Fast-paced with snappy, smart dialogue and engaging characters that brim with potential, NBC's "Community" fits in well with its new Thursday night neighbor, "The Office." But if you attend or work at a community college, prepare to take it on the chin in the early going.
Series creator Dan Harmon, who wrote tonight's pilot episode, attended community college, so if his verbal assaults sting it may be because they're rooted in his experience. "Community" (9:30 tonight, WPXI) opens with an inept, too-young dean trying to inspire students using a boom box as his sound system on a campus quad.
"What is community college?" he says. "You've heard it's loser college for remedial teens, twentysomething dropouts, middle-age divorcees and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity."
- When: 9:30 Thursday, NBC.
- Starring: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs.
Sounds harsh on paper, but it's really just an excuse to cut quickly to the faces of the show's ensemble of characters, each of whom fits a stereotype the dean describes. It quickly becomes apparent that "Community" is not about its setting, which fades into the backdrop it was intended to be. Like any good sitcom, "Community" will succeed only if it is rooted in its characters.
Joel McHale stars as Jeff Winger, a fast-talking lawyer who returns to school after his law degree is suspended for having a "less than legitimate diploma." Jeff is hot for Spanish class compatriot Britta (Mt. Lebanon native Gillian Jacobs), so he makes up a study group to get to know her better. She invites other classmates, including aging businessman Pierce (Chevy Chase), former high school football jock Troy (Donald Glover), perfectionist pill-popper Annie (Alison Brie, who also plays Trudy Campbell on "Mad Men"), divorcee Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and nervous pop culture geek Abed (Danny Pudi), who compares the group to the characters in "The Breakfast Club."
Actually, all the characters are well-acquainted with popular American culture and they use it to speak in an amusing shorthand. Troy refers to spiky-haired Jeff as "Seacrest" and calls Abed "Slumdog Millionaire." Jeff tells a cafeteria lunch lady, "I was raised on TV and I was conditioned to believe every black woman over 50 is a cosmic mentor."
McHale, best known as host of "The Soup" on E! (a job he will continue in addition to "Community"), almost sounds like Peter Krause in his speechifying, but he comes off as far more approachable and charming. He talks fast, giving the show a breakneck pace, but it also requires viewers to pay careful attention if they hope to get all the jokes. This is not a show you can read a magazine during and expect to come away satisfied.
But for viewers who appreciate smart comedy that is unafraid to take risks, "Community" earns a solid, well-deserved A in its first big test.
Contact TV editor Rob Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. First Published September 17, 2009 4:00 AM