On the Dan Harmon Situation

OK, here’s what we know: Dan Harmon, the creator of Community, won’t be returning to his baby next season because…well, that’s the question, isn’t it? On his Tumblr (I love 2012), Harmon wrote, "A few hours ago, I landed in Los Angeles, turned on my phone, and confirmed what you already know. Sony Pictures Television is replacing me as showrunner on Community…Why’d Sony want me gone? I can’t answer that because I’ve been in as much contact with them as you have. They literally haven’t called me since the season four pickup, so their reasons for replacing me are clearly none of my business." So, really, like Harmon himself, all we have to go on is speculation and wild theories to try to solve this mystery — and to figure out what the hell Community is going to look like next season. READ MORE


Community Season Finale (and Season) Wrap-Up

Season three of Community, which seems like it began 17 years ago, due in no small part to a hiatus that momentarily shook the world (a.k.a. the Internet), began with a song. Well, to be fair, it actually started with Jeff literally soaring above the clouds, but semantics.

In less than 60 seconds, “Finally Be Free” accomplishes everything that's so great about the show, and laid out a template for the rest of the season: it was an exaggerated, amusing view of reality, but with enough of an emotional core to keep things grounded, sung by a diverse group of people who love each other and are hoping to accomplish the same goal — to better themselves at Greendale.

In lieu of a breakdown of last night's three night episode — "Digital Estate Planning," "The First Chang Dynasty," and "Introduction to Finality" (all of which I thought were top-notch in very different ways: “Digital” was a great concept done just right, “Chang Dynasty” was the funniest, “Finality,” the most emotionally satisfying) — I want to revisit two verses from that song, and see what it told us about the Greendale Seven. READ MORE


A Visual Community Recap: “Curriculum Unavailable”

I’m usually not a fan of a show trying to replicate its success. By that I mean, I typically don’t like it when a show takes a story or a concept that it’s already had success with, and does it again. For instance, Community’s two-part second season finale, “A Fistful of Paintballs”/”For a Few Paintballs More,” pales in comparison to season one’s “Modern Warfare,” something that Abed alluded to in last night’s “Curriculum Unavailable,” a sort-of sequel of “Paradigms of Human Memory.” (Keeping up?) The original fake clip show episode, “Paradigms,” is one of my favorite episodes of the series, and once I caught on to what “Curriculum” was doing, I was worried. It didn’t help that it seemed like Abed, a character I’ve found increasingly irritating this season, and his crazy town banana pants ways were going to be the focus of the episode.

But then “Curriculum” did something unexpected: it became less Abed and more about the effect Greendale has on the Study Group. Did Greendale make them crazy, or did Greendale become crazier because of them? That’s an interesting ongoing question, but more importantly: the fake clips were just as funny as they were during “Paradigms.” So, just like what I did last year, I’ve taken screencaps from every would-be story, and ranked them by how excited I would be to read their plots in an episode synopsis. I can replicate myself, too! READ MORE


'Community' Recap: "Course Listing Unavailable"

At its core, “Course Listing Unavailable” is about what happens when someone you kind of know, but not really, passes away, and how you’re supposed to react to the news. Some people, like Britta, use it as an opportunity to flaunt their psychology degree, while others, Jeff, handle the death of their creepy kind-of friend, Starburns, the same way they handled their creepy kind-of-friend, Starburns, when he was alive: by ignoring it/him. (Others just want to know where their comb is.) There’s no “right” or "wrong" way to feel. But you’ll probably feel something, even if it's buried deep down; you just need a catalyst to bring it out, something more effective than a person wearing star-shaped sideburns (ohhh, now I get it). Something like…being told you have to go to summer school. READ MORE


Community Recap: "Basic Lupine Urology"

It’s not that Community hasn’t been very funny the past few weeks, but — actually, it hasn’t been. I professed my disappointment with last week’s “Virtual System Analysis,” an episode that I thought didn’t succeed because there was no The Scene. It needed something to tie everything together, a centerpiece, a Lebowski rug, and that never happened. “Basic Lupine Urology,” too, doesn’t have a single Scene, either; the whole damn episode is The Scene. And it was great.

