stripped of their shields.

There went my “look how many of my end of season predictions came true” post. Gloating over prognostications felt, and still feels, dirty and wrong.

In the wake of this shakedown, a lot of really smart people have had a lot of very interesting things to say about Community, NBC, the nature of life as a show runner, and the long standing battle between networks and creators. I don’t know that I can really add to that discussion in any meaningful way. Instead I’m going to work within the framework that CNN’s Marquee Entertainment blog visited upon me when they cited me as one of Community’s most dedicated fans. I’m going to speak from the heart.

I’ve seen shows that I loved get cancelled. For example, I loved Farscape. In fact, I think, strike that, I know that in 2002, I loved Farscape more than I did the girl I was dating. So much so that she said I was more into Claudia Black than I was into her. In fairness, Claudia Black is pretty awesome. But I digress. The point at hand is that I’m no stranger to the larger realities of television production getting in the way of artistic vision and storytelling.

Last year when SGU got shit canned, I was angry. I was angry at Stargate’s fans for not doing a better job of supporting the series. I was angry at everybody who called SGU a milquetoast Battlestar clone – it wasn’t. I was angry at a genre network that seemed to be putting a premium on wrestling and reality television. But I didn’t take it personally.

Community isn’t cancelled. In fact, it may continue beyond the thirteen episode order that NBC placed for next season. Yet I find myself taking the news of Dan Harmon’s departure quite personally.

I do so because, like so many other fans, I felt like I was helping to fight for this show’s survival. I know, the bloggings of internet nerds are of little consequence when it comes to the world of television. Yet seeing so many other people (so many other smart people if we’re being honest about things) echoing my own sentiments, examining episodes from every conceivable angle, and rallying behind a banner that said “Fellow outcast weirdoes, you are not alone” created a meta-community I wanted to defend.

With Harmon fired, Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan moving on to develop their own projects on Fox, and Chris McKenna, the last remaining day one writer, quitting the show, I find myself wondering if I will be able to recognize the thing that I have championed for the last three years. Did we Greendale alums become recognized as the loudest and most articulate minority fan base in recent memory just to see the soul of the thing we love cut out? Perhaps more troubling is the realization that our collective wit, snark, and wellspring of pop culture meets high culture knowledge can do nothing to undo this. Deals have been done and contracts have been signed; we are House Atreides’ army impotent against the Emperor’s Sardukar and Baron Harkonnen’s treachery.

Perhaps David Guarascio and Moses Port will do a good job as Community’s new show runners. Arguably they’re stooges brought in by Sony to make the show more marketable and less weird. Time will tell. Come September, I’ll see what they have to offer. Odds are I’ll keep watching just to support the cast and crew who made the show work for the first three years; just because Harmon got turfed, doesn’t mean other people deserve to lose their jobs.

But I don’t think I’ll go to war for this show any more.

I fought for Dan Harmon’s Community. My critical discussions will likely be focused on Dan Harmon’s Community. Of course, I say this now, knowing full well that within the next year I’ll end up on a panel at a con talking pre and post-Harmon Community.

In the end, it will be interesting to see how the broader fan base orients itself as we get closer to the start of season four. Will there be a schism? Most likely. Will it be vocal? Most definitely. And may the gods help us all if Community gets reduced to so much Two and a Half Manery and we, original fans, become Community hipsters who talked about the Darkest Timeline before it was cool. Remember, Hipsters are like Sith: they’re powered by fear, jealousy, anger, and rage. That’s not who we are as fans of Community.

In the mean time, I’ll take solace in the fact that Dan Harmon’s work left us with three seasons worth talking about, an unofficial Inspector Spacetime web series that is most certainly an original creation courtesy of Travis Richey, and the knowledge that television can be more than the gaps between commercials; it can examine the human condition and in doing so forge communities that people never knew they wanted.

Thanks, Dan.





The Daily Shaft: End of Season Predictions for Community

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to acknowledge that this is probably the end for Community. With the season finale happening as part of a three episode in one night ordeal, it’s hard not to see this scheduling decision as NBC burning off episodes in the can as a means of freeing up the 8PM timeslot. But maybe, just maybe, that quiet whisper, or is it a whimper, of optimism that resides in the back of my head is right when he suggests that this is NBC attempting to show how Community can work as the majority of Thursday’s primetime comedy block. Yeah, that’s right. Because why would NBC cancel the show now when giving it one more season would mean a potential syndication deal. Syndication means more money for everybody. NBC likes money, right?

So while my friend and colleague Matt Moore is handling “How Season 3 should have ended (if Dan Harmon knew this was the end and could wrap things up in a manner fitting the series)” over in his corner of the internet, I’m going to make like Johnny Carson and offer some thoughts on how I think this season will end.

