July 31, 2013
A new season of Under the Dome and the real meaning of “miniseries”

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Justin: We’ve apparently misinterpreted what the phrase mini-series means.

On CBS day at TV Industry Summer camp, executives from the eyeball network announced they would be renewing Under the Dome for another season.

Let me rephrase that. CBS says it has renewed the mini-series Under the Dome for another summer.

This is information that shouldn’t be entirely surprising to anyone, and, in fact, a number of critics say the mile-high ratings for the summer show pretty much ensured the Dome would rise again. That’s just straight economics; a mass of viewers and a salivating pack of advertisers means a show will always come back. (Not to mention the ingenious behind-the-scenes math CBS pulled off to fund Dome Adventures.)

A few weeks ago, had you told me the Dome was returning I would have cracked another beer, huffed some propane and chained myself in my doomsday bunker in anticipation of season 2. But now? The show suffers from such an immense thematic drag that the mystery, not to mention the initial threat of BEING SEVERED FROM HUMANITY, have kind of faded. Instead of being a dome shrouded in questions and intrigue, the Town of Chester’s Mills has become one of the most boring places on the planet. The writers and producers glommed onto one of the worst traits of serialized TV: Idling. It’s that uniquely American ability to not only throw a show into neutral, but to stall the progress of the story so much that a odd kind of bloat sets in. It’s that feeling you get when a show appears to be standing still in front of an industrial fan.

After putting the town in a strange bubble, the show’s spent 6 episode getting lost in the weeds of family drama, fake plagues, and ridiculous PG-13 torture fantasies.  Also, putting out a house fire.

Meanwhile there’s still this unexplainable dome somewhere in small town Maine that seems to inspire either madness or intense apathy towards the idea of survival. After 6 episode, and countless days if not weeks in dome hours (clearly there must be a new, independent, time zone inside the Dome, which we will now refer to as DST), the townsfolk are just now beginning to get concerned about their food and water rations. 

It’s not like I need to see the finer points of a municipal disaster response manual to enjoy Under the Dome. From the outset the show had the feeling of an above average SyFy movie of the week; breezy, cheesy, and just the smallest amount of commitment to make it enjoyable. For the first few Mondays you’d reliably find me with the rest of the Greek Chorus on Twitter punching holes in the show and generally being the show’s most catty, but strangely loving followers. But the Dome keeps getting bogged down in all the day-to-day contrivances of survival without giving the audience any hints as to why these people are trapped, let alone why we should continue to care about them.

For the show to seem so listless on the day it was renewed for another season (henceforth, “Under the Dome 2: The ReDomening”) is bad timing. It’s like giving a contract extension to your power-hitting first baseman right after he went into a slump.

It’s easy to be mad at a show that’s getting rewarded for having the creative cohesiveness of a frozen banana daiquiri. The bigger problem is that Under the Dome was billed as a limited engagement, a summer stock revival of Stephen King. CBS and the producers promised us a mini-series. It’s a TV format that has long been dormant in the US, particularly as cable has raised the stakes against broadcasters, and online entertainment options are forming a wedge between the two.

But TV networks want to be in the franchise business, because nothing succeeds like sustained success. And that doesn’t leave a lot of room for short-lived show. Which is incredibly sad.

Under the best circumstances a mini-series can offer a middle ground between the prolonged narrative of serialized TV with the limited investment of a movie. More than so much else on TV, mini-series offer the promise of an end. And endings means structure, motion, and direction. They’re explicitly designed to tell you "hey, trust me, we’re going somewhere."

Maybe the reason mini-series can no longer survive has less to do with the economics of TV and more with our appetites as readers and watchers. Broadcasters and the cable want franchises not just because they can endure, or because they can dive deep, but because the audience wants to spend time with what it knows it likes. It’s the same reason you’ll eat wings for dinner two nights in a row. It’s the reason we end up with 11 seasons of Two and a Half Men, and a sequel to Cars along with an aviation themed spin-off. 

And it’s now the reason why the tale of the Domespeople will continue past even what King originally wrote. Executive Producer Bryan K. Vaughn, (who gets a pass from me because of Y: The Last Man, and Runaways, among others in his career in comics), told reporters prior to the premiere of the Dome, “We pitched Stephen a far-out, big-swing idea for this to go several years — a different ending — and he was really excited by it.”

