Since "Community" is still on hiatus (why, NBC, why?!), I’ve spent the past few days catching up on those last few episodes of the first season of that I hadn’t seen, and revisiting many of the others. I thought I’d put down a few quick observations.
Comparing the first season with the second and third, "Community" has changed a lot over time. Initially it was a much more typical sitcom that made full use of the television conventions that it would later mock so mercilessly. This was especially apparent in all the relationships and sexual tension that fueled most of the early storylines. We had two major recurring characters, Professor Slater (Lauren Stamile) and Vaughn (Eric Christian Olsen), who pretty much disappeared after the first season finale despite being important legs in ongoing love triangles. Actually, aside from the largely offscreen Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Jeff (Joel McHale) relationship, romance has been off the table until recently, when Troy (Donald Glover) started to make eyes at Britta.
I prefer some of the first season versions of the characters to their later season counterparts. The big one is Chang (Ken Jeong), whose crazy antics used to have a lot more impact because they were coming from an authority figure. The character didn’t work nearly as well since he became as student in the second season or a security guard in the third. Britta was initially the unattainable hot blonde that spurred Jeff to create the study group in the first place. Her sharp banter and super cool demeanor got broken down over the first season, until she was revealed as the utter spaz we know and love today. However, I think she’s gotten a little too caricatured recently, and wouldn’t mind a return to a more competent, smart-cookie Britta.
On the other hand, Troy and Abed vastly improved from their original selves. In the first few episodes Troy was a former high school football star who was supposed to be a little arrogant and full of himself, but quickly turned into the heart-on-his-sleeve youngster destined to be the hetero life mate of Abed (Danny Pudi), who just got more Abed over time, and thus more awesome. Jeff, Pierce (Chevy Chase), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), and Annie (Alison Brie) have had less dramatic changes, despite being tested by various plot arcs like Pierce’s descent into evil, Shirley’s pregnancy, and Annie’s bad living situations.
The study group spends far less time going to classes and worrying about schoolwork than they used to, which I think is a shame. One of the things I originally liked about "Community" was that it felt like the characters were really in a college setting, worrying over pretty realistic day-to-day student woes. Once in a while they’d do some crazy paintball episode, but go back to being regular students the next week. Now the balance is tilted more toward the wild parodies and meta episodes than the regular school stories. I’m not even sure which class they’re taking together anymore.
Then again, I think the reason I’ve liked the more down-to-earth first season episodes so much is that they provide a lot of the important background information and grounding for the later, more extreme episodes that I was missing until now. I want to rewatch the later seasons as soon as I can, to be able to catch all the references and character call-backs that I missed the first time around. And though they’ve been more consistent, the first season episodes really didn’t hit the same highs as the later ones - with the exception of the billiards episode and the first paintball episode. At the end of the day, I think Season 2 was better than Season 1, though both had their strengths.
My least favorite episode was the one with Jack Black, because it felt so wrong for "Community" to have stars that big doing guest spots. Luis Guzman being Greendale’s most famous graduate is about the right speed, along with the occasional appearances of John Oliver, Betty White, and Michael K. Williams on the faculty. For such an out-of-the-box show like "Community," it would almost feel more appropriate for guest stars to come by to heckle it.
As for my favorite episodes, I think they deserve their own post, which I’ll write up in a month or two, maybe right before the show comes back from hiatus. And it had better come back soon, because at the rate I’m going, I’m going to exhaust the extras and other supplementary material pretty quickly on these DVD sets. Yes, even the commentaries, which have been great so far.
Keep up the campaign, fellow Greendale Human Beings! Six seasons and a movie!