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A self-aware 'Community' that's good for laughs

BY CAROLYN KLARECKI
Daily TV/New Media Editor
Published September 13, 2009

“Community”
Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.
NBC
3 out of 5 stars

Community college has a rather unfortunate social stigma. As the president of fictional Greendale Community College says in the beginning of NBC’s new comedy “Community,” “You’ve heard it’s loser college full of remedial teens, 20-something dropouts, middle-aged divorcées and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity.”

This may or may not be true for most community colleges, but either way, the Greendale bunch is a motley crew that makes for amusing television.

In "Community," former lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale, “The Soup”) returns to Greendale Community College to earn a degree after his first one gets revoked. Thinking he can bribe and barter his way through school just as easily as in the court room, he starts a study group with the sole intention of getting closer to the cute girl, Britta (newcomer Gillian Jacobs). Of course, word spreads, the group grows and Jeff finds himself overwhelmed, realizing he may need to do a little work after all.

The premise and storyline behind the show aren’t anything incredibly unique. The protagonist always had it easy and suddenly finds he can’t just glide through life. He also unintentionally becomes the leader of a group of social misfits and helps them all find their sense of self. It’s like “Freaks and Geeks” meets “The Simple Life.”

Fortunately, the writers aren’t blind to their conventional formula and make fun of it throughout the show. Ironic humor ensues. Jeff apologizes for confiding in the cafeteria worker by telling her he was raised on television and “conditioned to believe that every black woman over 50 was a cosmic mentor.” And Abed (Danny Pudi, “Greek”) frequently makes allusions to how similar their situation is to “The Breakfast Club.”

The cast of “Community” is nothing short of impressive, including accomplished actors such as Chevy Chase (“Saturday Night Live”), Alison Brie (“Mad Men”) and Donald Glover (“30 Rock”). More important, though, is the quality of the characters they’re portraying. Everyone in the study group is incredibly eccentric yet still somehow believable and maybe even a little relatable. It’s a worn-out ploy, but everyone is a little bit of an outcast in their own way and, by exaggerating that notion, “Community” makes itself surprisingly relevant.

A large fault in the show is that it’s unclear where exactly these characters are headed. The pilot is cute, but it doesn't really give any clues as to what will happen throughout the season, aside from the fact that Winger is definitely going to have to study for that Spanish test. Without any idea of what anyone is working toward (Finish the semester? Get a degree?), it's tough to find the motivation to continue watching.

Chances are the characters will all learn something about themselves, Jeff’s world will continue to be shaken up and there will be plenty of biting sarcasm along the way (or at least there'd better be sarcasm — otherwise this might all get a little too heartwarming). “Community” is not a force that will change the way people think about community college. It also isn't a show that’ll keep you waiting for the next episode. It’s simply a funny show with a great cast, and maybe that’s all it needs.