 

Goddamn. It’s true, isn’t it? You can’t nuke it. You can’t hug it. You can’t lock it up in your bomb shelter.  Nothing, NOTHING, can stop this goddamn dome. 

 

Dennis: Who, who will rid me of this troublesome Dome?!

Damn this Dome.

I really do not care for this Dome.

I think one of my main objections to life Under The Dome has hearkens back to my distaste for Lost. Especially after the first season, the people on that damned island just seemed to never learn anything. As my lovely wife put it at the time, “These are the least curious motherfuckers I’ve ever seen.” When faced with a series of insoluble, apparently supernatural phenomena which routinely imperil them and cut them off from the rest of the world, the Losties and the Domies squabble, they run around dealing with the house fire or smoke monster of the week, and then they seem to have forgotten all about it by the next episode. Major questions are asked, then forgotten (at least until they become pressing again). Petty internecine bickering and deeply uninteresting personal animosities and issues take up an inordinate amount of time, while, you know, there’s a freaking DOME, a damned POLAR BEAR!

Stupid dome.

I look at Under The Dome as a squandered opportunity in the same way as I do a movie with fast zombies—they’re both missing the point of their own premise. Zombie fiction isn’t scary because zombies can spring out at you like rabid Spider-Mans (Spiders-Man?), and the whole Dome thing isn’t compelling because now you’ve got to deal with everyone’s old grudges and teenagers who speak in tongues when they touch the dome and an evil Andy Samberg who chains up a chick in a basement. No, each premise holds dramatic potential in its disruption of human society and the way it forces suddenly isolated people to cope with that new paradigm. Plus cool supernatural weirdness!

And now the prospect of this thing dragging out for another entire season bores me beyond even the idea of hate-tweeting it. It’s not that Under The Dome is terrible. I mean, it sort of is, but what really makes my eyes glaze over (apart from some seriously indifferent acting) is how comfortably mundane things are under that dome. The first episode got a pass due to premise introduction and some fun effects (cue bisected cow). But even there, and increasingly thereafter, the show has been awash with some of the dullest conflicts (and people) this side of, well, a really mediocre show that’s not trapped under a dome. It’s got Dean Norris, fine, but he is not not making the case here that Breaking Bad’s writing is doing most of his work for him. Literally everyone else is so nondescript as to see their words disappear into the dome-scented air, especially as those lines come saddled with humdrum motives and that patented Stephen King dialogue which, as ever, just sounds clunky and slightly off at all times. Mainer solidarity and all, but King’s lucrative gifts do not extend to writing dialogue for people you want to spend two seasons of TV with.

And that’s part of the problem. Like you said, J-man, this whole thing was pitched as a “TV EVENT,” capitalizing on King’s name and his book’s bestseller status to swoop in, wow us (or more easily entertained versions of us), and then bust open that dome in time for the real shows to premiere in the fall. With the promise of a limited run, maybe we could hang on through the mundanity and the prosaic, jargon-y dialogue.

Now the prospect of another year’s worth of this improbably bland potential-squandering promises a dome-sized boredom headache.

Damn this Dome.

June 4, 2013
What timeline is this? Dan Harmon is coming back to Community?

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“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain…I hope.”- Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding

Dennis: What can this mean? Wha-? How?

I mean, it can’t be a thing…like a thing that is happening, right? [clicking about ten different links, cross-checking…]

Confirmed.

Dan Harmon is coming back to save Community.

And then the Internet exploded.

We’re back. Look, I know that the inter-webs is exploded and stuff, overwhelmed by the sound of a million blog posts, crying out in jubilation and then suddenly silenced. And the last thing anyone needs right now is another think-piece examining the million ways this whole thing could go wrong, so I’m just going to confine myself to the facts:

1. This has never happened before. I was standing poleaxed at work when I heard the news THAT DAN FREAKING HARMON HAS BEEN BROUGHT BACK TO SAVE COMMUNNITY (sorry- had to let that out there), and I started thinking if there had ever been a situation like this. Showrunner fired by the suits, then brought back by those same suits? I couldn’t think of one and I’m willing to bow to the confirmation that it has never happened from The AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff. Unprecedented.

