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Community - The Complete Series - DVD
Over the last five decades or so, there has been no shortage of sitcoms that take place in educational institutions. They're mostly centered on high school, but college also gets its occasional turn in the form of quirky shows about early adults struggling to find their place in life. Community is special amongst them because it's mainly about misfits of various ages who are trying to grasp a second chance at life. That insightful premise is wrapped about a heightened high concept tone that borderlines on a live action cartoon narrative. The formula that creator Dan Harmon puts together satisfies the Matt Groening-style irreverent and borderline absurdist humor mixed with characters we can immediately relate to, no matter how archetypal they might get in service of any given joke or bit.
Apart from Season 4, where Harmon stepped out as the showrunner, leaving behind an awkward attempt to capture the delicate tone he found between traditional sit-com and almost a self-parody level of farce buried underneath it, the show always managed to find new ways to reinvent itself and feel fresh. With entire episodes dedicated to alternate universes, spaghetti western/action hybrids revolving around paintball tournaments, stop motion animation, digs at various sit-com tropes and cliches, the tongue-in-cheek and visually inventive world of Community still emerges amongst its peers.
The core set of characters, each one with their distinct personalities that play off so well with each other, are the key to Community not ending up as a one-joke premise. Even with the constant high concept episodes, it would have been tough to keep audience interest without the chemistry inherent in the cast. Our clear protagonist is Joel McHale's cynical Jeff Winger, who begins his journey having to attend community college, hating every minute of it, and trying whatever he can to get out. His obvious arc of gradually falling in love with his school and his group of friends almost makes him the least interesting character. Everyone certainly have their favorites, but the pop-culture obsessed Abed (Danny Pudi) works so charmingly as a conduit for the show to make fun of its own cliches alongside the many tired tropes found in TV, that it's hard not to deem him a favorite.
Seasons two and three are, in my opinion, the highlights of the show. After starting off with a bit too much of a traditional single camera sit-com formula, Community and Dan Harmon's irreverent energy found its stride. Season 4, without Harmon, has some highlights, but is by far the weakest. Harmon returns for seasons five and six. They provide some fine closure to the show, but the lightning in a bottle captured during the first three isn't there.
Mill Creek packs in around a whopping 12 episodes per disc. This is fine in terms of economically storing your favorite shows on physical media, but the heavy compression takes away from the best possible presentation. Every episode runs between 3-4 megabits a second. Not terrible for standard definition, but pretty low nevertheless. It's easy to make out pixellation, even when upconverted, and there are some aliasing issues.
Thankfully, the audio compression doesn't suffer as much. The lossy AC3 Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in the episodes contain a nice dynamic range and energy, at least for such a packed DVD set. Community is a sit-com, yes, but as mentioned above, it also skewers a lot of genres, meaning the sound mixes can be pretty complex depending on the genre being parodied. In that case, such a clean and clear audio presentation is important.
The extras are exactly the ones found in Mill Creek's Blu-ray set. The only difference is that they're in standard definition. Considering a lot of the extras found in the Blu-ray set are also SD, that's not much of a setback. For specific information on the extras, check out Ryan Keefer's review of the Blu-ray.
Zany and wacky fun with loads of heart and ingenuity whenever it needed to shift gears, Community, despite its numerous roadblocks along the way, manages to get through its six seasons without fully jumping the shark. Six seasons and a movie was harmon and fans' mantra. Maybe one day the movie will happen. Until then, this is the perfectly priced collection to own each episode, if you can turn a blind eye to the fact that this set is really compressed and is in SD.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com