Dan Harmon

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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HC4RToo6XeI

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. http://thomaspardee.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/my-top-5-comic-con-moments/

Sepinwall, Alan. “Abed goes “Matrix” on “Community”.” Photograph. Hitfix.com. 6 May 2010. Web. 9 Dec. 2012. http://www.hitfix.com/blogs/whats-alan-watching/posts/community-modern-warfare-say-hello-to-my-little-el-tigre

Tigges, Jesse. The List: 10 Best Genre Episodes of Community. Columbus Alive. 31, May. 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2012. http://www.columbusalive.com/content/stories/2012/05/31/the-list-10-best-genre-episodes-of-community.html

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