Group Think: Community Season 5 Premiere “Repilot”

Repilot

A new year means new columns, and one of said new columns is ‘Group Think’, where the three of us here at Pop Modern gather around and discuss a common, poignant event in contemporary pop culture. Think ‘Today in Pop Modern’, but with a common theme, and also even cooler.

The first installment of Group Think is going to be on the Community Season Five premiere, “Repilot”, which aired on January 2, 2014. All three of us have some level of connection to the show, so it felt appropriate to discuss what has been considered a return to form for the series. For a more critical review of the episode, look no further than The AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/review/repilotintroduction-to-teaching-106548

Allen: Community has been a fixture in my weekdays during the winter TV season for almost half a decade now. I was never particularly enamored with it, but it was the best sitcom on cable that I was watching at the time. To this day, it still holds a spot in my heart alongside Modern Family and How I Met Your Mother, but there’s something special about Community. It’s not just the meta humor or the constant callbacks and inside jokes; It’s the familiarity of the Greendale crew that kept me coming back. Even as their social positions shifted and relationships changed, there was always the same number of filled seats at the study table just about every week. Season Four was pretty depressing, but mostly because it put the characters in a position that didn’t lead to much comedy; away from each other. I can only remember individual scenes from Season Four, but episodes like the ones I mentioned in the Three By Three from earlier this week are ingrained in my mind. Season Five is a return to form, mainly in that the gang is back to doing what they do best. Troy is still getting a few jokes in before Donald Glover leaves the show, the school is returning to its usual levels of chaos, and it doesn’t feel any worse without Pierce. It’s not that I ever disliked Pierce as a character, but it became clear over time through reading about the show’s production that Chevy Chase was causing problems with the cast and writers. So I’m happy to see Community off this season or next as long as it keeps up this standard of quality, and I’m mostly just glad that Dan Harmon has finally returned to the series that he loves so much. It really shows in the heart and soul of the gang.

James: The reopening of Greendale was met with mixed reception. After the extremely disappointing season that last year produced, I thought that I had enough. Let it at least die with dignity, I thought to myself. The new episodes changed that. It wasn’t as though there was something particularly great about the episodes. They were standard fare. But the fact that the show showed its potential once more lifted my spirit. Once again, funny people cracked funny jokes, and even with an absent Chevy Chase, the humor goes on. Even in the face of Troy’s upcoming personal finale, the show still maintains an air of levity and wit, with self-referential quips intended to please fans who don’t mind breaking the fourth wall. True, the show could definitely have benefited from some script polishing, but I am willing to overlook some rough edges in the midst of an abrupt transition. Though the show is moving on in a different path with a different cast, I hope to enjoy walking through the halls of Greendale once again.

Magellan: I’m lucky to be among those who watched Community from the beginning, who grew and developed with the show. I remember, when I first started using Hulu, I stumbled upon a benign-looking sitcom about a group of community college students, and decided to give it a shot. The first couple episodes didn’t exactly thrill me, but hey, it was free and it had potential. So I stuck it out, and over the course of the next three years I enjoyed the show on a weekly basis, growing to love the characters and looking forward excitedly to what they would do next. I don’t want to rag too much on Season 4 (since, if you really want to criticize this show, you could say that many of its problems were rooted in Season 3), but there’s no denying that last season had a sense of emptiness to it. Really, the only stand-out moment was the episode where the Dean thought he and Jeff had switched bodies, but that’s not saying much. So, you can imagine my excitement at hearing that Season 5 had a chance at recapturing some of the show’s former glory. Having watched the first few episodes now, I must say, though I don’t care much for Dan Harmon as a person, he is clearly the one who understands Community best. These first two episodes were fairly straightforward sitcom fare, but they both buzzed with a kind of comfortable familiarity that was completely lacking last year. I was finally sold on this season by one of Troy’s one-liners: “If we sue Greendale, can I be a surprise witness? Wait…don’t tell me…” If they can keep churning out moments like that, then this season is going to be a lot of fun.

