Top 5 Community Concept Episodes

by Amy Yen

Community Concept Episodes

I am not sure if casual TV watchers can ever truly understand what it was like to be a fan of NBC’s Community last year. People who still watch How I Met Your Mother or Homeland would. These are all examples of shows that have experienced what Slate Magazine recently referred to as Total Quality Collapse (in reference to Downton Abbey, which I agree about to a lesser extent). Community’s season 4 downfall post the forced ousting of volatile, controversial creator Dan Harmon, however, is my most painful example—not just because the show became bad, but because it became generic.

Community in seasons 1-3 was at times one of the most creatively brave shows on the air. Who else would dare to do an entire episode in the style of a Ken Burns documentary or as an 8-bit video game? The season 4 showrunners meant well, but made the mistake of trying to imitate the most flashy parts of Community, the concept episodes, while forgetting that, in the middle of all the musical, zombie & bottle episodes, Harmon had been building a core group of characters that had backstories & relationships, who cared about each other, who were relatable & who were real.

The most disappointing thing about season 4 wasn’t that Guarascio & Port failed to do a truly great Hunger Games parody or a fourth paintball episode, it was that Annie spent an episode indulgently pretending to be Jeff’s wife, when Annie as a character outgrew that kind of thing two seasons ago. Or that Troy & Britta got together, but not in any sort of meaningful way, but rather only as a contrivance to have hilarious (spoiler alert: they were not hilarious) sitcom-y scenarios like Britta having to sneak out so Abed wouldn’t see her. Or that Jeff ended every episode with a heartwarming speech about how much he loved everyone, when Jeff was always reluctant at best to ever admit even to himself, let alone out loud, that he had feelings of any kind for these people.

Looking back on it, it would have been a borderline miracle for a show whose creative vision was so intrinsically tied to its showrunner to be able to continue like nothing had changed, but I truly believe there was a way for season 4 to be different, but still Community. Instead, it became the very worst version of itself that it could possibly be, so much so that at upfronts last year, I was actively rooting for NBC to put it out of its misery.

But then something amazing happened. Not only did NBC order a season 5, it brought Dan Harmon back. And the early reviews of the first three episodes are, despite considerable odds, pretty great. So, in honor of this delightful & unlikely turn of events, I wanted to look back on my top 5 Community concept episodes. There are many, many great ones—it truly pains me to leave out the fake clip show episode, made up entirely of new clips…I mean, who thinks of that?—but there a few tentpoles here too significant not to include.

Honorable Mentions: Digital Exploration of Interior Design / Pillows and Blankets (3.13 /14, The Ken Burns Documentary Episode), Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design (2.9, The Conspiracy Theory Episode), Digital Estate Planning (3.20, The 8-Bit Video Game Episode), Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2.14, The Dungeons & Dragons Episode), Regional Holiday Music (3.10, The Musical Episode), Paradigms of Human Memory (2.21, The [Fake] Clip Show Episode)

5) Basic Lupine Urology (3.17)
AKA: The Law & Order Episode
Perhaps the most successful execution of a beginning-to-end concept parody Community’s ever done, this Law & Order send-up really could not be more perfect. From the cold open, in which unsuspecting janitors come across our crime-of-the week (in this case, the study group’s smashed yams), to the witnesses who refuse to stop doing their jobs even while being questioned by “detectives,” to the post-verdict drink the “lawyers” have in the “judge’s chambers,” every detail is exactly like every Law & Order episode you’ve ever seen, down to the “chung chung!” sounders setting each scene, the dialogue & the camera angles. But unlike season 4’s parodies, amazingly, even as our characters operate within the structure of a different show, they remain true to who we know them to be. Even the title is amazing, “Lupine Urology”…Dick Wolf. Get it?

4) Cooperative Calligraphy (2.8)
AKA: The Bottle Episode
Community’s version of a bottle episode (for those of you non-TV nerds, that’s an episode limited to just the core cast & set entirely on one of the show’s existing pre-built sets in order to save budget) does what all great bottle episodes do: without the crutch of guest stars, different locations or big ideas to parody, the show puts its core group of characters in their most familiar setting, the study room, & have them do nothing but banter & delve into each other’s psyches. This results in some surprisingly personal insights (like some of the group’s judgement over Shirley’s relationship with her ex-husband following the revelation of her pregnancy) & even more interesting than usual group dynamics. It’s another episode about the group becoming a family…the idea that if they can’t find Annie’s pen, they may never be able to fully trust one another because they’ll always suspect one of them allowed them to have to go through all of this (& miss the puppy parade!) is an absurd one. But as Annie says, “It’s not just a pen, it’s a principle!”

