If Hannibal and Sherlock are elegant, carefully crafted symphonies, Community is a grungy college kid in a smelly dorm room, taking song requests and jamming away all night long. Yeah, he doesn’t always know the words and sometimes makes an unfortunate joke about your family being raped on a beach. But there’s so much energy and passion in the performance, you have the time of your life.
The second season of Community is the show’s peak. Season 1, Dan Harmon, a compelling but difficult figure, had to put up the pretence of being a mainstream accessible guy who wanted to make a mainstream, accessible sitcom. In making a show about lovable misfits attending community college together, he created an appealing group of characters played by an exceptionally talented cast. It’s no coincidence that Donald Glover, Gillian Jacobs, and Alison Brie went on to anchor their own series after showing what they could do on Community. They quickly found their characters, and established a baseline of normalcy that allowed the next season to twist things up a bit.
If you listen to Harmon circa Season 2 (particularly in his epic length AV Club interview), you knew he was convinced there’d never be a Season 3. Or indeed a future for him in television beyond this year. So he went for broke, and Season 2 is everything he’d always wanted to do. The zombie episode, the bottle episode. The claymation episode, the D&D episode. The fake clip show episode and the… My Dinner With Andre episode. The whole season is just a huge celebration of everything that TV can be.
For better or for worse, Community then became that show that was known for doing all those gimmicky episodes, and things got a lot more hit and miss in Season 3 (the show’s troubled history was very public). But there’s an undeniable level of care put into Season 2, both in terms of executing these crazy conceptual ideas, and in keeping them at least semi-grounded in the reality of the show. Season 2, it almost never felt like the characters were being exaggerated or changed to fit whatever heightened situation they were in. Except for the zombie episode. But hey, zombies.
It seemed like (nearly) everyone, both in front of and behind the cameras, were invested in making this season something special. Community Season 2 has become one of my most rewatched seasons, the sheer level of mad energy from beginning to end is just so infectious.
If I Had to Nitpick…: Community is a classic case of having to separate the art from the artist, because Dan Harmon is an aggressively unlikable and as the kids say “problematic” fellow. So are all kinds of creative people, but they don’t make a spectacle to the point where it feels like they’re actively challenging you to keep watching their shows. The figure that makes Community so compelling is the same figure that makes it kind of icky to revisit.