Last night I was able to take a moment to catch up on a few of my favorite series that are airing right now. Both Community and Archer started up again in the last month and I would like to talk about the new seasons a bit in comparison to each other because I think one is doing great and the other is struggling, and I’m sure you can guess which one is struggling if you are a fan of the shows.
First off, why compare these shows? Well, I find them similar in many aspects. They both take place in a kind of altered reality, a reality that is close enough to ours that we accept it but just quirky enough that crazy things can happen and still be believable. In fact, this is an interesting scenario in which the cartoon actually attempts to be less cartoonish than the live action one. They both reference movies and other pop culture constantly, and they both have this zany core group of characters and their interactions are really what make the show unique and funny. How Britta, Annie, Jeff, Troy, Abed, Shirley and Pierce interact is the core of what is funny about Community in the same way that watching Archer, Lana, Cyril, Cheryl, Pam, and Mallory interact is what makes Archer unique, and funnily enough both shows always tend to drop their characters in the middle of movie references. The final and possibly most important part of all this is the head writer, both Dan Harmon and Adam Reed have a strong voice and style that comes through in all the characters and scenarios.
Which brings us to where we are today. Community is 3 episodes into its highly anticipated 4th season while Archer is also several episodes into its 4th season, and while I once held the shows in regard, it is obvious at this point that Archer is stealing my heart this season while Community leaves my heart feeling like he’s watching a cardboard cutout episode, like it’s being used for ratings.
Obviously, before we go on, I should mention what is very likely the reason for my change of heart concerning Community. As you probably know, the head writer Dan Harmon was asked the leave his own show after last season for reasons that I’m not sure of well enough to discuss them here. Why he left the show isn’t as important as what happens to it now? Dan Harmon didn’t only have the key to making these ridiculous characters believable and easy to sympathize with, he also had a specific plot structure used in almost every episode. His writing was a very tight mixture of quirky characters, character development (for one or 2 characters per episode) and witty jokes and references sprinkled throughout. It seems as if now the writers of community have written down everything Harmon did and are trying desperately to replicate it in order to please the dedicated Community fans, who are a huge reason the show is still on.
Let’s take a look at plotlines that have been used so far this season. For fun, I’ll go ahead and put a * next to the ones that have been used before.
- Abed is unable to deal with the group splitting up after College *
- Abed and Troy are growing apart *
- Abed has a delusional spell in which reality is altered to fit TV tropes *
- Pierce and Jeff have father issues in the same episode *
- Pierce tries to trick the group out of jealousy *
Now, these aren’t character traits or recurring jokes. Those I can dig on. These are episode plots and they have been done multiple times. While I understand the predicament of the Community writers in that they have a delicate line to walk, I think they are walking on the complete wrong side. So far this season they have given us nothing new. No new plotlines, characters, classes, conflicts, anything at all. The only thing that’s really different about this season is that Troy and Britta are dating and Jeff and Annie look like they will be soon, too. But that’s not really that new, Britta and Troy were set up for a relationship at the end of last season and Jeff has been trying to bang Annie since season 2. And even though the Britta and Troy relationship is new, it has to be the most awkward and shoehorned in relationship I’ve ever seen. They just go ahead and introduce it in the first episode with no explanation of how they ended up together. They just are now.
What I’m getting at here is that it seems that the Community writers are trying to give us more of what we already have and it’s pointless. Dan Harmon was great at blindsiding the audience. His characters were lovable and conflicts weren’t contrived, but now we just seem to be getting a carbon copy. The jokes aren’t as witty, the timing not as good, and the plotlines are stale. I mean, remember how season 3 opened up and all of a sudden there were new classes with new teachers? Omar from The Wire came on as a biology professor, Betty White was an anthropology professor for an episode or two, Todd became a great side character, and all of these new characters were given to us in fun plots that took place in these interesting new classes. Every episode used to be named after a class and the show took place in a college. 3 episodes in to the 4th season and I have yet to see any teachers, students that aren’t in the Greendale 7, or classrooms. I’m fairly certain the Dean would have been written out too if seeing him in a crazy costume wasn’t on the list of things the writers were trying to emulate. Whatever happened to Leonard and Todd and Vicki and Neil?
The characters have also stopped developing, and out of everything this might be the worst factor of the new season. Remember at the end of season 3 when Abed comes back to reality and Britta is his new oddly-effective psychologist? Well, for some reason when 4 starts he is just as delusional as he was before. Him and Troy still have this odd and fragile relationship they had in S3, and Annie and Jeff are still in some sort of weird sexual attraction vs. age difference stalemate. Pierce is still a manipulating douche and Shirley… Wait, has Shirley even done anything this season? I mean, the first episode had her and Annie doing these poorly thought out pranks that were seemingly only there to give them something to do in the cluster fuck that was S4E1. The revelations that the characters are going through in these episodes are the same as the ones they have already gone through. Why, even?
I know. What’s the point in complaining? Well, I’m not really complaining. We will always have seasons 1-3 and we were lucky to get them. I guess if I had a point in writing this out it would be to help recognize what makes a show good and how royally you can fuck it up. Community was good because it was unpredictable. It talked about race and sexism in a way no other show did, things happened you could never have guessed, and characters said things so fast you were as surprised they said it as you were at how funny it was. The writing in this season has been so wooden and contrived it hurts. Arguments used to feel natural, but watching Britta and Troy fight in S4E1 in the fountain, Troy and Shirley argue in the hallways in S4E2, and any other negative conflict has been so forced it hurts to watch. My point is that Community was not a formulaic show, it was an unpredictable one with really funny writing, and that’s what made it great. Now it’s just another formulaic show and I guess I’m not angry, just disappointed.
Now let’s talk about Archer. Archer is doing everything perfectly, probably because they didn’t fire the guy who created and wrote the show. That’s really all I have to say about that. Archer is still handling the same core characters but we are still learning a lot about them. They aren’t reusing old scenarios or jokes, and they definitely aren’t stale on the character development. Honestly, the whole Community thing is just shame more than anything. Community was just as new and interesting as Archer is, yet without the creative voice behind the project it has lost all uniqueness. The future of both shows is up in the air, and they still have the rest of their seasons to play out. Hell, for all I know Community could turn around and have the best end to a season yet, but as it stands now the show is nothing like what it used to be. It’s like the shitty store brand of your favorite cereal instead of the real thing.