If a show is well-written, it will have the ability to take the viewer through a variety of different emotions, without them ever becoming aware of this taking place. It will be able to make you cry tears of laughter one second, before stabbing you in the metaphorical heart the next. It's not easily done. Mainly because the recipe for success relies heavily upon two ingredients that often feel like a rarity in modern television: talented actors playing complex characters and well-written scripts.
When it comes to comedy shows, it's even harder to do this. Not because the format makes it harder to pull off, but rather because some critics and fans of the show will take to the internet to speak out against 'forced' dramatic elements.
Personally, I never understood why some people were so against these sorts of scenes. There are occasionally misconceptions that comedy shows are nothing but joke-making machines, but in reality, they are there purely to tell the stories of the characters within their made-up realm, just like any other show. 'Community' understands this better than most, and has thus presented to us some of the best moments of 'dramedy' since 'Scrubs' was at it's peak.
For those that don't know, 'Community' focuses on the antics that a study-group at a community college get up. The characters each made some bad choices, hence why they are now at a school that teaches classes such as the history of ice-cream and is home to a Dean who has a small fetish for dalmatians. Greendale is a mess, but enrolling there might be the best choice that the characters have made in their lives, because it has given them time to reflect upon who they are and what they want out of life, as well as presenting them with a fiercely loyal support system.
Now, I may have said this before, but I'll happily say this again: 'Community' is a masterclass on characterisation. The characters have come a long way since the pilot, yet they never feel like they've developed past the point of being believable in their progression. This is difficult to pull off, and I like to remind people of the fact that this series managed to do it because, quite simply, their plots are insane. They've explored the possibilities of multiple timelines, dedicated an entire episode to the classic childhood game where you had to pretend the floor is lava and did a Christmas episode where a character was having claymation based fantasies. And do you know why these sort of episodes work?
- Because they're absolutely hilarious.
- Because the characters are sympathetic and completely believable.
The dramatic moments are fantastic because you can easily draw parallels between what the characters are feeling and what you might have felt in the past.
- Pierce is plagued by loneliness.
- Troy is desperate to be liked.
- Shirley feels left-out and like an afterthought.
- Annie feels completely unnoticed by the people that she idiolises.
- Abed turns to popular culture to distract him from reality.
- Jeff worries that he hasn't achieved anything.
- Britta has a tendency to hate herself.
The situations they find themselves in may not be universal, but the demons that haunt them most certainly are.
I've always thought that Britta was a superbly written character. Gillian Jacobs is hilarious, but she can handle serious moments with impeccable grace too. She's misguided, yet endlessly caring. She tries hard, yet always messes up. She accepts love from men that are nowhere near being in her league because there's something inside of her that tells her this is the best she deserves. She tries to cure others of their mental afflictions, but she can't do the same for herself.
Jeff pretends that he's got things all together, but the fact is, he doesn't. After all, in 'G.I. Jeff', he ended up in hospital after taking a combination of hard liquor and pills. Whilst the show made it quite clear that this was not a direct suicide attempt, it's not absurd to treat it as a subconscious one. After all, in the cartoon his brain had created whilst unconscious, he realises that he's in a coma and decides to stay there, content with fighting bad guys and staring at the impressive chest that he had given cartoon Annie. It was a clear decision to trade in reality for cushy escapism, even if that meant leaving the real world once and for all.
And then we have Abed, who is undoubtedly the most complex character on the show. One of my favourite episodes the show has done is 'Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas', which sees the cast turning into claymation characters for the entire 21 minutes running time. There was some great gags within this episode, but it is the emotionally charged ending that most people will remember it for. It turns out that Abed's claymation fantasy was a way for the character to process the rejection he felt upon reading his mother's Christmas card. She tells him that she has a new family and won't be able to spend this year with him. Heartbroken by the news, he had created this magical animated world to escape the harshness of reality.