“Which is Better?” is a new editorial series that dares to compare the best of pretty much everything. In this rundown, I’ll break down everything from story to characters in an attempt to declare which of these modern classics is truly better.
The last decade has been an excellent time for television comedy, much more so than anything we’ve seen on the big screen. And I argue that The Office is the show that kicked everything off when it premiered in 2004.
Not only did it introduce a brand new format for network comedy (at least in America), it ushered in Steve Carell as a mainstream comedian and launched the careers of Mindy Kaling, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, and even Ed Helms.
The influence of The Office is undeniable, and it will be remembered as a classic sitcom for years to come. But what I want to know is if it’s better than another show that started on NBC. That show is Community.
Of course, you might think this is a weird comparison. And I did consider Parks and Recreation as a more suitable competitor due to their similarities in both production and status. But to be honest, Community was a show that managed to captivate audiences in a way The Office never did, which is why I think it’s more useful and even interesting to compare one of the most widely recognizable sitcoms of all time with one of the least recognizable, but still beloved, sitcoms of all time.
In a way, these shows can be considered polar opposites (Community even mocked the mockumentary episode format twice during its run). The Office represents a resistance to change, as do its characters. Everyone wears suits, they work for a paper company, and each of the characters is further along in age.
Community was always a leaner, more youthful show that grew with the times since its pilot in 2009. It was a show that clicked with online viewers the most because it was more of an “Internet” show in both tone and delivery. While The Office lasted nine seasons as a network powerhouse due to the swath of ages it could appeal to.
So, which is better? In order to find out, I’ll be breaking down each aspect of the show and awarding points to the winner.
First, let’s talk about…
There might be some debate on this, but the de facto lead actor for The Office is undeniably Steve Carell as Michael Scott. Granted, he departed the show after seven seasons, but Community also suffered cast shakeups like this that almost ruined the show.
In Community, the lead actor is a little clearer, at least at first. Joel McHale as Jeff Winger was the lead of the first season, to be sure, but a fun twist in Community is that each season presents a different actor as its focus, similar to how the original Teen Titans on Cartoon Network gave each character their own main plot each season.
But to keep things simple, we can reasonably assign Jeff Winger as Community‘s “main” lead if that makes any sense. In a way, though, that’s not good for Community.
Jeff is a great character. He’s well-rounded, provides some of the wittiest lines in the series, and serves as a foil to your expectations in a lead actor. But Michael Scott simply wins in each of these categories, sometimes by a pretty huge margin.
Like Jeff, Michael Scott is a lovable douchebag, but many of his best scenes aren’t reliant on his supporting cast, unlike Jeff Winger. Steve Carell just has better timing, and his character delivers some huge laughs. He’s also a fresher character that took a lot of people by surprise when the show started.
Jeff does evolve in some unique ways, but when Community starts, he’s a character we’ve all seen before (which is referenced in the show itself). And even the Jeff we get later on just doesn’t hold a candle to Michael Scott.
I’m going to have to give this one to The Office.
One of my favorite things about The Office was how its mundane cast managed to offer a surprising amount of depth parallel to the lead. You watched the show to see what Michael Scott would do next, but your heart was in the supporting cast, mainly Jim and Pam.
The major downside, though, is that the magic of the supporting cast certainly waned over the years. Storylines between many of these characters failed to get better, and when the show lost Michael Scott, viewers flocked in droves. It’s almost like Michael Scott was too good of a lead for the rest of the cast to lose.
In comparison, Community also had major issues with cast members, notably Chevy Chase as Pierce. By the end of the fourth season, the show was in shambles after losing its creator, Dan Harmon, as well, and we thought the show would finish on a very poor note.
But if you look at the show as a whole, the ensemble of Community was far more consistent than The Office. These characters do rely on each other quite a bit for the best laughs (Troy and Abed in the morning), but that’s not a downside. And even when the fifth season saw the midway departure of Donald Glover, the show managed to pick up the pieces and move on gracefully, much better than The Office in my opinion.
I think this is because Community simply had better, more realized characters. They were all relatable because they were at a starting point in their lives, and their outcast status is a good reflection of the show overall. The cast in The Office was always set in their ways, so you got more humor from laughing at them, than with them. You were never that excited to go on a sales call with Andy Bernard, but you were thrilled to go on a blanket fort adventure with Troy and Abed.
For me, Community has the better ensemble, hands down.
We’re talking about comedies, so it only makes sense to figure out which one has the best sense of humor. This is a little tough because these shows present their comedic situations in very different ways.
The Office, for the most part, relied on talking heads and “Michael Scottisms” to carry the humor forward, though it also used a lot of cringe moments as well. I was never a big fan of these, but I will give The Office credit for having excellent writing in nearly every season.
