September 13, 2009

TV: Community (NBC, Thur 9:30)

Will premiere on the 17th, but the first episode is available for free viewing at Amazon Video on Demand. Will move to 8 pm in mid-October, when 30 Rock returns.

Jeff (Joel McHale) is a suspended lawyer who needs to get a college degree in order to avoid being disbarred, and has come to Greendale Community College, because he figures it will be easier than going to a "real" school, and he thinks that he can use his connections with a former client (John Oliver, in a very funny guest appearance as one of Greendale's professors) to make the process even easier.

In an attempt to meet the beautiful young Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Jeff fakes a Spanish study group; much to his surprise, several other students from the class show up. The pilot efficiently introduces the seven principal characters, and if they seem limited to only one or two character traits each, the writing is good enough that I feel confident they'll become better rounded as the series progresses.

The students are a pretty typical community college cross-section. Annie (Alison Brie) and Troy (Donald Glover) were high-school classmates; he was the quarterback and prom king, and she was the pretty girl who nobody noticed. Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) is the late-30s divorcee trying to jumpstart her life; Abed (Danny Pudi) is the socially awkward Palestinian-American trying to figure out how to fit in.

And then there's Pierce Hawthorne, the successful businessman ("Yes, that is Hawthorne as in Hawthorne Wipes, the award-winning moist towelette"). It's a terrific role for Chevy Chase, and my biggest worry for the show after the pilot is that the writers will turn it into The Chevy Chase Show; the show will work best, I think, if it's allowed to remain a true ensemble piece.

The cast is terrific; Brown and Pudi make particularly strong impressions in the first episode. The writing is funny, and even the moments that could have been cloying (Joel's "we're not just a study group, we're a community" speech, for instance) work both as comedy and as relatively sincere emotional moments.

Very promising start.

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