Jeff and Annie or Jeff/Annie

Asking will they or won’t they isn’t the interesting question between Jeff and Annie. Rather, we should be asking, why would Jeff want to? If I were to put D&D alignments on these two characters, Annie would be “Lawful Good” and Jeff would be “True Neutral”. Ergo Annie does what is right, all the time, and Jeff does what works best for Jeff. Yet in pursuit of Annie, Jeff has been trending toward “Neutral Good” with even a whiff of “Lawful” thrown in for good measure. Last week’s Basic Lupine Urology saw Jeff in search of justice, instead of a simple win. Is all this just a gambit to impress a girl, or is becoming a prospect for Annie more about redemption for his past misdeeds?

Prediction: Jeff will find redemption and in doing so win over Annie. However, in a moment of pure altruism, Jeff will be struck down. Thus Winger will give in to ego, vanity, and his long seated knowledge that winning is all that matters. Senior year at Greendale will see Jeff as the new Pierce. Annie will be torn between what remains of the group and trying to find the good in Jeff, who has just signed on for an internship at a smarmy, but exclusive, law firm.

Meta References: Star Wars, The Godfather, The Fly


Since this year’s Halloween episode, possibly earlier, Britta has been in a decaying orbit around a severe existential crisis. It began when she started touting herself as a psychology major on a regular basis. The problem therein is that Britta defines herself not by what she is, but, like any good anarchist, by what she is not. When confronted with the possibility that she is naturally disposed to being every stereotype of the “modern” woman, Britta hit the sauce and considered marrying Jeff as a spiritual seppuku.

Prediction: The Britta and Troy love story will happen. However, the moment Troy asserts a stereotypical male perspective on some seemingly irrelevant point is the moment Britta’s brain breaks.

Meta Reference: Rebel Without A Cause


We know from the mid-season trailer that the group is going to face expulsion from Greendale. We also know this story was written around a plan that involved a fourth season (Believe in it like Gotham City believed in Harvey Dent). Troy Barnes is the only person capable of saving the group for that fourth season

Prediction: Troy will join the air conditioning repair school on the condition that the group doesn’t get expelled. The quiet privilege that comes with being in the AC school will get inside his head, just like when he relapsed into being a jock. Shortly thereafter, Troy will make an off handed comment toward Britta. This lone act will precipitate the aforementioned Britta brain break.

Meta Reference: What’s a contemporary analogue for Faust…that lawyer movie with Keanu Reeves?

Alternate Timeline Prediction: A freak accident in the “room temperature room” freezes Troy for x number of years. When Troy emerges his only companion is a hologram of Dean Pelton.

Meta References: Buck Rogers, Red Dwarf, Planet of the Apes


Abed’s a tricky one. Since Remedial Chaos Theory introduced us to the Darkest Timeline, Abed’s tendencies to go meta have been growing more chronic. Rather than using popular culture to relate to people, he has been escaping into it. On the surface, it may seem like Annie’s intervention in the dreamatorium has ebbed a mounting Abed implosion. I suspect, however, that her actions have had less of a self-actualizing effect, and served only to tether Abed’s psyche to the group.

Prediction: Abed’s going to pull a HAL 9000. He will understand the empathy that motivated Troy to save the group, but he won’t be able to reconcile that with Troy leaving the group, an inevitable condition of Vice Dean Laybourne’s amnesty offer. Abed will resolve the conflicting variables as a betrayal on Troy’s part, and as a coping mechanism resurrect Evil Abed. Ending Evil Abed’s reign of terror, around the third or fourth episode of season four, will require the combined efforts of the group.

Meta References: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator, Voltron, or possibly Captain Planet.


What could happen to Shirley that is dark without being pointlessly evil? You can’t do anything to her kids, nor would there be much point in breaking her up with her husband. Yet one conversation stands out in my mind. In Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts, Dean Pelton pointed out that Shirley, much to his surprise, is actually learning things at Greendale.

Prediction: Shirley get’s offered a scholarship from a real university. As a real (read: normal) student, she won’t have time for the group. This will further feed into Abed’s abandonment issues/Evil Abed’s source of power.

Meta References: Good Will Hunting


It’s hard not to notice Pierce’s marginalized role in the series post-hiatus. Minute for minute, he now gets about as much attention as Chang. Who is to say how much of this is a result of Dan Harmon’s ongoing feud with Chevy Chase? Regardless, I think Starburns’ death was but the first movement in a larger Whedonesque symphony.

