Innovation

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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A False Sense of American Superiority – Is America As Great As We Think?

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The United States has been one of the most influential countries in history. While we significantly contribute to society and have substantial power, some people ignorantly believe that America is undoubtedly the best country in the world. Believing in “American Exceptionalism has resulted in a false concept of American Superiority.

Over time, the definition of American Exceptionalism has changed. One of the key differences is the time period we live in today. For most of the 20th century, America was undisputedly one of the greatest countries in the world. Americans had liberty; free-market capitalism reigned supreme with a behemoth of an economy standing behind it, and the strongest military in the world stood behind us. It was okay to think America was great, because most other countries weren’t anywhere close. However, other countries have closed the gap within the last 15-20 years, and Americans haven’t yet fully noticed.

Now, Americans sentiments of Exceptionalism have become quasi-supremacist. What makes American Exceptionalism a dangerous ideology to hold now is that we are no longer in a league of our own. As other countries catch up, holding onto ideas that America trumps all encourages complacency. If Americans continue to believe that other countries simply don’t stack up, innovation will suffer, and America’s reputation will falter worldwide.

America has fallen behind in certain areas as other countries have improved and even surpassed us. In terms of foreign policy, America deals a heavy hand in world politics. The United States is often the tip of the spear in diplomatic engagements around the world. America also has the most capable and powerful military force the world has ever seen. Author Godfrey Hodgson noted that it “is perfectly true that the military power of the United States is unchallengeable” (113). But, what price does that power come?

As the most diplomatically capable country in the world, there is often a responsibility to help other countries solve disputes. If America steps in too much, people believe we are trying to exert our own will across the globe. If we do nothing, we are branded as irresponsible for letting something bad happen when we had the power to stop it. People often argue that America’s style of diplomacy is synonymous with being a sort of world police. In fact, a famous movie called Team America: World Police pokes fun at the idea that America plays too much a hand in international diplomacy (Parker).

Americans also spend an exorbitant amount of money to fund our military. In the opening scene of the TV show The Newsroom, the main character Will McAvoy declares that one of the only things America is number one in is defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of which are allies (Sorkin). Having such a large military puts an expectation on the United States Government to wield that power in a way that creates many “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” scenarios. There is nothing exceptional about the place our diplomatic power has put us in.

Maybe because America has strived to keep ahead of other countries in military and diplomatic power, quality of life in America has stooped to sub-par conditions for “the best nation in the world”. For example, the United States is the 51st best in life expectancy and we have the 6th highest obesity rate (CIA). Looking at the other data measures on the CIA Factbook yields similarly concerning results. The quality of life that Americans actually have suggests a country far from number one. American Exceptionalism has led us to believe that our quality of life is so much better than other places around the world. But can that really be true when we have high infant mortality rates, high obesity rates, low literacy standards, etc? Americans aren’t better off than people in other countries. In fact, in many cases, they are worse.

The last major aspect to look at is the state of American economics. According to the CIA Factbook, “the US has the largest and technologically most powerful economy in the world” (CIA). There is no question that the United States has a massive economic network that employs millions of workers each year.

However, there are some darker statistics hidden behind our economy. America has the 4th largest labor force (and steadily decreasing as manufacturing jobs are sent overseas). The US also is now the 4th largest exporter in material and intellectual goods (CIA). The implications are significant. As jobs move overseas, more innovation is happening elsewhere. This has slowed our economies growth. As we import more and export less goods, as well as ship jobs overseas, the combination is dangerous for the underpinnings of the economy.

The United States is also currently working to recover from one of the worst economic downturns in its history. Many firms were forced out of business, and many more were shipped away. The recession also showed another scary factor in the economy: questionable oversight and management by the government in recent history. The lack of involvement by the federal government to make rules that keep safety checks in place almost derailed our economy.

Our economy is huge and extremely powerful. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy and headed in the right direction. To reflect one of the greatest nations in the world, it needs to be steered back on course.

What must change are the irrational expectations of Americans. Make no mistake; the United States is not on a crash course for failure, just a course that doesn’t accurately represent the sentiments of its people. But, we cannot continue to expect to be unquestionably the best country around. The idea that America is both the best country in the world, as well as the only country worth a grain of salt is an idea more fit for times of imperialism. Once the United States recognizes the problem, we can be great once again.

Works Cited

De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy In America. Vol. 2. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Project Gutenberg. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/816/816-h/816-h.htm>.

Hodgson, Godfrey. The Myth of American Exceptionalism. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009. Print.

Sells, Heather. “‘American Exceptionalism’ Next Political Hot Button?” Christian Broadcasting Network. Christian Broadcasting Network, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/politics/2011/march/is-american-exceptionalism-becoming-passe/>. 

Team America: World Police. Dir. Trey Parker. 2004. Film.

“We Just Decided To.” Dir. Aaron Sorkin. Episode #1. The Newsroom. HBO. 24 June

2012. Television.

“United States.” CIA World Factbook. CIA, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
<https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ 
     us.html>.

Featured Image. The American. American Enterprise Institute, n.d. Web. 31 Oct.
2012. <http://www.american.com/archive/2008/april-04-08/
understanding-american-exceptionalism/FeaturedImage>.

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