TV, Writing

Six Seasons and (No) Movie (Yet): Reflections on COMMUNITY

We all have those shows or movies that we sailed right on past, don’t we? Community was absolutely one of mine.
For years, I had close friends knowledgeable about television encouraging me to check in on Greendale Community College but for whatever reason, it never quite happened. I used to hear #sixseasonsandamovie and miss the reference. The first time I saw Joel McHale in anything was the revival of The X-Files. I spent *far* too long not knowing who Donald Glover was. All of these are on me. In hindsight, having just binge-watched almost the entirety of the series in around three weeks on Netflix (and slightly on Amazon), I can safely say Community is one of those shows that I am disappointed not to have experienced with everyone else at the time. I feel like those people who refuse to watch Game of Thrones and have no idea what they missed out on.

Let’s face it, Community is unique. There has never been a sitcom quite like it. You might call it a sitcom about sitcoms but that’s disingenuous. Community is more a sitcom that knows it’s a sitcom, and works hard to transcend a complex series of established formulas that have been in place for decades. Dan Harmon, the primary ubermind behind the adventures of the Greendale study group whose eventful college lives we observe each episode, understands tropes exist to be deconstructed and analysed, and deeper comedy can be reached in our post-modern landscape by encouraging the audience to be aware of said tropes. Community respects the so-called ‘fourth wall’ while never quite breaching it. In a sense, Harmon’s show is post-post-modern.
What’s great about Community, even as a show that arguably peaks and then troughs, is that it understands the sitcom well enough to deconstruct it while at the same time playing to the strengths of that same formula.
Continue reading “Six Seasons and (No) Movie (Yet): Reflections on COMMUNITY”

TV, Writing

Don’t Mention the Comedy: FAWLTY TOWERS and Reactionary Cultural Politics

Whether ten years old or close to a hundred, we have all seen Fawlty Towers at some point in our lives. We have either binge watched the series, casually caught it on a satellite channel or streaming service, or even seen clips on one of the many comedy panel or discussion shows over the years with talking heads discussing the brilliance of John Cleese’s monstrous creation Basil Fawlty.

What, though, is Fawlty Towers really *about*? What are all our comedies *about*, whether in the UK with a long-standing tradition of legendary comedic creations or the US with their penchant for long-running, familiar series? Every drama is about something and comedy is no different. The jokes are born from an idea or theme or societal construct the writer is looking to explore. One Foot in the Grave, which I’m currently examining episode by episode, sees David Renwick unpicking the listlessness of the working man at the tail end of Thatcherite neoliberalism after Victor Meldrew is displaced by a heartless corporate system. Only Fools and Horses was a fantasy of working class meritocracy, of Derek, and in a different way Rodney, Trotter overcoming their background of poverty and struggle to try and prove their worth within an elitist class system where the deck is stacked against them.

Following the surge of protests across the world after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there has been a swift trickle-down effect in terms of racial politics which has proven, this week, to be on some level ‘knee-jerk’. Britbox and BBC iPlayer started by removing the 2000’s Matt Lucas & David Walliams’ series Little Britain, which was always festooned with sketches that were politically incorrect even back then, citing that “times have changed”, while Netflix subsequently pulled The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh as both display characters who engage in what would be termed ‘blackface’. Catch up service UKTV subsequently removed the well-known Fawlty Towers episode The Germans, featuring Basil’s infamous line “Don’t mention the war!”, due to the overt racism displayed by the character, and the use of racial slurs by an ageing colonial character. This has been questioned by some who feel the reactionary cultural politics of the moment has gone too far.

I’m wondering the same. I understand some of these examples. The Germans, however, is an example in which context is missing, and with comedy, context is king.
Continue reading “Don’t Mention the Comedy: FAWLTY TOWERS and Reactionary Cultural Politics”