If you managed to sidestep the ads for “The Jay Leno Show”, NBC probably rammed you in the face with hundreds of plugs for their latest scripted series, “Community”. Even if you’re a shut-in who deplores network comedies, actor Joel McHale probably reminded you to tune in on every episode of “The Soup” this summer. Well, I took the bait and plopped down to watch it last night. As with any first episode I left it feeling underwhelmed. Perhaps it’s just the difficulty of pulling off a pilot and introducing so many characters that caused the episode to flatline. More likely, it’s just not all that funny of an idea.
Mr. McHale plays Jeff Winger, a fast talking fratty lawyer who must go back to community college after the bar discovers his illegitimate degree. You know that guy; that white guy with cool hair that can talk you into anything. Think Zach Morris without the moral hangups. Jeff tries to impress cutie Britta (Gillian Jacobs) by starting a Spanish study group, which balloons into a whole mess of quirky folks converging to form a modern-day Sweat-hogs. Oddly, Jeff, a fellow student, plays Mr. Kotter in this case, except he can date the students. Kinky.
The simple problem with “Community” is that it rehashes the worst stereotypes of community colleges. The idea that they are for dropouts, jocks, the aging and all-out failures like Jeff Winger simply isn’t true. They are a vital part of our educational ecosystem which offer a very strong option to students of all levels who may not make the leap to other schools immediately. By its very nature, the show is elitist, classist and maybe a few more -ists. In truth, I wouldn’t care if it were a bit funnier.
Case in point: there was a shark week joke. We get it, ha ha, now let’s move on to some fresh material. I am excited, with reservations, to see how well they utilize Danny Pudi as Abed, a quirky (quirky!) Palestinian-American who probably has Asperger’s. (Another “Community” joke: “he he, Ass burgers”) He’s charming in the role, but I fear that the reliance on his blank stare and stilted outbursts will become old hat very fast.
Another actor I am excited to see on the show is Alison Brie, who here plays Annie “Adderall”. She is better known as Trudy, Pete Campbell’s wife, on “Mad Men”. She’s still bringing the whiny, but there is a splendor to her that I can’t quite put my finger on. Here she has to make a recovering drug addict relatable and funny. Once they hit an Annie-centric episode we will really see Ms. Brie’s chops put to the test.
Oh yeah, Chevy Chase is on it. Whatever.
Community could become great, but it’s going to be an uphill battle. There isn’t much originality happening for now, but like I said, it’s difficult to judge by a pilot. Let’s check back in in a few weeks and see how the students at Greendale are doing.