One of my recent obsessions the last couple of months has been the show Community, Dan Harmon’s meta-comedy that pokes fun at sitcoms and practically every other genre that has graced our TV sets.

I recently borrowed Season 1 of the show on DVD, and somehow I fell down the rabbit hole of listening to the commentary tracks for every single episode, something I’ve never really done before with a series like this. Or any series, for that matter.

Listening to the commentary really lets you in on the mindset of a show runner who very much cares about staying true to the characters and breaking each story that he sets up. Without too much butt kissing, I’ll just say that I’m in awe of what they’ve accomplished, and I still marvel at the fact that a show that is trying to do something so subtly has stayed on TV for 2 seasons. Bravo, Dan Harmon.

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s fascinated me about the show so much, but I think the real draw is that Harmon and Co. have nailed the exact thing that my friends and I wanted to do with our own attempt at a sitcom, Web Zeroes, all those months ago. They’ve taken some absurd characters and allowed us to watch them become friends, and they’ve done this all with incredible wit, some striking meta commentary on TV tropes and have done so unflinchingly from a geek’s worldview. They seamlessly navigate between Batman, Aliens, zombies and pillow forts without breaking a sweat.

Simply put, Community is the kind of show I’ve always wanted to watch.

I think true comedy happens in the spaces between genuinely flawed people who care about each other, because honestly, that’s the situation that every homo sapien finds themselves in. Watching these life dropouts learn to become friends while pursuing their own self interests speaks to me in a way that few shows can tackle. Certainly not the sitcom-of-the-week formula that dominates network television. Guy and girl get thrown into a wacky situation that gets stale after one episode? Also, there’s a baby and a dog? Sign me up! Or: another show about the differences between dudes and chicks – with an alien!

BatmanThe formula gets stale, and there really isn’t much to laugh at there – because it’s not real. While our attempts with Web Zeroes certainly didn’t rival what’s happening in the hallowed halls of Greendale, we always wanted to tell a story about a trio of friends who happened to be idiots, but genuinely valued their friendship for reasons that even they couldn’t comprehend. I think that’s true of all friendships, really, and Community is a testament to that.

The funny thing is, all of our attempts to hit it big with a stupid Internet show tested our friendships to the breaking point. It wasn’t until after it was all said and done that we could step back, realize how much we were living our own fiction, and laugh at the real comedy of Web Zeroes – us. Our silly ideals. Our quirks, which were caricatured in each episode.

As such, I have an appreciation for the meta humor going on in Community as well. As much as it’s a show about friendship, it’s a show about TV. Each week, the study group is given a problem to solve, usually by the dean, which results in wacky antics that jump between genres and all sorts of references. They constantly shoot the will-they-or-won’t-they trope in the foot. They mock clip shows and Christmas specials. The My Dinner with Andre episode of Season 2 managed to blend a Pulp Fiction parody around a narrative about Cougar Town. You can’t really make up the level of insanity it takes to do something like that on a network show, but I’m happy that somebody is doing it.

It’s just another example of how great writing can hit you where it counts. And just because it’s aiming to make you laugh doesn’t mean it can’t also stop to make you think. Or be grateful that you have some awesome friends, and ridiculous experiences to share with them.

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