McHale is the king of snark, which made him the perfect choice for prickly, self-obsessed Jeff Winger. But here's the surprise: As Jeff continued to…

Welcome back, class! Hope 2010 (Two thousand and ten, not twenty-ten, right?) has been treating you splendidly so far, which, unfortunately, was not the case with Community‘s first mid-season episode. Like the college student who’s returned from winter break and suddenly has to wake up before noon again, the show seemed to be in a bit of a fog. To me, it was going through the motions without complete conviction, and it introduced a comedy tradition that it honestly didn’t need — the big celebrity guest star.

Jack Black frequently straddles the thin line between genius (School of Rock) and annoyance (nearly everything since School of Rock), and as the study group’s newest member, Buddy, he most definitely crossed that line. I would have cherished a Jack Black who played someone other than a Jack Black caricature. Alas, we received exactly what we expected. And then Owen Wilson materialized for 30 seconds (Black and Wilson costarred in Heat Vision and Jack, a 1999 pilot episode written and produced by Community creator Dan Harmon). It was a pleasant surprise to see Wilson — he’s been lying low the last couple of years — as the ringleader of the “cool” Español study group. But the actor was given nothing compelling to do; it was as if the writers thought his mere cameo presence would be enough to get us through the scene.

Yet even at its worst, Community manages to sprinkle in enough jokes to make the whole thing worth consuming. As proof, last night’s best gags are after the jump:

1. While Jack Black himself wasn’t too amusing, his character was responsible for a fantasy sequence that likely caused 95% of Community‘s male audience to salivate: Annie and Britta as bra-less cheerleaders who fall into a pool of shaving cream.

2. I also dug the ingenuity of splicing the show’s title sequence into the middle of Buddy’s speech about rhythm and timing: “I’m sure you guys have a natural rapport and timing, and you’re scared that adding a new member might through everything off of its natural — CUT TO TITLE SEQUENCE — rhythm.”

3. The name of the school paper: Greendale Gazette Journal Mirror.

4. My favorite scene of the episode: Señor Chang’s beyond-the-grave entrance. It began with an unidentified woman announcing Chang’s death to his class. “We should take comfort in the fact that he did not suffer when his moped hit the side of that Arby’s,” she said. Then Chang burst into the classroom with sunglasses on and a boom box resting on his shoulder. “I am a man who can never die!” Chang exclaimed. “And this has been your first taste of Spanish one-oh-dos, the semester I get inside your cabezas,” he continued while taking an imaginary bite out of Annie’s brain, which was apparently so delicious that it resulted in a slight burp. Finally, Chang started his boom box and left the room to the sound of some rap song extolling the greatness of Señor Chang. And really, who could argue with that?

5. Annie explaining to Jeff how someone alerted the campus (via racial profiling) that the Toni Braxton concert had to be rescheduled: “The text message was sent exclusively to black students, and one French kid named LeBron.”

6. Glad to see that Dean Pelton’s Dalmatian fetish is alive and well.

7. Abed and Troy’s little “You go, girl” finger snap.

8. Annie: “If this article breaks out, I can apply for journalism scholarships. Nobody will care about my time in rehab if they think I’m a writer!”

PopWatchers, what was your take on Community‘s big-name guest star ploy? Harmless fun? Or perhaps evidence that NBC lacks confidence in the show’s ability to attract viewers all by itself? Or both?

Episode Recaps

McHale is the king of snark, which made him the perfect choice for prickly, self-obsessed Jeff Winger. But here's the surprise: As Jeff continued to…
Joel McHale and Alison Brie star in this comedy about a community college study group that turns into a surrogate family.
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