3) Epidemiology (2.6)
AKA: The Zombie Apocalypse Episode
As tends to happen in a Halloween episode, the costumes provide an endless source of hilarity, from Pierce’s Captain Kirk outfit reaching new levels of authenticity to Troy’s sexy Dracula to Chang’s Peggy Flemming (“You’ve just been proven racist, by the racist prover!”). Even the extras are great (“You punched a lady bee!”). Meanwhile, Troy and Abed’s mini bromance crisis creates some genuine character moments. This is the best possible example of just how fun it is to see our characters go through a situation outside of what the premise of the show should allow…as a viewer, I know they aren’t going to kill off all of the characters, but as I was watching this episode for the first time, there’s some actual suspense as to how they were going to get out of this. That’s pretty neat storytelling for a silly cult comedy set at a community college. As a bonus, the entire zombie apocalypse is set to ABBA music.

2) Remedial Chaos Theory (3.3)
AKA: The Parallel Timelines Episode
Often considered the best episode of Community ever, we see seven different versions of Troy & Abed’s housewarming party, each with one member of the group missing. Both hilarious (this episode also introduces us to the Darkest Timeline, where Pierce is killed & Jeff loses an arm & Evil Abed is born) & heartwarming, this episode is a fascinating examination of each character’s part of the group’s dynamic. It’s endlessly interesting that the timeline where Jeff is gone is the best version of events, where the group can have fun & be free (this isn’t the first time where he is cut out of the group, but unlike the chicken finger/Godfather episode, the group does not come crawling back to him…they’ve grown from that). It’s also interesting to think about which is actually the darkest timeline—when Troy is gone & the apartment burns? Or when Abed is gone & everyone devolves into hating each other? The story also somehow has time to explore a couple of other character themes, like Jeff & Annie’s slightly icky relationship, Troy & Britta’s genuine, yet not quite grown-up connection, Pierce’s loneliness & Troy’s desire to earn Jeff’s respect.

1) Modern Warfare (1.23)
AKA: The Paintball Episode (Action movies)
What else could be number 1 but the original paintball episode…the one that put Community’s concept episodes on the map. With references from everything from Terminator (“Come with me if you don’t want paint on your clothes.”) to John Woo, this is true commitment to the bit. They even got a big time action director (Justin Lin of the Fast and Furious franchise) to create some legitimately impressive set pieces. From the not-so-subtle pokes at Glee (“I’m all for winning, but let’s not resort to cheap plots,” says Jeff, immediately before removing his shirt) to the absurdity of the prize the school tears itself apart fighting over (priority registration!), Modern Warfare is not only one of the most fun & funny episodes of a comedy that year, but one of the best half hours of television in recent history.

Community season 5 returns tonight, January 2 at 9/8 central on NBC. #sixseasonsandamovie

Ad Post: Google Chrome – The Web is What You Make of It

by Amy Yen

Google Chrome 1:00 spot
Agency: Google Creative Lab/Bartle Bogle Hegarty

The latest from Google’s “The Web is What You Make of It” series promoting their Chrome browser, “Jess Time” is every bit as captivating & lump-in-the-throat inducing as their first spot, “Dear Sophie,” which remains one of my very favorite pieces of creative from 2011.

Both ads tell such touching, relatable stories — capturing the moments as you watch your child grow up, staying close to your kids when they go off to college (I thought there was also such a beautiful underlying sadness to the “Jess Time” spot, with saying without saying it that this is also a family in mourning) — it’s remarkable that both spots also somehow manage to demonstrate the features of the product in such an inspirational way. I love that it actually inspires imagination, without any sense of manipulation. Isn’t that what really great creative is supposed to do?

Google is notably new to traditional advertising, and has put a lot of promotion into Chrome, which finally overtook Internet Explorer (who themselves have a solid, if not as emotionally resonant spot in rotation) in the browser wars earlier this year. In addition to “Sophie” & “Jess,” the Chrome campaign includes spots with Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber & “It Gets Better,” a chronicle of the movement that began with Dan Savage’s inspirational video message, which is an especially wonderful in that it’s a true life example of how technology can change lives.