2. The cast made this happen. According to a tweet from the man himself, Harmon is returning because the cast wanted him back (he mentions Joel McHale, especially.) Apart from confirming that the cast of Community has working sensory apparatuses like the rest of us, the fact that the cast of the show clearly held some sway over the suits’ decision to eat crow (and no doubt quarts of their own bile) and rehire a man they unceremoniously shitcanned a year ago is likewise unprecedented. And sure, as much as I’d like to think they staged a quirky-but-determined study group-style sit-in in Sony’s corporate offices, even the more realistic prospect of Harmon’s friends and colleagues lobbying behind the scenes to bring back the one person they think can return the show to something like it once was fills me with all the feelings. These are not TV giants like a Cosby, Oprah, or the cast of Friends telling the powers how it is gonna be from a position of unassailable strength. Community is, at best, a cult hit coming off a very shaky season, and the ensemble star power they can muster isn’t the stuff that will keep exec’s up at night. Nope- I can’t see any other explanation other than the goddamn heartwarmingest one: going into its improbable fifth season, the cast of Community simply made an appeal that the execs begrudgingly accepted. Only Dan Harmon could make Community good (and perhaps even marginally profitable) again. (I’d also like to imagine that Yvette brought brownies, Allison made her Disney princess face, Gillian staged a disastrous protest in the lobby that started a small fire, Donald and Danny performed a nonsensical but charming rap, and McHale simply waited for the furor to die down and then made an inspirational speech that drove the point home. And Chevy sat at home grumbling in his underpants.)

3. Six Seasons and a Movie is now in play. For real. I was shocked (and then dismayed) when the show got a fourth season. And then genuinely sad when it got a fifth (a sentence that would have been unthinkable coming from me two years ago). Now—shit, I firmly believe anything is possible. I believe in leprechauns, magic bullets, and that the NBA doesn’t rig the playoff officiating. And now, with the Veronica Mars-led crowdsourcing thing in play? If it comes down to a fan referendum on whether or not a Community: The Movie ever happens, I firmly believe that it might have a budget as big as a Michael Bay second unit (estimate: $20 million).

4. I’m not really interested in any backlash, thank you. Screw you, inter-haters and web-doubters. Community is coming back. I’m just happy.

“Hope is a good thing. And no good thing ever dies.”

"You’re god-damn right."


Tell me you’re with me, J-man…

Justin: The word nonplussed springs to mind. 

I have the feeling I should be more overjoyed about this news, that I too should be praising the TV gods for this gift and strange bit of mercy. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen. It’s like finding a rare beast in the wild, watching it get run down by a bloated pack of photo safari enthusiasts, only to find that it survived, then have it nursed back to health by a one-eyed dental hygienist who didn’t finish school. And yet the beast endures.

We’re clearly in the middle of the era of TV resurrection, with TV shows once thought dead being returned to life, and now, TV show runners coming back from the brink.

Dan Harmon coming back to Community is indeed a good thing, it can help infuse some life back in the show and give it a comedic and emotional anchor it lacked this past season.

It’s nice to think that executives at NBC and Sony were blinded by the unerring light of reason, or kissed by the gods of sanity and sensibility. I really want to think that. (I’m imagining a board room of guys in Marc Ecko suits weeping uncontrollably into their coconut water.)

And yet. I can’t shake this creeping wariness about the news. Maybe it’s because I had come to peace with Season 4 and was ready to see the show sail off into Greendale’s parking lot.

Or maybe I had just grown tired of putting up with the reliably frustrating brilliance of Dan Harmon. He has an unmatched comedic mind and a gift for seeing stories that are somehow askew and utterly heartwarming. But it was hard to root for him during the most tumulteous points during his tenure as Community’s Mad Man-in-Chief. Dan, you’re crazy, I love you, but try to color inside the lines this time.

But mostly, it’s the cynic in me that says the execs looked at the Risk-like board game of TV programing laid before them, and, given their options, decided to roll once more with Community. NBC made exceedingly bad bets on comedy this last season, and even the stuff they thought could survive (Hi yet another failed Matthew Perry vehicle), eventually drowned. Community, as unlikely as it seems, was a steady, albeit minor, constant in an otherwise broken schedule that has one more whole thanks to The Office retiring. And let’s not forget that the suits had additional incentive because the show is achingly close to that magical 100th episode, which will guarantee a syndication payday for a show they were ready to take a loss on just two years ago.

I know, I know. I’m a cold bastard that way.

