Are Glee and Community the Same Show?
Last spring, before the Great Tumblr Apocalypse of 2010, an intrepid personal blogger noticed the similarities between Alison Brie's wardrobe on Community and Lea Michele's on Glee. It was a funny bit of television crossover, one helped along by the fact that both actresses share a similar look and both were starring on then-first-season series. This fall, the Community/Glee connection sprouted up again, when the same joke (referring to a group of old people as "hipsters") was made on each show. Coincidence? Probably! But that doesn't mean Community and Glee aren't more alike than you think (or probably want to admit).
· They both feature lead characters that are no longer leads
Remember the pilot episodes of Glee and Community? Both shows were ostensibly about two alpha males at a crossroads in their lives, and the gang of misfits they each surrounded themselves with. Those gangs are still present, of course, but both men -- that would be Will on Glee and Jeff on Community -- have become decided background fodder. No longer does either show rely on them to act as a fulcrum. At best Will and Jeff are patriarchal authority figures for their misfit families; at worst, they're criminally underused creeps with perfectly coiffed hair. In each case, however, the actors are the biggest losers: Both Matthew Morrison and Joel McHale are capable of carrying much heavier loads than they're currently being given.
· They both have breakout stars that were originally ignored
On the opposite end of that spectrum, let's say hello to Kurt and Troy! While each character was initially established as a fourth or fifth lead (if that, in the case of Chris Colfer's Kurt), they've both become integral to the present and future of their respective series. The second seasons of Glee and Community have been filtered through the the eyes of Kurt and Troy, and both Colfer and Donald Glover have stepped up to that challenge. Colfer was an Emmy nominee during Glee's first season. If there's any justice, Glover will join him in 2011.
· They both have a cartoon-y villain gumming up the works
Lots of times, it feels like Jane Lynch's delicious-but-waning portrayal of Sue Sylvester on Glee is only there to serve the needs of Jane Lynch. She's wonderful, but too often her plots to destroy New Directions are manufactured for no other reason than to give her something to do. On Community, the same rules apply for Ken Jeong's
Professor Student Chang; of course because Jeong isn't as funny as Lynch, Chang's histrionics mostly fall flat. It should be noted that Chang was entirely left out of last week's more serious Community affair. Speaking of which...
· They both traffic in warring tones, sometimes within single episodes
Admittedly, Glee is more guilty of this than Community, since Ryan Murphy's show is often like a schizophrenic on a sugar high, pinging from one emotion to the next without regard for common human decency (or narrative cohesion). Lately, though, Community has had some tone issues, too. Dan Harmon's series wants us to laugh maniacally at a no-stakes zombie attack scored by ABBA, and then later feel bad because Shirley has a drinking problem. It works, to an extent, but a clearer focus would benefit everyone.
· They both love theme weeks
This is pretty self-explanatory, but if you aren't sure about the Glee and Community affection for themes, direct your attention to their Christmas episodes this week. On Glee, it was a caroling tribute to many of your favorite Christmas moments; on Community it's a tribute to Rankin-Bass. (Despite Harmon's recent protestations.)
· They both rely on covers
This is possibly the biggest connection, and it's one that goes much deeper than the superficial. Both Glee and Community are built on covers. For Murphy's show, that means songs -- the kids from New Directions sing your favorites, and whether or not they tie into the plot, you have a visceral reaction to the material. Community offers that too, albeit in a slightly different package. The mythic "Modern Warfare" episode of Community was a fantastic half-hour of television, but how much goodwill did it engender by reminding viewers of everything from Predator to Die Hard to The Warriors to, hell, even Glee? Underneath all their bright colors, big cliches and bigger jokes, Glee and Community are just televised forms of sense memory. They share a lot more than a closet full of argyle sweaters.