5 Questions And 500 Words: “Community”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

“Community,” returns January 2 at 8:00 pm EST on NBC

community-season-5.jpgLet’s get this out of the way: Does the return of Dan Harmon return the show to its former self?

This is something of a trick question, since even die-hard fans of the show can’t all agree on what that “former self” truly contains. As someone who is far from a die-hard lover of the show, I’m willing to say that it more or less contains key elements that made up the first three seasons.

So it’s great, is what you’re saying?

Nope, though I can easily see why fans of those Harmon-led seasons will be thrilled with what they see in these early episodes (three released for review, with the third episode actually serving as the fourth of the season).  “Community” has always come in three flavors: oddly boring, way too up its own posterior, and shockingly brilliant. The three episodes provided for review fall neatly into those categories.

Does the so-called “zombie season” get erased from existence now that Harmon is back?

Nope: it all happened, even if Harmon has to spend the majority of the first episode back working back towards something of a fresh start for the show. It’s not a reboot per se, in that everything that happened in the show’s world still happened. But there’s very much a sense of stripping things down to basics, and a seeming acknowledgement that the excesses of the show’s past often served those inside the show versus those watching at home. (That, or the budget on this show is now $11/episode, which is entirely possible as well.)

So no crazy concept episodes in those screened for critics?

Nope, and honestly, that flavor of show has rarely been my favorite. The fact that the show could do an amazing recreation of the production style and tropes of “Law & Order” was always an exercise that ended at the level of emulation. Those that saw character work in those types of episodes definitely saw something I didn’t, which worked as homages but rarely as pieces of art unto themselves. If “Community” couldn’t create solid character moments, I wouldn’t care. But this is the show that also produced “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Remedial Chaos Theory.” So the show CAN do this. It just does it with disappointingly large gaps in between.

Will this season of the show change anyone’s mind about it?

That’s a big noooooooope. But I’m not sure that hasn’t been the case since the middle of the show’s second season. It’s always had huge highs and huge lows, and a great number of episodes that flat out didn’t work. But those that missed the show last season (even though it aired thirteen episodes) should be pleased, and those that never got the show can freely continue to ignore it. As for me, I think it just intersects with my personal passions intermittently, like a Halley’s Comet of comedy. Then again, I’ve always liked my “Community” sad, which is why “Mixology Certification” is my favorite all-time episode. The brilliant ep in this early Season 5 bunch feels like a sequel to that episode, one long overdue. I’ll keep watching, because the show gets it right enough times to keep me coming back. But I’ve long ceased being disappointed when it doesn’t reach those heights. “Community” is what it is, once again. Take that as you will.

The Best TV of 2013

Year-end lists are the most self-imposed sources of stress this side of entering your medical symptoms onto Web MD. Everyone does these lists. No one likes writing them. Few enjoying reading them. But there’s this odd game of chicken where no one wants to be left out of doing them, so the cycle continues each and every year in all forms of pop culture media and criticism.

The fact that I’m doing a list at all proves I’m not above this bullshit. But when it came time to rank my favorite shows of the year, I just couldn’t do. Moreover, I realized I didn’t HAVE to do it. No one’s putting a gun to my head. No one’s paying me to list X number of shows out. And on top of that, this year featured so much great TV that reducing it down to a list seems pointless. I love that almost no two lists will look alike this year, which feels like a feature more than a bug. Having an encyclopedic knowledge of TV is impossible, even for those lucky enough to so this type of thing full time. For the rest of us who write about TV on top of regular jobs, it’s downright ludicrous.

Read More »

Review: “The Day Of The Doctor”

Look, that was never going to please everyone. Not even by a long shot.

“The Day Of The Doctor,” a special event movie airing on the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who,” was designed as a celebration of the past as well as a way to point to the future. As someone not exactly pleased with the last few seasons of the show, I watched out of professional curiosity and because, let’s face it, I’m the kind of guy who says, “God, what terrible fan pandering, having David Tenant’s last words in this movie be his last words on the show, how stupid, how OH MY GOD IT’S TOM BAKER AND I’M 10 AGAIN!”

So, yea, context is key.

Read More »

Ryan Rates Fall TV, Part 2: Wednesday - Saturday

Yesterday, I started my two-part coverage of shows I watch on a weekly basis but rarely write about with any regularity. We left off on Tuesday, so let’s cover the rest of the week  now.
Read More »

Ryan Rates Fall TV, Part 1: Sunday - Tuesday

It’s been a busy Fall, and I’ve all but stopped doing weekly episodic reviews for reasons laid out here. But with a lot of shows starting to wrap up their Fall runs, I thought I’d offer up some short takes on the shows I watch on a weekly basis. I almost thought about breaking down the shows I’m occasionally watching or have long given up on, but let’s just say this has been an overall unimpressive lineup in late 2013. That approach saves you time and saves me from having to ice my fingers any more than I’ll already need to do after typing all this out.

I’ll go night-by-night, which is as good an approach as any for something as wide-ranging as this. I’ll cover Sunday-Tuesday now, and Wednesday-Saturday tomorrow.

Read More »

Review: The Esquire Network’s “The Getaway” is one of the Fall’s most surprising pleasures

You know it’s a busy Fall on television when it’s easy to not simply overlook the launch of a new show, but the launch of an entire network. And yet, I’m sure there are many who are unaware that the Esquire Network even exists two months after its launch. Such is the depth and breadth of the medium these days, in which the broadcast networks struggle for viewers and niche networks such as Esquire seek to carve out a small, but demographically-viable, slice of those that have fled the Big Four. While reruns of existing properties dominate Esquire’s 24-hour programming cycle (not a huge surprise for a young network, or most niche networks of any age), there’s one original piece of programming in the network’s repertoire that’s worth the effort it may take to figure out where Esquire exists on your cable box: the Anthony Bourdain-produced travel program “The Getaway.”

Read More »

Days of television past: When looking back prevents looking at the present

There’s a disclaimer you often see in advertising commercials for financial companies: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” It’s that firm’s way of telling potential investors that the returns touted aren’t necessarily indicative of how an investment strategy will perform henceforth. It’s a combination of legalese and practical advice: The market is inherently unstable, and even the best analysts can’t predict everything.

Read More »

Why the Nielsen Twitter ratings might harm more than help TV fans

As someone who has livetweeted his fair share of shows over the years, most of what follows might seem fairly hypocritical. And that’s fine. We’re going to talk about degrees rather than pure principle today, since I’m not calling for the abolition of the act. But it’s worth thinking about it in light of the first Nielsen Twitter ratings, which pushed “Scandal” to the top of its first weekly list. That’s a show I like quite a bit, have covered in the past, and continue to tweet about during initial East Coast airings. Given the sheer amount of feedback I get on those tweets, it makes sense that “Scandal” would be high on the Nielsen Twitter rankings. But what are these rankings really measuring, and how might this shift the act of audience engagement?

Read More »

On “Sleepy Hollow”, episodic analysis, and the benefits of being fun

“Sleepy Hollow” is just damn fun. Damn, damn fun.

That’s a semi-horrible piece of criticism, but criticism isn’t what I’m attempting here. Rather, it’s a celebration of a show that has no business being as good as it is, even if I’m still not quite sure if it’s actually good at this point. The past fifteen years have seen some amazing television, and with it some amazing television criticism, but those two in tandem have also marginalized other programs as somehow lesser because critics couldn’t easily produce lengthy close readings. Some such as Alan Sepinwall have the ability to adjust review length based on interest or content, but by and large, the episodic review industry demands a lot of words about a lot of shows. And it’s often not the fault of either the show or the person covering it that an episode doesn’t merit 1,300 words of analysis. But it’s important to stop thinking about the amount of analysis an episode can generate as the sole metric by which to rate a show’s success.

Read More »

Live together, or meth alone: On “Lost,” “Breaking Bad,” and lingering anger in fandom

There’s something constantly curious about intense fandom, no matter what the medium. I won’t pretend to know if TV fans are different in kind or quality when it comes to this type of intensity versus fans of film, music, or other genres I’m not equipped to analyze critically. But I can take as a base point that all fandoms can be equally intense in their own unique ways. They are snowflakes that way.

What’s curious isn’t that people deeply engage with the art that gives them the most pleasure. That makes all the sense in the world to me. What doesn’t make sense is what that engagement turns destructive, when the act of either watching or discussing a television program turns ugly, when threats of violence and declarations of anger towards either those involved with the show or those that possess a different view on that show from the offended party. It’s one thing to be disappointed when a show starts to fade in quality or takes an abrupt shift into WTF-Ville. But it’s another thing entirely when negative feelings about a fictional program suddenly infect your entire world view and fundamentally alter your perception of it.

Read More »