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Kayla Upadhyaya: Missing 'Community'

By Kayla Upadhyaya, Daily TV/New Media Editor
Published January 29, 2012

Fifty-three days have passed since the most recent episode of “Community” aired. In those 53 days, Liz Lemon got a boyfriend, “Justified” returned and “Homeland” won a Golden Globe. But none of these successes can make me forget about the blatant lack of Greendale in my life. I can’t stop thinking about all of the unrealized Jeff Winger speeches, Troy and Abed shenanigans, and Britta leather jackets that we’ve been denied.

This past November, NBC ominously announced a midseason schedule devoid of “Community,” the oft-experimental and most innovative sitcom you’re apparently not watching. Instantly, Twitter and Facebook erupted in a fury of expletives and witty references. I’m still pumping out tweets ending with “#savecommunity” and urging my friends to kidnap their unfriendly neighborhood NBC execs or occupy Robert Greenblatt’s office.

NBC has assured distressed fans that the show will finish filming and air at least the rest of the season (Troy and Abed in the … TBD). But it’s clear “Community” hasn’t brought in the revenue necessary to keep the big bad network execs satisfied, and there’s little we Human Beings can do to stop them from huffing and puffing and blowing Greendale all the way to the Dark Timeline. Not even Abed as Batman can save us.

The Legion of Mainstream Awards Shows was our only hope, and now it might be too late. I’ve been following red carpet events long enough to know that when it comes to television, nomination committees just can’t seem to get it right. I’m still not convinced that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association actually watches television.

As much as I hate giving so much power to awards shows, they do affect television ratings. The viewership of “Mad Men” increased significantly after the show raked in several consecutive awards, and “Modern Family” became Wednesday night’s highest rated program after winning its Emmy.

After years of my favorite shows getting snubbed, you’d think I wouldn’t get too worked up during nomination announcements. But the fact that people aren’t throwing all the awards at “Community” continues to baffle me.

It all comes down to the eccentricity of “Community.” It’s a show about a community college study group, but it’s also a show about alternate realities, apocalyptic paintball battles, space buses and secret-air-conditioner-repairman societies. The scruffy and sassy genius Dan Harmon created “Community” for an oddball audience made up of people who wear costumes to midnight releases of comic-book-based films, speak in puns and still haven’t recovered from the cancellation of “Freaks and Geeks” or “Arrested Development.”

Unfortunately, though we make up about 90 percent of Twitter users, we’re a small demographic of inter-nerds and TV junkies who have many a limited-edition collector’s lunch box but nary a Nielson box. But the value of a fresh and daring show like “Community” isn’t something a Nielson box can calculate.

And while the Golden Globes are always trying to be “edgy” and “new” in order to attract a younger and more diverse audience, they are about as cutting-edge as an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS’s time-slot competitor to “Community.”

Some of the best comedies are those that break the sitcom mold and take risks, but these shows don’t necessarily bring in awards. “30 Rock,” which can be as bizarre as “Community,” is an obvious exception, as it has received countless awards. But one of its huge pulls is the popularity of its stars, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. “Community” has comedy veteran Chevy Chase and Joel McHale of “The Soup,” but they aren’t the focus — it’s an ensemble show, and many of its actors are still newbies by Hollywood standards.

Awards shows also love comedies that mix feel-good comedy with social issues. “Glee” caters to this notion, dedicating episodes to issues like homophobia or teen drinking, resolving problems quickly and then dropping the issue or watering it down with a song and dance. The serious moments are obvious and trite, making it mindless comedy. “Modern Family” is sometimes guilty of this, too.

“Community” makes us think. At the surface level, it’s a whirlwind of pop culture references and absurdity. But these characters are real people with real problems — problems that can’t be resolved in one episode or even a whole season. Jeff has been dealing with his complicated feelings toward Annie since season one, Abed’s familial issues are a recurring theme and Britta is always struggling to balance her abrasive personality with a desire to fit in.

No other sitcom can pull off a Christmas claymation episode crafted with equal parts wit and character development, or an episode about a normal gathering of friends and pizza that turns into an ingeniously spun web of six alternate timelines. This show wasn’t designed for the masses or for mainstream-awards attention, but if the all-powerful peacock decides to make “Community” join Horsebot 3000 in its grave, NBC won’t just be forcing us to say goodbye to the best ensemble on television — they’ll be setting back comedy and condemning unconventionality in sitcoms. Let’s be real, they’ll be Britta-ing television for the rest of us.


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