TIME: 535 Minutes
- Commentary on every episode
- Extended Episodes
Creator: Dan Harmon
Cast: Joel McHale. Gillian Jacobs. Danny Pudi. Yvette Nicole Brown. Alison Brie. Donald Glover. Ken Jeong. Chevy Chase.
If that isn’t the recipe for a hit sitcom I don’t know what is.
A fast pace, lots of jokes, a very capable cast, pop culture references galore, and in some ways a deconstruction of the sitcom allows Community to rise above the trappings of an overcrowded market. Sometimes it’s a little too precious and there are some grating elements to the show, but as a whole it’s a terrific first season of work.
“My… own… TALK SHOW? Don’t mind if I do!”
The first couple of episodes of Community had me worried. It was cute, it was perky, and it embraced the stereotypes we’re all used to seeing on shows like this. I wasn’t sure what the long term prospects were and it was a little self-aware and cute, which reminded me of Scrubs. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Being perky and clever is nice but it gets old fast. I turned on Scrubs after a season and a half like a feral bobcat.
Luckily, Community works thanks to some really whip-fast writing and a very unique blend of performers. It really shouldn’t work, because the concept is so benign [which later becomes a strength] and because at the outset of the show this collection of characters is difficult to feel for because the negativity associated with their initial presentation. A selfish ex-lawyer who manipulates everyone around him, a misogynist rich man, an intolerant zealot, and a former drug addict are not exactly who one would pin a comedy around, unless the goal was to completely satirize the idea of a situation comedy. In some extents that’s part of this show’s modus operandi, but it’s done in such a subtle and fun loving way it isn’t as much a satire as it is a breezy twist of well-traveled audience expectations.
The basic thrust of the show centers around Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger character, a discredited lawyer who has cheated his way through life and subsequently tried to do the same at the community college he’s been forced to go to in order to rebuild his credit and resume his fancy lifestyle. Stymied by an associate (John Oliver, who is good but disappears for half the season) who happens to be a professor in getting the answers to all his tests Winger is forced to actually participate in a Spanish study group he formed simply to win Britta Perry’s (Gillian Jacobs) affections. The group is eclectic, with no two people really seeming to fit well together but over time this nuclear family is what elevates the show to being both consistently funny but also able to address a really diverse array of topics.
Then it hits stride and the confidence shines through, primarily in the now-famous ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Paintball’, and ‘Breakfast Club’ episodes. I applaud the efforts, though they aren’t all wholly successful. Well, the paintball one’s damn near flawless.
Creepier than everything in every Saw film.
Ultimately this lives somewhere between Scrubs and Arrested Development tonally. It’s much smarter and biting that it appears to be but it maintains a playful edge that allows it to seep into the mainstream more. The writing is a huge part of that as well as the direction (imagine my surprise to see Fast and Furious‘ Justin Lin such a big part of it) but ultimately it’s the cast that really carries this.
Joel McHale does a good job with a character who is really hard to like consistently, always a step ahead everyone else and trying to manipulate everything, he’s just a little too much for me to fully love as a leading man on a show. Additionally, it gets old seeing all the other characters idolize him so much and every woman wind up in his arms at some point. It’s good to be the king I suppose. The guy reminds me a little of Ferris Bueller, a character I loathe. But McHale does a good job of being the straight man for a good portion of the show, though when he does (typically in the end credits sequences, my favorite part of the show) he pulls his weight admirably.
“The good news is that the mystery of Kenny Baker’s whereabouts has been solved.”
A lot has been said of this show being Chevy Chase’s return to relevance and it’s true, but he’s not the golden light shining through this series. Nor is the overexposed Ken Jeong, who is excellent as the lame Spanish teacher whose role grows with each episode of the show. Nor is unsung hero Jim Rash as the creepy nerd Dean of the college. All three do some great work and I think Chevy Chase needed to age a little to put a little of his WASPy brilliance aside and play a character who doesn’t have all the answers and can’t talk his way out of everything. In ways he’s passing that mantle to McHale with this show. The real golden light of this show is the pair of Danny Pudi and Donald Glover, two guys whose energy and phenomenal chemistry carry the show through rough patches with ease and are responsible for a lot of the value added benefits of the series. If this were the 80’s, we’d see an Abed and Troy spinoff already in the works.
Breakin’ III: Antichrist
The whole cast really owns the show, and even the more thankless characters (Yvette Nicole Brown’s Shirley for instance) end up rounding things out and making them special. Here’s how good the cast is: when a celebrity guest star like Jack Black (who is good but not necessary) or Anthony Michael Hall (also good) comes on, they’re almost a distraction. I’ll count the Lee Majors cameo as less of a celebrity appearance because it’s Lee Majors.
Though it sucked that slavery had been re-instituted, it was hard to argue that putting Frito-Lay in charge had its benefits.
has assembled a great crew and allows his cast to improvise, resulting
in a nice cocktail of fun and unpredictability. It’s not perfect, for
network television there are few better ways to have a fun half hour
without feeling like you’ve compromised*.
“OK, final offer. Can I be your $600 Man?”
Every episode has a commentary track and just about everyone is involved and for once the love and appreciation between folks feels genuine. These folks are a team and it’s nice to see such a laid back rapport. This ain’t work to them, and if it is they do a great job of making the most of it.
Every disc has outtakes, some of which are actually funny. Another surprise, because most gag reels just feel like inside jokes or tacked on special features.
It’s pretty infectious stuff and the included KickPuncher [a gag from the show] comic book only adds to the mix. I typically prefer my TV shows as digital downloads because I rarely revisit them but this is a set worth owning.
out of 10
* I chose not to use THIS PHRASE for fear of being even more boring than normal.