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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
(Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c starting this fall; TRT: 24:43)
The network's description: "From Emmy Award-winning directors Joe and Anthony Russo ("Arrested Development") comes "Community," a smart comedy series about higher education -- and lower expectations. The student body at Greendale Community College is made up of high-school losers, newly divorced housewives, and old people who want to keep their minds active. Within these not-so-hallowed halls, "Community" focuses on a band of misfits, at the center of which is a fast-talkin' lawyer whose degree has been revoked (Joel McHale, "The Soup"), who form a study group and end up learning a lot more about themselves than they do about their course work. In addition to McHale, the series also stars: Gillian Jacobs ("The Book of Daniel"); Yvette Nicole Brown ("Rules of Engagement"); Danny Pudi ("Greek"); Alison Brie ("Mad Men"); and comedy legend Chevy Chase ("Saturday Night Live"). "Community" is a Krasnoff Foster Entertainment, Harmonious Claptrap and Russo Brothers production in association with Sony Pictures Television and Universal Media Studios. Russ Krasnoff ("The Soloist"), Dan Harmon ("The Sarah Silverman Program"), Joe Russo ("Arrested Development"), Anthony Russo ("Arrested Development") and Gary Foster ("The Soloist") serve as executive producers. Joe and Anthony Russo directed the pilot that was written by Dan Harmon."
What did they leave out? "The Daily Show's" John Oliver also turns up as Duncan, a professor at the college who was once represented by Jeff ("I still cannot figure out how you got a jury to connect September 11 to my DUI," he explains).
The plot in a nutshell: Traditionally home to "remedial teens, twentysomething drop-outs, middle-aged divorcees and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity," Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) arrives at Greendale Community College to make up for his bogus law degree. "I thought you had a Bachelor's from Columbia?" Jeff's professor pal Duncan (John Oliver) asks. "And now I have to get one from America," he responds. "And it can't be an e-mail attachment." Jeff's got an easy fix though: Duncan, being in his debt for getting him out of a DUI years ago, can give him the answers to all his tests. You see, Jeff's kind of a selfish asshole, having figured out at a young age that "if I talk long enough I can make anything right or wrong so either I'm God or truth is relative."
Such is the case when he tries to put the moves on Britta (Gillian Jacobs), the hot girl from Spanish class. Aided by the chatty Abed (Danny Pudi, giving Jim Parsons a run for his money in the borderline Asperger department), Jeff decides to fake a study group to snag some alone time with her. This of course backfires and Jeff suddenly finds himself in charge of an actual study group, which includes "remedial teen" Troy (Donald Glover), "middle-aged divorcee" Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), "old person" Pierce (Chevy Chase) and former Adderall addict Annie (Alison Brie). Even worse, Britta calls him out on his web of lies, while Duncan isn't going to give up the answers without a little more incentive. Yup, he's going to have to be a real student after all.
What works: If there was ever a role "The Soup" host Joel McHale was born to play - this is it. Every bit as snarky, smirky and self-absorbed as said persona, it's great to see McHale having fun without having to stand in front of a green screen. Whether it be mistaking strangers for being part of his world ("I'm sorry, I was raised on TV and I was conditioned to believe that every black woman over 50 is a cosmic mentor.") or giving a rousing speech about the connection between Shark Week and giving Ben Affleck an Academy Award for screenwriting, McHale infuses Jeff with a wry, low-key sense of humor that's a hoot to watch.
The supporting cast also provides a lot of amusing sparks - from Abed re-enacting Judd Nelson's Christmas speech from "The Breakfast Club"; to Troy calling Jeff "Seacrest"; to Shirley threatening to put Annie's face through a jukebox; to Pierce's inherent creepiness ("Why would I [sexually] harass someone who turns me on?"); to Britta's inherent adorableness ("How was I supposed to know that you were smart and cool?" a busted Jeff says. "I mean, you look like Elisabeth Shue."); to Duncan's attempts to blackmail Jeff ("You know," Jeff notes. "Bluffs this weak is why your people lost the Colonies."). All in all, if you've watched the trailer you've probably seen most of the best jokes but don't worry, there's plenty more fun to be had.
What doesn't: No complaints, a fun half-hour from start to finish.
The bottom line: A worthy addition to NBC's Thursday night lineup.