Initial Thoughts: Community Season 4; One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

dmncap00015Community is one of those shows that aired right around the time I was starting to give up on modern sitcoms. In an era where the laugh-track has overstayed its welcome, it felt as if sitcoms were settling for a safe middleground, treading on jokes and character archetypes that have been repeated time after time without giving any kind of unique spin, or at the least any sign of aiming for more than what the genre has become known for. Enter Community—a show that has essentially reached popularity by capitalizing on and mainstreaming the whole concept of “meta.” From the get-go, Community’s ragtag cast of characters were not only sitcom-status quirky, but were created with a certain amount of talent and grace that not only set them into an archetype (be it “jock,” “over-achiever,” etc.) but simultaneously broke said archetype, showing that their characters (and sitcom characters in general, really) can and should be developed to the point that they cannot be described with mere trope terminology.

And for the first three seasons of the series, that’s how things were.

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Top 6 TV Show Episodes Based on Schoolyard Games

With school starting for me next week, I thought I’d do something a little different and combine two of my favorite past-times—TV and Top (Whatever) Lists.

Being the man-child I am, I’ve watched my fair share of cartoons and shows relying on adults that watched cartoons back in the day. And while there are plenty of unique and interesting shows out there, I have noticed something of a trend among the episodes I’ve enjoyed the most—they revolve around simple schoolyard children’s games. Besides the charm of creating an entire episode based on a game you used to play when you were younger, each of the following episodes does an excellent job of either wrapping everything up nicely, fleshing out the characters and how they interact with each other as a unit, or giving a ridiculous enough conclusion that viewers have no choice but to accept it.

So without further ado, here are my Top 6 TV Show Episodes Based on Schoolyard Games.

6. Salute Your Shorts- Capture the Flag (Season 2, episode 10)

In its short two-season run as one of the first handful of live-action shows on Nickelodeon, Salute Your Shorts is easily one of my favorite shows falling under the category of “those ragtag kids.” For the uninitiated, it’s based on the book Salute Your Shorts: Life at Summer Camp (similar to how Little Rascals stemmed off of Our Gang), and as you’d expect, covers life in summer camp from an all-boys cabin and all-girls cabin as they team up and go on ‘90s style adventures under the nose of clueless authority figure Kevin “Ug” Lee. Like most shows of the time, the main cast consists of your typical tweenage stereotypes—jock, pretty girl, trouble makers, book-nerd, eco-nerd, and straight man—pitting them together under a common setting to find out what happens when they stop being polite and start getting… oh wait.

As typical as the show is, I enjoy it for its on occasion quirky episodes. This time around, the gang plays a game of capture the flag, with stereotypical fat kid Donkeylips (one more reason to watch this show) disgruntled by the fact that the crew chose him along with his other less physically inclined companions to be on guard duty while the rest of them take the offensive and hunt down the opposing team’s flag. I honestly cannot count the number of times this has happened to me in my childhood and enjoy how the episode continues from there, with the offensive team all ending up captured and the others taking it upon themselves to save them and win the game. Predictable, yes, but oh so satisfying.

5. Rocket Power- Capture the Flag (Season 2, episode 15A)

Although most shrugged off this creation from Klasky Csupo Productions about a group of ragtag kids into extreme sports, the series did have at least some redeeming qualities.

The sibling rivalry between brother Otto and sister Reggie Rocket was one of the more major driving forces of the earlier episodes, with Otto always wanting to be the best at whatever sport he takes on, with his sister acting as the killjoy. Similar to the Salute Your Shorts episode of the same name, this Rocket Power episode takes the game of capture the flag, pitting not just the main cast, but some of the supporting cast, against each other when they run out of time during recess to finish the game and continue it to take place on the entire pier. Otto is glad to continue the game on a bigger playing field, until he falls prey to the sacred rule of being out until counting to ten in “real Mississippi seconds.” Besides being a great idea to follow through on your own, the episode stands out from the series, being one of the few to make use of all the kid characters in the show outside of the main cast. Sure, its premise comes off more as an excuse to use those characters more than anything else, but their interactions are much welcome.