So there you go, everyone. We all enjoyed the pilot, and it’s only left us more excited to see where this crazy series is going in the future. What did YOU think about “Repilot”?

 

Three By Three: Community Episodes

Community EpisodesThe Category

The new year has brought about not only a rebirth of this humble blog, but also one of its most treasured cultural artifacts: Community. Sure, Community was never really “dead” to begin with, but last season saw it walking around uncomfortably in its old skin, as some sort of TV show zombie (not to be confused with “zombie TV shows” like The Walking Dead, though that program, too, has taken on a certain undead quality). The return of Dan Harmon as showrunner, we hope, will change all that (and look out on Friday for our collective discussion of last week’s premiere); for now we’re going to psych ourselves up by reliving the glory days and talking about our favorite episodes of Community.

The Choices

Allen

S3E06-“Remedial Chaos Theory”: A fan-favorite, “Remedial Chaos Theory” has everything that makes a good Community episode; it’s filled with good character moments, the structure of the episode leads to some incredible comedy, and it’s practically written to be picked apart for references and callbacks. As Jeff rolls the dice for a game of Yahtzee, Abed warns him that this will create six different timelines where anything could happen. Each of these is then shown, and they include some of Community‘s best gags of all time. Pierce’s Eartha Kitt story, Troy smoking a candy cigarette, Britta not being allowed to sing “Roxanne”, and the creation of “the darkest timeline”, which went on to interfere with the “prime timeline” where Abed catches the dice before it falls to prevent any other dimensions from occurring. It was a smart episode, and opened up a literal new world for the show to explain and crack jokes about.

S2E19-“Critical Film Studies”: Although I am the least familiar of the group with this episode’s two main source materials, I can’t deny the brilliant bait-and-switch that it pulled on thousands of viewers like myself. Just as Community was hitting its high point in popularity, it garnered enough attention to be featured in magazines. The preview for this episode simply showed the Greendale gang in Halloween costumes based off of the characters from Pulp Fiction. Thinking the whole episode was going to be a fun Tarantino spoof, I tuned in live. What I quickly realized was that it was far from that, and even some of the characters were surprised. As is usual with the show, Abed is the one to deconstruct the whole thing, and his development into the titular character from My Dinner with Andre reveals this episode to be one of the show’s most clever.

S1E23-“Modern Warfare”: If someone were to track the exact point where I realized that Community was a special series, it would probably be somewhere in the brilliantly-shot paintball fight scenes of “Modern Warfare”. This episode proved that Community wasn’t just a well-written situational comedy, but also an intelligent spoof of genre films. Even though the stakes are relatively low, the eponymous warfare that takes place in Greendale College this episode is filmed and treated like real war, with bunkers, alliances, and supply runs taking place all on campus. It’s just a fun romp of an episode, and the climactic scene where Jeff and Britta make love before being attacked by Chang wielding a paintball-filled exploding vest and golden guns is one of the most memorable scenes of the entire show.

James

S2E09-“Conspiracy Theories and Interior Designs”: I recently rewatched a few episodes of Community, and this one was my reintroduction into the show. Jeff and Annie go to uncover the secrets of Jeff’s imaginary blow-off class, which has a real teacher, while Troy and Abed turn the school into a blanket fort. The two stories coincide perfectly. The blanket fort starts off as a seemingly childish construct: a couple of pillows, and a few blankets. However, the design expands to fill up the entirety of Greendale, allowing for cameos from Leonard, Starburns, and the rest of the motley crew who make up Greendale. Meanwhile, Jeff’s story arc ends in a culmination so perfect I can’t bring myself to spoil it. All in all, this highlights what Community does best: cracking funny jokes while coming up with an insane story.

S2E21-“Paradigms of Human Memory”: In this episode, the group thinks back to the events of the past year. This show is meant to be a clip show, but as Community always does, the product turned out better than it had any right to. Instead of actually making a clip show from the previous episodes, the show takes clips from scenes that happened right after the events of another episode. At first, the viewer is led to believe that these are regular clips, but as the clips get crazier and crazier, the realization dawns that none of this ever actually happened in the show. Once that hits, the episode becomes fresher and funnier. When the group reconciles at the end of their argument with a montage of Winger monologues, the episode proves that Community embodies heart and humour.