Prediction: Pierce is going to die. He and Chang, the two pariahs of Greendale, are going to scooter off with a squad of Greendale security golf carts chasing them. Chang will steer the scooter toward some sort of farcical cliff, implying a mutual suicide. At the last second, Chang will jump off and escape to safety. Pierce will survive the initial ordeal before being crushed by some 10,000 ton ironic gimmick, preferably something that has a tangential relationship to Clark Griswold.

Meta References: Thelma and Louise, National Lampoon’s whatever

Thus bringing to a close The Empire Strikes Back season of Community. Season 4’s motif: Finding redemption through finding one’s self.


Television Review: Community – Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts

Troy and Abed being normal.

Summary Judgement: In what is possibly the safest episode it has ever done, Community goes meta on being normal and manages to pull it off.

““Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” was a safe episode of Community. For that reason, some of the series’ more gung-ho fans might have been a bit put off. The usual irreverence was in play, but not withstanding three references to Inspector Spacetime something was missing. The comedy was, for want of a better word, normal. In fact it was downright pedestrian. I mean, a wedding episode? What’s that all about, right? Fans didn’t spend the last three months holding their collective breath to see Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) get married. This isn’t Friends. We’ve been waiting for the satire that presumes equal knowledge of popular culture and high culture. We wanted You Don’t Know Jack and Dan Harmon and team gave us Jeopardy. Or did they?

Well yes, they did a little. But with good cause and in the spirit that makes Community work as a show.

According to TVLine, the Ides of March saw Community pull in 4.9 million viewers. That is a 36% increase from “Regional Holiday Music” and a 20% increase from season three’s premiere episode. Fun fact, The Office also pulled in 4.9 million on March 15th. Accounting for word of mouth, DVD sales, Netflix, and Hulu I think it is safe to assume that this boost represents a large number of freshman Community watchers. Bearing that in mind, Community’s return to television glory couldn’t be a balls out meta-Voltron that saw Jeff (Jole McHale) piloting Black Lion into battle against Pierce (Chevy Chase), who was supposed to be King Zarkon but got the costume wrong and showed up as an ice pirate. All the newbies would get scared away. Instead we got an extended version of Jeff’s dream from the first episode of the season.

The song says it all: “We’re going to have more fun and be less weird.”

And that’s exactly what Community did to usher in its return. It went meta on itself and being normal. For what is more normal than a man and a woman getting married? What is more normal than having to put on a false facade as a wedding guest for fear of offending people with non-inclusive small talk? It’s all nice and happy and normal until the line between being yourself and being the fake person that you have to be to fit in becomes blurred.

As a former lawyer, Jeff Winger should have no problem coming up with a polite toast for Shirley’s second wedding to ex-husband Andre (Malcolm Jamal Warner). The cornerstone of the legal profession is saying one thing and meaning another. Yet Jeff ends up going on a bender as he fails to reconcile his belief that marriage is a dead institution with the fact that he genuinely cares about Shirley. Britta (Gillian Jacobs), who has spent her life eschewing cookie cutter ideas of orthodoxy, collapses into alcohol’s warm embrace when she realizes her natural talent as a wedding planner. A well meaning gesture intended to free up Shirley’s time forces Britta to confront the fact that she is, quite likely and despite her best efforts otherwise, a normal hetero American woman. For Britta there can be no greater crisis of identity. Meanwhile, Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi), suspecting that their natural personalities will ruin Shirley’s big day, take to a 24-hour nerd out to purge themselves of whimsy. What remains are two seemingly self-effacing guys in suits whose attempts at being normal come off as condescending to Andre. The enduring message is pretty clear; attempting to adhere to artificial standards of normality makes a person crazy, just like Annie (Alison Brie), whose next mental breakdown is always lurking just beneath the surface of her calm exterior.

So when Abed and Troy turn their back on dancing like idiots and begin to suspect that Blorgons have found a way to assume human form, they do so not only to reclaim their true identities, but to implicitly call out all the other party guests as frauds. The subtle extension is that network television/the world/whoever should cease their attempts at foisting normality on things that are best left to their own devices.

“”Be yourself, because we sure as hell are going to be.” Despite some indications otherwise, that’s the take away message from last night’s episode. Perhaps it’s a slower start than some people wanted, but it’s the best way to give new viewers a solid foundation upon which to stand before things start to get weird.

Welcome back, Community. We missed you.


The Daily Shaft: Inspector Spacetime: Lawyered!

Image by Rob Wood

In a move that is likely to surprise few, NBC and Sony struck their first blow in a legal campaign against Travis Richey’s Inspector Spacetime web series. The calls came in on the morning of Wednesday February 29th, a particularly ironic day given its timey-wimey nature, demanding that Mr. Richey take down his kickstarter campaign and halt production on the series. But like The Dude, The Inspector abides. That is to say, he abides by changing the name of the show to something that is even more tongue-in-cheek and gives his protagonist a different coat.

