Community: TV Comedy Goes Back to School

Community, NBC's newest addition to its Thursday night comedy lineup, doesn't premiere until September 17th. But if you have a Facebook account, you can watch the pilot episode now. Rest assured: It's funny!

Community stars Joel McHale as Jeff, a successful lawyer who must go back to community college to obtain an undergraduate degree. The Daily Show's John Oliver, as school administrator Ian, asks him, "I thought you had a bachelor's from Columbia?" To which Jeff replies, "And now I have to get one from America." This joke works better spoken aloud, provided you know how to spell both the country (more Os) and the school. If you're willing to ignore the totally implausible fact that Jeff got a law degree without a bachelor's, the show gets good thereafter.

Based on the pilot, the story looks like it will center around Jeff and his Spanish classmates. They are in Spanish class. None of them are of Spanish descent, as far as I can tell. Jeff, hoping to get a date with Britta (Gillian Jacobs), professes to be a "board-certified Spanish tutor" (not a thing) in order to get Britta come to his fake study group. He is dismayed when the rest of the class shows up. Jeff's classmates are a good cross-section of those you would expect to find at a community college: a few young people, a few adults, and Chevy Chase. Community college is as good an explanation as any for where Chevy Chase has been this decade, so it's nice to get that mystery out of the way. He plays Pierce, probably the only student in America with 7 divorces under his belt.

The schoolyard sitcom has been around for a long time. Remember all-time classics like Welcome Back Kotter and Head of the Class and (depending on your age and your sense of irony) Saved by the Bell. Now, with the economy in the tank and more people attending and enduring the daily grind of reading, midterms, and essays, Community is a natural extension of the genre.

The decision to set it in a junior college rather than a four-year institution was deft for more than the obvious "community college students are dumb" jokes. These characters are underdogs. If everyone is expected to have a bachelor's in order to get a job, what happens to those who don't have one? One answer is that they attend cheaper, more accessible community colleges. Higher education (the classwork part, but also sometimes the binge-drinking part) isn't easy at any age, and hopefully Community will explore these struggles... and mine them for jokes. The pilot episode is encouraging in this aspect. In the teaser, a dean addresses the students:

"What is community college?," he says, "Well, you've heard all kinds of things. You've heard it's loser college for remedial teens, twentysomething dropouts, middle-aged divorcees, and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity. That's what you've heard; however, I wish you luck!"

If you're in the U.S., (sorry, other 95% of the world's population, this is unfortunately only available in America), check out Community on Facebook and tell us what you think in the comments.

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