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September 23, 2011


Community and the autism spectrum


I haven't seen last night's season premiere of Community yet (you can watch the episode online.) But based on what I saw last season, and a fantastic profile in Wired on the show's creator, Dan Harmon, I'm prepared to say that, even if not every episode quite delivers, it's the funniest show on network TV. (Sorry, 30 Rock! That joke about the gas leak wasn't even funny the first time.)

It's definitely the strangest. As evidenced by the My Dinner With Andre-themed episode from last season, which is just the kind of abstruse extended joke that I can't believe made it onto a mainstream show, but turns up on this show all the time.

Until I read the Dan Harmon profile, I had no idea what kind of mad genius was behind this show (Wired says: "even its 'normal' episodes have a deeply weird velocity") but key passages shed a lot of light on where this stuff comes from. Such as this anecdote, about Harmon in the writers' room working on a scene featuring new cast member John Goodman:

Harmon begins pacing the room, slowly launching into a discourse that’s part Socratic inquiry, part one-man improv show. He lists examples of anything in the culture that might show how powerful men treat the weak: Goodfellas, Neil LaBute films, Freudian theory, even the actorly essence of John Goodman himself. The whole spiel is immensely entertaining—like hearing a version of Billy Joel’s "We Didn't Start the Fire" that’s been rewritten by a semiotics-obsessed video-store clerk—and it concludes with Harmon reenacting Ned Beatty’s famous monologue in Network.

No wonder I love this show.

Over his lifetime, Harmon developed a highly structured algorithm that he uses for every scene, episode, and season of Community, and says he searches every TV show and movie he watches for his algorithm underlying its structure. How some of the show's plot devices, like a magical secret trampoline, fit in is a mystery, possibly explained by his practice of drinking vodka at work.

Another thing that explains some of the psychologically unusual characters: Harmon innocently started taking online tests for Asperger's syndrome to see if his character Abed (above) really did fit the profile as fans have suggested. And guess what? Dan Harmon has Asperger's! Doctors say he's on the part of the autism spectrum where people have both empathy and inappropriate emotional reactions. And also think about life in terms of episodes of Taxi.

Not really a surprise, but the ratings are pretty awful. If NBC keeps putting up with its roster of weird shows that nobody watches, hopefully it'll survive the season.

categories: Movies, TV
posted by amy at 3:29 PM | #

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Just got the season 2 box set from Amazon! I have to write a paper, so I'll just watch one episode tonight. Or maybe 2, because they're really short*.

*This is not going to turn out well.

Posted by: Tim at September 28, 2011 5:37 AM

First episode of Season 3 is excellent. The Cougarton Abbey jokes alone are worth it.

Posted by: amy at September 28, 2011 1:28 PM

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