A Welcome Distraction
This is a big day! I’ve written guest posts for Reads & Reels before but I’ve never had my own regular feature here. Heck, I’ve never had my own regular feature anywhere before! So this is exciting for all kinds of reasons. But when I was chatting with Shannon about a possible monthly series, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Are you ready to begin this wild ride with me, dear reader? Because I’m ready to get started! Let’s go!
As a teacher, I never have anywhere near enough time to read and watch all I want to because I’m always buried under teaching, lesson planning, and a seemingly-endless pile of grading. (I know in theory I assign everything so I shouldn’t be surprised by how much I have to grade but I swear those papers are like the Hydra of ancient Greek mythology – for every head I cut off, two more grow to take it’s place.) In addition to the schoolwork, I have all the reading, research, and actual writing that goes into my own projects. When you add it all up, there’s not a lot of free time left. So in this series, I’m going to write about whatever was able to pull me away from all those other obligations, proving “a welcome distraction.” Get it? It’s open to anything – books, movies, TV shows, comics, music, whatever is exciting and engaging enough to get me to prioritize some self-care time in my busy life.
For my first piece, I’m looking at Community. This meta-sitcom ran (mostly (long story involving Yahoo! trying to start it’s own streaming service and issues with network execs)) on NBC from 2009-2015. It was the brainchild of Dan Harmon and the Russo brothers. I KNOW! I forgot this too before I began rewatching it last month! But before Anthony and Joe Russo were shepherding some of the most important films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they were directing and executive producing Community. I love it! Anyway, I’ve always considered Community one of the last truly brilliant, inventive, and hilarious sitcoms to rise before streaming services really exploded and started changing the way we watch television.
It starred Joel McHale as Jeff Winger, a lawyer who was suspended from practicing law after it was discovered his law degree was a fake, coming from Columbia the country and not the university. Looking to get a degree as fast as possible, he enrolls in Greendale Community College, hoping his relationship with Professor Ian Duncan (John Oliver) would yield answers to every test in every class and get him back to his job as soon (and as effortlessly) as possible. As per classic sitcom tropes, there he befriends a group of lovable losers – Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown), Troy Barnes (Donald Glover before he became the Childish Gambino!), Annie Edison (Alison Brie), and Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase) – and their study group becomes a surrogate family for all of them. Wacky, wild hijinks ensue with Spanish teacher Señor Chang (Ken Jeong) and Dean Craig Pelton (Jim Rash) along for the ride.
I fell in love with this show instantly. It served as a sort of balm, to help ease the pain of Scrubs (my ALL TIME FAVORITE SHOW) coming to an end. It didn’t have the heart or the humor of Scrubs (what could??) but it had an eclectic cast and proved as smart and self-aware as it was funny. It delivered rapid fire jokes and pop culture references so quickly (and sometimes so subtly) that if you weren’t paying close attention there’s no way you’d catch them all. It was like a snarkier, more cynical version of Gilmore Girls…but it’s surface snark never hid – nor did it try to hide – the heart underneath it all. I quickly came to love the characters too.
The show was never a hit – it was no The Office or Friends or Seinfeld for NBC – but it was smart, unique, weird and offbeat in all the right ways. It had the makings of a passionately-loved-yet-relatively low-viewed, cult following sort of show. In that way, I guess, it fit in for my beloved Scrubs too :). But I became one of those passionate viewers and I’d tune in every week to see what was going on at Greendale, building my nightly viewing around it back when everything wasn’t easily streamable and those sorts of choices were still important.
I don’t really know what led me to start rewatching this series last month. I hadn’t watched it in years. In fact, I never even finished it. Of the six seasons, I ADORED the first three but then never got through the fourth. Series creator Dan Harmon had been pushed out by the NBC studio execs after erratic behavior, late scripts, and mounting tension with Chevy Chase and the show never felt the same after his exit. He would return to oversee the final two seasons of the show but, by then, I had moved on. However, the DVDs of the first three seasons still live in my cupboard. So last month when I was feeling a little itchy and a little edgy and I wanted to watch something to take my mind off all that, I couldn’t settle on what. Randomly, I pulled out Community Season One and WOW was that the right choice!
To border on oversharing in my first regular post here (but I’m a sharer and storyteller by nature so I might as well introduce you all to that facet of my writing now) I was officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder last year. As I’ve learned about what that means and how to help manage it with my therapist (which, oh my gosh therapy is the best thing ever! why wasn’t I doing this forever ago?!?), I’ve learned watching TV or a movie can help sooth a budding wave of anxiety. I tend to almost always choose reading a book over watching something (which is why I am never as on top of what’s on Netflix as everyone else I know (which, I’m sure, can be frustrating for friends and family sometimes (I still haven’t seen The Witcher or You and it took me until last summer to watch Stranger Things 2 before Stranger Things 3))). That’s just my own personal preference. Naturally I invest more of myself mentally and emotionally when reading too. That’s just the way it works. So the right movie or the right TV show can be the perfect save when I feel that anxious itch crawling around my brain. I can put it on and just passively enjoy the story.