Even if you’ve never seen Law & Order – I should rephrase. Even if you’ve never seen an entire episode of Law & Order, like me, “Basic Lupine Urology” is still a great episode of TV. Sure, knowing that Shirley’s mimicking Lt. Van Buren might add an extra, knowing layer to the proceedings (pun?), but everything worked because the show was so gung-ho with the homage. It just went for it, without any set-up. It never stopped to wink at the viewers (much credit goes to writer Megan Ganz and director Rob Schrab for making the show feel like Law & Order – even the act break fadeouts were perfect), and midway through, you realized you actually cared who smashed Annie and Jeff’s yam, no matter how ridiculous that statement sounds. Plus, there was no terrible Jeff speech. Win-win! READ MORE


Community Recap: “Virtual Systems Analysis”

When Dan Harmon and the cast of Community spoke at a PaleyFest event in March, right before the show returned from its hiatus, they spoke about their anxieties for “Virtual Systems Analysis.” They didn’t know what the episode was until post-production, both in terms of Danny Pudi and Alison Brie not being able to visualize their special effects scenes, and what the general story would end up looking like. Harmon said it would either be the best or worst thing in TV history. Their nervousness makes sense now after seeing it: it’s an episode that makes little sense out of context (kind of like Inception, which Abed-as-Troy really doesn’t get), and that’s what separates Community from nearly every other sitcom, for better or worse, on now — and why its ratings will never really improve. We’ve grown accustomed to being able to turn on the TV, see Seinfeld or Friends or The Big Bang Theory on, and pleasantly relax into an episode. Most sitcoms are designed with this in mind; you should be able to join at any part, and be able to enjoy it just as much as someone who’s been watching the entire time. READ MORE


Community Recap: "Origins of Vampire Mythology"

How you feel about last night’s episode, “Origins of Vampire Mythology,” likely depends on how much you agree with Chevy Chase. As you’ve probably heard by now, Mr. Chase: not a big fan of Community. His biggest cranky coot complaint, outside of his jokes don’t make it into the show, is that Dan Harmon and his editors feel the need to tack a sentimental ending onto all of their episodes. He hates this “heart over humor” development, a sitcom “trend” that’s existed for, oh, 50 years. READ MORE


Listening to the DVD Commentary for Spaced, "Ends"

Columentary (title sadly not pending) is a weekly feature, in which I’ll listen to the commentary track of a sitcom, and divulge, through pretty pictures and less pretty words, the behind-the-scenes secrets the creators, writers, and cast discuss about their show. If you've ever questioned why Roseanne had that Godzilla toy, this is for you.

Show: Spaced

Episode: "Ends" (S01E07)

Original Airdate: November 5, 1999

Episode Plot: Tim's (Simon Pegg) ex-girlfriend is back, and Daisy (Jessica Stevenson) isn't sure what to think. Mike (Nick Frost) also attempts to reenlist with the Territorial Army.

Players Involved: Edgar Wright, director, and Patton Oswalt, special guest READ MORE


Visual Community Recap: "Pillows and Blankets"

“Do people go to classes?”

Well, that was great.

Honestly, I was a little worried about this episode before it aired. Community’s last second installment of a two-parter, “For a Few Paintballs More,” was a bit of a let down, and the idea of a pillows vs. blankets fight is funnier than an actual pillows vs. blankets fight. How could the show possibly do their "Digital Exploration of Interior Design” set-up justice? By using a Ken Burns’ PBS documentary as a framing device, that's how. And it was genius, a parody that worked even if you didn’t get the thing that was being mocked (rarer than it sounds). It also allowed an unbiased narrator (Keith David) to tell the Battle of the Greendale, making the on-screen action feel more dramatic than it actually was and redirecting the viewer from choosing a side. (That's what I imagine the episode title is "Pillows and Blankets," not "Pillows vs. Blankets.") But, most impressively, even with all the jokes about Britta’s shitty photography (brilliant) and Annie and Jeff’s “birthday cake, birthday cake, unicorn, woman’s shoe” texts, the emotional arc of the story — Troy and Abed sparring — was never sacrificed for an easy gag. Arguing with your best friend can feel like a war, and though there were a few smirks along the way (mostly from Jeff), the show took their feuding seriously. Even Pierce was invested, though he mostly just wanted to scream, "I'm going to eat you" at kids, while wearing an outfit made entirely out of pillows and duct tape. READ MORE


