- Buy the DVD
All photos © NBC
Reviewed by Will Harris
hen word first leaked out about a new sitcom on NBC called “Community,” based around the adventures of students at a community college, it’s fair to say that fans of “The Soup” were beside themselves with glee at the thought of seeing their hero, Joel McHale, stepping from his gig on E! and into the slot of the show’s male lead. Indeed, I myself was one of those fans. If we’re to look at the cast through the eyes of Joe Average, however, it’s far more likely that their first reaction was to ask, “What the hell is Chevy Chase doing in an ensemble sitcom? Shouldn’t he be the star of his own show?”
Uh, no. Not really. Chevy Chase has proven on many occasions that he can be a great comedic actor when he’s teamed with someone else, but with the exception of “Fletch,” he’s not exactly known for his successful solo flights. That’s why my existing glee over McHale’s casting transformed into a full-fledged frenzy at the idea of seeing him teamed with Chase. Clearly, “Community” was going to be awesome. Admittedly, I didn’t really know much about the rest of the cast, but the show was created by Dan Harmon, one of the guys behind “The Sarah Silverman Program,” and brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who’d been part of the “Arrested Development” family for more than a few episodes. What’s not to get excited about?
True to my presumptions, the pilot for “Community” was indeed awesome. Jeff Winger (McHale), an attorney whose law degree turned out to be invalid, finds his way to Greendale Community College, where his old buddy Ian Duncan (John Oliver) works, hoping that Ian will help him swing a degree in no time flat. Instead, Jeff ends up having to actually – gasp! – attend classes and study. Unfortunately, an early attempt at hitting on a hot girl in his Spanish class – Britta, played by Gillian Jacobs – backfires when he assures her that he has a study group. As she (wisely) doesn’t believe it’s anything other than a ruse designed for him to hit on her, she invites several of their fellow classmates to join them: film enthusiast Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), newly-divorced mother Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown), straight-laced cutie pie Annie Edison (Alison Brie), former high school jock Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), and oft-married businessman Pierce Hawthorne (Chase). Surprisingly, the disparate group bonds, and together they suffer through Spanish, taught by the dreaded Señor Chang (Ken Jeong).
The format of “Community” lends itself beautifully to guest stars, and the producers took advantage of the opportunity once in awhile, bringing in John Michael Higgins and Lee Majors (!) to play instructors and, for a small-scale “Vacation” reunion, had Anthony Michael Hall appear as a campus bully plaguing Jeff. For the most part, however, the show’s greatest successes came when it utilized its existing cast to offer pop culture references and parodies, setting their sights on action movies (“Modern Warfare”), gangster films (“Contemporary American Poultry”), and obscure ‘80s films only loved today by those who lived through the ‘80s. Come on, who can forget Pierce’s breathtaking Beastmaster costume in the show’s Halloween episode?
Actually, that Halloween episode – “Introduction to Statistics” – was, quite rightfully, when many viewers decided that, yes, this show was hilarious. Unfortunately, it also set the bar pretty damned high – so high, in fact, that some would argue that “Community” never quite matched that level of comedy. That’s not necessarily true, but it is fair to say that the series spent a fair amount of its first season trying to figure out what worked with its characters and their relationships and what didn’t. By the last quarter of the season, however, they’d realized that it was these pop culture gags that were their bread and butter, and they embraced those ideas for all they were worth, making for some really hilarious material.
There was a time when I would’ve said that you couldn’t love both “Community” and fellow Fall 2009 sitcom “Modern Family” equally. As it turned out, I was right, but not quite as I anticipated: I actually ended up loving “Modern Family” more. By the end of the season, however, “Community” had figured out its strengths and divested itself of its weaknesses, which means that now that Season Two’s here for both shows, it’s game on again!
Special Features: Some shows merely have fans while other shows develop full-fledged cults, and there is ample evidence to support the theory that shows which offer audio commentaries for most or all of the episodes on their DVD releases almost always end up with cults. “Modern Family” might have won the Emmy for Best Comedy, but they didn’t offer a single audio commentary. “Community,” however, has included one on every single episode. I’m just sayin’, is all.
Other features on the set include a series of outtakes on each of the four discs, extended cuts of the pilot episode and “Communications Studies” (a.k.a. the Valentine’s Day episode), alternate scenes from the “Advanced Criminal Law” episode, a featurette about the creative compromises creator Dan Harmon was forced to make on the series (oddly, the network requested less gaseous emissions), and an extremely funny presentation of the cast’s post-season evaluations. Also included are three mini-episodes and a Season One highlights reel, but given that you’ve got all of the episodes, both items seem decidedly superfluous. Don’t worry, though: the set makes up for it by including a copy of Troy’s comic book, “KickPuncher.”