When I randomly threw the first disc of the first season back into the ol’ DVD player after so many years, I found Community – in addition to being every bit as funny and intelligent as I remembered – is a surprisingly great way to ease my anxiety. At first I was perplexed by this as it works far better than shows like Scrubs or The Office do. But Theresa (who is one of my absolute best friends (the type of friend who really is family (oh, I regularly reference people I know in my writing like you know them too (but I do my best to introduce you to them as we go (this will happen regularly so I figured I’d point it out (also I like to use nested parenthesis in my writing too (as you may have already gathered))))))) figured it out. She surmised I’m not as emotionally invested in Community as I am something like Scrubs or The Office, where every beat of the show is written on my heart. SO the show is hysterical and clever and it has very well developed characters and I love it…but I don’t love it too much. This makes it perfect anxiety relief! Good call Theresa.
While it’s been argued for some time that we’re no longer living in the Postmodern Age, instead finding ourselves in the creatively named Post-Postmodern Age, Community is a brilliant example of postmodern art. It is completely aware of itself as a sitcom and it uses those classic tropes; with a nod, wink, and sometimes satirical jab, to great effect. There’s will-they-won’t-they romantic tension along with love triangles. Each season has classic “holiday specials” for Halloween and Christmas. There’s a plethora of recognizable guest stars. They do whole episodes parodying certain genres like the EPIC paintball episode from Season One, “Modern Warfare,” or the Ken Burns-inspired Civil War documentary spoof “Digital Explorations of Interior Design” in Season Three. They’ll do “bottle episodes” while naming it as such within the show. The writers regularly employ themes – sometimes as allusions and sometimes named directly – from TV, movies, religion, current events, and on and on and on. It’s all pulled together by a cast as lovable as they are hilarious. Their comedic timing is perfect and their chemistry is even better.
Over the last month and change I’ve been putting this show on whenever I’m in the mood for…well, for something like this! I’m through the first season again and am well into the second. I’m enjoying it so much I’ve decided to watch the entire series through for the first time. Kalie (my significant other (who is a PhD student and also runs her own blog Just Dread-full (which it’s all about horror so if you dig that sort of thing you should check it out by clicking here))) surprised me with the fourth and fifth season for Christmas to aid in my journey :). Sometimes it’s one episode. Sometimes it’s several. Sometimes I’ll just watch part of an episode before I leave for work and the rest is there waiting for me when I get home. No matter what’s going on, good or bad, in life (or in my head) this show always makes me laugh. And in that laughter I find enjoyment, escape, relief, and relaxation. I loved it back in 2009 and now, finding it again ten years later, I’m loving it all over again. I don’t even think about the work I could be doing when I watch it! And that is the best sort of gift. (I considered ending by calling it “a welcome distraction” but I felt there’s no way I’d keep up a quasi-cloying sign-off line like that through future pieces in this series. So we’re ending with “the best sort of gift” instead and I think we’re all better for it. I know I am.)
If you’re interested in checking out Community yourself – whether you’ve never seen the show before or, like me, you’d like to revisit it – as of this writing the entire series is currently streaming on Hulu.
Michael J. Miller writes and rambles about comic books and comic book movies (not to mention Doctor Who and Star Wars and whatever else randomly pops into his head) on his blog My Comic Relief. He teaches theology at Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, PA – including classes on Star Wars as modern mythology and the intersection of comic books and social justice. Should it be your thing, you can also find him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief but he tweets sporadically at best because social media can be exhausting.
 Alex Stedman, “‘Community’ to Return for New Season on Yahoo,” Variety, Published June 30, 2014. Accessed January 5, 2020. https://variety.com/2014/tv/news/community-to-return-for-new-season-on-yahoo-1201255382/
 Lacey Rose, “‘Community’s’ Dan Harmon Reveals the Wild Story Behind His Firing and Rehiring,” The Hollywood Reporter, Published July 17, 2013. Accessed January 5, 2020. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/communitys-dan-harmon-reveals-wild-586084
 Kyle Roberts, “We Are Witnessing the End of Postmodernism and the Beginning of Post-Postmodernism,” Patheos, Published July 25, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2020. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2016/07/we-are-witnessing-the-end-of-postmodernism-and-the-beginning-of-post-postmodernism/