Ball is Life: The Way Out

Youth play in Chicago's Stateway Gardens high-rising projects in 1973

Youth play in Chicago’s Stateway Gardens high-rising projects in 1973

It is not ironic to hear about the numerous of young African American athletes who become professionals. It is even more common to hear about the poverty they come from, as well as the adversity they have overcome. Impoverished young black kids see only way out and it’s through their athletic talents.

In describing the above photo, one can see that there are three tall project buildings in what may not be the background of the photo. The streets are very empty, no traffic and not a lot of people walking along the sidewalk. Notice that the sky is clear blue, there is not much green grass, at all and the leaves on the trees have fallen off. There are also five young black kids playing basketball during the day. They are playing on a rim that has no net, the pole seems to be an orange/brown color and the white backboard has some dirt or rust on the bottom, too.

The area where the guys are playing basketball is gated by a short sliver fence and far off behind them is a lonely, single slide for younger kids to play on (I assume). Significantly, details about the people in the image will mean more than what they just look like. The basketball they are playing with is not a Wilson or Baiden brand of basketball (newer version). It is clearly obvious that all the guys have long hair, which is an old trendy hairstyle primarily known as an Afro.

The three tall project buildings lead me to believe that they live in poverty. The living conditions in those buildings are absolutely terrible, unsanitary and unhealthy. The fact that the streets are empty show that not many people enjoy being outside around this area and there is not much the neighborhood or this specific street has to offer. Clear skies with only a few clouds, trees with no leaves on them and the lack of green grass are signs of the season change. With that said, I assume that in the photo it is approaching or is currently winter. Personally, I see a winter in Chicago. The setting in this photo seems to be familiar to me and what I have seen first-hand, being from Chicago. There are project buildings and settings just like this one here in the image. Where the guys are playing basketball is supposed to be a park, but it really isn’t because it does not offer much fun. An old basketball rim and lonely slide is not the most fun any group of kids can have. By the appearance of the guys with their Afros and old basketball, the picture has to date back in the 80’s at least.

This image describes exactly why so many young blacks dream of being a professional athlete. They are surrounded by zero opportunity and rare fun when in poverty. However, when exposed to only one game, that game becomes everything to them. As they grow older, those kids learn that it is an opportunity (which they usually don’t have) to pursue a better living they can only dream of in places like the one they were born into.

Google Images. “Youth play in Chicago’s Stateway Gardens high-rise housing project in 1973.” <>. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.

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Community, 30 Rock, Arrested Development: Reinventing the Sitcom

The brilliant ensemble cast of NBC's Community

The brilliant ensemble cast of NBC’s Community (Pardee)

In recent years the biggest innovation in the television industry has occurred in writing style, which now focuses more on genuine character development and thoroughly polished fast paced humor. Three shows in particular have lead the charge towards a new age in television: Arrested Development, 30 Rock and Community.

The most notable innovators who revolutionized the television industry—Tina Fey, Mitchell Hurwitz and Dan Harmon have transformed the 20-minute situational comedy into a respected art form.

The first show to break through and rise above the cesspool of average television programming was Arrested Development. In the summer of 2002, the veteran television actor, producer and writer Ron Howard enlisted the help of an up and coming writer by the name of Mitch Hurwitz to help create a new sitcom about a dysfunctional family that went from riches to rags.  Hurwitz developed his characters more before Arrested Development started than most sitcoms do after several seasons. The effort he put in gave his characters greater depth and authenticity and created a more genuine world for them to inhabit. The show was incredibly quick and had much more complex storylines than the average sitcom. Because the humor was so fast-paced, witty and at times so subtle that it required viewers to rewind and watch several times in order to fully appreciate every episode.

Arrested Development influenced many following sitcoms, pushing writers and producers to increase the quality of their shows even if they would not necessarily be commercial hits. The show proved that sitcoms could be more than just mindless entertainment. A documentary was even made to examine just how groundbreaking and influential. Just from watching the trailer you can get an idea:

The year Arrested Development ended, a new show emerged to take its place as the smartest comedy on television—30 Rock. With all of the obstacles that face a television show, Fey managed to create something that stood out amongst all the bland sitcoms that seemed to be an endless repetition of tropes and stereotypes. Fey’s show set itself apart from other shows by creating a realistic world inhabited by genuine, well-developed characters. The most impressive thing about 30 Rock is the writing; each episode is packed with fast-paced jokes that move the plot forward (Edgerton). 30 Rock is especially successful when it comes to social and political commentary, perfectly weaving ernest commentary into every hilarious joke.

Tina Fey’s 30 Rock has been recognized by critics and fans as one of the most imaginative and unique shows on television. Over the course of its seven-year run, the show won 14 primetime Emmy awards and six Golden Globe awards (IMBd). The show also marked a significant breakthrough for women in comedy, becoming the most critically acclaimed show to be created by a woman.  The show exemplifies a sitcom made for the fans and not for the network executives—not worrying primarily about its Nielsen Rating but rather focusing on pleasing its fan base.

