Widgets Magazine

Remote Nomad: Community College, where the cool kids are

Now that you’ve learned the meaning of life from the Dalai Lama three times over, it’s time to be introduced to the best comedy on network television: NBC’s “Community.” This show averages four million viewers on Thursdays at 8 p.m., competing against CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” and repeats of “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC (how anyone can watch more than 45 minutes of Grey’s at a time is beyond my comprehension).

That statistic was entirely new to me until this summer, when I came to terms with the fact that not all of my friends were spending their Thursday nights lusting after Jeff (Joel McHale), looking up Abed’s (Danny Pudi) film references and spitting rhymes in the style of Troy (Donald Glover). Emmy-favorites like “Modern Family” and “Glee” are premised on fleeting conflict and ensuing sentimentality, but no show captures mercurial, immature college-age adolescence quite like “Community” (with the possible exception of the heavy drinking on “Cougar Town”).

In the way that Liz Lemon and “30 Rock” speak to us single ladies, “Community” speaks uniquely to the media-saturated and self-obsessed Generation Y. The premise itself – dysfunctional students who prevented themselves from succeeding in the traditional college environment now united at community college – identifies the potential pitfalls of our age bracket.

We, as Stanford students, managed to avoid or convert these quirks to be just socially acceptable enough to inspire a Common App essay, but on “Community,” we are reminded of our possibilities: the guy with swagger who became a lawyer without going to college; the wannabe hipster girl who dropped out of high school to join the Peace Corps; the ethnic guy who works at his immigrant father’s restaurant; the uptight girl who went to rehab for Adderall; the athletic guy who lost his football scholarship (I’m leaving out the two distinctly adult figures, the single mom and the former moist towelette tycoon).

These are the stories of our past and our avoided present. With the show’s second season, however, these character profiles have become relics of the past, of a series uncertain of its relationships to stereotypes. Fortunately, it has chosen to reinvent them.

The show’s creator, Dan Harmon, and his talented staff of writers (many of them female!) have accomplished this by blending tropes of the school setting with film genre frameworks and general irreverence. Take, for example, one of my favorite episodes from season one, “Contemporary American Poultry:” a parody of “Goodfellas” in which the gang corners the cafeteria’s chicken tender market (usurping the position of fry cook from one of the more absurd featured characters, Starburns) and combusts as the individual members make power grabs. I’m shocked to see that that episode was the only one to draw fewer than four million viewers last season.

The first season’s most famous episode, “Modern Warfare,” which drew a standing ovation at Comic-Con 2010, designs a school-wide paintball competition in the style of “Die Hard,” balancing student group stereotypes (the Glee club haunts competitors with a pun-tastic a cappella rendition of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) and emotional character development (Jeff and Britta do it on a library table… classier than a Green library cubicle, I suppose).

There’s something undeniably likable about this show’s silliness and originality. It exhibits self-awareness and dares to improve (a lesson “Glee” could learn), and it has a genuine underdog quality – what other show can say that its creator’s Twitter muses openly about the e-mails he wished he had sent to the network and rants that his followers should “WATCH BIG BANG THEORY ALREADY.” The willingness to break the fourth wall, à la, dare I say it, “Arrested Development,” and ability to preach truisms about our culture – “I don’t have an ego; my Facebook profile picture is a landscape” – situates it squarely between “30 Rock” and “Modern Family.”

What’s not to love? This show is hardly predictable, so I won’t bore you with my theories about Jeff/Britta or my obsession with Ken Jeong. I will, however, disclose that, come Friday mornings, the first show I watch is this one. If that’s not a reason to nominate this show for every Emmy ever, I don’t know what is.