‘Community’ tackles tough racial issues
Can I just say what we are all thinking? Thank goodness “Community” is finally coming back to television. It has been almost a year since the cult sitcom ended its third season, and there’s been nothing but rocky ground since then. Fans of the offbeat comedy can now sleep easily at night knowing the show will return to NBC on Feb. 7.
Although “Community” is centered around maximizing the number of laughs per minute, it surprisingly also touches on taboo issues of friendship, education and race.
The show’s attention to race is clear with the hypothetical community college’s mascot being “The Human Being,” a non-gendered, nonracial entity that is supposed to represent the students of Greendale in an unbiased way.
Although the mascot is meant to be funny, it also points to how race is being handled in educational institutions, namely by not being handled at all.
The characters themselves, however, are more explicit about how they feel about race roles. The Asian Spanish language teacher, played by Ken Jeong, is not afraid to call people out on their skepticism of his Spanish knowledge because of his race.
The main group of friends in the show has two black characters, and Abed (Danny Pudi) is a Palestinian/Polish mix. None of the racial characters die in the series and in fact play main, integral roles in many of the episodes, something rarely seen on popular television.
In one episode, Abed’s father is criticized for his strict adherence to a masculine-dominated culture in regard to Abed’s sister. The central characters work together to help Abed’s sister’s get the freedom to choose her life path.
These racial issues being raised are not something one would expect from a nighttime sitcom, but “Community” pulls it off.
The character Pierce Hawthorn (Chevy Chase) is the most racially explicit character without question. The role of the lovable bigot, however, has taken a toll on Chase.
Toward the end of shooting episodes for season four, Chase announced he was leaving the show. For many, this was not a shock. Chase’s disagreements with the script and director have not been a secret throughout the years. However, it brings to light some challenges the show will have to overcome in the next season.
Besides the obvious obstacle of explaining why Hawthorne has disappeared, the show will need to find a new devil’s advocate if the racial commentary is to continue.
Although Chase is not the example of racial tolerance, him being uncomfortable with some of Hawthorne’s comments is not shocking. Even as a viewer, the ignorant racism of Hawthorne is at times appalling.
Regardless, Hawthorne represented a group of people who still carry outdated racial ideas as dogmas, and he was the villain other characters could fight against. Hawthorne’s inherent qualities as a privileged, older student combined with Chase’s delivery made it easy for writers to take risks with racial dialogue. Without that character, the show will have to be careful where it takes the same risks.
The challenges “Community” writers will face in season four make me all the more excited for coming episodes. For a show as creative as “Community,” being pushed into a corner can only result in even more innovative content.
Although many look down on Chase’s choice to leave, I believe it is partially warranted. I just hope the show does not stop trying to address issues that are rarely discussed on TV. The show’s dedication to meaning behind the humor is what has made it a cult favorite, and to end its advocacy would hurt “Community’s” credibility.
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