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Pilot Inspektor: An Advance Review of NBC's "Community"

For the last two years, NBC has sought to find a series to cement its lineup of comedies on Thursday nights... with mixed results.

Last season's offering, Kath & Kim, didn't quite gel with the wit and dry humor of veterans 30 Rock and The Office and was quickly sent to the mall in the sky. And Parks & Recreation, from the executive producers of The Office, hasn't quite lived up to its potential or pedigree.

Next season, NBC will launch another new comedy series, Community, which will join returnees 30 Rock, The Office, and Parks and Recreation on the Thursday night roster. I had the opportunity last night to watch the full pilot episode of Community and believe that NBC may have finally found a worthy addition to its "Comedy Done Right" lineup.

The dry-witted and caustically funny Community, written by Dan Harmon (The Sarah Silverman Program) and directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (Arrested Development), tells the story of Jeff Crocker (The Soup's Joel McHale), a fast-talking lawyer who faces disbarment when it's learned that his undergraduate degree isn't quite as legitimate as he made it out to be. (It's from Colombia rather than, er, Columbia.)

So it's off to Greendale Community College, home of the world's worst dean (he inadvertently gives a speech to the student body in which he equates the school to "loser college") and a British professor, Ian Duncan (The Daily Show's John Oliver), whom Jeff managed to get off on a DUI charge back in 2002. Jeff figures that Ian can repay him (he successfully got the jury to acquit by convincing them that Ian's highway U-turn and call for chalupas from an emergency call box was a direct result of 9/11) by making the next four years at Greendale as easy as possible by giving him all of the answers to his exams. Ian, however, is not quite buying into Jeff's moral relativism.

Meanwhile, Jeff meets the beautiful Britta (The Book of Daniel's Gillian Jacobs)--described by not one but two characters as looking "like Elisabeth Shue"--and falls for her... to the point that he pretends to be a "board-certified" Spanish tutor in order to spend time with her. But his plan goes awry when fellow student Abed (Greek's Danny Pudi) invites along several other misfit members of their class, resulting in a situation that is intentionally similar to classic 1980s film The Breakfast Club, an homage that is invoked several times throughout the pilot episode.

In order to get into Britta's pants, Jeff issues a speech about them forgiving not just each other but themselves for the actions that have led them here, proclaiming them not to be a study group or strangers, but an actual full-fledged "community." It's played for laughs here but there's a real poignancy and beauty to Jeff's off-the-cuff speech. For whatever their original reasons for being there, this motley group is indeed united under Jeff's dubious tutelage by the end of their first "study session."

The rest of that group is comprised of mature student Shirley (Rules of Engagement's Yvette Nicole Brown), whose motherliness disguises a seething aggression; hyper-sensitive Annie (Mad Men's Alison Brie), who was forced to drop out of high school after getting addicted to prescription pills; former prom king and quarterback Troy (30 Rock's Donald Glover), who lost his sports scholarship after dislocating both shoulders during a keg flip; and creepy moist towelette mogul Pierce (Chevy Chase, most recently seen on Chuck), a man divorced seven times who has an unhealthy fixation on poor Shirley.

McHale is absolutely sensational as the compulsively mendacious Jeff, a man for whom lying comes so naturally, he might as well just be breathing. It's fantastic to see McHale embody such a despicable character, yet he imbues Jeff with an overwhelming charisma that makes it impossible not to root for the guy. (NBC attempted a few seasons back to launch a US version of UK comedy The IT Crowd with McHale and I'm happy that they stuck with their efforts to build a series around him.)

The rest of the cast is equally fantastic and their characters will likely be further developed as the series progresses, but I am already enchanted by Jacob's street-smart Britta and Pudi's hilarious Abed (whom Jeff accuses of suffering from Asperger's Syndrome), who issues one of the pilot's funniest payoffs when he channels Judd Nelson's "What about you, dad?" speech from The Breakfast Club.

The jokes come fast and furious throughout the pilot episode of Community, yet there's not only a self-awareness (witness Jeff's admission that, as he was raised on TV, he believes every black woman over 50 is a spiritual guide) as well as unexpected heart as well. Could it be that the community Jeff establishes on a lie will in fact provide him with the means to change his own life?

While it's not quite at the level of 30 Rock or The Office just yet, Community shows an immense amount of promise and could easily develop into--dare I say it--must-see TV next season, making it one community I'd gladly be a part of.

Community airs this fall on Thursday nights at 9:30 pm ET/PT (before moving to 8 pm later this fall) on NBC.


Nora said…
I think McHale is really charismatic and funny and I'm looking forward to seeing him in this. The concept seems a little boring but, obviously, this is about the characters. And it seems a good fit with the other NBC workplace comedies. I'll definitely check it out.
Emily N. said…
Looks good. I'll give it a shot in the fall. Thanks for your review.
Ally said…
Glad you liked it!

I laughed many, many times while watching. Coworkers came in my office wondering what I was watching (It was right after the "What about you, dad?" scene, which had me rolling).

I look forward to watching more come fall....
tony libido said…
hmmm. preview clip looks pretty weak to me. love mchale but I'm sick of lead characters being unsympathetic fools/liars/weasels. in the end, that just can't work.

i'd say I give it 4 episodes but KATH&KIM ran for a full season so this one should be on for at least 2 seasons.
Edward said…
The last joke on the preview made me laugh out loud, and I kind of like McHale in the Soup, and there are some Arested Dev writers on board so... I'm in.
Walter R Roth said…
Can't hardly wait!

The Breakfast Club part sent me rolling to the floor....wllr
Anonymous said…
Absolutely cannot wait for this show to go to full episodes. I have watched the preview clip a number of times and always get a good laugh from it. McHale and Chase are funny without pandering and your "must see TV" comment is dead on. C'mon 9/17! I think this one is trending up whereas I don't think Parks and Recreation is ever going to pan out...

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