I remember when this show was about a community college.
– Danny Pudi as Abed Nadir
I spend a lot of my free time watching television. Serialized television is without a doubt my favorite storytelling medium. I think it developed as a result of sitting around the TV with my family on Friday nights back when ABC’s “TGIF” block was still a thing back in the early-to-mid ’90s. I usually waited all week to watch new episodes of Full House, Family Matters, Boy Meets World, Step by Step, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and countless others with my parents and siblings. After most of those shows ended and “TGIF” kind of faded away, my teenage years were dominated by nearly everything on The WB. My obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer is primarily the cause of that, but they also had a lot of other great series back in its day, too. Then when I grew up and started enjoying more “adult” fare, it wasn’t too long before Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other streaming giants came along and made it possible to watch virtually any TV series on demand.
Since then, my life has never been the same.
Between the years of 2009 and 2015, there was a “little show that could” on NBC called Community. Though it was never able to attract a huge fanbase, it did garner a pretty rabid cult audience that kept it alive in an effort to see it through its in-show mantra of “six seasons and a movie!” It even managed to avoid death when NBC canned it after its fifth season when Yahoo!’s incredibly short-lived streaming service picked it up for one last hurrah. The show was centered around seven unlikely friends who become more like family when they form a study group at their local community college. During its initial premiere, the show got some press coverage for promising the return of Chevy Chase to series television and for providing a starring vehicle for Joel McHale, who had up until then really only been known for doing stand-up comedy and hosting The Soup on the E! network. Donald Glover became a revelation both together and apart from the series as it went on, and its leading ladies (Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, and Yvette Nicole Brown) all saw their star power skyrocket afterwards.
But the hidden gem of Community was arguably Danny Pudi, who played Abed Nadir, the emotionally reserved film student who generally views and interacts with the world around him through the lens of television and pop culture references. Pudi portrayed the character both wacky and earnestly. In some episodes, his “condition” is portrayed as a serious issue that frequently causes him to lose touch with reality. But in others, he’s considered something of a genius and the wisest and sanest member of the study group. Though Abed is hilarious and somewhat emotionally distant, he surprisingly becomes the heart of the show after the first few episodes. And I can definitely connect and relate to a character that’s armed with jokes and bits, film and television references, and the ability to connect on a deeper level that most others wouldn’t understand.
On top of being the heart of the show, Abed also connects the world of Community with the audience of the show. This allows the show to play and sometimes even address its own format and to mimic and sometimes even mock other conventional film and television tropes and clichés. When Annie loses her favorite pen during a second season episode, this causes her to lose her mind and force the entire study group to quarantine themselves in their study room until the pen turns up. Abed frequently remarks during these events that they’re participating in a “bottle episode,” which is effectively what the episode of the show turned out to be. In later seasons, Abed frequently refers back to events in the “first season,” which is exactly where the events he talks about can be found in series order. Even during an episode centered around a surprise party that the group plans for Abed’s birthday, he instead invites Jeff out to dinner at a fancy restaurant where he instead confuses his friend by attempting a homage to the film My Dinner with Andre. Honestly, sometimes I feel like making pop culture references that most people don’t understand and then trying to bridge the gap for them is how I also spend a lot of my time.
I’ve been working my way through the entire series of Community on Hulu for the past couple of weeks (a welcome respite from my binging on decades of Star Trek in preparation for this year being its 50th anniversary!), and perhaps more than I realized during my first viewing of the show, I’ve realized the Abed is something of a spirit animal for me. If ever I felt as though I could actually project myself from my couch into the TV series that I’m watching, Abed would be the representation of what would come out. Sometimes I feel like I also relate to Britta (her animal rights activism and tendency to get defiant over really dumb stuff especially), but Abed is the character that I would go on some sort of TV vision quest with if such absurdities were real. And I feel like by the time I get to the end of Community… I’ll be really sad to see him go.
We got those six seasons, but where’s that damn movie already?!
If I could just take a moment to share a few words of sarcasm with whoever it is that took this pen. I wanna say thank you for doing this to me. For a while I thought I’d have to suffer through a puppy parade, but I much prefer being entombed alive in a mausoleum of feelings I can neither understand nor reciprocate. So whoever you are, can I get you anything? Ice cream, best friend medal, anything?
– Danny Pudi as Abed Nadir