TV Review: Think Carefully Before Enrolling in ‘Community’

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CHICAGO – The deadpan wit of Joel McHale works brilliantly on “The Soup” and he delivers excellent work in the “The Informant!,” but there’s something about it that doesn’t translate to sitcom television.

With the talent of McHale and Chevy Chase to drive it, one would think that “Community” would be one of the best new comedy classes of the season, but it struggles in the premiere and truly stumbles in the second episode. It’s not the blight on Thursday nights that “Kath and Kim” was last season, but it’s a definite disappointment. Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0

Helmed by the very talented Joe & Anthony Russo (“Arrested Development”), the premiere of “Community” sets up the characters and concept of the show. Naturally, with a large extended cast and the general timing and pacing issues that come with a premiere, flaws in a sitcom pilot can be forgiven, but the second episode hints at a series that could spin its wheels and never graduate to the comedy pantheon already occupied by its network-mates that evening like “30 Rock” and “The Office”. It’s going to take some serious turn-around for this student to be given a passing grade.

Photo credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

McHale stars as Jeff Winger, a fast-talking lawyer required to go back to community college and get his degree but who becomes instantly distracted by the prettiest girl on campus, Britta (Gillian Jacobs). In the premiere, he pretends to be a Spanish tutor to get closer to Britta and ends up forming a study group comprised of some of the most unwanted students Greendale Community College has ever seen.

Students in Jeff’s study group include the clueless Pierce (Chevy Chase), sassy Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), pop culture-obsessed and possibly-handicapped Abed (Danny Pudi), former high school star Troy (Donald Glover), and high-strung Annie (Alison Brie). Ken Jeong (“The Hangover,” “All About Steve”) debuts in the second episode as Spanish teacher Senor Chang.

The cast of “Community” is clearly talented but the writing never gives the audience a reason to care. They could have gone two ways with Jeff - make him a true fast-talking player stuck in a world of people he thinks are beneath him or make him a genuine, sweet guy who turns the losers into winners. But they never commit to make Jeff either edgy or lovable, leaving McHale caught in between as a straight man with no reason for the audience to care about him. McHale isn’t bad but his character is so blandly defined that there’s no center to “Community,” a fatal flaw in any sitcom.

Photo credit: Chris Haston/NBC

The supporting cast of “Community” is pretty good but, once again, the writing lets them down. In particular, Annie and Shirley’s plotline in week two, in which they try to get behind a political cause and host protests and candlelight vigils on campus, is simply poorly written. Two episodes in and I don’t care at all about any of the characters on “Community”.

Comedy is all about timing and it’s off in the first episode of “Community” and downright bad in the second episode. Not only are the characters underwritten but on the occassion that they’re given something funny to say, it is pounded into the ground to the point that it’s not funny any more. The first appearance of Ken Jeong as Senor Chang could have made a subtle, quick joke about the perceived oddity of an Asian man teaching Spanish but instead of something brief, they allow Jeong an unbelievably long monologue that hits the ground with a thud.

Ultimately, the test of a TV comedy is simple - is it funny? The first episode of “Community” has a few definite chuckles (although you’ve seen most of them in the ads), but it is definitely the weak link in tonight’s chain of comedy premieres and it feels even more like the “one that doesn’t belong” in week two. We’ll call this one “incomplete” for now, but everything about “Community” is going to have to stay late and study hard if the show wants a passing grade.

‘Community,’ which airs on NBC, stars Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Ken Jeong, Alison Brie, and Donald Glover. The show was created by Dan Harmon. The series debuts on Thursday, September 17th, 2009 at 8:30PM CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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Pointless Planet

If you like Joel on The Soup, you’ll love Pointless Planet, a satirical blog which pokes fun at TV commercials:

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I assume you still enjoy shows like “The Office.” Wake up, there aren’t much funnier stuff on TV right now besides Always Sunny and Curb. I could see you being the type that didn’t get into Arrested Development until it was pulled. Sit your ass down and watch it for a dozen episodes, then make up your mind. God damn.

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