Mosaic / Reviews / February 5, 2014

‘Community’ and the art of sharing art

I’ve never known how to recommend a film to someone. And I doubt many people do.

That seems counterintuitive for someone who likes to write about film and TV and share his writing with an audience, but there’s enough to worry about in criticism without adding a “Thumbs up/Thumbs down” at the end, and suddenly you’re a spokesperson for the movie. You have to see this. Avoid this one like a plague. Occasionally, that sort of language sneaks into my writing, and I can’t help liking and not liking certain films. But do I expect you to like it or not like them with me?

Never. Because recommendations are about accumulated trust and a personal relationship that I don’t have with every one of you. Recommendations work when it’s a friend whose tastes you know and value for whatever reason. A film critic can sometimes earn that trust, but that takes years of reading and absorbing their work and overcoming that instinct to bristle when someone’s barking their opinions at you. And even then, most critics don’t care about being your buying guide. They’d rather get you thinking more deeply about film by articulating its effects and broader impact, the ways movies reflect our lives, negatively and positively. And if that gets you to shell out your money for a ticket, all the better.

That said, I now want to defy everything I’ve been arguing for and tell you – you, stranger, friend – with all the force of conviction bubbling in these letters, to go watch Community. On Hulu, on DVD, rent it, however you can, just watch it. Already watch “Community”? Tell your friends to watch it. Rhapsodize and proselytize in friend circles until you’re having TV nights marathoning it. Don’t stop until you’re on the newest season, watching it live Thursday nights at 7 p.m. on NBC.

Because “Community” – a screwball, fast-wit, pop-culture-drenched loser’s comedy about a community college study group – saved my life. You talk about light entertainment that lifts you when you’re down? Well, “Community” is an elixir that cuts through depression and edifies the soul, with laughter and some of the most poignant reflections on how seemingly irreconcilable, broken people can maintain unbreakable friendships, without glossing over the hurt, the self-destruction and neuroses those personalities are built on.

It’s a show that’s easy to ramble about, listing off quotes and inside jokes and character relations and plot summaries that would frankly bore you and probably convince you to avoid the series. I also understand that the lofty phrasing above requires a lot of justification, especially for what’s ostensibly a sitcom in the same nerd vein as The “Big Bang Theory”. But it couldn’t be any more different, or more transcendent, than that.

Here’s where all the complications of the recommendation come into play: What do I say? What’s worth praising? How do I know what you want out of a TV show, so I can reflect that at you? Honestly, the most effective thing might be just to say, “Give it a chance,” and hope you trust me on it.

But I really do want you to watch and enjoy “Community”, not out of some selfish need to have the art I like vindicated by other people, but because it might impact you as deeply as it impacted me; because it’s a show that’s struggled for years to keep existing, against poor ratings and an uncaring network, with the help of an avid but small cult following. Because like a best friend, the loss of “Community” would be cause for me, and many others, to grieve.

There’s a reason we share art and get so passionate about entertainment that resonates. I can tell you “Community” is hilarious. It’s filled with irreverence and schadenfreude and a beating, human heart, like The Simpsons, Seinfelds, and South Parks of TV. I can tell you it has the funniest, most diverse cast in comedy today. I can tell you there’s episodes where they play D&D, and paintball, and a school-wide game of hot lava, and how awesome that is.

I’d be speaking some truth then. But I’d always come short of that absolute truth: that “Community” taught me how to look at strangers and friends more sympathetically, to accept we’re all weirdos and goofballs who need each other. That it pulled me out of deep depressions, made me laugh and cry in the same breath; that it brought me closer to my friends, my sister, the classmate who’d become my girlfriend; that it clarified these relationships for me, with laughter, smiles and a darkened room, facing a TV.

Because recommendations come from an overflow of emotion. When we share pieces of art, we share pieces of ourselves. And if you tell me there’s a show that touched your heart and changed your life, you bet I’ll watch it too. To share your passion. To feel as strongly as you.

Ivan Keta
Ivan Keta is a weekly film columnist for The Knox Student. In 2013, he won first place in Critical Film Review from the Illinois College Press Association, competing in the open division against dozens of other Illinois college newspapers.

Tags:  community review series sitcom television tv

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