It’s an odd reversal of fortune from just one year ago, when we were lamenting what a Harmon-less future meant for the show. I suppose I should probably take my own advice from the past

"Community created a place I want to reliably check-in with each week, and Harmon laid out a pretty solid playbook for the new guys to follow. Maybe I’m being optimistic or just a damn fool, but I’m gonna believe everything is streets ahead until season 4 premieres.”

Then, and now, the only thing we can do is wait to see what emerges on screen in the fall (or, let’s be honest, at mid-season in place of a failed multi-cam family-friendly mess. I’m looking at you Mike O’Malley.)

May 30, 2013
Arrested Development is back, but will Dennis take a ride in the Netflix staircar?

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“It was like (if you’ll allow me a few anguished similes): - The Red Sox announcing, after a disastrous 2011 season, they’d swung can’t-miss, major free agent signings… for A-Rod, Roger Clemens, an un-retiring Barry Bonds and the resurrected ghost of Ty Cobb…and were building a new domed stadium called Halliburton Field. - Someone uncovering a cache of long-lost Shakespeare plays… and finding out they are all about the adventures of a group of teenaged vampires and werewolves falling in love in high school. - Dennis Perkins

Justin: I remember the day when Arrested Development’s return was announced to the world. I heard an unmistakable wailing, a primal scream not unlike when Alderaan exploded. Except it came from beneath the earth in Portland, Maine, in a beloved indie video store that has been the beating heart of the city’s movie culture for a long time. And there, clutching his chest, his lungs exhausted, and his voice demolished, lay Dennis Perkins.

This week’s return of Arrested Development is a joyous day for TV fans everywhere. It marks the return of one of the most unique, and unjustly slaughtered TV series in recent memory. It’s also a vital moment in the re-invention of TV, something that has potential to resurrect loved and departed franchises, not to mention upend the business model for television. And yet, of all the people celebrating, of all the frozen banana parties, all the juice boxes being toasted, you, Dennis Perkins, must be the most conflicted Bluther in all the land. How do you reconcile your love of Arrested Development, not to mention the fact that shows can be brought back to life, with your hatred of Netflix? Is it even possible to do that? Back in 2011 you wrote:

Look, I know I should be happy that one of my favorite shows of all time is coming back. And I am. I’d be happy if we had to travel to a landfill in New Jersey and watch the show projected on the side of an abandoned Wal Mart truck as long as I got some new episodes. And maybe my tortuously-constructed analogies don’t hold water since I’m, again, guardedly optimistic that the show itself (and the promised movies afterwards- squeeee!) aren’t going to be anything but hilarious. But I cannot overestimate how much of a soul-jerking, sudden-reversal-of-joie-de-vivre that announcement was. Heeeeere’s everything you’ve been hoping for…and here’s the complete scumbag you have to thank for it.

We’ve been down this road before, and I am not an unsympathetic man when it comes to the plight of Videoport and its indie brethren. Without Videoport, and MySpace (we’re old kids, look it up) we would not likely be friends today. But as I said before while trying to console you: Even a chicken dance with the devil can produce something good. And, despite all the things Netflix has done, and what the represent, they took a chance on producing more episodes of a show that never had a large audience, but a small and loyal one. They’re investing money in actors and writers who we love and giving us a window back into a the model home we all miss.

You’re a principled man, whose loyalties run deep. The Red Sox fan in you would no sooner provide shelter for someone from the Bronx than you would allow Netflix in your home. And yet, behind that veil of evil lies such great promise. So much of what you wanted, all you have to do is click the tiny box for the devil’s terms of service. All of this is a long-winded way for me to get to one question: Dennis, will you be watching season 4 of Arrested Development?

Dennis: [deep breath] Okay, here we go. I…

[slight gagging noise, several more deep breaths] I got this. Concerning the retur…NOPE.

[taking a knee, barely audible murmuring] Okay, godDAMMIT!! [leaps to feet, does a few quick jumping jacks] Look, I’m going to watch the fourth season of Arrested Development. Of course I am. This is one of the best shows in the history of TV. It just is. To not watch it out of some pigheaded grudge just because it has aligned itself with a soulless corporation responsible for the utter annihilation of the independent video store industry to which I have dedicated the most of my adult life, hurting my friends, and making the world about 7% worse in the process. I mean, who would I be if I did that—some sort of, I don’t know, person with principles or something? Ha. Hahahahaha—FUCK!

Yes, I will watch the hell out of this season of Arrested Development—when it comes out on DVD.

