With only one full season under their belt, the writers of NBC’s “Community” are already starting to get a little full of themselves — an odd display of hubris from a show that has yet to find true ratings success. In the season premiere, the study group takes numerous potshots at one of their network competitors, the already infamous CBS failcom “$#*! My Dad Says.” And meta reference-happy fan favorite Abed (Danny Pudi) stares right into the face of both the camera and protagonist Jeff (Joel McHale) to tell him why their lives are so different from the ones on TV.
Thursdays at 8 p.m.
We get it. “Community” isn’t like anything else on the air right now. This show’s starting to turn into that smart-ass kid in your lecture hall who won’t shut up about the A he scored on the last exam. But hey, that kid is still a pro at what he does.
Greendale devotees may recall how the end of last season meandered into mushy territory: The finale concluded with cynical former lawyer Jeff sucking face with Bambi-eyed high school dropout Annie (Alison Brie) mere moments after an emotional Britta (Gillian Jacobs) professed her love to him in front of the entire school. Love triangles? Cliffhangers? Feelings? Was this really the same show that only a few weeks prior had staged an episode-length homage to cheesy action movies?
Indeed, Abed speaks for all of us when he demands wild and crazy adventures every week instead of gooey love stuff. But luckily for us and him, “Community” quickly eschews any preconceived notions as to how this standard plotline would normally play out. Instead, Jeff and Britta attempt to publicly out-smother each other with affection in a power struggle for the school’s “spurned lover” sympathy. The game of lip-chicken they play with each other in class makes for an amazing bit of physical comedy.
If these guys win more real-world fans thanks to the premiere’s unabashedly gimmicky Betty White stunt casting, it won’t be because of White herself. She’s shockingly unfunny here as an unhinged anthropology professor, and can’t quite land the delivery of lines like “More of my own urine for me.” Though the octogenarian contributes nicely to a brand-new rap from Abed and Troy (Donald Glover), on the whole her presence serves mostly to reinforce the show’s main strength: that this truly gifted core cast could destroy any other sitcom’s rotating stable of guest stars in pure laughs measured (here’s looking at you, “Big Bang Theory”).
It’s wise for a show that rose to must-watch status as quickly as “Community” to exercise some restraint, and here the characters remain grounded enough for us to care about them — we feel for the group when Jeff’s sexual escapades threaten to tear them apart. That said, “Community” is still at its best when it’s at its craziest, and here’s hoping for a season full of pop-culture throwbacks, Troy-and-Abed absurdity and an unhealthy amount of fourth-wall breaking.
But mostly, here’s hoping more people watch. After all, there’s nothing else like it on TV.