Community was also a funny show, but it relied much more on reference humor and parodies. On the one hand, this was a different and refreshing form of comedy that helped cement the show’s cult status. At the time, no other show on network television was doing something this creative with Dungeons and Dragons, claymation, or video game characters.
I can remember a lot of jokes from each show, and I don’t think one is obviously better than the other overall. But I’m going to give this one to The Office because even during its worst season (the eighth), it still managed to provide some great laughs. Community had an abysmal season four that was gracefully short, but incredibly flat on humor.
The point goes to The Office.
The story setups for these shows are drastically different from each other, but they’re also similar in a few ways.
The Office starts in the middle of things with characters who already know each other. Its inciting event, downsizing, is resolved pretty early on, and the rest of the show is more of a series of “micro stories” that don’t connect much season to season.
Community also starts in the middle, but much earlier in the middle. When the show begins, the characters have been in the same class for a little while, and they’re just getting to know each other. Unlike The Office, there are clear goals for each character, beyond who’s in love with who.
Jeff wants to become a lawyer again, Annie wants to redeem herself, Shirley wants to start her own business, Pierce wants to have a family, Troy wants to find purpose, Abed wants to understand people better, and Britta wants to prove she can make a difference.
In The Office, we have far less compelling, and somewhat depressing, stories for everyone. Michael wants everyone to like him, Dwight wants Michael’s job, Jim wants to date Pam, Pam wants to be happy, Oscar wants to get through the day, Kevin wants to become increasingly dumb over the years for no apparent reason, Angela wants everyone to adhere to her values, and so on.
Everyone is sort of just living for the moment, but not much else. And I’d argue it’s pretty difficult, even after nine seasons, to pinpoint the motivations for each character.
What makes Community excel is how much heart it has in its seasons, and that comes from well-written storylines that stick with you. As much fun as it was to wonder who Michael was going to date next or how Jim and Pam would deal with having a baby, I cared more about Jeff’s destiny as a lawyer, the darkest timeline, and how they could save Greendale from Chang.
I have to give this one to Community.
Alright, it’s a tie, so this next one takes it all!
The Office is a mockumentary, which means it makes you think its characters are being candidly filmed at all times. It helps the writers tremendously, because they can streamline character reactions without making you wonder what they’re thinking. They just say what they think about the episode’s events by talking to the camera one-on-one.
This helps create a solid pace and rhythm for the show, but it has its downsides. Because the format is so rigid, the jokes have to be delivered in the same way every time. Jim always shrugs at the camera. Michael says something insane in his office. Dwight overreacts to something, and someone comments about it in a later interview. This gets pretty stale after a while.
Another downside is that you rarely get to wonder what’s going on in the head of each character because it’s spoon fed to you. To be fair, they didn’t let this happen much in the first two seasons when it came to Jim and Pam’s storyline, as they wouldn’t dare admit their flirtation to the camera. But once this longing was fulfilled, the show started to dumb down a bit.
Community uses a traditional single-camera setup, which means each scene is shot independently. So the show is a little snappier and relies on a lot of quick edits to move its story along. The nice thing about this is that it forces some great performances out of every character, but there are still some downsides.
The show had a habit of juggling one too many storylines, so the pacing wasn’t always on par with a show like The Office. And like The Office, its simpler setup still elicited some joke repetition. But I have to point out that Community solved this problem early on, ditching its more traditional format in the first season to be zanier and wackier in the second.
That’s actually the beauty of Community and what makes it a blast to watch over and over again. Each season is a self-contained show in a way, but it’s all cohesive. And I think this is because overall, the show had much more freedom to do whatever it wanted. So yes, we got a show done in the style of Law and Order, a two-episode paintball fight, and an homage to chaos theory.
If we’re going to talk about a format that brought out some of the best moments between each show, then Community wins by a small margin. The Office was important, and it was definitely memorable. But its popularity ultimately softened it, while Community‘s simpler format and small expectations allowed it to do huge things that we should have gotten from The Office.
It’s a tough a call, but the final point goes to the winner, Community.
While The Office is certainly a classic, elements of it are somewhat lacking. But Community manages to have an edge when it comes to story, the ensemble, and format, making it the superior show in my opinion. I won’t deny that The Office is a little funnier and has a better lead, but Community is the show I’ll be returning to more often than not as the years go by.
But hey, that’s just my opinion. Which show do you think is better? Be sure to sound off in the comments.
- A category I left out was “Jim and Pam” or “Troy and Abed?” If you know me even a little, then you know where I land on this. Just keep in mind that one show had the sense to dial one of these pairings back.
- Forgot to bring up that Community‘s pilot aired right after The Office, which is how I watched the show for the first time. Full circle, I guess?
- Sadly, I couldn’t think of a way to weave the dean in, except to point out that Community did a great job of brining side characters into the fold. The Office did the same with Daryl, but for me, my heart will always belong with Dean Pelton.
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni