I’ll admit, this one is kind of cheating. It isn’t so much a music video as a musical number from a show, so I am sort of betraying the premise of this blog. And, yeah, this article is more concerned with decoding lyrics and how Dan Harmon views sitcom storytelling than discussing the plot/shooting techniques of a short film. But all the elements of cinema have to work together to make a decent product so, c’mon, let me have this one.
If you’re a fan of the show, you’ve probably already picked up on a lot of the subtext of the song and why it’s so funny and clever. But I have to assume you aren’t familiar with Community or its characters for the sake of the article, so let me explain: in the previous two school years, the study group had an additional member, Pierce (Chevy Chase, who isn’t in here), who left the group after feeling betrayed by them at the end of the previous semester. This song takes place in Jeff’s (Joel McHale, AKA guy flying in the beginning) mind at the start of their third year. Though the study group has always been dysfunctional, he imagines this is how life will be now that the group doesn’t have to deal with Pierce’s racism, sexism and general stupidity (as well as probably just overcoming a few personal problems). Of course, while that explains the video somewhat concisely, you won’t have the benefit of intimately understanding each character’s personalities and flaws. But, hopefully that provides enough context to go off of.
The Character Perspective
From the perspective of Jeff, every single change he seems to want is completely unreasonable. Remember, he’s known these people for two years now and they’ve been through a lot. It’s not as if Jeff doesn’t know these people and how their minds work. Hell, he makes a speech in nearly every episode because he knows what his friends need to hear in times of conflict or crisis. If there was any way for Jeff to change the core essence of his friends personalities to better suit himself, he could have done it by now.
Its so blatantly untrue to the character’s respective personalities you can literally break down nearly every line and find a description that is almost the opposite of the character saying it. That would take a while though, so here’s a few highlights:
We’re gonna fly to school each morning, we’re gonna smile the entire time – Jeff may not hate Greendale Community College as much as he wants people to think but he certainly doesn’t adore it, so being eager enough to “fly to school” is really a stretch. He also is one of the most consistently unhappy, cynical characters in the whole show. Smiling at all seems unlikely, much less the entire time he’s on campus.
We’re gonna be less crazy… – Annie (Alison Brie) has an unhealthy obsession with constantly being the best and brightest student in her class. And, that’s not even taking into account the time she essentially held the study group hostage looking for a stolen pen. Crazy seems like a fair description, even if it is a well-meaning crazy.
We’re gonna seem like a mainstream dream! – Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) is not, and will never be, mainstream. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great man and the perfect Dean for Greendale, but c’mon, he came out dressed like a parody of Aretha Franklin and this isn’t even close to his most ridiculous costume. And he’s not doing this for laughs, he just legitimately enjoys dressing in flamboyant costumes for fun. He’s amazing, but definitely not normal.
On a certain level, its sort of assumed Jeff knows this isn’t how things will work out. After all, removing one toxic element from your life usually isn’t enough to change all of your other issues for the better (especially since it could be argued that any given character in the study group can be just as toxic as Pierce) and Jeff is smart enough to see this. But since Jeff strives for normality despite his chaotic and sometimes nonsensical situation, he still clings to the idea that all his friends can become normal too despite his usual cynicism (one character points out that Jeff is drawn to other broken people like himself, so it could be argued that he doesn’t even want this himself and just feels like he should).
The Creator’s Perspective
This clip doesn’t really gain the same level of significance until you understand how it all ties back to Dan Harmon, the show’s creator. Community as a show always seemed out of place while it was airing on NBC. It was a cult hit, but it was much more clever and witty (and to a degree, unapproachable) than an average primetime sitcom, and as a result the show could only ever captivate a small but extremely loyal fanbase. To Dan Harmon’s credit, his show’s popularity never impacted his and his staff’s writing and they continued to create a show they were proud of rather than one the lowest common denominator of viewer would understand. However, for a Big 3 network the goal isn’t to fill a niche market, but to hit the broadest demographic possible and Community could never do that.
This whole clip addresses nearly all the criticisms NBC gave Harmon while he was running the show and some of the unrealistic expectations major networks sometimes put on the people who create their content. The whole song is basically a sarcastic “here’s what we’d do if we sold out” to NBC, with all the characters saying their going to lose the respective quirks that make them recognizably human. Harmon is a great storyteller and understands that your characters have to be flawed to be interesting. While erasing some of their more uncomfortable imperfections may make the show more approachable, it also makes for hollow content that leaves no lasting impression. He understood, of example, that even if fans want to see Jeff and Annie “sleep together,” it will ultimately hurt the narrative to lose their “will they-won’t they” element just to give fans short lived excitement. Or for another example, Harmon knew it was unrealistic to try to “be appealing to all mankind” because their simply isn’t a show that can form a meaningful connection with everyone.
Certain shows have to speak to certain audiences or else they appeal to no one. To his credit, Harmon wasn’t oblivious to the fact that his style of alternative comedy wasn’t what major networks typically look for and repeatedly told them (without bitterness or resentment) that if they weren’t satisfied with his work, that they could fire him just like any other job (which they eventually did).
But enough of me swooning over Dan Harmon, we’re already over 1,100 words. Like I said, this article was a little different than the rest but hopefully it was still informative and/or entertaining. I’ll be back to normal next time, I’m sure.