November 14, 2011

Doc Zeus was born into a Nielsen Family.

Community is the best sitcom on TV. If you haven’t seen the show (i.e. a person I hate with frothing intensity), the premise revolves around a group of misfits attending community college where all types of awesomeness springs forth in various awesomely awesome ways. The show is hilarious, has heart and is endlessly innovative in ways that make you realize your own uncreativity.

Naturally, Community is getting annihilated in the ratings by The Big Bang Theory, a show where a Jewish stereotype, an Indian stereotype, the third Rusty Griswold and Kaley Cuoco’s tits react to the misanthropy of a megalomaniacal social retard. Also, there are sci-fi references. It is milquetoast and obvious and we are supposed to buy the premise that a nerdy, 5’5” physicist would have a reasonable shot at banging the model hot blonde waitress. Unsurprisingly, it’s the most popular comedy on television and it is gutting Community like a runty, diseased pig. A delicious runty diseased pig.

Though it struggles to gain attention beyond its devoted cult, Community keeps reinventing itself in ways that test the boundaries of what they’ll allow on network television. There are John Woo-referencing paintball wars, zombies and Omar Little teaching a biology class. There is Chevy Chase and John Oliver. Alison Brie gets to be alluringly adorable. Joel McHale gets to be the smarmy asshole you want to be, and the writers find a way to make Ken Jeong actually funny without resorting to hideous Asian stereotypes or his tiny penis. Yet because America’s inferiority complex only rewards a special brand of transcendent mediocrity, the country embraces Community as much as they do soccer and forced HPV vaccinations. Community is likely doomed and it’s all of your fucking fault.

Ostensibly, Community’s imminent demise would merely serve as a tragic reminder that if you want to succeed in America, one needs to be as banal and non-threatening as an American Idol finalist. However,  one of its stars is on the verge of breaking out as a superstar in a completely different medium. If you actually watched Community, you would realize that Donald Glover is one of the greatest comedic actors of his generation and absolutely nobody is watching. Glover, who plays airheaded ex-jock-turned-geeky free spirit, Troy, on the show has an unparalleled gift for comedic timing. He’s almost young Eddie Murphy good. Glover is capable of wrenching more seizure-inducing laughter from adlibs and asides than the entire casts of 2 Broke Girls and Whitney could with material co-written by Mark Twain and Richard Pryor.

Of course, none of that is happening and we are left slowly counting down to the show’s inevitable cancellation. Glover’s career could conceivably be fated to play the quirky black friend in romantic comedies (with the odd sprinkling of roles in one of Tyler Perry’s many “Drag For Jesus” morality cash-ins) if not for the fact that he’s totally and somewhat inexplicably blowing up as a rapper. Through sheer force of personality, “Childish Gambino” is about to break through into the mainstream consciousness as a huge rap star, and it’s my duty to stop this from happening. I will not go through a reverse Justin Timberlake situation.

Donald Glover AKA “Childish Gambino” – his rap name taken from the infamous Wu-Tang Name Generator (an idea that I jealously wish I had thought of myself)– is set to release his first commercial album, Camp. The record is a needlessly melodramatic affair of post-Drake emo rap set to a preposterous amount of strings and choral chanting. Glover spends a sizable portion of Camp playing away from his undeniable talents as a comedic performer choosing to kick eye-rolling, sex punch lines and “woe is me” tropes over ridiculously histrionic production. Instead of the impish, charming prankster he plays on Community and in his stand-up routines, Camp places Glover into the role of a misunderstood malcontent upset that he does not fit into any of the modes of traditional black masculinity. It’s a role that doesn’t suit him and he comes across as more of hackish imitator of modern hip hop trends than anything approaching a genuine artist.

Throughout the record, Glover constantly laments that he was alienated from his family in the hood because of his nerdy pursuits. Paradoxically, he was shunned for those same attributes in the white schools he attended too. While this tale undoubtedly rings true to his real life experiences, in today’s post-Kanye rap world, it’s a tale so familiar that it’s soluble directly into a kind of formula. With Kanye, Drake, Big Sean and Kid Cudi all over the radio and already occupying Glover’s lane, it places him in the position of being a fawning captive to modern trends. On “Backpackers,” he complains about true school rap peons bitching about his music, but his haters have a point. This is completely derivative stuff and no amount of punch lines for lolz are going to cover for unimaginative songwriting.

What’s most galling is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Why he chooses to make rap music like this is a question for the ages. Glover is a gifted writer, as evidenced by the fact that he got his start as a staff writer for 30 Rock. He certainly is a competent rapper; his flow and delivery certainly aren’t particularly embarrassing or stilted. He’s certainly more talented as a rapper than Andy Samberg and the dudes in Lonely Island. You could easily see him making an amusing album of funny rap songs if he choose to. Instead of wasting time trying to come up with too too clever by half punch lines, I want to lock him in a darkened room with Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes playing on repeat until he breaks down crying (have you seen this dude cry? Joy.), or until he agrees to never rap over a single, solitary, string sample again. In the words of Oscar Wilde, if you’re going to tell the truth, be funny, or else they’ll want to kill you.

As Americans and believers of maximizing talent, it’s our duty to make Donald Glover the best Donald Glover he can be. We need to reject Glover’s night job as Childish Gambino so we can have more Troy and Abed in the morning. I do not want this to be another Arrested Development situation. In conclusion, Community airs at 8 p.m., Thursdays on NBC. Six seasons and a movie.

Stream:

Heartbeat (radio rip) by Childish Gambino

Bonfire by Childish Gambino

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