Community vs. 30 Rock

AKIE BERMISS: I was an early adopter of Community. It debuted when I still had cable and I still watched television live.  But it was one of the last shows I did that with.  Increasingly, as a man pushing thirty, I’ve found new television shows have very little to offer me.  I don’t get excited by reality shows — the pseudo-drama just doesn’t do it for me — and, being a professional singer and vocal teacher, I can’t stand shows like American Idol or The Voice. So I was finding myself marginalized more and more by primetime television.  Call me old fashioned but I miss the days of primetime half-hour sitcoms followed by hour-long dramas at 10pm.  To me, those were the days.  I guess I was young and things seemed simpler then.  But also, I rather think if I am going to sit down and waste an hour, I’d rather it be scripted material performed by professionals and shot by experienced techies.

And not jittery camera work and crappy rushed edits of normal people in made-up tense circumstances… or beautiful and/or rich people behaving badly… or ugly people getting pretty… or…

All this is to say, I now watch television on my computer.  And because I’m kind of straddling the generation gap, I tend to do it legally.  That is, unlike my younger cohorts, I get most of my “television” from HULU, Netflix, and — yes — iTunes (gasp!  I *pay* for it).  I pick and choose what I want to watch.  I watch it when I want to watch it.  And I don’t really give a fig for flipping through channels and “seeing what’s on” any more.  I don’t like spending extraneous time watching screens.  I get in, I get entertained, I get out — end of story.  And still, I love Community.  So I was part of the hew and cry in December when NBC shelved the show and very nearly canceled it.

Why was the show canceled?  Well, it turns out Community is a show popular among college students and post-television 20-somethings like myself.  And apparently, despite watching it through approved channels (haha — see what I did there?) there appears to be no way for the network to gauge my interest in the show.  So, with a majority of the audience watching the show the same way I did, it seemed like no one was watching it, I guess. And they tried to can it and put 30 Rock in its place.

Here’s the thing: I was also an early-adopter of 30 Rock.  As a big fan of nearly everything Tina Fey does, I was well aware of it when it debuted.  I bought the first season the summer after it aired.  I showed it to my friends.  And I watched season 2… live on television.  I still think 30 Rock is awesome.  However, Community is a horse of a whole different color.  Maybe if 30 Rock had debuted just a couple years later and been more on the cusp of the whole television-online thing, I’d be singing a different tune. But as it stands, 30 Rock has a pretty strong position on the television (never mind that in the new slot it did quite poorly).  It has an all-star cast, its the flag-ship NBC comedy at present, and they have absolutely no trouble getting guest stars on there.  Community, meanwhile, is the little show that could.  When it debuted it’s big claim to fame was that “the guy from The Soup is in it.”  I’d heard of Dan Harmon (the series creator) but only as a writer or performer on other things.  So, you had that.  And then a bunch of lesser-knowns from internet comedy to small roles on other shows.  And somehow, they came together in this beautiful and hilarious blend.  And it was funny.

You know, not only was it funny, it was germane.  They referenced pop-culture, the spoofed classic movies, they made fun of higher education and the crappy economy.  This was Seinfeld for people who were a) too young to know about Seinfeld when it was on the air and, b) found the whole Seinfeld-thing a bit too schticky.  A precarious balance.  I’m not saying I want 30 Rock to get canceled, I’m just saying I get more of a thrill from Community being around.

I made a comparison to the 90s professional basketball.  30 Rock is great.  In fact, its excellent.  But it is the Chicago Bulls to Community‘s New York Knicks.  Community is plucky and has to come through in the clutch in order to survive another day.  Its “superstars” are relative unknowns.  Meanwhile, 30 Rock is all superstars with a host of extremely proficient role-players.  I loved watching Jordan, but the Bulls were boring — they always won.  The Knicks lost constantly but they were always a blast.

I’m so glad Community is sticking around for the rest of this season at least.  And, though I know its foolish to hope, perhaps NBC will FINALLY reverse its recent tradition of canceling great shows that under-performed on live television.  Maybe they’ll compete with American Idol and the rest by taking it to the mattresses (ie, the Internet).

CHRIS PUMMER: I think Akie’s comparison of 30 Rock to the dynastic Bulls of Michael Jordan is apt. Because while Community is brilliant, 30 Rock has been at least that brilliant for much longer now.

Perhaps it’s because 30 Rock makes it seem so effortless. Maybe because it’s been so good for so long, the show is sometimes a victim of expectations: We think 30 Rock should make us fall out of our chairs, or laugh so hard we drop the iPad we’re using it to watch it. (Because as Akie also points out, us young folks are much less likely to tune in at the regularly scheduled broadcast.)

For my money, 30 Rock is still the champ. Every episode is as densely packed with gags, sans the trite garbage we’re accustomed to seeing on a network sticom, much like Community had every appearance being before Harmon and his crew grabbed the reins in the middle of the first season. The result for Community was a distinctive, intelligent, and most importantly hilarious program that’s carved out a niche of intense fans.

While Community certainly rivals 30 Rock as perhaps the funniest program on television, 30 Rock didn’t endure the same sort of false start. 30 Rock, with its more complex characters that have developed more depth now in the show’s sixth season,  delivers smart jokes without the same reliance on clever plot devices or pop culture references.

So if this were a showdown like a basketball game, I think we can appreciate both competitors on the floor, whichever team emerges the victor by a slender margin. Fortunately, unlike most sports allegiances, there’s no need to pick a rooting interest. Cheer both sides.

Instead of six seasons and a movie, I want both shows to have 10 seasons and a movie franchise.

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