Community lampoons everything from homophobia to sports culture, whereas The Big Bang Theory is more focused

Meet Abed. He is a young student who just doesn’t fit in. He finds himself unable to really connect with people, and seems more than a little neurotic. His views towards relationships, both his and others, seem nonplussed at best. He keeps a Batman costume in his closet and uses it frequently. He immerses himself in fictional universes, useless trivia, and other assorted geekery. He is a character on the American situational comedy television show Community.

If Abed happens to sound like the protagonist of a certain other popular contemporary sitcom, that’s fine. Community is, in fact, widely compared to the somewhat more popular The Big Bang Theory. Their point of comparison tends to come from the supposed ‘geekiness’ of the show, despite the fact that Community lampoons everything from homophobia to sports culture, whereas The Big Bang Theory is understandably more focussed.


However, one thing becomes apparent to anyone, or perhaps only the true geeks watching The Big Bang Theory — whoever made it isn’t actually a nerd himself. To someone who’s familiar with most of the things Sheldon and company refer to, the jokes come off as a stilted, awkward, outside-looking-in view of a culture that’s rapidly gained mainstream acceptance.

Community, on the other hand, manages to be both more sincere and more subtle about it. Aside from Abed and his erstwhile jock buddy, Troy (played by rapper Childish Gambino), the rest of the cast are decidedly more down to earth, ranging from an out-of-touch racist baby boomer to a narcissistic, preening former lawyer.

Despite this, Community’s former show runner Dan Harmon’s own nerd-cred comes through every few episodes. One episode is narrated in the style of a Dungeons and Dragons game, with far too much personal experience for me to believe there was no actual D&D experience involved in its conception. Another episode is done almost entirely in 16-bit. Yet another episode is homage to space exploration-era sci-fi, of the likes of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine or Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Comfort v. challenge

The Guardian called The Big Bang Theory ‘shamelessly old-fashioned’, and implicitly put that forward as a positive characteristic. And maybe, it is. The same article compared it to Friends, which it described as ‘familiar and predictable, but also compulsive and lovely’, which is hardly a bad thing.

Maybe that is the explanation for Community’s relative (and only relative) obscurity. Community is a strange show, the sort of thing that plays around with stereotypes and expectations on a regular basis.

Consider the example of Troy, a somewhat slow, football loving jock who also happens to be Abed’s best friend and shares all of his interests, to the point where they regularly act out episodes of Inspector Spacetime (the show’s stand-in for Doctor Who) together, and even construct a cardboard recreation of the loader from the movie Alien for Halloween. It also isn’t afraid to descend into genuinely disturbing territory now and again, such as the second season’s Christmas special, in which a whimsical stop-motion animation takes place from within Abed’s own broken mind. For some, that strangeness, and that willingness to challenge the viewer instead of comfort them, all lend it a quality of its own — a weird, unabashedly quirky charm. A sort of geekiness, if you will.


Couch Potato March 9, 2011