Thoughts on JJ Abrams’ Super 8

by Amy Yen

[Note: Don’t worry, I made a very deliberate attempt to keep this post as spoiler-free as possible.]

About a week ago, when the embargo lifted on press reviews for JJ Abrams’ Super 8, I actually started to get worried because my expectations for this movie had seriously reached impossibly high levels. There was literally no way this movie could be as good as it’d set itself up to be. It’s not like I was ever a maybe to see this film. From the moment the teaser trailer broke, with the names JJ Abrams & Steven Spielberg attached, I was in. I own Alias the complete series on DVD, I’m the kind of Lost & Fringe fan that listens to podcasts about those shows & reads their wikis to make sure I don’t miss anything. Basically, this movie was tailor-made for geeks such as myself.

So when, in the midst of a last-minute publicity play by Paramount to build word-of-mouth buzz among the younger movie-going generation (of which I’m actually technically a part of) for whom the Spielberg nostalgia factor is less relatable, a free advance secret screening was offered via a couple of my favorite film blogs (/Film & First Showing), I decided to go despite the minimum three hour wait in line (it ended up being more like four for me, with more than 200 people ahead of me & another 300 or so behind).

Honestly, I can’t really think of another film in recent times I would have done this for this close to the release date. And you know what? I don’t regret it at all. Because dammit, I loved Super 8.

It’s not perfect. It’s not even close. But it was exactly what I wanted it to be. It was funny & scary & emotional & somehow both nostalgic & original at the same time. I watched most of it smiling & when it was over, I immediately wanted to see it again. It was mint, y’all. (You’ll get that after you see it. I think we should all work together & make mint happen.)

The kids were the best thing about it. I love Kyle Chandler from all the way back to his Early Edition days & I think, because of the depth of emotion he was able to convey in just a few scenes, there could have been a whole (very different) movie just about Jack Lamb & his struggle to overcome his grief while learning to connect with his son. But this isn’t Jack Lamb’s story. It’s a story about these kids & these kids were perfect. Seriously, could not have been better casting, particularly Joel Courtney & Elle Fanning, for different reasons. Joel Courtney, who makes his acting debut here, is perfect because he feels real. Joe Lamb is really just a kid dealing with a bunch of stuff someone his age shouldn’t ever have to deal with, if the world was fair. Elle Fanning, on the other hand, is luminous, perfect in that way that only girls boys have crushes on at that age can be. You can actually see her becoming a movie star right before your eyes.

There’s something so incredibly real & un-Hollywood about the interactions between all of the kids in the film, especially Joe & Alice, and Joe & Charles. Innocent, pre-teen love, & a rift between friends because you both like the same girl. It’s just so perfect, it’s easy to think JJ Abrams must have lived through these characters, must have had friends like these.

All the auxiliary characters were colorful & wonderful too, Donny the film store guy, Charles’ big crazy family. The other kids in Charles’ movie, especially Cary the pyromaniac. In fact, everybody in this movie felt real & three-dimensional except for, unfortunately, the monster. There’s an admirable attempt to give the monster a story too, which is more than you can say about the one in Cloverfield, but it doesn’t quite work for me, except for in the ways in which it affects the kids. In other words, I never care about the monster & I think I was supposed to.

Still, I found Super 8 an immensely enjoyable, wonderful summer movie & I hope it makes a ton of money just so studios will maybe take more chances on non-franchise projects again. This is a movie you should see with your family, your friends. It’s for anyone who remembers the childhood friends you would have done anything for and for anyone who just loves films & film-making. See it the way I did, smiling & humming “My Sharona” all the way to the car.

More random thoughts on Super 8:

  • No post-credit sequence, but something awesome runs during the actual credits, so stick around.
  • The crowd cheered at both the Amblin & the Bad Robot bumpers. My kind of crowd.
  • Michael Giacchino’s score was, once again, wonderful. It rang so true to those old Spielberg films without running directly into John Williams.
  • The opening scene of this movie are among the most affecting images you’ll see in a film. So simple, yet tells an entire story in just a few frames. A brilliant way to set up the rest of the film. A different writer would have written out an entire scene that actually showed what happened, it’s remarkable how effective it was to do it this way instead.
  • Loved the trademark JJ humor. The dialogue was great & honestly, the credit scene is the most delightful thing ever.
  • The train crash really was great, better than anything you see in the trailer because, again, it’s framed around the kids, their terror & panic. You’re right in the middle of everything, it’s great.
  • Watch closely to catch all the JJ Easter eggs & staples, including Slusho, Building 47 &, apparently, both Greg Grunberg & Amanda Foreman.
  • Also trademark JJ? Lens flares. At this point, I find them more delightfully familiar than distracting. He certainly does have a visual style.
  • I would kill to see JJ Abrams & Matt Reeves’ old super 8 films.
  • If you missed it, go read this terrific, long New York Times profile on JJ Abrams. That man loves his mysteries.

