NBC's Community can often be seen more as a romp through a postmodern funhouse than a standard-issue sitcom. The series has offered inspired parodies of action flicks, zombie movies, GoodFellas and Apollo 13 and featured a bizarre mash-up of Mean Girls and Robocop. More recently, it exploded the notion of the "bottle episode," TV-industry jargon for shows shot with limited budgets on existing sets with a limited number of cast members to compensate for more costly episodes. This week, it's serving up an animated parody of the old, cheesy Rankin-Bass holiday cartoons (airing Thursday at 8/7c).
All of this meta-posturing led us to a theory that wouldn't be out of place alongside the rafts of speculation that came from Lost fans: That the characters in Community are real people who are slowly coming to the realization that they are trapped inside a TV sitcom, not dissimilar to the circumstances confronting the characters of the Jean Paul Sartre play No Exit.
We floated this theory past some Community cast members, and received these responses:
Donald Glover (Troy): "Wow! That's really cool! There's so many things I love there — Lost, No Exit reference, which is a play I did — that is great! And we're all realizing it — it's like No Exit in the sense that we're continuing to be in the sitcom because we can never leave anyway? Wow! That is dark! That's a great theory. My whole thing is at the end it turns out that some or maybe all of us are just a part of Abed's head. (Note: This is reminiscent of the series finale of St. Elsewhere.) I think Danny (Pudi) can pull off something like that and turn it on its head. He's always giving you some sitcom trope and turning it on its head. I like your theory a lot."
Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley): "I always liken them to live cartoon characters. I really believe that if they ran into a wall or got shot by a cannon, they would be fine. Like with (the final scene of an episode earlier this season), I can understand how Troy could think that he could make it into that tunnel (painted on a wall). It's like this magical world, but anything could happen, big and small. Take the zombie or paintball episodes, and then you can have real tears that don't feel sitcom-y. I don't know how the writers do it, I don't know how we do it every week as actors, but I'm very proud of the work we're doing."
Alison Brie (Annie) and Danny Pudi (Abed):
Pudi (Laughing): "I've been told things like that recently, like they're all figments of Abed's imagination."
Brie: "Abed in a straight jacket."
Pudi: "A lot of people get excited about our show, because you don't know what to expect every episode. That's one of the great things, that you have all these cool characters, like Lost — in the beginning, you'd watch to find out what's going on with this island, but eventually you really cared about the characters. I didn't really care anymore necessarily about the Smoke Monster or that kind of stuff. It was more about Jack and Locke or Sawyer and the love triangle — we've got a good love triangle."
Brie: "Our love triangle can involve many people. But I do think the writers and us have this eye on what a sitcom is and taking the stereotype and turning that around or staring it straight in the face. Like with the pen (in the bottle episode) — when you think about bottle episodes, people are stuck in a place because of some arbitrary thing, and our writers go out of their way to wink at the viewer and say, 'Yup, it's just a pen; we know what you're thinking.' But then they take it beyond that. If it was just an episode about a pen, it wouldn't have worked at all. But it was great that that was the reason because the writers were saying, 'We don't have to think of a better reason for them to be there.'"
Gillian Jacobs (Britta): "I really like that. Did you ever watch that show, 'Til Death? There was a plot line where one of the characters became convinced that he was in a sitcom, and it became even more meta than our show, if you can actually believe it. I think Abed may be leading them towards realizing that. I think the group has certainly become familiar and comfortable with sitcom tropes and referencing themselves, not just Abed, and maybe because of him, we're starting to view this world in that way, as well. If that's really true, it's a surprise to me, but I'd also be fine with that."
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