S1E11-“The Politics of Human Sexuality”: One of my favorite things about Community is the fact that every episode has a memorable joke. This episode is about the STD fair that Annie is running. There are a few hilarious moments, including a racial sexual joke, a joke about the childish names for penis, and of course the quote to not use condoms. Please don’t judge this one before you see it. This episode really adds to the relationship between Troy and Abed, and builds the base of Annie’s character. This is a truly funny experience of an episode that is always great to rewatch.

Magellan

S3E14-“Pillows and Blankets”: When people talk about their favorite Community episodes, they usually end up picking from the show’s storied arsenal of genre pastiches (i.e. the paintball episodes), since those are the most readily memorable. For now, I’ll lump myself in with the rest and talk about my all-time favorite genre-pastiche episode, the Ken Burns spoof episode “Pillows and Blankets.” In my opinion, the best pastiche episodes are the ones that subvert a genre you already hold very dearly, so maybe my love of history and well-done historical documentaries predisposes me to loving this episode, but I would argue that it still has everything going for it: it brings back and expands upon a concept from a previous episode (the pillow fort from “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Designs), advances the overall plot of the season, gives every character  a chance to shine (Annie as a Florence Nightingale figure and Britta as a laughable war photographer), and makes Troy and Abed’s relationship more realistic and three-dimensional.

S2E14-“Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”: Community really hit its stride in the middle of its second season, and no episode is more emblematic of that than “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.” The strength of this episode is that much of its plot and humor happens around the study room table, during a game of Dungeons & Dragons with Fat Neil. While most Community episodes tend to rely on visual cues for their high comedy moments, this episode doesn’t need to play around with its look all that much, letting all of the flavor of the episode come from the interactions between the characters. I would go so far as to say that the parts of this episode that are in the study room serve as a far better bottle episode than the episode which did the meta riff on bottle episodes (“Cooperative Calligraphy,” which is itself quite funny). My one complaint is the use of Pierce as the villain, though of all the episodes where that conceit was employed, it seemed to fit here the best.

S2E17-“Intro to Political Science”: Although not an outright genre pastiche, this episode still possesses that patented Community charm, taking a seemingly sensible community college event (a class election) and turning it into an utter farce. The other episode I praised for their treatment of the characters and their creative storytelling, but this episode I love for the jokes. From Troy’s “notches” joke at the beginning (watch to figure out what I’m talking about) to Troy and Abed’s election commentary, to the ultimate debate between Leonard and Magnitude, this episode is a testament to Community‘s ability, at the end of the day, to just be a smartly written sitcom about life at community college.

The Conclusion

Raring to give us a piece of your mind? “Regional Holiday Music” still your favorite episode, just because of Annie’s Christmas song? Ranting is encouraged down in the comments section. “Repilot” will be discussed on Friday, so return in a couple days for that.

Three By Three: Television Theme Songs

Television Theme Songs
The Category

Wednesday, Wednesday, happy day! We know you all are raring for some content, so here’s the story of a lovely website that was bringing up three very lovely girls. Boys! We mean boys! Also none of us have hair of gold. But hey, that’s all too much information. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, a place where we’re all alright, and where Cleveland rocks. That’s why we here at Pop Modern are bringing you our Three By Three favorite television theme songs.

The Choices

Allen

Game of Thrones Theme by Ramin Djawadi: Sweeping, appropriately epic, and infectiously catchy, the Game of Thrones theme is the perfect intro to the show’s weekly tales of violence, casual nudity, and political drama. It goes on just long enough to feel long, but the accompanied visual pan of the fictional kingdom of Westeros makes it even more epic. Seeing where the show is going to take place that week highlights the massive scale of the series, and the theme song is the perfect start to such an incredible show.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Theme: Anybody who had cable in the mid-90’s knows Fresh Prince. The theme song, which essentially sets up the entire series in about a minute, is also so damn memorable for how bizarre and funky it is. The show’s hip-hop background comes through in the infectious drum beat, and the lyrics do a good job of setting up Will as a character in a strange new town. As he sits on his imaginary throne, the hoodlum-turned-rich boy starts each episode with one of the most fun theme songs of the 1990’s.

