Looking Back at Community Fourteen Years Later

The wacky little TV series that aimed a horizontal attack at problematic themes, and helped me stave off depression.

Looking Back at Community Fourteen Years Later
By Keith McDuffee from Northborough, MA, USA — FlickrUploaded by CennoxX, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26386516

We can all agree that the worst joke on Community was Chevy Chase. There’s a bold irony in casting an actual ancient racist as an ancient racist, though I suppose we could look at Chevy’s role as Pierce Hawthorne as a continuation of a lifelong stint at method acting someone who behaves terribly.

This isn’t an article about Chase, don’t worry. There will be spoilers, though. You are fairly warned.

I have a deep soft spot for Community. The series was introduced to me when it was still running, back when I worked for a fantastic little video store in my hometown.

I loved working at a video store. Surrounded by stories, I found a passion for film that never left. Before pivoting into my creative writing degrees, I was angling into film school, and even collected a few student film credits to my name.

It was a video store co-worker and dear friend who told me I needed to see this series that she loved, Community. I was skeptical because I disliked (even then) shows which were mean. I’d seen Chevy Chase act in a few of his classic films, and boy, I hated those films so much.

And yet, the show became one of the most important stories at that point in my life, a work that resonated in a particularly powerful way. This did not happen right away, but somewhere near the end of season one, I suddenly realized that I loved watching these characters. I realized that I was watching a series that lent the possibility of magic to the world of the mundane.

The true heroes of Community are, of course, Troy and Abed. Together, they form the core of the magic. When Donald Glover left the series, there naturally couldn’t be a continuation. Together, Danny and Donald gave us characters who were brilliantly themselves, who existed halfway outside the tired tropes of realism that makes modern life so bleak. And, while I was never as obviously neurodivergent as Abed, I found great solace in many of his experiences of fictional life, which were internally so incredibly close to my own.

One scene in particular stands out.

Abed has joined the rest of the characters at a birthday party for Troy’s 21st. Naturally, this is at a dumpy bar. Abed, being Abed, is playing an arcade game in the corner when he’s interrupted by a guy who’s clearly a fellow geek. The barfly newcomer makes a comment about Farscape (one of the best sci-fi series ever made), and perks Abed’s interest.

What follows is, apparently, hours of conversation about Farscape, with the barfly becoming increasingly annoyed. Why? Because Abed doesn’t appear to be getting the message: the dude is hitting on him. Eventually, Abed admits that he did notice, he just ignored it, so they could keep talking about his favorite show. The barfly splashes a drink in his face and leaves, while Abed blinks, apparently unsurprised at the result.

When I spent time in bars during my early twenties, I was Abed. There because people from my somewhat rickety social circle were there, but largely cut off from the emotional experiences of everyone around me. There’s nothing enjoyable about being hit on by drunk people, either, which happened rather frequently. And nobody even wanted to talk about Farscape!

My early twenties were a time of internal turmoil. I was still dealing with the loss of my dad, who died when I was seventeen. Moreover, I struggled with undiagnosed trauma from a period of homelessness as a teenager, and the hardship of worsening chronic health conditions. Depression naturally followed, as did extreme anxiety. Coupled with my insular internal world and narrow group of peers, I found most of my solace in stories like Community. That group of friends, that ability to weave some subtle magic through life.

The series was one of several stories that gave me a life raft in times of trouble, so I’ve been curious what it would be like to re-watch it. My life now is incredibly stable in so many ways. I’m more present and aware, I’ve met many personal and professional goals; I have friends and loved ones close in my life. I’ve also worked hard to expand my critical capacities and political awareness — something that not enough people seem to be interested in doing — and I’ve become an artist with a reasonable professional career.

The rewatch

I find myself skipping the more cringy moments of the show (cringe humor has never been my thing), and there are places where I disagree with the politics, or find myself annoyed by the mean banter that is presented as a social norm.

However, I’m also noticing two very interesting things.

  • The mean social banter is always the starting point, never the punchline.
  • The show cares less about political and philosophical differences than it does about the ties that bind.

This has the humorous result of combining to create a show that’s almost anarchist in its examination of group dynamics and mutual aid. Heck, it even rides to the edge of actual political theory with that theme. (For example, in S2.16, after the political campaign to elect a new school president fails, Britta and Jeff appear to be considering direct action to solve the school’s mold problem — which is a decidedly anarchist perspective).

Too frequently, comedy television series use mean humor as the punchline (hell, it’s even there, in the word “punchline”). That type of humor degrades, it warps, it subverts the human instinct toward reverence and care. That doesn’t mean that slapstick and touchy humor is always bad, but, when unexamined, when produced carelessly, the side effects of that sort of humor can be hugely detrimental.

Human beings learn about our world through observation and interaction. First with our family as babies, then with an increasingly-broadening world.

In our increasingly technological age, much of our learning is done through technology.

Don’t worry, I’m not an anti-technology nut. I’m actually more of a Luddite.


Luddites believed that the people who used the machines that created profit should, themselves, be the owners of the machines. For that simple desire of an equitable life, they’ve been smeared and hounded across the centuries. But that’s a different article (Cory Doctorow writes about this pretty frequently).

If we spend our time absorbing material from mass media sources, TikTok, and other popular apps, that does have an effect on who we become. Our cultural and social norms will be informed by the media that we observe and interact with. Behaviors from the media we experience will be normalized.

Normalization of behaviors like bickering, humor-as-a-weapon, violence-as-a-net-good, and meanness as something “funny,” will create problematic human beings. It’s subtle, but powerful, and it gets reinforced and magnified through network effects.

So, one of the things that makes Community a good series in my eyes (largely so, at any rate), is that it tends to use meanness and bickering as the negatives they are. The point of each episode is, almost always, that human beings are stronger together, that forgiveness is good, that friendships can cross-cultural and political lines. Perhaps most interestingly, the series suggests that we can take care of people we actively dislike (Pierce Hawthorne) — this is an aspect of the “mutual aid” theory that underpins anarchist social theory.

As I watch the series, I’m gripped with nostalgia, but I’m also impressed with certain aspects of its construction. Sure, it’s dated in certain portrayals of important themes (America has undergone some major social shake-ups since it’s aired), but that’s a flaw that plenty of stories share. More importantly, it’s a show that clearly tried to do something unique and interesting. And, even fourteen years after it first aired, it still offers a breath of fresh air in the middle of a media ocean of spiteful humor and gloom.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider subscribing!

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