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'Community' recap: Class is in session

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community_lWelcome, PopWatchers, to your first discussion section for the lecture that is NBC’s Community. This is not the place to get a detailed summary of the show — you either saw the lecture or you didn’t. No, you keen devourers of all things pop-culture related, this is the place to expand upon Community. This is where we shall evaluate the show’s best triumphs and worst missteps, as well as anything else you might consider relevant (shouting “First!” doesn’t count). So let’s go around the room and have everybody introduce themselves. Actually, I always despised that part of college discussion sections, so let’s just begin…

The first episode of Community didn’t quite work for me, but that is often the case with comedy pilots. It’s a nearly impossible task for a show to introduce 10 or so characters in 22 minutes and find its comedic rhythm. As a result, the premiere felt disjointed and rushed, as if the writers decided to barrage us with a plethora of jokes while desperately hoping that some of them would stick. A few did, though, and since I want to give the series the benefit of the doubt for now, let’s focus on the moments that did work:

— We first meet our protagonist Jeff (Joel McHale from E!’s The Soup) as he was in the middle of hearing what sounded like the entire life story of Abed (Danny Pudi), an overly talkative half-Palestinian geek. Jeff’s snarky response: “Abed, nice to know you and then meet you, in that order.”

— Jeff chatted with Duncan (John Oliver from The Daily Show), a psychology professor whom Jeff had previously helped get out of a DUI charge. Jeff explained that he had to enroll in community college because the state bar suspended his law license after discovering that his college degree was illegitimate. Duncan asked, “But I thought you had a bachelor’s from Columbia.” Without missing a beat, Jeff replied, “And now I have to get one from America!” Community‘s narrative progresses with such speed that this joke may have zipped by many viewers’ heads simply because they weren’t given enough time for Jeff’s remake to register, and yet, I appreciate that the show didn’t feel the need to explain the pun. (Though if you caught enough commercials, you’ve seen that joke one too many times.)

— Speaking of missing jokes, I caught this one only on my second viewing. Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Jeff’s Elisabeth Shue-lookalike love interest, mentioned that she doesn’t like small talk. Jeff then asked her, “What’s your deal?” She countered with “That’s not small talk?” And Jeff, again barely even taking a breath before speaking, responded: “What’s your deal and is God dead?” I believe I heard Jeff’s quip on my first viewing, but how it fit into the joke’s sequence didn’t hit me until the second time around. I have an inkling that the entire season of Community may operate in this manner.

— And then there was Jeff’s epic speech regarding the central dissimilarity between humans and animals. “We’re the only species on Earth that observes Shark Week,” he claims. “People can connect with anything: We can sympathize with a pencil, we can forgive a shark, and we can give Ben Affleck an Academy Award for screenwriting.” Okay, the Affleck jab may be stale by a handful of years, but it was delivered so unexpectedly from left field that I couldn’t help but chuckle. Jeff’s speech also had a kernel of truth regarding humankind’s ability to become emotionally involved with pretty much anything, including inanimate objects (see Spike Jonze’s brilliant IKEA ad). Of course, if a real gave this type of speech during a study-group meeting in real life, we’d all probably vacate the room; but, in the land of television, Jeff’s monologue was right at home.

By the way, who noticed that Abed name-checked both The Breakfast Club and Dirty Dancing in the course of a few seconds? Talk about unfortunate timing. Obviously, the show’s writers wrote this episode long before John Hughes and Patrick Swayze passed away, but it still remained eerie hearing the names of both of those iconic movies within a heartbeat of each other.

So, PopWatchers, what did you make of your initial week with Community? Do you plan to enroll and return next week? Raise your hands, one at a time please…

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