I’ll buy it immediately, watch it obsessively, blog about it alongside my brilliant and insightful pal, Justin, and shelve it in a place of honor next to its Bluth-y brethren.

On DVD.

I can wait. I urge all right-thinking people to wait. Certainly, I urge no one to actually join Netflix if they don’t already suckle at that particular rancid entertainment teat. I suppose I should be grateful for the N-word (I recognize that I may have to rethink that term) for providing Mitch Hurwitz and company a venue to continue the show at all. And I am. No seriously.

The whole new broadcasting paradigm, with internet concerns like Netsux, Amazon, Google and others getting into original programming is going to mean that some very talented-but-neglected people are going to have more opportunities. (Of course, they’ll mostly suck, as most TV does, but still—kudos.)

But I’m not joining any of their voodoo internet nonsense to get it at their rates and on their timetable. I’m going to wait and watch what I want to see on DVD, when I want to. I’m not going to contribute any more to the demise of great local video stores and to the corporate blandification of the entertainment industry.

Sure I’m self-interested—I love my store and I’m pissed that Netdix seems to have gone out of its way to develop yet another way to kick it (and by extension, me) right in the nuts. But I’m also appalled from a consumer standpoint: Apart from Netcrax’s storied history of corporate malfeasance and outright dishonorableness, I’m a sucker for a blatant carrot-and-stick marketing ploys, aren’t you? Yeah, thought so. So, if you’re reading this and there’s a local video store hanging on by its anxiety-gnawed fingertips within a 20-mile radius, then do what all right-thinking people are doing. Take a breath, rewatch the old seasons (hey! you can even rent them from that same video store!), and then watch season 4 on DVD.

We can wait.

February 18, 2013
If You Don’t Watch Enlightnened, You’re Destroying The Planet

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Dennis: Now in its second season on HBO, this half hour sort-of comedy series isn’t getting the same press as the uber-buzzworthy (and excellent) ‘Girls’. Maybe it’s the general lack of naked young flesh that’s keeping this show in semi-obscurity, or, you know, the fact that it is almost impossible to describe in a way that will make anyone want to watch it, ever. I mean, I resisted Enlightened for a good long while before finally succumbing, and now it’s appointment viewing for me, so I’ll give it a shot. A vehicle for actress Laura Dern, the show follows her character who, as the show begins, is Amy, a hard-driving, even harder-partying junior executive at a typical corporate multi-whatever who, after a particularly public breakdown at work finds herself attending a holistic rehab facility. While there, Amy wholeheartedly adopts the spiritual awakening philosophy and returns to work, only to find that she’s being phased out of her old job and that, shockingly, her newfound social/environmental/all other ways consciousness doesn’t jibe with the corporate philosophy. Shunted down to the literal and figurative basement of the company, she finds herself little more than a data entry drone, surrounded with the rest of the company’s misfits; the company can’t really fire an employee who’s undergone the recommended treatment, but they sure can bury her in drudgery and humiliation and hope she’ll quit on her own.

The thing is- this new Amy is filed with the righteousness that only the truly self-righteous can know and she takes it upon herself to bring her newfound, well, enlightenment to the corporate world- and then probably the world, especially when she accidentally discovers that the company may be up to more than the typical corporate malfeasances that go hand in hand with good ol’ capitalism.

There- now you can see that I’ve spent a lot of words trying to convince you to watch this show and that I have failed completely. It sounds like a drag, frankly: maybe it’ll be a bummer of a self-satisfied liberal polemic, or a nasty-headed cringe comedy mocking new agey types. I thought it was going to be one of those, but what I didn’t count on was Mike White, the sneaky genius whose written things like Chuck & Buck, School of Rock, Year of the Dog, and more, and under whose guidance (he writes every episode), ‘Enlightened’ has revealed itself as one of the most multi-layered, surprising, character-based series in a long time. The key to the show (as it was with White’s underrated Year of the Dog) is that it’s entirely possible to be absolutely right in your convictions and yet be absolutely insufferable in your actions. Dern’s Amy, like Molly Shannon’s awakened vegan animal rights activist in Dog, undergoes what to her is a meaningful spiritual awakening that completely takes over her life, and then loses all perspective on the fact that, just because you’ve had an epiphany, you can’t just assume that the rest of the world is going to do everything you say.