Ten Notable Comedies in the Public Domain

Have you ever wondered how the low-budget Mystery Science Theater 3000 was able to afford the rights to so many movies? Probably not, but just humor me here. Take the film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, for instance. You’d assume it cost MILLIONS for Tom Servo to make fun of the American classic — but you’d be wrong. The movie fell into the public domain, and therefore, was (and still is) free to use. (That’s why you rarely hear “Happy Birthday to You” in TV shows; it’s copyrighted and costs a shit ton of money to use.)

A movie, like any piece of art, can enter the public domain, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, “if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection.” If either of those things happen (or if the work was published before January 1, 1923), anyone can use the movie in any way they’d like, for any purpose. Hundreds of comedies — many from the 1930s-1960s — are in the public domain, but here are 10 of the most notable. READ MORE


Listening to the DVD Commentary for Weeds, "Corn Snake"

Columentary (title sadly not pending) is a weekly feature, in which I’ll listen to the commentary track of a sitcom, and divulge, through pretty pictures and less pretty words, the behind-the-scenes secrets the creators, writers, and cast discuss about their show. If you've ever wondered about that one guy who once starred in that thing, but whom everyone loves because he's such a nice guy on set, this is for you.

Show: Weeds

Episode: "Corn Snake" (S02E01)

Original Airdate: August 14, 2006

Episode Plot: Marijuana dealer Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) attempts to break off contact with the DEA agent she slept with in the season one finale, Peter (Martin Donovan), while simultaneously dealing with Conrad (Romany Malco), who calls off their business arrangement after hearing about her bedfellow.

Players Involved: Jenji Kohan, creator. READ MORE


Community Recap: "Digital Exploration of Interior Design"

“I loved 1984, I think kids should be forced to read it.”

Honestly, if “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” had been nothing more than a single 22-minute scene of a pony-tailed John Goodman wearing red pajamas and crawling around a blanket fort, I would have loved it. But not only did the episode have Dan Connor going through some stuff, it also featured three highly entertaining, character-revealing plot lines with a cliffhanger ending that makes me wish it was already next Thursday (with a brief stop for the Game of Thrones season two premiere on Sunday). READ MORE


Investigation: What the Heck Has Jim's Dad from American Pie Been Up to?

To many, Eugene Levy is Jim’s Dad, and Jim’s Dad only. Not a cast member of the brilliant SCTV or as a mainstay in Christopher Guest’s filmography, but as the father of the guy who once fucked a pie. It makes sense, though. While a majority of the original cast from the first three American Pie films left the franchise after 2003’s American Wedding, Levy continued to appear in each subsequent straight-to-DVD installment, from 2005’s Band Camp to 2009’s The Book of Love, with 2006’s The Naked Mile and 2007’s Beta House sandwiched in-between. I hadn't seen any of the non-theatrical films, so on the eve of American Reunion, which brings the whole original gang back together again, including Levy, I decided to watch them, to figure out what the hell Jim’s Dad has been up to without Jim. READ MORE


Listening to the DVD Commentary for Arrested Development, “Ready, Aim, Marry Me”

Columentary (title sadly not pending) is a weekly feature, in which I’ll listen to the commentary track of a sitcom, and divulge, through pretty pictures and less pretty words, the behind-the-scenes secrets the creators, writers, and cast discuss about their show. If you've ever wondered how many leg chairs Eddie from Frasier humped, this is for you.

Show: Arrested Development

Episode: "Ready, Aim, Marry Me" (S02E10)

Original Airdate: February 13, 2005

Episode Plot: The family needs some extra money, so Michael (Jason Bateman) asks Uncle Jack (guest star Martin Short) if he wouldn’t mind bailing out the Bluths yet again.

Players Involved: Will Arnett, actor; Michael Cera, actor; David Cross, actor; Tony Hale, actor; Mitchell Hurwitz, creator; and Alia Shawkat, actress READ MORE