Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

“Community” is the tombstone to the episodic sitcom’s grave

Illustration by Hailey Akau

“Community” is the greatest TV show of all time. 

Maybe you think I’m wrong—that I’m stupid or simply misinformed. The 10” x 10” sheet of paper these words occupy certainly isn’t enough to credential me as an expert. 

But credentials be damned, Neilsen ratings be damned, syndication be damned, I wholeheartedly believe “Community” should be considered one of the best TV shows to ever air. 

For five seasons—we don’t talk about the gas leak year—creator Dan Harmon and his team of writers and producers delivered dozens of high-quality, delightfully zany, and wildly creative episodes of television about a lovably dysfunctional community college study group. 

Alone in the humid bowels of summer, I embarked upon my umpteenth re-watch of the show and was delighted to find that nearly every episode tickled all the right parts of my brain and funny bone the same way they had when I first discovered “Community.”

Jeff, Britta, Abed, Troy, Pierce, Shirley, and Annie (and sometimes Chang) were both easy to love and easy to understand—they were well-rounded characters in a highly watchable sitcom that never needed a laugh track to forcibly extract laughter from its audience. 

“Community” delivered in every way a great episodic sitcom should, creating a world which was equal parts hilarious, ridiculous, and real for its characters to inhabit and stretch. 

Which is why it’s a shame that “Community”—which masterfully demonstrated the potential of episodic sitcoms—is one of the last episodic sitcoms to find success in the increasingly serialized world of TV. 

Episodic television, for those who are unfamiliar, is a form of TV you’ve probably witnessed countless times via practically every sitcom from “Seinfeld” to “The Office” to “Friends,” most children’s programming, and a large swath of crime shows like “CSI” or “Psych.” 

The self-contained nature of episodic television sets it apart from serialized TV: a conflict is established at some point early in an episode and is resolved before the episode’s conclusion. This programming yields weekly viewership without confusing audiences with big plot points if they didn’t tune in the week prior. 

Serialized shows play more like a long-form film, with higher stakes, more dynamic and malleable characters, and storylines that leave those characters with permanent changes. Though this may sound daunting to change-averse viewers (like yours truly), serialized television offers a world of possibilities that don’t exist in episodic TV. 

With serialized TV, writers and producers have the freedom to do almost whatever they want. They’re not forced to shackle their characters to the same New York City apartment, paper supply company, or community college study room so as to bludgeon their lifeless series’ corpses to a 100th episode, achieving syndication and filling their rapacious TV executive’s wallets. 

Some of the most popular shows of the last decade—“Breaking Bad,” “Succession,” “Stranger Things,” “Atlanta,” “Game of Thrones,” “Fleabag,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”—have demonstrated serialized TV’s potential just as masterfully as “Community” did with episodic television.

This freedom is becoming more accessible with the rise of the streaming service, which allows viewers to binge any series with ease, eliminating the necessity for shows that an audience member can drop back into without feeling lost.  

Essentially, the death of cable television is the death of episodic TV too. 

This, I believe, is a problem. I have a special place in my heart for serialized TV. “Normal People” has forever shaped my beliefs about intimacy and the complexity of young love, and “Succession” has endowed me with knowledge of the awesome power of family dynamics.

But there is a slightly larger place in my heart for quality episodic sitcoms, whether that be “Community,” “New Girl,”“Arrested Development,” or any one of the other myriad shows that have established my sense of humor, sense of wonder, and sense of self. 

“Community” represents the peak potential of episodic sitcoms, a medium which is increasingly diminished as serialization dominates the television landscape. And while many of these serialized shows are fantastic—some of them even works of art—they don’t come close to any of “Community’s” funniest, most heartfelt, and creative moments in quite the same way. 

Because the truth is, as amazing as those serialized shows are, they simply can’t capture the full range of human emotion and experience. Serialized shows can absolutely nail drama—gritty shows about morally dubious leading men and dark comedies about snarky and tortured leading women have dominated the screen in recent years. 

But comedies that make us feel as if we too live in the home they portray? Misadventures and hijinks? The comfort of knowing that any problem can be solved in less than a half hour (twenty-two minutes if you don’t count ads)? Those belong solely to the episodic sitcom. 

Serialized television doesn’t attempt to fit into this essential niche, because it can’t. 

And it shouldn’t have to! We should have different shows for different characters, situations, themes, etc. Unfortunately, in recent years, episodic sitcoms like “Community” have been erased from the zeitgeist of popular TV, and without shitting on “Ted Lasso” too much, I refuse to accept it as the only semi-episodic show on television I’d watch when bored. 

Serialization has, as of now, killed quality episodic sitcoms, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring them back to life. 

Perhaps episodic sitcoms will make a comeback when Disney finally completes its total entertainment monopoly by buying out Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Maybe a fresh new show like “Community” is waiting just around the corner.

I hope so. Because “Community” was one of a kind—but the form it mastered isn’t. When done right, episodic sitcoms can transcend the laugh tracks and hackneyed storylines to access a higher form of entertainment and storytelling. It can be something comfortable and warm while pushing the envelope of what the medium of television can deliver to audiences. It can be really, really great. 

Just watch “Community.” 

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About the Contributor
Leo Kagan
Leo Kagan, Assistant Sports Editor
Leo Kagan (he/him) is a freshman journalism major from the North Shore of Boston. He currently edits The Beacon’s sports section. He is also a member of Noteworthy, one of Emerson’s a cappella groups. In his spare time, he enjoys listening to Wallows and eating Ben & Jerry’s.

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    Dries / Feb 29, 2024 at 7:20 pm

    Sorry but Arrested Development is definitely more serialized than episodic.