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Community - The Complete Series - Blu-ray
Community had such a unique place within the pop culture landscape in the early portion of the 2010s that I'm not completely sure it could be summed up. It included the emergence of the showrunner like few other peers of the time, resulting in a nationwide tour for and focus on its subject (Dan Harmon). Either jokingly or with an air of pomposity it included things that drove storylines or served as a backdrop that few others did on network television; who was doing shows around Dungeons and Dragons or paintball on network television, and making them fun and kind of poignant at the same time? But it was showing people who were perhaps marginalized or stigmatized in society and giving them a chance to shine within a group dynamic sometimes, which could be toxic like some others could. Normalizing them in a weird way.
The show's premise is for lack of a better word, kind of formulaic. Jeff Winger (Joel McHale, Ted) is a lawyer who as it turns out, has flawed academic records. So he goes back to school, or Greendale Community College anyway. His selfish schemery forces him to create a study group for a Spanish class to get the attention of a protestor named idealistic Britta (Gillian Jacobs, The Box). And she invites people and they invite people and so on. You have Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown, Repo Men), a single mom with two kids, Abed (Danny Pudi, The Box), a fan of movies old and new and familiar with numerous story tropes as well as their mirroring of life. Troy (Donald Glover, The Muppets) is a football player and not the brightest bulb in the lamp. Annie (Alison Brie, Mad Men) had a crush on Troy in high school, but also had a substance abuse problem. Rounding them out is Pierce (Chevy Chase, Caddyshack), a decade-long attendee of the school, but also a business magnate of sorts. Somewhat familiar to folks will be Ben Chang (Ken Jeong, The Hangover), a dictatorial, not very good Spanish teacher.
Harmon tends to expound on characters using a ‘story circle,' a drawing that looks a lot like a Zodiac signature, but uses eight touchpoints for a character. In sum, 1) a character is in a zone of comfort, 2) but they want something. 3) They enter an unfamiliar situation, 4) adapt to it, 5) get what they wanted, 6) pay a heavy price for it, 7), then return to their familiar situation 8) having changed. Given the eclectic backgrounds for each of their characters these circles get into a lot of use, with some older characters looking at relationships with parents or previously unknown siblings. Some get into relationships with each other as shows tend to do, but are done in such a way that both go beyond the triteness of the eventual closure of such an arc, but avoid the inevitable tragedy of post-coital awkwardness that other shows go through. In even pokes such tropes in the eye at times, not because it can, but because those things were silly story mechanisms that had little basis in reality in the 21st century.
Performance wise the show was good though I was more impressed by the discoveries of the presumably younger half of the ensemble in Glover, Pudi and Brie. The first two have a chemistry that anyone who ever watched the show would muse for a spinoff (and to the show's credit it paid ample attention to their antics over the course of six seasons), and Brie's role may have the most heart to it. She provided an innocence with an underlying veneer of devilishness that was just as surprising as Glover's charisma and comic timing.
Community would get things going when it had concept episodes that kept their ensemble in one area that made for laughs. Things like John Woo films, The Professional, Reading Rainbow and other ‘90s film and/or TV gems would get shoutouts, even down to Greendale's choice of character actor Luis Guzman as a prized alum who has a statue of himself on campus. It branched out to stop motion holiday tributes, muppets musicals and spaghetti westerns at one point too, all of which continued to move storylines and character developments forward. This is but a short list, because there are others over the course of the show's six season, 100-episode run that are treats to experience without disclosure. Heck, when the show decided to expand the cast ever so slightly, it did so with guys from Breaking Bad (Jonathan Banks) and The Wire (Michael Kenneth Williams) as faculty members over the course of the show. It was aware of its surroundings and embraced them.
The common knock that people had on Community may have been that it was slow to develop or that the characters weren't relatable. I would counter that friendships take time to build, and that while a lawyer, a cheery drug addict, football player, film geek, old rich guy, a single mom and a hippie may not fall into your very specific ideas of connection, the friendships between them are genuine and identifiable, just as their interactions with those out of their realm are cynical at times. They were people, on a memorable stage given to them by its creator.The Blu-rays:
So there are six seasons of Community, packed into three regular Blu-ray cases. Each season gets two discs all to their own, and each of those discs is stacked on each other, pancake style. That grinds my gears a little bit, largely because the high-definition quality given to the show is kind of average. Colors are accurate and fleshtones natural from what little I remember from watching the show in HD when it first aired, and image quality generally gets warmer as the seasons evolve, but there is little that is revelatory about this transfer. The best thing I can say is it looked like an average replication of the viewing experience (though truth be told, looks better on Hulu these days, but here nor there).Audio:
DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround which was no real surprise, given the nature of the show. Would it have been nice to have a little more dynamic range and/or subwoofer activity during the blanket fort episodes, or the paintball ones? Sure, but I also wasn't expecting it. Dialogue was straightforward and consistent for the balance of the show, occasional directional effects but nothing jaw-dropping and overall serviceable soundtrack.Extras:
The extras from the previous standard definition releases are not completely ported over here for the Blu-rays. You can read about them in our reviews of Season One omits the highlight reel from the extras, Season Two leaves out the stuff from "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," Season Three looks like a complete port as do Season Four, Season Five and Season Six, the latter of which being a slight bummer as Harmon recorded commentaries for those in the show's Yahoo! era but they weren't included here.Final Thoughts:
I'm not about to say that Community is a classic show in the vein of other NBC shows that aired on Thursday nights. I'm not sure where its place in the Parthenon of comedic television (broadcast category) truly lies. I will say that it's both better than and not as good as, what people tell you that it is, but it does remain something that should be given a few episodes to simmer before the roux develops in your mind. Technically, the presentation is a little bland, and the lack of all of the extras from the standard definition discs is a bummer, even if the extras that are present are spectacular. Nevertheless, the Blu-ray debut of Community is kind of like the show itself; valuable, though not entirely priceless.