4 / 5 stars
If you look back at the most popular sitcoms of the last 20+ years (Cheers, Friends, MASH), first seasons are usually tough to (re)watch, because you know there are better ones down the line. That doesn’t happen with Community. Most of the rookie show’s episodes are winners and, amazingly enough, the pilot is the weakest.
Community is a sitcom centered around Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), a guy with a less-than-legit law degree who got caught, and now has to earn his degree at a local community college. He ends up in a Spanish class study group with a unique collection of stereotypes usually relegated to community college: Britta, a young coed slacker who’s back in school to find herself; Abed, a cornucopia of pop culture from television and movies; Troy, a former high school quarterback who blew his scholarship; Annie, a high school overachiever fresh out of rehab; and Shirley, a recently divorced mother of two adjusting to being single, and life at college. Chevy Chase rounds things out as Pierce Hawthorne, a moist towellette tycoon and self-proclaimed “quality of life” person.
Only a handful of the debut season’s episodes are just ‘okay’, and the rest deliver a really interesting twist on the usual sitcom. Some breakout episodes we guess you’ll want to see over and over again (look for these titles) include “Investigative Journalism,” “Modern Warfare” and “Physical Education.” McHale seems to be the hub the show was built around, but it’s the group’s interaction that really shines, and it really doesn’t matter in what combination, either. You don’t have to be an ironic hipster or fan of classic comedy as the show kind of blends the two. The Chevy Chase Old School of Comedy is still funny (and, of course, the man still falls down a lot.)
McHale’s modern style of wit is sharp in its content and gets a laugh in its delivery. With him at center, the show pokes fun at all avenues of current pop culture, from Twitter and Facebook to Glee and Mad Men. “Modern Warfare,” as an extreme example, tips its hat to almost every popular action-adventure movie of the past 25 years. Community also takes stabs at the usual sitcom premises and turns them upside down, all while smiling.
There’s a “will they or won’t they” motif between the Jeff and Britta (Gillian Jacobs, The Box) characters that the show deals with in a way that’s neither corny nor dramatic. The setup is believable in ways it needs to be — when it’s not, you still get the laugh anyway.
DVD Extras: Commentary tracks provide great insight to the show’s origin, available for every episode with various members of the cast. The outtakes are funny, and avoiding the cringe-worthy style of Dick Clark’s bloopers.