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Friday, April 6, 2012

Community: "Pillows and Blankets"

I'm called a snob so often that it barely even rankles me anymore, even though I do resist the classification. One place where I've never considered myself elitist is in the area of television, especially sitcoms. While I don't like every sitcom on air (sorry, 2 Broke Girls, I really tried) I am far less judgmental of them than I am with other artforms. While I can distinguish between the innovative and the lazy, and appreciate the former for its daring, even moderately well-done conventional sitcoms can make me laugh and get me to keep watching.

Still, I don't approach those middle-of-the-road shows with the same fervor as I do Community. Case in point, even though I didn't get home until very late last night I knew I had to watch "Pillows and Blankets" before I went to bed, other wise I would be antsy about not having watched it, especially since I'm going home for the weekend and wouldn't be able to see it until Monday.

What I saw was a severe disappointment to me. I can appreciate the cleverness of the Ken Burns parody, and can call out exactly what tropes they are re-appropriating and mocking, but these touches did not fill me with mirth, and I think I know why. Community episodes like "Pillows and Blankets" depict a facet of the show I've never really cared for. Dan Harmon and the staff at Community occasionally allow themselves to fall into the trap of only pleasing the true believers, the people who love Community no matter what. The microscopic ratings have lead to an insular mentality, which can make it easy to say screw it and write just for the narrow audience of uncritical acolytes.

To me, comedy is about bringing people together and having a good time. Studies have shown that people are far more likely to laugh at something when they are in a group than alone. The best episodes of Community are funny enough that I laugh watching at home by myself, and feel like I'm sharing a common experience with others. "Pillows and Blankets" on the other hand seemed to expect me to feel good about being one of the few people who watches Community. Instead that just made me feel even lonelier.

Maybe this show has passed me by. I certainly didn't care for very many of the jokes last night. (Notable exception: everything involving Leonard.) I hated the whole pillow fight, it seemed so childishly stupid in an unclever way. I hated Chang's Army because it seemed entirely implausible, even for Greendale. I hated how quickly Troy and Abed's feud went away, because it seemed like something from a lesser sitcom.

Just as with "Critical Film Studies", I seem to be on something of an island on this episode, judging by the critical reaction. Todd Van Der Werff of the AV Club gave this episode an A, but he seems to be so in the tank for Team Harmon that it's hard to take him seriously. If Community only wants to preach to the choir, they can probably count on a lot of empty seats.

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