While most shows with any kind of school theme revolve around a high school of flourishing teens or a university of the world’s richest and brightest, few explore the halls of community colleges and the eclectic personalities & crazy adventures that lay within them. Then along came Community.
In A Nutshell
A fake Spanish study group invented by former lawyer Jeff Winger in an attempt to impress and potentially sleep with a classmate, the Greendale Seven endure (and often themselves cause) the increasingly crazy hi-jinks of Greendale Community College and its questionable educational standards. But in the pursuit of bright, successful futures for themselves, the ever-changing ragtag group of people from all walks of life find the friends and support they need in each other.
Meet the Characters
When it’s discovered that cocksure lawyer Jeff Winger’s law degree isn’t legit, he opts for the “easiest” route to returning to his beloved career and enrolls in community college. Once there, an attempt to bed classmate Britta Perry introduces him a group of people that’ll inevitably change him and the course of his life, no matter how reluctant he is to accept it.
Seeking a new sense of direction after devoting the majority of her twenties to activism, quirky Britta Perry, with sometimes reluctant help and guidance from family & friends, aims to instead make a difference in the world through the study of psychology, usually subjecting the study group to her highly questionable evaluations.
Hoping to leave an Adderall addiction and subsequent rehab visit during high school behind her, overachiever Annie Edison begins her college career in pursuit of academic excellence. But amidst her shaky climb of leadership, she finds in the study group irrefutably loyal friends and relationships she didn’t quite expect.
A fount of pop culture knowledge, Abed Nadir begins attending Greendale to pursue his dreams of becoming a filmmaker, despite his father’s wishes for him to take over the family falafel business. Though he counts the study group among his closest friends, he continually struggles in his understanding of them (and people in general), using his “meta” perception of the world as an ongoing television show to make sense of human emotion and interaction.
Used to popularity as star quarterback and prom king at Riverside High, the dim but charming Troy Barnes begins at Greendale to adjust to and tackle the issues of real life, and hopefully find his calling…with a little help from the study group, of course.
For a fresh start following a divorce from her kids’ cheating father, God-fearing Shirley Bennett joins the Greendale student body to better her business chops so she can bring her delicious baked goods to the masses. Along the way, she finds a surrogate family in the study group…even if the majority of their antics and beliefs make her clutch her Bible a little tighter.
Heir to the Hawthorne Wipes moist towelette empire, perennial student Pierce Hawthorne brings his history of offensive beliefs, failed marriages and daddy issues to Greendale. But despite his many hangups, he finds his most meaningful friendships in the study group, who help him repair other relationships he once thought lost.
NOTE: The show goes through several cast changes from the fourth season on, but I have only highlighted the initial main cast to avoid any potential spoilers.
A Brief History of Community: The When, Where and How
The NBC sitcom is the creation of writer Dan Harmon, who based the show on his experiences attending Glendale Community College in California. After premiering in September 2009, the critically acclaimed show was met with decreasing viewership numbers but maintained a small, loyal following even after several cast changes. It wasn’t enough for NBC: Community was officially canceled in May 2014 following its fifth season.
However, the fan base that had taken the show’s slogan “six seasons and a movie” to heart were granted their wish when online streaming outlet Yahoo! Screen picked up the series for a sixth season, which finished its run in May 2015. No confirmation has so far been given for another season of the show or the last half of the slogan, an accompanying movie.
Why It’s Awesome
Aside from expanding on a world rarely touched in creative media, Community is built and sustained on a foundation of Fourth Wall-breaking self-awareness. It even devotes a main character to the unique trope: Abed Nadir’s emotional maturity and character development is directly linked to his perception of the study group and its adventures as episodes in their own television show. Through this, the show both grounds itself (recognizing this practice of Abed’s as his attempt to make sense of and control certain situations and decisions made by and for the group) and expands its storytelling possibilities into areas beyond the show’s genre (the third season’s “Remedial Chaos Theory,” structured on the quantum mechanical theory of multiple worlds and timelines, is a great example, and one of my favorite episodes).
Additionally, every character on Community is relatable — every person can find a little bit or a lot of themselves in at least one of its cast. In Pierce, you find a desire to feel as part of a loving family; in Shirley, a drive to care and protect one’s loved ones, while also looking out for oneself; in Troy, a need to find one’s purpose in the world; in Abed, the ambition to understand people and tell & preserve their stories in a way that’ll affect others; in Annie, the eagerness to be a leader, not a follower, and instigate change that will lead to a brighter future; and in Britta, a hunger to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives and the world. Jeff is a culmination of all of these things and these people, leading to his series-long transformation from a narcissistically-driven manipulator to a vulnerable, emotional human being willing to open his heart to others.
On the same note, Community casts a wide net of diversity with its characters and frequently explores the complexities of each quality in its main and subsidiary plots; however, it does so without defining a character based solely on that quality. Abed, for example, is an undeniably complex and fleshed out character, but he is never defined by his Islamic faith or Arabic heritage. The same stands for Greendale’s dean Craig Pelton, whose undefined sexuality is explored in season 6 episode “Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing,” when it becomes the primary motivation for a workplace promotion; however, the five previous seasons form and mold him into an emotional, intricate individual incapable of being characterized by a political power play.
As a three-time graduate from a community college myself, Community holds a very special place in my heart as a reminder of the adventures I had and the people & dear friends I met there. While the stories of Community are oftentimes too far-fetched to hold much place in reality, the people, friends, and community created by this shared experience of figuring out life and where it will lead are all too real.