One Of Community's Best Jokes Took Three Whole Seasons To Pull Off

One of the best things about "Community" is the almost absurd level of care that seems to go into every moment of the show. For instance, one episode features a secret subplot where Abed helps deliver a baby entirely in the background. What's crazier is that the pregnant couple Abed helps was also featured in a season 1 episode (nine months earlier!) where Abed tells everyone to not use the condoms the school's been handing out. You can see them throwing the condom wrapper away in the background of the scene.

It's the sort of joke that's so subtle and patient that, if the show hadn't developed such a passionate fanbase, it probably never would've been noticed. Another example of this was the Beetlejuice joke, something that took three whole seasons to pull off and which the average viewer had basically no chance of noticing on the first viewing, or even the second.

The seeds were planted in season 1's "Communication Studies," which features an off-hand, barely remarkable Beetlejuice reference, and again in season 2's "Cooperative Calligraphy" which features another one. Then in season 3's "Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps," Annie nonchalantly makes a third reference, thus triggering the famous rule that Beetlejuice will appear if you say his name three times. In the background of the scene, you can see a man in an off-brand Beetlejuice costume walking by. 

It's the sort of joke that'll make you laugh the first time it's pointed out to you but might also scare you a little. This seems like an unsettling level of commitment to the bit right here, without a whole lot of payoff. But it turns out that the writers weren't really playing 4D chess with us after all...

A show that trusts its audience

As Dan Harmon explained in a behind-the-scenes commentary for the season 3 episode, the writers only realized as they were writing the script that the characters had already said "Beetlejuice" two times before, so they decided to roll with it. But although the joke wasn't quite as planned out as it seemed, it still demonstrates how good the "Community" writers were at remembering what they've done. The writers were always willing to take the show's history and play around with it in fresh, subtle ways, regardless of whether casual viewers could reliably pick up on it or not. This was a habit that continued all the way into season 6, which memorably featured a meta-joke around Frankie (Paget Brewster) that likely confused the hell out of a major section of the audience. 

The joke was playing with the fact that, before she joined the show as a main cast member, Brewster had a minor, one-off role as an IT lady for the school in season 5. In season 6, Frankie remarks, "I'm trying to find the IT lady. My emails to her get bounced back to me in Aramaic, and when I call, I hear an undulating high-pitched whistle that makes my nose bleed." It's a joke that only makes sense if you remember Brewster's unremarkable 40-second scene in the previous season. If you didn't, it's a joke that'll seem like randomness for the sake of it. 

With the "Community" movie in the works right now, there's no telling what sort of weird, barely-noticeable jokes the writers will have in store. We still know nothing about what the movie's about, but we can at least trust that the writers' attention to detail isn't going anywhere.