By Anne Gould Northgraves
Joel McHale is a much funnier, taller, and generally less toolish version of Ryan Seacrest. But until recently, the multi-job-juggling– and the concurrent success– had belonged to the American Idol/E! News/Radio Host. However, with McHale’s high profile headlining NBC’s new comedy Community, about a misfit group of community college students, the comedian is poised to rival Seacrest’s domination.
McHale, and the show in general, is off to a relatively good start. He stars as Jeff, a fast-talking lawyer going back to school to get a legitimate diploma (when asked if he has a degree from Columbia, Jeff replies, “And now I have to get one from America”). And while it is a treat to see a character so unabashedly devious, Jeff treads a fine line between garnering corny sympathy and being too much of a haughty cad to care about. Whether McHale and the writers maintain the balance or veer too far in either direction remains to be seen.
The rest of the cast, while archetypal, complement each other nicely. Filling out the Spanish study group, we have a prim perfectionist with a drug-addicted past (Alison Brie), a mom looking to improve her job prospects (Yvette Nicole Brown), a “dumb” jock feeling societal pressures (Donald Glover), a geek of mixed Middle Eastern descent and a bad case of verbal diarrhea (Danny Pudi), a high school drop-out as idiosyncratic as she is attractive (Gillian Jacobs), and a pompous old man as much interested in spreading his (supposed) wealth of knowledge as he is in learning new things (Chevy Chase).
Pudi, Glover, and Chase are particularly hilarious. In the race for my favorite line of the night, Chase’s pitch-perfect delivery of the line “I am a prominent business leader, and a highly sough-after dinner guest” just beats Glover’s clueless, “You seem pretty smart, you’ve got a sport coat.”
This is only a small sample of the vast amounts of dialogue that fly by with alarming speed, and it is the highlight of a slightly uneven script. Any pilot has to navigate mounds of explication necessary to establish the various characters and general tone of the show. Doing so without any hiccups is almost impossible.
Community throws out information so fast, that the show is occasionally bogged down by it. Even so, the amount of great exchanges, zingers, and witticisms is so high that appreciating them all definitely requires repeat viewings.
Everything that is good about the show is certainly due to its excellent pedigree. Community’s creator and executive producer, Dan Harmon, also co-created the absurdity-filled The Sarah Silverman Program, while executive producers/directors/brothers Anthony and Joe Russo were directors of Arrested Development. The later series had a definite influence in the quick pace and rapid-fire dialogue of Community, and if the genius of Arrested is any indication, that bodes incredibly well for the freshman series.
Given the past performance of those involved, the potential the premiere episode points to and the next episode’s addition of The Hangover scene-stealer Ken Jeong as Spanish teacher Senor Chang, Community definitely passes.
Community is on NBC Thursday nights at 9:30. Catch up with by watching the premiere on nbc.com or hulu.com.