The De-Flanderization of Community

Rare is the sit-com that can escape the curse of flanderization. Most sit-com characters contain one trait or conflict in their character. Monica Gellar (from Friends) used to be fat, and now she’s overcompensated by becoming extremely neurotic and organized. J.D. (from Scrubs) is callow and dreamy and insecure but desperately wants to become a good doctor.

And most sit-com plots involve that character enacting that conflict. Thus, the typical Monica plot involves her trying to confront her own craziness (as in the episode where she tries to imitate the carefree joi de vivre of the woman who’s stolen her identity and begun impersonating her).

The problem is that you can only go through that conflict so many times before you begin ramping it up. The character begins, more and more, to embody their conflict. Monica becomes more neurotic. JD becomes more effeminate and dreamy. There’s also an element of lazy writing. Writers have stopped developing the show and have started imitating it. Instead of creating new jokes, they simply enact another variation on a joke they’ve already done.

And, despite all of its brilliance, Community is no better. In fact, it’s probably one of the worse offenders. Abed went from being slightly autistic to an out-and-out insane dude who’s having psychotic breaks all over the place. Troy went from being slightly dim to almost nonfunctionally moronic. Chase went from being a bit old and crotchety to completely megalomaniacal. Britta goes from being sensible and experienced woman to a total ditz.

Which is why it was interesting to see the fifth season of Community pull back a little bit. In the very first episode, Jeff almost convinces the study group to sue the school because it’s turned them into worse people (using many of the above examples).

And then, over the course of the season, the show made an effort to actually pull back a bit. One of Britta’s pseudo-scientific pop-psychology theories actually saved the day. Troy got to leave and try to be his own man. Abed got shoved aside a little bit and wasn’t allowed to dominate the show as per usual. Pierce remained gone. All in all, it was a good effort.