In the States, Community is already on its second season. Yet, despite positive feedback from critics and viewers alike, it’s only just arriving here (on Tuesday at 10pm)--strangely, on Viva, a channel that usually airs music videos or reality shows. A bizarre home for the comedy, but don’t let that put you off; Community is worth watching, even if the pilot starts things off fairly slowly.
Set at Greendale Community College, the series centres on Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), a former lawyer disbarred for faking his Bachelor’s degree. He’s looking to coast his way to a proper degree, but ends up pursuing an attractive blonde, Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs). Jeff comes across as a jerk in the pilot, starting a Spanish study group for the sole purpose of trying to score with Britta--perhaps a turn-off for some viewers--but McHale plays the character with enough levity that it’s easy not to take him too seriously.
The rest of the characters, who complete the study group, are well-rounded and diverse misfits. Though their personalities are slightly exaggerated, it’s likely that you’ll relate to at least one of them. Other than the sardonic Britta and the socially awkward Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), there’s also the former high school jock, the bright but repressed girl, and the mother looking to do something with her life. Perhaps the funniest character is Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase)--clumsy, and often tactless and offensive with his words.
A lot of the humour is understated, and while there are a few laugh-out-loud lines--like the end of the dean’s opening speech--it doesn’t quite reach that level of funny regularly enough. That said, there are still plenty of other humorous moments, from Jeff faking his knowledge of Spanish to Pierce’s stalker-ish creepiness. No laughtrack is thankfully forced upon you, and for good reason: the comedy is not in-your-face like it is in, say, The Big Bang Theory.
The other thing of note is the show’s abundance of meta and pop-culture references. In the pilot, the study group resembles The Breakfast Club--Abed points this out, and even quotes from the film--while there are also nods to Dirty Dancing, Ryan Seacrest, and Bill Murray. They offer a fresh twist to the standard half-hour comedy, and even though you don’t have to ‘get’ them to enjoy the show, it adds to the experience if you do.
Though Community doesn’t hit top gear this early, it’s warming to see the characters bond, despite their differences in personality and ethnicity. And, as the series progresses, they grow closer as a group. Those who aren’t initially keen on Jeff can be assured that he becomes a more likeable character once he starts to accept where he is in life, and Jeff and Britta’s sexual tension is a theme that recurs in later episodes (at one point, Abed casually passes off an awesome “will they or won’t they?” meta comment). Community is a grower; the pilot is nothing special, but it’s the foundation for something more.