Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Community: When Character Development is Hidden

(Guest Post by T.J.)

On April 1st, Netflix viewers were given the option of watching all six seasons of Community. Now, this has popped up as a suggested show on my Hulu for who knows how long. But the idea that Netflix had it reminded me that I’d never really given the show a try. I’d watched about ½ of the first episode before getting bored back in 2013. This time, though, I was going to make it through at least the first few episodes. Well, I made it through all six seasons in about four weeks. (Just waiting for the implied movie.) This is the first show I’ve really binged in a while.

(Note: There will be spoilers here. I mean, the show ended 5 years ago.)

I do want to say that I found the writing very clever. A little inconsistent, but definitely funny. But it was even more awesome by the actors’ abilities to play off each other so well. I love that the 4th wall is made very thin throughout the show.

But really, let’s talk about the characters. There are so many character flaws throughout the show, which is something that makes them very relatable. However, during a series nowadays (i.e. post-1990) we expect to see character growth. And some of our lovable characters just didn’t change….or did they?

This post could go really long, so I’m going to focus on the original seven that sat around the table.

Pierce Hawthorne: I’d say “poor Pierce” but I really don’t know that I can honestly say that. From a writer’s perspective, I felt like Pierce had the least consistent writing. Somehow, they made him more racist and more homophobic as the show went on.  He was the villain in season 2, which was quite the bummer. And any redemption he had (like in the season 2 finale) was quickly lost. I just didn’t understand what they were trying to do with the character and I don’t blame Chevy Chase for leaving. However, the polygraph episode for Pierce’s funeral (one of the funniest of the show) showed Pierce’s true character: that he overlooked all the flaws of those around him and saw them for who they truly were. The touching reminder moment of Mr. Stone asking Annie if she knew she was Pierce’s favorite made me smile. Pierce did admit that other people had an effect on his life in the end, the only real development we got to see from him.

Troy Barnes: Not only was Troy traveling the world on a boat, he had LeVar Burton with him. (Of course, their fate is still in question.) Troy grew up. I think that’s the most obvious thing for him. Troy was the high school football star who couldn’t handle the life he was about to lead and faked an injury. In all honesty, it was probably the best decision he made. Troy behaved as a child a lot of the time. But once in a while, he would make a choice that was very adult. I mean, when you think about it, Troy was only 23 when he left Greendale. Troy never knew, though, that what he needed in life was perspective. He went through a healthy relationship with a healthy breakup with Britta, something that not a lot of people could do at that age (or any age for that matter).

Shirley Bennett: This is a woman that is full of drive. Only she doesn’t know she has it. She’s very passive-aggressive but proves that age is a number and that you can still fit in if you want. Of course, I’m always left wondering who’s babysitting her kids throughout the show. Shirley doesn’t go out with any kind of bang. She just quietly goes off to do her own thing. But overall, Shirley knew that she wasn’t limited by anything more than the walls she had created herself. Her character didn’t have a great send off, but it was an interesting way for her story to end to have her flat out leave the area. That’s nice.

Abed Nadir: It would be easy to say Abed has no character growth. “Abed’s a robot he has no emotion.” At the same time, I feel  Except that’s not true. Abed just interprets the world differently. Abed probably has one of the earliest moments of character change in the show when he decides he wants to go to into film. This change dictates who Abed is for the rest of the series. However, we see some change in his emotions, especially when he’s hooked up to a lie detector, Abed says he’s “Cool…, cool, cool” with Troy leaving. Except it’s a lie. He’s obviously hurt. Nobody understood Abed better than Troy. But without Troy, Abed was forced to rely on his other roommate, Annie, to help him connect better to the rest of the world.

Britta Perry: I gotta say, Britta’s overarching character development seemed to be one of the worst to me. She goes from confident anarchist to clumsy airhead and bounces between those two throughout the show. However, there is one thing that I really liked about her character arc that people may not notice: she swallows her pride. When Britta’s friends force her to accept that her parents are helping fund her life, Britta hates it at first. But eventually, she learns that she just can’t do everything she wants. She never sells out like her fellow anarchists. But she also learns how to live her life in a way she’s okay with. Maybe Britta doesn’t have a great job, but she has one and she’s trying to make it work. Of course, I’m left wondering how she afforded that apartment by herself once Abed and Annie left….

Annie Edison: First, I prefer Annie to be with Jeff. But I didn’t get to write a happily ever after, so what does it matter? Second, Annie, like Troy, grows up throughout the show. She’s a perfectionist who can’t let go of her tendencies. Over time she figures out how to balance perfectionism ideals with acceptance of inadequacies. In the last two seasons of the show, Annie ends up filling Troy’s shoes, to an extent. She ends up understanding Abed. Maybe not to Troy’s ability, but in her own quirky way. At the very beginning, Annie and Shirley go up to Britta and ask for her help to show them how to protest something. While Annie doesn’t become an activist, she does become an I-just-put-my-foot-down-and-your-gonna-deal-with-it kind of girl. In season 6 she stands up for Chang during rehearsals for The Karate Kid. Even though it wasn’t what she expected, it still showed growth. Besides who wouldn’t want a friend like Annie who was willing to take risks like that?

Jeff Winger: Nothing bugs me more than an antihero that I can’t relate to. He was the whole reason I couldn’t get into the first episode. I don’t mind an antihero but give me someone I can relate to. But over the 6 seasons I discovered that I could understand him more and more. The more Jeff’s psyche got airtime, the more real of a person he became. To me, though, Jeff went from an arrogant, conceited womanizer to an arrogant, conceited womanizer. Yes, those are the same words, not a typo. But here’s the thing, now of those adjectives and noun are not the flaw that changed over time. Jeff’s change comes from his need to trust others and to be trustworthy to them. At the end of the series, Jeff knows that his life has changed for the better. He has become a somewhat better person. My favorite moment in that last episode is when he hugs Abed. I don’t know what the writers/director were thinking, but here’s my interpretation. The first hug to Abed was for goodbye. The second, however, was a thank you. In that first episode, Abed helped form the study group, not Jeff. Jeff kept them together (mostly), but Abed is the one who brought them all together. For Jeff to hug Abed, it took a lot of personal growth because in the first episode, that’s not something Jeff would’ve been remotely comfortable with, especially in public.

Okay, that’s it. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this guest post from a former blogger here. So, I guess there’s only one thing left to say. Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

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