The Big Community Bang   Leave a comment

Do I really need spoiler warnings for The Big Bang Theory or Community?  Well… okay, probably Community.  That’s fair.  It passes the Scrubs threshold for spoiler warnings.  Anyway, minor spoilers ahead.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching DVDs of the first three seasons of Community.  I’d wanted to watch it before, but it was never on TV during a time when I was around to watch it, a problem that I’m having with Agents Of Shield right now.  Community was pitched repeatedly as “my kind of show”, as well as being well written and epic in scope while being played on a small scale.  It was also pitched as something that was obviously made by nerds and, more importantly to many, for nerds.  (Let’s not get into the “nerd vs. geek” argument, please, just assume that if I’m talking about one I’m talking about the other.)

This last point was an odd one, though.  While on its own it seemed like a relatively good point… and I’d argue that it is one… it was also a point that was said offensively as a point against The Big Bang Theory at times when I talked about enjoying that show.

The argument being presented against The Big Bang Theory was that it was a show that laughed at nerds rather than with them, and that Community was a show where the oddities of nerds and geeks were celebrated rather than used as a punch line.  And, to a point, The Big Bang Theory does do this.  The fact that Sheldon might choose to, say, stay in and play Dungeons & Dragons is given a laugh track even though there isn’t much that’s objectively funny about it in and of itself.

I’ve gotta say, though, that’s never bothered me.  While it’s true that sometimes the jokes on the screen are at the expense of Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Howard, I don’t think the actual framework of the jokes are necessarily offensive.  And, in fact, I think the show is actually very aware of certain circles within the geek community.  When City of Heroes fans were in mourning about their game being cancelled, we felt that Captain Sweatpants, a character who was usually seen wearing a City of Heroes T-shirt, was mourning with us.  Wil Wheaton appearing on the show, both as an antagonist and then as a friendly face, just felt right. The show had a habit of demonstrating how enjoyable and, at times, infectious nerd culture could be.  Penny, Amy and Bernadette went from agreeing that there wasn’t anything to be gained from reading comics to voraciously reading them so that they could settle a seemingly minor disagreement about the exact properties of Thor’s hammer, Mjolner.  And, of course, a lot of the time the joke wasn’t “this is how nerds act” so much as it was “this is how this character acts.”  It’s true that the entire punch line might have been “Dungeons and Dragons”, but Sheldon’s delivery definitely improved the moment.

Community, meanwhile, is an entirely different animal.  The Big Bang Theory is designed to be a show enjoyed in single sittings.  The status quo doesn’t change much from week to week, the characters are meant to be static, and the plot structures are generally built around a relatively small set of scenarios.  And The Big Bang Theory succeeds in each of these ways, far better than most other shows in the same category.  Community, meanwhile, is meant to be enjoyed over a longer period of time.  The status quo is still relatively stable, but it’s in flux; the same group of characters are almost always there, but they have different opinions about each other and their lives as they react to different stimuli.  The characters have certain unchanging aspects, but their opinions and approaches to situations change, and viewing that change as it happens yields greater rewards.  And the plot structures could be almost anything… everything from a pen going missing to having to clean an archaic space shuttle simulator have provided the basis for the episodes.

Having seen the first three seasons, I do agree with everyone who’s told me that Community is better.  Hands down.  And, in fact, I always expected that I would agree.  But I still don’t get the antagonistic stance that people had toward The Big Bang Theory.  I’m about to be going into the fourth season as soon as I can figure out the best way to do that.  And it’s going to be a change.  So far, every season of Community has been my favorite, growing more epic in scale, heartwarming in presentation and artistically meaningful than the season before.  I have been told not to expect season four to be even better.  Due to Dan Harmon being removed from the show for the season, I’ve been told that a lot of the warmth and grandeur will be gone.  I’ll have to watch it for myself to see, though.  It stands to reason that, as I watch a show like this, it’ll hit some low points.

And, as I learned when I saw Sheldon grabbing Amy’s hand for comfort at a tense moment last season, a show like The Big Bang Theory will hit some high points.

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