The third season of Community
opens with a musical number promising to be "less weird than the first two years combined"--a promise that, thankfully, goes right out the window as the episode culminates in the eternally glib Jeff (Joel McHale) attacking the study group's table with a fire ax. From there, Community
is a freewheeling, ridiculous, and surprisingly complex dissection of sitcoms, friendship, and pop culture in general. The parodies of Law & Order
, and Ken Burns documentaries are only the tip of the iceberg. In the Halloween episode, the characters take turns telling horror stories, each reflecting both pop takes on horror and the character's own psyche. Another episode takes place mostly inside of a video game (with the characters converted into delightful digital avatars), others slip into anime graphics or heist-movie plot mechanics or follow out multiple possible timelines, another mimics Hearts of Darkness
, the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now
--this is the stuff of which postmodern doctoral theses and obsessive cult fandom are made. Woven through the season are the efforts of Vice Dean Laybourne (guest star John Goodman, Roseanne
) to woo Troy (Donald Glover) into the arms of the Air Conditioning Repair School Annex and the gradual rise of Chang (Ken Jeong) from homelessness to brutal dictatorship, thanks to a hit squad of ruthless 12-year-olds.
Community demands that viewers pay attention and think about American culture at large to catch all the comedy, which is not what most people expect from a sitcom. But this scope and ambition is exactly what makes Community so rare and rewarding--and so funny, for anyone willing to engage. The writing is consistently smart and inventive, the cast (McHale, Glover, Jeong, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chevy Chase, and Jim Rash as the "pansexual imp" Dean Pelton) is charming and wholly committed to their roles, and the multiple directors maintain a consistency of tone even when adopting radically different visual styles. Community, like the great Arrested Development, pursues its distinctive humor to the fullest. Watch it from the beginning. --Bret Fetzer
Greendale Community College'S Most Learning-Challenged Study Group Returns For The Most Brilliantly Hilarious Year Yet! What With Campus-Wide Pillow Fights, Spooky Halloween Pizza Parties, Holiday Glee Club Smackdowns, Foosball Showdowns, Cafeteria Sandwich Throwdowns, Crime Show Send-Ups, Underage Security Patrols, A Beloved Classmate'S Demise That Sets Off A Riot, Plus A New Vice Dean (Emmyr Winner John Goodman) With A Strange Air Conditioning Fixation... It'S Clear These People Need Each Other, Never More Than Now.