So far, I like Community. I’m watching it because I like Joel McHale, and the smarminess of his Soup persona translates nicely to Jeff, the lawyer who returns to community college rather than face disbarment, who is just as much of a lovably smarmy asshole as McHale is on the The Soup.
The setting allows of a typically zany supporting cast, each one of them desperate for some kind of validation in their lives (as that’s kind of what community college is for). There’s the popular high school girl trying to make a fresh start, the jock who can’t let go of his high school pride, the mother trying to reclaim the education she never got, the hipper-than-thou girl who’s trying to do something with her life for a change, the kid who clearly learned more about pop culture over the course of his school life and therefore didn’t meet any expected learning results and the senior citizen trying to reclaim his youth.
I like all of them, but so far my favorite character is pop-culture obsessed Abed, who spent the entirety of the first episode misunderstanding subtlety and comparing Jeff’s plight to Michael Douglas roles.
“I thought you were like Bill Murray in any of his films, but now you’re more like Michael Douglas in any of his films.”
“I’m sorry I called you Michael Douglas and I see your value now.”
Another highlight of the pilot was John Oliver’s role as an anthropology professor trying to blackmail Jeff into getting his BMW in exchange for a year’s worth of answers to every test Jeff will ever take. Oliver plays the role with a Maxwell Smart-esque edge: the smart guy who makes too many idiot mistakes for you to actually think he’s smart. Case in point: “Con-4-s-8-tion” is his version of an abbreviated text.
With Jeff’s plans to cheat his way through community college falling apart before his eyes, he actually has to socialize with these losers from his Spanish class in the form of a study group and form some sort of community if they are all to survive and graduate, which sort of works out in his favor as, at the very least, it means he gets to spend time with love interest Britta.
In the next episode, Jeff switches assignment cards with Abed so that he can work with Britta on a Spanish project, but she has switched cards with Chevy Chase’s aging hipster Pierce simply so she won’t have to work with him. Rather than take the necessary 10-20 minutes to complete the simple assignment of creating a conversation using five stock phrases the class has learned from Senor Chung, Pierce goes balls-out and creates an epic, multi-page conversation that means very little and contains several anti-Israeli diatribes and a bunch of other vaguely racist shit.
Jeff tells Pierce off about the project and refuses to work with him, but Pierce wants to do the presentation as he wrote it. When Britta tells Jeff that she switched cards with Pierce because he paid her $100 just so he could work with Jeff, his Grinchian heart melts a little bit and he volunteers to do the project with Pierce as written. What follows is a hilarious, silent montage of each segment of the performance, which involves puppets, near minstrelsy, flag waving and silly-string wars. As triumphant as the finish is, Jeff and Pierce both earn Fs from Senor Chang. Jeff actually earns an F-minus.
But Jeff learns to be selfless, and that’s a more worthwhile lesson than anything in the B-plot, which sees Shirley and Annie hearing about one horrible global atrocity from Britta and deciding to become globally aware by setting up a protest rally about the death of a Guatemalan journalist. It tastelessly includes a piñata effigy of the dead man . . . who was beaten to death, as Britta points out, which Annie feels is part of why the piñata is poignant.
My problem with the B-plot isn’t its purpose, which is to mock collegiate organizations that rally around every cause without really understanding what that cause is and to demonstrate that “raising awareness” isn’t really doing anything, but its lack of growth for Shirley and Annie. Yes, through their actions Britta realizes that she is also one of those people who is all talk and no action and that she should actually do something other than being cool and bitchy, but Shirley and Annie don’t grow by this. I hope they do. Britta, Jeff and Pierce are all people. I’d like to see the rest of the ensemble become more than a source for jokes.
Stray thoughts and funny things:
- Abed’s text misunderstanding in the first episode was funny.
- I, too, question the validity of the library PA system.
- Did anyone else notice that all of the flag cards in Mr. Chang’s Spanish class were Italian flags?
- “In Spanish, my nickname is El Tigre Chino, because my knowledge will bite her face off!” — Senor Chang
- Pierce: To the empowerage of words!
Jeff: To the irony of that sentence.
- “And this isn’t a school newspaper, it’s a real paper! There’s a Marmaduke in there.” — Shirley
- Joel McHale is pretty well-built in the chest and arm area, is he not, ladies? I think Abed for coveting his dress shirt.
- I would like to see Joel McHale and Lou wear those mini sombreros on The Soup one week.
So far I very much dig the wry humor and laid-back energy (oxymoronic, I know) of Community, but it’s still stuck in a Bill-Murray-in-the-70s type humor which results in smirks and knowing nods instead of outright laughs. There have, of course, been big laughs (Abed’s Breakfast Club outburst, for one), but I feel like I’m forcing myself to laugh at certain points. And I don’t want to force myself to do anything.
McHale is a great personality, and the second episode showed that it won’t be long before I can actually relate to Jeff as a character, but the snark might be, in my opinion, laid on a little too thick. It distances us viewers from the other characters, because he distances himself from them. I mean, even buffoonish Michael Scott has a heart. True, it took him a couple seasons to really find it, but as Community doesn’t have a big pedigree to its name, I’m not sure if viewers will wait that long.
Basically, there is a way to have your snark and eat it, too.
I do very much like the study room in the library, though. Every good sitcom needs its main room for the characters to congregate, like Sunshine Cab Company on Taxi, the newsroom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the hallway on Saved by the Bell (and yes, these are three of the shows I recently watched in my chronological journey through American sitcoms thanks to my workplace, Hulu and Netflix), as well as every single family sitcom that revolves entirely around the living room. It gives a nice air of familiarity.