Is Community Postmodern?

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Community, a seemingly nondescript comedy about six misfits muddling their way through community college, finding each other in a Spanish study group. On its surface, it borrows a lot from recent classics. Lead Joel McHale is another comic anti-hero, selfish, vain yet charming and unfailingly hot. Like The Simpsons, it’s chock full of details for ber fans to obsess over, replete with endless pop-culture references. Chevy Chase is the show’s only famous actor, and even that is a kind of meta joke, his character Pierce being just the kind of self-involved jerk Chase is purported to be.

So big deal, right? But the show has differentiated itself in the mad, gleeful way it abandons itself to concept episodes. Episodes have been extended - and hilarious - riffs on everything from action movies turned into paintball games (seriously, click that) to mob movies to a surprisingly poignant take on My Dinner With Andre. Meanwhile, a Christmas episode that took place entirely in claymation is probably the best "holiday episode" since Bart met Santa’s Little Helper.

While the show gets serious belly laughs from Ken Jeong’s Senor Chang and Danny Glover’s Troy, at the core of the show’s modern promise is Abed. Played impeccably by Danny Pudi, mildly autistic Abed views the world through pop culture, and his quips are a constant meta-reflexive commentary on how it is impossible to watch a sitcom in 2011 unaware of their conventions: the bottle episode, the obvious romantic entanglements, the sheer contrived nature of it all. It makes the show constantly aware of itself as it makes it even funnier.

But that’s just plain ole’ postmodernism isn’t it? Doesn’t that make it just another sitcom that riffs on a bunch of references to be clever? Not quite. Unlike Seinfeld and Arrested Development, Community doesn’t just throw up its hands and abandon meaning. Yet nor does it do what made The Simpsons, at least in its earlier seasons, a fundamentally conservative show, where it...
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