Now, that may sound a lot like the aforementioned “new age bashing” but Enlightened really isn’t that; sure Amy’s newfound obsessions are played for queasy, uncomfortable laughs more often than not, but you get the sense that White thinks her positions are essentially correct. It’s more a show about a fundamentally unhappy woman who exchanges one unhealthy obsession (her career) for another (fixing the entire world) without the leavening wisdom of perspective to prevent her from becoming, well, a monster. Because, in Dern’s hands, a monster is what Amy becomes, her toothy, wide eyed earnestness whooshing past the needs of others and sweeping the unwary along with her on her monomaniacal yet unformed crusade to save the word, largely by destroying the company she’d once lived for. It’s a stunning performance which (like Shannon’s in Dog), plays empathy ping-pong with the viewer as Amy is at once the humiliated underdog out for vindication and a single-minded zealot out to wreak revenge on those who she thinks have wronged her, no matter who her vendetta destroys. (And, as ever, the shocking openness of Dern’s face is absolutely captivating to watch- and terrifying.)

The balancing act White and Dern pull off here is fascinating, but that’s just the half of it. The show has a habit of pulling back from Amy’s story unexpectedly to throw an entire episode at one of the minor characters (that’s how she sees them, anyway) in Amy’s life, giving them an entire episode to show what a life in Amy’s fanatical orbit is like. Luke Wilson, who hasn’t been this good since The Royal Tenenbaums, gets one as Amy’s still-addicted ex-husband, and Diane Ladd (Dern’s real mom) gets one as Amy’s put-upon mother who takes Amy back into her quiet retirement (and formerly peaceful house). And Mike White himself, who heartbreakingly portrays Tyler, the ghostlike office mole and computer expert who finds himself unable to resist getting sucked into Amy’s quest. (Seriously, his season 2 episode had me in awe-struck tears throughout, when I wasn’t laughing.)

So there you go- ‘Enlightened’ is a weird, ambitious, unsettling, funny, heartbreaking, nigh-uncatagorizable series anchored by great writing and a daringly bananas lead performance. I’d watch it, if I were you…

February 14, 2013
Karaoke Night at Greendale, or, what it’s like to watch the new season of Community

                                         

Justin: It’s been a week since Community returned to the TV box. Some are calling it Zombie Community. Others are talking about the uncanny valley of Dan Harmon. At this point I don’t even know if Dennis has recovered.

I think even the most generous fan of Community would have to admit the season premiere had a strong karaoke quality to it that made it enjoyable but a little empty. And I say this as someone who likes Community and karaoke.

Let me be clear: The new Community is not bad. In fact I laughed a lot. As a fan, it’s hard not to get excited to see this group of actors get back into their old costumes and put on a show, even if it feels as forced as an extra special Jim Rash costume change. And oh, where there many. And jokes about them.

The karaoke metaphor feels right because the storyline in the premiere had all the markings of a Harmon-esque script, sprinkled with doses of emotional reflection tempered with zaniness. It looked and sounded like the real thing. There was plenty of meta-ness. It’s not just that our characters are aware that their time as students, and as a study group is coming to an end, it’s that the show, itself, is telling us the same thing in the form of an Abed illusion, a “sitcom” version of life at Greendale starring the study group (with a great Fred Willard cameo starring as Pierce Hawthorn).

The thing is, it hits all the familiar notes, a kind of melancholy glee that outsiders of any kind can identify with. Dealing with change can be really fucking hard, as fans, or as the raw nerd heart of a group of community college misfits. Abed is having a hard time dealing with change, but he may be the only one who knows it, even if he’s reaching a layer of self-Inception that even Tom Hardy would have trouble pulling him out of. 

But ultimately, the whole affair felt off by just a few degrees. The sitcom in a sitcom bit was good for laughs, but it felt so very on the nose. We’re commenting on the controversy surrounding our show, see?

But, it’s only the first episode down. And I can be a man of everlasting patience when it comes to TV shows. (Unless the TV show is The Killing. Sorry.) So I’ll give it a shot. And I’m hopeful that the idea of the gang transitioning could be used to greater effect throughout the season, a way of shifting our expectations for this final zombie/uncanny/karaoke season of Community.

But what about you? Have you come out of your bunker yet, Dennis?

Dennis: Bu…but, everything is still standing? I went into the bunker because the bombs were coming…weren’t they? WEREN’T THEY!??  Damn you!! Damn you all to hellllll!!!!!!

Thank you.