Five Intriguing Pilot Previews From Upfronts (and One Catastrophic One)

by Amy Yen

Upfronts are over & the five major networks (I’m feeling generous to the CW today) have released previews to all their new fall projects. I’m not going to lie to you. There are some seriously horrible-looking TV shows in there. Like, there were literally some where, based on the premise, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the two-minute preview. There’s one so offensive, I’m going to share it here with you today, just to prove that somebody who works for a major TV network actually thought it was a good idea that people would be psyched to watch.

But before I do, here are five pilots that actually look pretty great:

1) Awake (NBC, Midseason)

The single most fascinating thing on the entire NBC programming slate, obviously, it got banished to midseason. (Falmpalm, NBC.) Awake (formerly known as REM) has a great dual-reality premise & hopefully it can execute on that potential. I think it would be interesting for it to do an every-other-episode format, like Fringe did with its alternate universes early this season. Additionally, the idea that his realities cross over, with his cases-of-the-week on one side affecting the other, is a really interesting one. I really hope this show is as good as it looks, because it looks really, really good.

2) Person of Interest (CBS, Thursdays at 9pm ET)

It should come as no surprise that my list will include not one but two JJ Abrams mystery dramas. The surprise for me is that Person of Interest, his CBS procedural collaboration with Jonathan Nolan, actually looks a little more interesting to me than Alcatraz, his FOX island-centric time travel mystery. There’s a lot to like about the POI preview, the most obvious being Michael Emerson being his brilliant, morally-ambiguous self. The action looks really solid & the premise has both the obligatory case-of-the-week aspect that should satisfy the CBS audience & the foundation for a really interesting JJ Abrams mythology. What more can you ask for?

3) Alcatraz (FOX, Mondays at 9pm ET – Midseason)

Alcatraz also looks interesting enough, altogether this trailer kind of reminds me of the first Fringe trailer in that in it of itself, it doesn’t particularly make me salivate to see more. It’s more that it has some elements that are somewhat interesting: good casting, good pedigree, good production values, a sci-fi-skewing premise. Let’s face it, it’s JJ Abrams. I will be watching. Like POI, it sounds like they are going to try to make Alcatraz more standalone than serial, but then, they said the same thing about Fringe & look how good that got. Plus, you have to trust FOX to let JJ be JJ more than you can trust CBS.

4) Terra Nova (FOX, Mondays at 8pm ET)

The reports about how hard it’s been getting this show going are kind of worrisome, but the trailer looks fun. It’s got that Jurassic Park Spielberg vibe & I like Jason O’Mara as a lead. Funny enough, one of the most interesting parts of the trailer IMO is one that’s most likely not going to be part of the show at all, which is the vision of the dystopic future, where everyone is wearing masks to breathe & apparently trying to escape a dying world. That’s a future I would have like to see more of. But, it is an inherently interesting premise, the idea of sending people to the past to escape the future & who doesn’t like a good dinosaur chase? Could be fun.

5) Ringer (CW, Tuesdays at 9pm ET)

I kind of wanted to include a CW show & the two most promising ones are Ringer, which was rejected by sister network CBS (for which it would have been completely inappropriate for), and Secret Circle, the latest from Kevin Williamson, which, like Vampire Diaries, was also adapted from an LJ Smith series of novels. Because of the good will Williamson has built up with Vampire Diaries, which rises above its premise to actually be a very good drama, and the casting of Thomas Dekker, who was very good in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I will definitely at least give Secret Circle a shot. But Ringer definitely looks like a better bet for a good story & it’s nice to see Sarah Michelle Gellar back on TV.