4. Community- Modern Warfare (Season 1, episode 23)

For those losing faith in television sitcoms, watch Community. It takes the standard “those ragtag kids” genre and boosts the average age of the characters to their early adulthood. What is especially intriguing about the series is its writing. While every main character isn’t an exact archetype of what you’d expect, you forget that entirely due to the character Abed, who is in essence a troper, leading to a great majority of the dialogue being self aware, something that more shows would be better off being.

While the series hasn’t even started its second season, most will agree that Modern Warfare is a fan favorite… even though the story itself has been told numerous times before in other shows. The community college has become a warzone as everyone has entered a paintball competition with the grand prize being every college student’s dream: priority registration for classes. Besides the horrors of war being depicted in an unexpected form, the episode also plays up the dynamic of the cast as a unit, seeing if deception and manipulation will be enough to break them. But, as always, what ultimately makes the episode is Sr. Cheng.

His presence alone makes me wanna run off to Kinkos and make a poster-sized copy of this.

3. The Weekenders- Pudding Ball (Season 1, episode 7B)

The Weekenders was basically Disney’s Recess except taking place on the weekends, which turned away most viewers while it aired during the latter run of Disney’s One Saturday Morning cartoon block. But while the show was of the “those ragtag kids” type, it was far from your standard one, and like Community after it, was incredibly self aware. On one occasion, the cause of everyone’s problems was actually solved by merely analyzing a TV show episode with a similar plot and acting accordingly—definitely not your run-of-the-mill show.

The name of the game is “Pudding Ball,” which is basically paint ball using leftover pudding from the soon out-of-business pudding-filled hot dog company. The game starts off simply enough, with the group unwillingly split into two competing amongst the entire community. And while the game’s prize isn’t as cherished as priority registration, that only makes their obsession over the game worse. The chemistry between each of the characters is great to say the least, which makes it that much more disheartening once you see it diminishing with each pudding ball throw.

And of course the one to suffer the most from this pudding ball obsession isn’t any of the kids, but the unwillingly stuck-in-the-middle Coach Colson as voiced by none other than Phil LaMarr (Futurama’s Hermes among other roles).

2. The Office- Office Olympics (Season 2, episode 3)

I’m not the most avid viewer of The Office; it’s not like I don’t enjoy the show or anything (I use dry humor in my everyday vernacular), but I just feel like I can’t fully appreciate the show unless I’ve experienced a mediocre life in a cubicle firsthand—it’s the same reason I don’t normally read Dilbert.

Of the handful of episodes from the series I’ve seen, this episode always seems to be on… not that I’m complaining. Steve Carrell’s character and his sidekick of sorts, Dwight, leave the office for the day to house shop. The entire workplace unattended, the office workers decide to go all-out and have an Office Olympics, consisting of all the menial games they get away with doing while working minus the fear of actually being caught.

From what I’ve seen of the series as a whole, focus is clearly more on certain characters over others, so I really enjoyed this episode for making use of the full cast, having everyone interact with everyone else. Not only that, but the way the Office Olympic’s story ties together with Carrell’s House Shopping story works out so well that you can’t help but smile at the end of the episode. Golden yogurt lids for everyone!

1. The Boondocks- The Red Ball (Season 3, episode 3)

Aaron McGruder’s newspaper-comic-gone-TV-series has always faced an uphill battle in that a majority of the content was just too controversial for television, resulting in only a handful of good episodes in the series’ first two seasons. With cancellation looming near, though, it seems as if McGruder’s finally hit his stride with season three, finally covering the perfect balance between entertainment and political/race commentary.

The merry little suburb of Woodcrest is in economic crisis as all its money is gambled in a game of kickball between its sister city, Wushung China. That said, a (you guessed it) ragtag team of misfits in basically all the main and supporting cast of the series is brought together to take on the incredibly skilled Wushung kickball team. Even ignoring the nods to anime action scenes during the actual game, the episode excellently makes use of every character in the series, each of them making use of their shtick when the plot calls for it making even the most despicable of characters enjoyable in their moment of truth. Oh, and I guess there’s something in there about how world leaders take advantage of their people in meaningless scuffles, too.

But who could pay attention to morals when a gust of wind is summoned from a kickball?

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