If one may unpack that metaphor, yes, I have emerged from my Harmon-less Community bunker and stand blinking unsteadily into the wavering light emanating from season four. On the one hand, definitely relieved that there wasn’t the soul-scarring spectacle of a giant, smelly season four premiere bomb to cope with, yet still feeling a little unsteady in the face of the uncertain future suggested for Greendale (and me) from a first episode that was…fine.

Fine.

In some ways, that word, rather than, say, “embarrassing,” “dreadful,” or “dear God in Heaven- save us Dan Harmon!!! We were so wrong!!!” is what I was afraid of most. I went into this new season with an open, if terrified, mind and came out thinking, well, several things:

1. The premiere was too ambitious. It seems silly to fault the new regime for shooting too high right out of the gate, but there was simply too much going on here. I get it- in fact, it was a very Hamon-esque attempt to fold in all the internal and external aspects of Community one episode in. It was very much like the “we’re gonna be more normal and accessible” musical number that started off season three, except that, when this was Harmon’s campus, all of those elements blended together (the meta and the text, the larfs and the heart, the character stuff and whatever potshots they were taking at Chevy) almost seamlessly. Here, I saw the seams; the Hunger Deans/Jeff wackiness stitched to the “Jeff is leaving the group early” plot, the Abed breakdown scotch-taped to the “Abed TV” gags, the Troy/Britta and Annie/Shirley stuff floating around all unattached to anything. There was a lot packed into this 23 minutes, and I applaud the effort, but it lacked the strong emotional throughline that Cap’n Harmon nearly always provided.

Am I being too hard on this first show? Am I just being a Harmon-ite in the face of reality? Or, more alarmingly, has the show and its particular blend of comedy simply gone stale and I’m simply heaping on the new showrunners/writers the bile that I would have ignored if Big Dan were still at the wheel?

It’s a thought, but I don’t think so. There was something just…off.

2. The show looks different, and I don’t approve. You noticed that, didn’t you? Too clean, too many close-ups, and (especially in the Britta/Troy montage at the wishing well) too much cutting. One way to ensure continuity would be to retain the show’s visual style. This was subtly jarring- and alienating.

3. I hated the Shirley/Annie popcorn gag. Actually, I liked the gag, up to the point where their makeshift mirrors actually started popping the popcorn in the car(?!) That was a Scrubs-style surreal gag right there, and as much as I liked Scrubs, Community is not Scrubs. This was ay, way too broad, and if it’s indicative of a creeping undercurrent of surrealist wackiness, not in some Abed-ian dream context but in the main reality of the show itself…well I hate it.

I’ll leave off here, except to say that, while I wasn’t completely destroyed by this episode, I have doubts about the direction the show is heading. But I’m hanging in ‘til the end- it is Community after all…

I love Community. It’d have to be a lot worse than this for me not to watch it.

February 7, 2013
Remedial Game Theory: Community is back! And at least one of us is very, very queasy.

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Dennis: Surprising no one who’s ever read Brannigan’s Law, or either of our various blogs, or gotten stuck talking to us at a party after a couple of High Lives, Justin and I love Community. Like, love. And as with all great loves, trying to convey that devotion in words is difficult. (Unless you’re talking about High Life - “Delicious and gets you drunk economically.” Boom.) But for a show like Community with more deceptively complex rewards, one is forced to resort to abstract metaphor. Here goes.

I’m worried that season 4 of Community is going to be another The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

Let me explain.

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January 29, 2013
I am trying to break your heart: How do you rebound from a cancelled TV show?

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Justin: Fox has officially dumped Ben and Kate from its schedule.

This is what happens in TV. Shows live in state of near-death from the moment they are pitched up until the day syndication comes around. And even then, the fear is still real. But for TV fans like you and me, it’s just getting harder to deal with that.

Ben and Kate was a show that made sweet and slapstick work in a way that did not leave you nauseous after 30 minutes. It followed the grand sitcom tradition of “random shit happens, let’ee where this goes,” and was made better by great performances from a largely unknown cast.  

Ben and Kate is my new Bent, which was my new Traffic Light, which was my new Better Off Ted, which filled the hole left in my heart from Kath & Kim, and on and on all the way back to Arrested Development. You’re supposed to fall in love with shows, find the one that is right for you, and develop the kind of devotion that is sweet but borders on annoying. Why won’t you just stop talking about Terriers or Last Resort? Because you are, to quote the poet, Crazy in Love.

