“Community” is the ultimate postmodern sitcom. The premise is deceptively ordinary: Jeff, smitten with his fellow student Britta (Gillian Jacobs), hastily assembles a motley study group made up of outcasts in their Spanish class, then convinces her to sit in. He plans to cheat his way to a legitimate law diploma — the school’s drunken psychology professor, Duncan (John Oliver), owes him a favor — but when Duncan refuses to cooperate, Jeff realizes he’ll actually need the study group’s help. The crew bonds and flourishes, with Jeff as their de facto leader, and as the series progresses, we follow their journey from classmates to friends.
That’s the elevator pitch. The elevator pitch is a misdirect.
Dan Harmon, the creator, used “Community” to deconstruct the mainstream sitcom. Looking back at the series now, a decade after it debuted, it’s not surprising that NBC had creative conflicts with Harmon and his writing staff. (Harmon was fired by the network after the third season, then brought back for the fifth after the fourth faced vociferous criticism.)
“Community” is so dark, difficult and defiantly idiosyncratic at times that it doesn’t merely seem unconventional — it seems actively hostile to casual audiences, with ratings to match. But those who did like the show tended to do so passionately; fans championed “Community” tirelessly as NBC (repeatedly) threatened to cancel it.
In retrospect, it seems like a miracle that “Community” made it to air at all. There was nothing else on television quite like its blend of heart and idiosyncratic cultural literacy. And while the show ended years ago, it continues to shape pop culture. The regular series directors Anthony and Joe Russo brought some of the same playful wit to the blockbusters they went on to oversee, including multiple “Avengers” movies. Several of the stars have also gone on to successful careers, especially Alison Brie, Donald Glover and Ken Jeong. And Harmon finally has a hit: The animated sci-fi comedy “Rick and Morty,” which he created with Justin Roiland for Adult Swim, is now in its fifth season and is widely beloved.
Time has vindicated Harmon’s tenacity in realizing his creative vision, whatever the cost in alienating bewildered viewers. The proof is in how inexhaustibly re-watchable “Community” remains. Here are three reasons its greatness has endured.