There’s a temptation to title this piece “Local Boy Makes Good!” or something similar, for it’s extremely exciting to see that Dan Harmon (Heat Vision and Jack) has got himself a bona fide TV show. As the co-creator of Channel 101, Harmon is indirectly responsible for the rise of Internet comedy legends like The Lonely Island and Chad Vader, while also providing a platform for independent web series like Bromos and Old Friends to gain awareness. Without Channel 101, it’s hard to say where we’d all be right now. Certainly laughing a lot less.
But Harmon has branched off in pursuit of more mainstream projects — that Hollywood money is tasty indeed. However, he’s continued to bring his own spin to projects, collaborating on the outlandishly low-fi opening musical number for the 2009 Academy Awards, and making sure that the NBC fall comedy he created, Community, has a web-friendly edge.
Watching the clips of Community available on Facebook, one thing is clear: Harmon has spent a LOT of time watching TV. The 5-minute preview contains some 20 references to various shows and movies, including a delightfully meta moment when Jeff (Joel McHale) explains to a lunch lady that being raised on sitcoms means that he (incorrectly) assumes that any black woman over the age of 50 is meant to be a spiritual guide for him.
But while the clips are good, Harmon has also come up with his own way of selling the project in the form of a truly inspired series of infomercials for Greendale Community College, focusing on the five As that the fictional university at the show’s center provides its student body: Accessibility, Affordability, Air Conditioning, Awesome New Friends and A Lot of Classes. (I’m looking forward to the Air Conditioning episode most of all.) Harmon stars as Greendale’s dean of admissions, and his deliberately amateur acting style is only one facet of the dead-on infomercial style being parodied.
There’s also an official web site for the college, which features extended profiles of the series’ primary characters as well as potential hints at future interactivity (a unlinked banner ad, for example, asks if you want to join the school’s A/V department). The overall approach is extremely net-savvy, the kind of campaign that comes when new media gets a seat at the old media table. Plus, it’s funny — the one thing that will always cross platforms.