On the not-so-great side, there were many, many horrendous-looking comedies, including Free Agents, Whitney, Are You There Vodka, It’s Me, Chelsea, I Hate My Teenage Daughter, Last Man Standing,  (seriously, haven’t we, as a society, moved past laugh tracks?), but the worst, the WORST, is this:

Work It (ABC, Midseason)

The fact that this was thought up by somebody & somebody else thought enough of it to order it as a pilot & somebody else thought enough of it to order it to series is unfathomable to me. Apparently delusion runs rampant during pilot season among network execs because this show? Appeals to nobody. I am actually offended by this is being offered to us as entertainment & I am telling advertisers right now, I will think less of your brand if you show a commercial during this show.

Look, I love TV & I just want it to be good, that’s all. It makes me sad when I see trash like this being introduced when quality shows like Parks & Recreation (which, btw, had a brilliant season finale) have to fight to stay on the air every year. So what I’m trying to say, networks, is try harder.

For a full breakdown of the fall TV schedule, go here.

Fringe Beats the Friday Night Death Slot!

by Amy Yen

Nicely done, Fringe nation! Our little sci-fi show that could has beaten the Friday Night Death Slot into submission & has been picked for a full 22-episode fourth season.

[Pause for collective exhale. Seriously, thank God.]

To the rest of you — and here, I am aware I am speaking to the majority of the American television viewing public — I just want to re-emphasize that you are missing a great show. I might even call it the best drama on TV right now. It certainly has some of the best acting. Its mythology is as richly developed & possibly better executed than even Lost at its best. And most impressively of all, all the parallel universes & doomsday machine shenanigans is just a very clever disguise for what is actually a very simple, very human story.

I know it’s kind of unrealistic to expect anyone to jump on board now…I imagine it might be slightly confusing to tune in to find two parallel universes about to go to war with one another if you don’t have some backstory. Luckily, now that the fourth season has been secured, you have all summer to catch up. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Also, all those people who won’t stop saying that Fox doesn’t support genre programming? I think you can let that go now. First Terminator gets a full two seasons, then Dollhouse somehow gets a second year, now Fringe is getting a fourth? It really doesn’t get more supportive.

Anyway, time to start getting psyched for the finale (PS: how amazing are those episode titles??) & thinking about wish lists for season 4 (Prime-verse Lincoln Lee joining the Fringe team, more Astrid & of course, another 80’s flashback episode, so we can see the awesome opening sequence again)…

PS: Community, Parks & Recreation AND Fringe all renewed? That’s three of my four top shows on TV right now (#4 is Justified, which is looking good for renewal on FX also). Hooray for the continuation of quality television!

Ad Post: The Mechanic Movie Poster QR Code

by Amy Yen

image credit: http://2d-code.co.uk/the-mechanic-qr-code-poster/

The Mechanic Movie Advertising
Agency: CBS Films/Millenium Films/Nu Image Entertainment/GmbH

So I’ve been walking by street advertising for the new Jason Statham movie The Mechanic for a few weeks now & just today noticed the QR code embedded in the guns-in-a-gun image on the signage & posters. While it can’t be that effective since it’s hard to notice unless you’re looking closely, it acts like kind of an Easter egg for those who do. The code, which in it of itself is designed to look like a target, leads to the mobile version of the official movie website, including the trailer & the definition for the term ‘mechanic.’ It’s an interesting & well-done use of the technology, at least for those who see it.

I’m a Social Media Customer Service Brat

by Amy Yen

If I yelled at you unnecessarily or maybe just acted generally hostile last week, I’m sorry. I think it’s safe to tell you now…my cable & internet were out. That’s right, the whole week! I KNOW! Do you see why I was so grumpy now? It’s lucky I didn’t set anything on fire.

Anyway, now that I’m back online, it’s time to make a petty observation. In between waiting on hold with customer service & waiting for the technician to show up three hours late, I obviously spent some time venting on Twitter about my deep, seething hatred for Time Warner Cable. I did it more than once. Don’t think I didn’t notice that nobody from Time Warner bothered to contact me. As much as my brother out east complains about Comcast, I’m pretty certain that if I had done the same thing with them, that wouldn’t have been the case.

So I realized that it’s come to the point where consumers like me will not only not hesitate to blast your brand all over the internet, but will expect you to notice when we do it & find a way to fix it. What can I tell you? I’m a social media customer service brat.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to point out. If you need me, I’ll be catching up on all the Hulu I missed last week.