“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys (Theme Song to Big Love): Although it was dropped in later seasons, Big Love‘s use of the classic Beach Boys song “God Only Knows” got more people to watch the show than any advertisement could have. Brian Wilson’s lyrics about a passionately romantic husband suddenly become about a polyamorous Christian and his three wives, and it adds to the drama that the series presents them with. Big Love‘s theme song shows how a memorable chorus can be used to represent a more broad form of love than a simple husband/wife marriage.

James

“At Least I Was Here” by The 88 (Theme Song to Community): This theme song has the right airy tone for the show, delving into the feeling of enjoyment and motion, a theme that resonates throughout the show, “I can’t count the reasons I should stay, one by one they all just fade away”. The somewhat frenetic song has trilling piano verses, electric guitars and very respectable vocal parts. Whenever the song starts playing at the beginning of an episode, you know for sure that Greendale is going to be coming in strong.

“Paradise Circuit” by Massive Attack (Theme Song to Luther): Massive Attack has a very puissant quality. The focus remains on simplicity and harmony, yet remains haunting. From the beginning, the chiming bells that echo throughout give the song a somewhat dirge-like feeling. The lyrics match the dark tone, the futility of love in the fleeting nature of humans. Love is a sin, a dark, dirty, ambiguous mess. The raspy voice and the uncertainty of the singer further speaks to the cold indifference within the show, an indifference to life.

The Big Bang Theory Theme by Barenaked Ladies: I am going to put it out there that I really have no love for this show. I find the stereotypes appalling, even though the science is accurate. With that being said, the theme song to the show is great. Written by the Canadian group Barenaked Ladies, the theme song covers the entirety of creation within about 20 seconds, give or take. The energy within the song and the hastened rhyme scheme are delightfully playful, and in my opinion, are the best part about the show itself.

Magellan

“I’ll Be There For You” by the Rembrandts (Theme Song to Friends): When you talk about earbug TV theme songs, it doesn’t take long before you come to the classic Friends opener, “I’ll Be There For You.” Just writing the title sends my mind into a jaunty, slightly nasal rendition of the song, and brings forth images of the cast splashing around and dancing in that fountain for no apparent reason. It’s a song that immediately invokes the carefree but heartfelt feeling of the show, and that’s exactly what a theme song is supposed to do. And now I can’t get the damn thing out of my head.

“A Beautiful Mine” by R2DJ (Theme Song to Mad Men): This is the other side of the TV theme song coin from the Friends theme song: it’s atmospheric, instrumental, and foreboding. And yet, “A Beautiful Mine” is just as evocative and emblematic of the show. It fits the underlying, bleak tone of Mad Men perfectly, and it meshes well with the Art Deco credit sequence where the advertising man jumps out of a window. Back when I was catching up on this show, the theme song became drilled into my mind, but I stilled listened to it at the beginning of every episode because it sets the mood so well for the rest of the show.

Pinky & The Brain Theme: Normally, I’m not a huge fan of “story” theme songs, meaning the ones that more or less tell the premise of the show in the form of a song. To me it just seems a little silly to keep recapping a show’s premise like that every episode. Granted, most shows that do this are cartoons, so I can understand why a show would need to do that so that kids are up to speed. Still, one of the only “story” theme songs that I can forgive on a regular basis is the theme to Pinky & The Brain. Mostly, it’s because the episodes themselves are very formulaic, in the best way possible. The catchy, marching theme song is just another essential ingredient in that winning formula.

The Conclusion

Jamming along to some of our suggestions? Jilted that we didn’t get to any of the classics, like Cheers or any one of the Who songs bastardized by CSI? Just want to see your personal favorite finally get its due? Jog on down to the comments section, and jettison your opinions there. Jibe with our jingles, or let us jibe with yours.