Updated: Oct 25, 2020
By Bren Bartol
Image via NBC
Spoiler Alert: This critique contains spoilers for the show Community.
Community was a sitcom created in 2009 and ran for six seasons. It is in a similar vein of comedy as The Good Place. Currently, all six seasons are on Netflix, and it is gaining popularity again. I wanted to join the wagon, as I had heard good things about it, and for the most part, I did enjoy it. The parts that weren’t majorly problematic, that is. I want to highlight the problems this show has because it represents a faction of television that isn’t seen very often. It’s not so offensive that it gets taken off the air, but just offensive enough to not be okay. It flies just under the radar and represents the middle of this spectrum. Following is an analysis of the most problematic characters:
Jeff: Jeff is the protagonist of the show. At the time of the show creation, the actor, Joel McHale, was doing well in his career, so the show was written around him. While this makes sense, the show is full of the Jeff is full of the white savior complex, especially at the beginning. Jeff is portrayed as an arrogant, egotistical man who pins his problems on his daddy issues. He is, to put it bluntly, a jerk. The study group that comes together with its array of characters, revolves around him, when he doesn’t exactly do a great job of leading. While he gets better, he still has a pretty low moral compass but gets rewarded as if he has a great one.
Britta: Britta is one of the characters that are a little less extreme, and actually strives to be a good person. While she often misses the mark or goes to the extreme, she tries to push back against things that are important to her, and call out racism and sexism. She is sometimes misguided, especially with her being a psych degree, but it causes her to pay attention to others' feelings and tries to help them through it.
Dean Pelton: Throughout the story, the Dean pops in and out and offers some comedic bits. It’s made clear that the Dean is not limited to being attracted to women. The Dean is often portrayed as cowardly, and is also portrayed to draw sympathy from the audience. My biggest problem with the Dean is that throughout the entire series, he sexually harasses Jeff. This normalizes sexual harassment, and with the Dean’s non-heterosexuality, it reinforces harmful stereotypes surrounding gay men about pedophilia and sexual assault. The reality is these stereotypes fuel the fire of homophobia, both internal and external. At the very end of the show, when the group is imagining a season seven, one of the possibilities portrays Dean Pelton as a transgender woman, with him at one point saying, “I’m not a joke anymore, I am strictly transgender, not all this other stuff.” The dean is known for wearing typically feminine clothes throughout the series, which I assume was the prompt for this, but it disregards the reality that trans people are people and have intersecting identities.
Pierce: Where to start? Pierce is a character who is supposed to be the funny uncle. He has a little bit of character development, but to be honest, he adds little to the plot. He is supposed to be the character that adds a funny quip to keep the tone light, but he doesn’t do that. Most of the time it’s just an offensive comment. Pierce is a blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. In addition, Pierce spends the entire series mispronouncing Abed’s name. He uses gay as a derogatory term throughout the entire series, only calling himself out once. He sexually harasses Shirley and makes comments about how her faults have to do with her Blackness. He makes rude, offhand comments about how Abed is on the spectrum. He disregards Annie’s faith and makes some really creepy comments about her (at the beginning of the series she is eighteen). In the episode ‘Celebrity Pharmacology,’ Pierce also helps Annie with her rent, then uses it to manipulate her into giving him anything he wants. Chevy Chase, who portrays Pierce, was blatantly racist towards Donald Glover on set, and was fired and was not invited to their virtual table read this year because of his racism.
Shirley: Shirley is written to follow the religious Black woman stereotype. She doesn’t follow the angry religious Black woman stereotype, but when she is first introduced that is her only characteristic. In addition, she is revealed to be pro-life, which is more a personal problem for me than a fundamental one, and comments on how being gay is a choice in the episode ‘Advanced Gay.’ She is a little jaded when it comes to the others’ religions, something she overcomes in her character development. However, Shirley is a good character. She is a strong, middle-aged mom of three who is empathetic and caring, but stands up for what she believes in.
General Problems: The show leans heavily into stereotypes. When displaying gay background characters, they follow the unrealistic ultrafeminine mold. The show uses slurs. In the episode, ‘Pascal’s Triangle Revisited,’ the slur "tr*nny" is used multiple times throughout the episode. The group, especially in the beginning seasons, is very toxic, promoting a harmful relationship. Chang, the fired Spanish teacher, fired security guard (because he tried to blow up the school), former fake amnesia-affected individual and now math teacher is painted in an interesting way that is not good, but also just weird. I can’t help but feel that Chang’s character arc is somewhat out of place in the whole show, and he is a diversity hire.
However, despite my various criticisms of the show, it does execute some things well.
Britta sleeps with multiple guys over the course of the series, and it is discussed, but she is never slut-shamed for it. Abed is a young Arab man on the spectrum, and he is never bullied for it or is the butt of the joke for it. Troy is a young Black man who is sporty and geeky, showing a Black character who is viewed as an individual and portrays his intersectionality. Troy, Abed, and Annie become roommates, showing you can have a platonic relationship with an opposite-sex roommate. The characters aren’t put down for where they fall intelligently in the group. Jeff spends time amending his relationship with his father, and while it’s far from perfect, it promotes forgiveness. The show supports rehab and doesn’t shame Annie for going to it to get better. They support safe sex and have a very bland mascot, The Greendale Human, which is thoughtful, attempting to be inclusive (while also being a joke), and kind of creepy in appearance.
All in all, I don’t hate the show, though this critique may seem to suggest otherwise. I will always love Abed and Troy, who I believe were the best part of the show. There were good plots and good comical moments. The show is simply rampant with stereotypes, and despite the amount of praise surrounding the show, it has some major problems that need to be acknowledged.
Written by writer Bren Bartol