During an interview with me last week, Richey admitted that he was prepared for just this sort of contingency. He paraphrases that conversation in an update on the project’s kickstarter page.

“Though I firmly believe the law would be on my side in producing this parody, I have no wish or ability to fight a show that I love as much as “Community.”  I had hoped that they would embrace what is essentially a fan film and appreciate the value it adds to the character, and the audience that we would bring who are finding “Community” for the first time through this character, but alas, that’s not the case.”

Despite being rebranded as “Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveller Who Can Also Travel Through Time”, the series will still use the original screenplay written by Travis Richey and Eric Loya.

So let’s review how threats of legal action have impacted this crowd sourced independent production.

1 – The kickstarter campaign is still going strong. Despite NBC and Sony’s threats, funding continues to pour in for the project formerly known as Inspector Spacetime. As of this post, the project had raised $13,099 of its $20,000 goal with 30 days left to go.

2 – Due to circumstances beyond the creator’s control, Constable Reggie wasn’t going to be in this series. NBC’s intervention changes nothing there. On a similar note, the Blorgons were renamed as “Circuit Chaps” well before the kickstarter campaign ever got off the ground.

3 – Regardless of who is right and who is wrong in this particular legal battle, NBC and Sony’s suit has served to give Richey’s project an extended media cycle. If Community or Doctor Who fans hadn’t heard of this project before, chances are that they have now. Most indie projects can’t buy that kind of publicity and now NBC has given it to U.W.S.A.A.S.T.W.C.A.T.T.T. for free. PS: I’ll give a shiny new Shaftoe penny to whoever can Torchwood that acronym into a cool anagram.

4 – Similar to the last point, who is right and who is wrong in this scenario won’t matter in the court of public opinion. There’s no spin that two multinational corporations can use to make themselves look like the righteous victim when they set their sights on a not-for-profit web series. Within a few weeks this story is going to boil down to one point: big companies, one of them the last place network on American television, are picking on an indie production over a fifteen second clip from a show that said network has threatened to cancel on more than one occasion. Even George Lucas is smart enough to know that you don’t piss on the fans in such a manner.

So well played NBC and Sony; your threats of legal action have yielded no real benefit other than to help promote the thing that you’re opposing. Lawyered!

What do you call a parody of a parody? ORIGINAL!


The Daily Shaft: Community Saved, for now…

We did it! Dust off your three ring binders and fill your eco-friendly water bottle with long island ice tea because Community isn’t cancelled.  Say it with me now, “Six seasons and a movie.” I will also accept, “Troy and Abed in the morning,” as a triumphant exaltation. It’s not quite a “mission accomplished” moment, but at least we can stop holding our collective breath in preparation for a looming existential crisis vis-a-vis a world where Whitney endures and Community gets shit canned.

NBC’s president of entertainment, Bob Greenblatt, found himself facing questions on Greendale Community College and co’s fate at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.  Rather than making nebulous statements about benches, Greenblatt came out and confirmed that the show is not landing on the death list.  Quoting Greenblatt, “When I announced our midseason changes last fall and took Community off the schedule, I failed to explicitly say that it would be back…I want to expel any notion that it is just disappearing off the schedule.” The network has not yet announced when and where Community will return to NBC’s lineup.  Nor has anybody commented in detail on a fourth season for the show.

During an interview with the Huffington Post, series star Joel McHale discussed his thoughts on the show’s time slot and viewing demographic.  “Our fan base is mighty, thank God, and I think most of them are young, because no one appointment views the show, and I feel like, if they figure out a way to measure that and keep it all together, then our ratings might go up.” Here I thought NBC did track PVR/Hulu viewing into their ratings equation.  Either way, if watching the show when it’s actually on is going to keep it going, I’ll do my part.

In the meantime, Canadian fans who feel they need a little remedial primetime comedy can check out the entirety of season 1 on Netflix – PS to Netflix hurry up and get season two if only so people can watch the genius that is “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.” In fact, now’s a great time to get friends who have heard of the show but never got into it invested in the series. As well, and I know I’m repeating myself here, Hugo Award nominations are now open.  Those with a ballot would do well to consider season three’s multiverse episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” for Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form.  A membership to ChiCon 7, the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention, as of Janurary 31, 2012, will put you in a position to make a nomination for 2012’s Hugos.  Here’s a link with all the information.

Community’s been given a stay of execution; let’s all be streets ahead and get it off NBC’s death row.