The third season of Community arrived on DVD recently, and it was a nice opportunity to revisit Dan Harmon's last stint with Greendale before the fourth season makes its debut. It's also a chance for me to reflect on my own complicated reaction to the beloved cult NBC series.
Season three of Community gives us John Goodman in an extended guest stint as the head of the previously unknown Air Condition Repair School as the study group threatens to drift apart or hook up. "Remedial Chaos Theory" and "Pillows and Blankets" are the two marquee episodes of the season (with "Virtual Systems Analysis" and the Giancarlo Esposito guest starring "Digital Estate Planning" not too far behind).
I'd be lying if I said that I didn't like Community or didn't recognize it as a expertly-crafted show with an energetic cast. The show's frequent callbacks to its own jokes and quirky plots, creating a seemingly endless loop of its own humor. Like Arrested Development, Community isn't really a show you can just jump into mid-season and "get" and that's part of the appeal. I get it.
And the show is more often than not very funny and occasionally has moments of heart. "Digital Estate Planning" works so well because it not only humanizes wealthy racist Pierce using an extended homage to 8-bit Rogue-likes, but also does the same for its villain, Pierce's secret brother from another mother. Likewise, it was sweet watching Shirley try to make it down the aisle (again) with her on-again, off-again husband in "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts" while Abed and Troy take a stab at being "normal."
But the same circular construction that keeps the show looping back in on itself (as well as TV tropes in general) always keeps me at a remove. Having Abed call out the tropes (or Jeff calling out Abed for engaging in some trope or whatever configuration of the same Community engages in) makes me feel like I'm constantly being nudged in the ribs. "See," we've got TV jokes, and they're wacky.
And that's kind of a dismissive stance on the show. Again, the show does have heart and it does have characters that grow, even as it shuffles them around into familiar configurations (this season, Troy and Britta are kind of a thing), but I guess that last bit is kind of the point. These characters are trapped in a sitcom that should really be done as soon as they've finished they're time at Greendale, and you can see Dan Harmon working on ways to get them off campus for whatever he had planned for the fourth season. Still, it's hard to escape the feeling that the need to be referential overrode character and again, this creates a sense of distance from the show.
Still, when Community is on, it's on. I'm not sure what shape it'll take without Harmon or what kind of vision for the series the new showrunners will have, but we have three seasons that are at least an interesting experiment in form with some very fascinating characters.
First off, the three-disc set includes commentaries on every episode featuring a mix of the show's cast and writers. Each of these is lively and occasionally on-topic, providing some of the possibly unknown origins of episodes like "Origins of Vampire Mythology" which was the result of an unexpected budget shortfall for the season. The set is rounded out by a collection of deleted scenes, a gag reel and featurettes for "This is War: Pillows vs. Blankets" and "A Glee-ful Community Christmas."
Community: The Complete Third Season is available on DVD now.