The latest issue of Christianity Today includes a short review by Todd Hertz on one of Mockingbird’s favorite sitcoms, Community. The article, “Why We Need Community,” discusses what Christians in particular, and the world in general, will be missing if Community is indeed canceled and not renewed by NBC for a fourth season. Hertz argues that despite its wacky hijinks and endless parodies, Community is honest about, well, community—or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, life together.
In Mockingbird-like fashion, Hertz also insightfully touches on the abreactive nature of the show. (Cool. Cool, cool, cool.) Here are some highlights excerpted from the online version of the article:
As Christians, we know we need community. And as many fans would agree, we also just might need Community, the irreverent NBC sitcom which seemed headed for the chopping block after weak ratings last fall … Which is too bad, because week after week, Community brings depth, story, and character exploration surpassing most network comedies … the show’s lead character, Jeff Winger, is an independent and arrogant hot shot who finds—to his surprise—that he actually sort of likes this band of losers who seemingly have nothing to offer him …
We are often inclined [to] focus only on the Hebrews exhortation to [keep] meeting and encouraging and loving one another. But Community has the courage to go deeper; to admit that, sometimes, community stinks. It is hard …
Along the way, Community has hit interesting themes that are a part of doing life together: competition, innocence, prejudice, stereotyping, selfishness, judgment, jealously, popularity, redemption, forgiveness, overcoming one’s past, purity, joy, self-worth, and more. It’s deeper than the frivolous tomfoolery that paintball and zombie episodes may suggest … It’s also the most self-aware and culturally savvy show I’ve seen, expertly unleashing meta-humor, parody and referential comedy not for its own sake or to earn a fleeting laugh, but to first and foremost serve the story.
I find Hertz’s take on what Community shows us about the difficulty and beauty of life in actual community to be spot on—that it involves living together with a band of losers who seemingly have nothing to offer us, which is quite difficult, necessarily requiring honesty about human nature and the need for repeat forgiveness. This is just as true in study groups as it is in families and churches.
Another interesting aspect of Hertz’s piece is the notion that it is precisely the show’s irreverence, comedy, zombies, and occasional paintball war that allow it to go deeper—in a psychological sense—than the average show. In other words, sometimes when we laugh our hardest, we are more able to cry, which can begin to lead to some healing of the pain that has been residing in our unconscious. (Someone very close to me cried genuine tears of both joy and sadness about three times during Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, no kidding.)
Too bad being so self-aware and culturally savvy with its oftentimes esoteric meta-humor has perhaps contributed the show’s plummet in ratings. For instance, the two most recent episodes (“Virtual Systems Analysis” and “Basic Lupine Urology”) relied quite heavily on references to past episodes and other TV shows. Although these experimental episodes were humorous to those of us who have been along for the ride the whole time, they were probably too out of reach for the casual viewer. The same sort of thing happened with Arrested Development, another gem of a show whose cancellation I am still mourning.
Now, for your viewing pleasure, here is a montage of Jeff Winger speeches on life together in the study group over the seasons: