Chevy Chase: Wrong or wronged?

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Having absorbed every episode of the first five series of ‘The Big Bang Theory‘, my latest obsession from the world of the American sitcom is NBC’s ‘Community’, a comedy about several pretty stereotyped characters (jock, repressed goodie-goodie, too cool for school hero, etc.) thrown together at an American community college. Despite the relatively broad characterisations, a distracting insistence on parodying various film and movie cliches (a la ‘The Simpsons’), and hit-and-miss writing, it’s still well above the average for current television situation comedy.

However, a web-search for the programme quickly uncovers the trouble and turmoil lurking behind the scenes of the show, which seems certain to be cancelled following it’s current, fourth series. The show was created by Dan Harmon, but he has already left following a very public falling out with the show’s most famous cast member Chevy Chase.

Chase has built a reputation for being arrogant, rude and difficult to work with over a 40 year career. ‘Community’ seemed to be his route back to the mainstream after two decades of dreadful TV movies and cameo appearances in 1980s throwback films, but the actor continually bad-mouthed the shows writing, the long hours of filming, and even situation comedy as a genre. By the third series there was rumours of physical confrontation with some of the other actors, and his continued clashes with Harmon culminated with the audience at an end of season party being encouraged to chant ‘fuck you, Chevy’ at Chase as he sat there with his wife and daughter.

The final straw for Chase was his alleged use of the ‘n’ word on set during preparations for filming a fourth-series episode. Shortly afterwards he announced he was leaving the show.

Now, whilst racism and racist abuse is not something I would ever condone, the context in which the word was used has to made clear. Chase’s character Pierce Hawthorne is an aging moist towelette millionaire with decidedly old-fashioned views when it comes to race, sexuality and female equality. He inherited his fortune and is not only a buffoon, but utterly devoid of any sense, common or otherwise. The laughs he gets in the show are derived from his ridiculous views and his habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong audience. As the series progressed, Chase felt the writers were going too far with this side of Pierce and following one boundary-pushing joke too far he is alleged to have said that the writers would be having him say ‘n*****’ in an episode before long.

Yes, he could have said ‘the n word’ or used another phrase to get across his meaning and dissatisfaction, especially with two black actors in the principal cast, and countless black people working behind the scenes, but to me it seems slightly  harsh that he should be pilloried to the extent that he felt in necessary to leave the show when using it in the form of complaint about how offensive he feels the show is becoming. It’s a fine line, and I’m sure many of you will feel Chase crossed it. Me – I’m not so sure.

All of this means that the show has lost it’s funniest performer and, almost certainly, any future it had. Whilst it’s not the funniest thing on TV, ‘Community’ is head and shoulders above much that we are asked to laugh at on our screens and it’s small but loyal following will miss it – and Chase – if it doesn’t return for a fifth series.