The most recent show to revolutionize the sitcom was Community. Dan Harmon created the show in 2009 and immediately committed to character development. Dan Harmon said that no matter what happens in the show, the continuity of the characters and their personalities are the primary concerns. Aside from the incredibly real, genuine characters and the fast, witty humor, Community managed to do something more than Arrested Development and 30 Rockgenre hopping (Tigges). Community is primarily a comedy, but it is not afraid to go where no show has gone before and practically rearrange the entire setup of the show (as you can see in the image below), while still keeping the characters firmly grounded in the real world.

The best word to describe Community would be “meta;” it is very self aware, which makes the show incredibly unique. Watching Community can be seen as a study of television. The show often takes a step back and tells the viewers that it is changing directions or using a trope, showing viewers the inside tricks of the television industry. This is best exemplified by the character in the show named Abed. Abed is a major television geek who knows everything there is to know about the entertainment industry. The storyline also suggests that he might have aspergers. Abed is constantly relating his life to television, which might sound like a cheap plot device but his character is so well developed and so genuine that it is completely believable. Abed’s disease combined with his imagination allows for some incredibly entertaining explorations of different genres and tropes used in television. Community’s never before seen style revolutionized the sitcom by showing people that even in what has become the most formulaic of art forms, there is nothing that cannot be done.

Abed, in the famous "paintball episode," Modern Warfare

Abed in the famous “paintball episode,” Modern Warfare

In conclusion, Mitch Hurwitz, Tina Fey and Dan Harmon revolutionized the television industry simply by focusing more on character development and not being afraid to stray from the norms. Hurwitz, Fey and Harmon created shows that featured incredibly realistic and genuine characters with very fast-paced, smart writing. Each show has been praised for its unique qualities and originality; all three stand out amongst the often-formulaic plethora of sitcoms created each year. These three shows have already had an impact on the industry by inspiring other writers and producers to risk creating other unique new shows. Arrested Development, 30 Rock and Community will continue to influence and inspire future minds and will continue to change television and popularize the sitcom for decades to come.



Works Cited

bluthfamilyvalues. “Arrested Development Documentary: Final Trailer.” Youtube. Digital File. 12 Jun. 2009. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

Edgerton, Gary. Brian Rose.  Thinking Outside the Box: A Contemporary Television Genre Reader. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2005. Print.

IMDb. Amazon. 1990. Web. 20 Oct. 2012.

Pardee, Thomas. “Top Five ComicCon Moments” Photograph. Weblog. 26 July, 2010. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

Sepinwall, Alan. “Abed goes “Matrix” on “Community”.” Photograph. 6 May 2010. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

Tigges, Jesse. The List: 10 Best Genre Episodes of Community. Columbus Alive. 31, May. 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2012.

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Community: The most popular show…on the internet

JAMESK. “Community-TV-Guide-Cover.” Photograph. Webshots. Joyhog.

Community is the most popular TV show…on the internet.

The image above shows three magazine covers with the same text but different pictures. Each cover shows a happy group of people that are celebrating an apparent victory that the headline refers to. Seeing as this is the TV guide magazine, it can be easily inferred that these people are cast members of the show “Community.” There is one man that appears in all three covers. Below the headline that declares the show the “winner,” there is a statement that perhaps contradicts the headline: “Why fans are fighting to save their show.” While the picture and headline display the show as a winner, the second headline casts doubt on the shows “success.”

As a fan of the show displayed on the cover, the image above means a lot more to me than it might to the average person. The show “Community” recently won the fans choice award from TV Guide readers. The people on the cover of the magazines are the cast members of the show, and the man that appears on all three covers is the main character in show. Despite having some of the worst ratings on television “Community” consistently wins fans choice awards thanks to its devoted fans. Community fans are known for being the most vocal, devoted, and crazed fans. The TV Guide contest was just another example of the fans taking to the internet to show their appreciation for their favorite show. For the past two seasons, “Community” has been on the brink of cancellation due to its dismal ratings, but thanks to the tenacity of its fans that started online campaigns to save the show. No other show on television has as avid and vocal a following as “Community.” On Reddit, a site known by many as the “front page of the internet,” the Community page has ten times the subscribers of the page for TV’s number 1 rated show “The Big Bang Theory.” The reason that the show’s ratings are so low despite its rabid fan base is because many of its viewers have taken advantage of new technologies such as Tivo and Hulu. Unfortunately these new technologies are not accounted for when calculating viewership.

Thanks to contests like the TV guide magazine one pictured above, “Community” fans have been able to show their appreciation and stave of cancellation for four years. If the fans keep up their strong avocation for the show there may still be hope for the show in the future.

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