Why We Watch Community

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Jonathan May

Community is one of those shows you inhabit in your dreams. I’ve gone to bed a night or two, only to end up being a part of the wacky, lovable study group’s japes. What I think brings me, and others, to this place most often is the show’s use of linguistic repetitions. The reinforcement of each character’s linguistic neuroses and their collective verbal neuroses add to the believability of the show (one of the grandest attempts of television). Think of the many utterances of “Doi!” or the Dean’s multitudinous and eponymous puns. Think of the many insults belted back at Leonard, the group’s old-ass, background naysayer. Troy and Abed’s many shared phrases. Abed, for whom everything is meta, even subtly acknowledges the level and power of repetition in the show every time he says, “Cool. Cool cool cool.”

To state and restate is the show’s power, like a sonnet unfolding over 25 minutes. The core of the show resembles that of a sonnet as well; the lines build on each other, according to the “rhyme scheme” (thematic topic) of the episode. Everything ends in a final couplet: lines of moral epiphany normally delivered by Jeff, our not-always-so-humble protagonist. Sonnets, among other strict metrical forms, work out of repetition of sounds; so too does a show like Community. Using individual phrases as units of expression (read: “feet”), the show leads to a moral ending, accreting from the different lines of our seven main characters a Gestalt. For a show built around an inherent timetable (community college degree completion) and structure (“#sixseasonsandamovie”), there’s a whole lot of circling, repetition, and discursiveness. What does this say about us, about students, about the modern college experience? That we too, in our headlong course for straightforwardness and completion, fail miserably? That we cannot escape the velocity of our own repetitions?

Maybe that’s not a bad thing. We, like the show, refine ourselves through repeating stories from our lives that define us; with each utterance, we either fall further into parody or resolve ourselves further in unity of character. The show does a great job of taking this chance each episode, using familiar phrases and tropes in an attempt to always be further resolved, rather than further caricatured. As the show moves into its fifth season, with Dan Harmon again at the helm, we’ll see, with the loss of Pierce and Troy, if the show can sustain itself with its remaining familiars. We’ll see if it can circle back around to a further incarnation.

Image source: CNN

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