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July 14, 2012
"you gotta keep the devil/ way down in the hole…"

                                                      

Dennis: My eyes are watery like a pug dog’s.  I can’t keep a thought in my head, which is buzzing like a hive of sleepy bees.  When I try to express myself, my words emerge like I’ve swapped tongues with Yaphet Kotto. When I glance at the newly arrived green digital clock in the room, I see that I have been essentially immobile for six hours.

Yup, I just got cable.

I really should have seen this coming; I mean I haven’t had real cable tv since I was living in my parents’ house, getting schooled in the finer points of Cinemax’s treasure trove of Shannon Tweed erotic thrillers after they went to sleep.  Since then, it’s been over-the-air broadcast offerings (ask your grandparents), the bottomless well of free rentals (VHS- again, ask an elder, then DVD) from my endless time behind the counter(s) of several video stores (look for someone with white hair), and a few years with the basic-est of basic cable which provided little more than unstatic-y broadcast local stations and various home shopping networks.  And when I have found myself alone with the real deal (again at Mom and Dad’s- new house, much improved cable), I’ve invariably found myself afflicted with what I’ve termed the flipping disease.  It’s symptoms (including the aforementioned, of course), involve Mom finding me still awake when she gets up at five in the morning, red-eyed and finger-cramped, endlessly scrolling around and around the guide channel, ceaselessly questing for…what?  Something better.  Something to quiet my mind.  The perfect thing. Looking for television salvation and turning zombie white in the flickering light, stumbling out to the truck in the morning glare with nothing but half-watched mediocrity and too-remembered commercial jingles rolling around behind my eyeballs.

So of course I got cable for my house.

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May 19, 2012
Community’s Coming Back…but Dan Harmon’s Been Fired. Good One, Universe…

                                 

Dennis:  I was feeling good.  I really was.

After months of network waffling, poor ratings, inter-nerd nail-biting, and Eeyore-like doom-saying, the universe begrudgingly gave me (and everyone else, I guess) a present.  Community was renewed for a fourth season!  Yeah!   People aren’t as unforgivably stupid as I’d thought!  TV isn’t the soul-eroding wasteland we always imagined!  Life is good and there’s no such thing as cancer!

I mean, sure, the show only got renewed for a short season, and the whole “Chevy being a dick again" development was troubling, but, dammit, this was undeniably good news.  It made my day.  (And go shake your head condescendingly at someone else, judgmental commenter types- good TV makes me happy.)   My lovely wife and I even threw a Community-themed, all-day viewing party (yesterday!) to celebrate, alongside an apartment full of like-minded Greendale enthusiasts, complete with a giant, icy tub of beer, and Community-themed snacks, including my baby’s pride and joy- round puff pastries filled with brie called, wait for it, Annie’s boobs.  (Again, shut up out there.  We’re nerds, we understand that.)

And then there’s today.  Then there’s this.

Yup.  They fired Dan HarmonThe creator of Community.Just days after letting us know one of the best shows on TV is coming back.

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May 1, 2012
Yes the TV season is too long, and it deserves to burn in hell!

Justin: I’m gonna start this off with a broad generalization, but just go along with me: The TV season is too goddamn long. I’m sorry, I guess I should clarify that statement to “the network TV season is too goddamn long and it’s ridiculous it’s the standard by which we measure and judge all other entertainment television.”

Better.

Not too long ago I found myself reading an article in Deadline Hollywood (I know, it happens to all of us some times) taking note of the fact CBS is wrapping up the season for its series a little earlier than the norm. It’s notable if only for the fact that, GASP, May is another sweeps period! Here’s the part that caused a near-fatal eye roll: 

“You have a limited number of original episodes for the season, and they’re worth more in November, December, January, February or even March then they are in May when HUT levels are lower,” one observer said. Airing originals in earlier months of the season provides “more bang for your buck” and helps maximize the ratings for each original episode, the observer said.”

*Sigh* Guys, you’re doing it wrong. OK, I’ll admit I’m operating from an overly Polyanna-ish position here, but doesn’t it tell you something when both viewers and the people monitoring the viewers are suffering from TV season fatigue by the spring? Shouldn’t this be a cause to re-evaluate how TV is produced and audiences are measured? Yes, I know I’m arguing for common sense in an arena that seems to violently resist it, but let’s think about a few things for a second here:

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