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 V.18 No.46 | November 12 - 18, 2009 

Idiot Box

Lower Learning

“Community” on NBC

Thursday nights continue to be a television bloodbath, with NBC’s no-longer “Must See TV” lineup looking like the night’s designated hemophiliac. FOX’s culty “Bones” and “Fringe,” ABC’s semi-strong “FlashForward” paired with ratings-winners “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice,” CBS’ still-strong “Survivor”/“CSI”/“The Mentalist” troika and The CW’s expectedly teen-skewing duo “The Vampire Diaries” and “Supernatural” are wreaking well-tabulated havoc on NBC’s ratings. That’s a shame, because NBC has got one of its best lineups in years, including high-quality laughers “30 Rock” and “The Office,” vastly improved, Amy Poehler-led “Parks and Recreation” and underdog idol “Community.”

“Community” seems to be taking the harshest beating of the night, inheriting the unenviable leadoff position “My Name is Earl” used to occupy. Too bad, because the show deserves an audience. Give it another season and I have little doubt it’ll be one of the tightest sitcoms on TV.

Commonly described as “The Breakfast Club without the breakfast,” “Community” follows the lives of several students at a run-down community college. Chief among these students is Jeff Winger (“The Soup” host Joel McHale), an egotistical would-be lawyer who’s been disbarred over a phony college degree. Now he’s stuck trying to garner college credits among a who’s who of underachievers. There’s politically correct neo-hippie Britta (Gillian Jacobs), downsized corporate executive Pierce (Chevy Chase), uninspired filmmaker Abed (Danny Pudi), injured high school football star Troy (Donald Glover), perky nerdette Annie (Alison Brie) and smiling gossip girl Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown).

The show’s major joke is that community college throws a wide range of losers into one, big, underfunded melting pot. While I’m sure most community colleges are, in fact, exemplary institutes of higher learning, this show plays it all for laughs—from the budget-starved dean to the Korean-born Spanish instructor.

As a showcase for McHale’s snarky brand of humor, “Community” works well. Jeff is an occasionally selfish jerk who still fantasizes about the high-flying lifestyle he once lived. But stuck among a ragtag band of misfits (including the inexplicably alluring, politically correct Britta), Jeff finds his hidden altruistic side showing through. Much as he hates to admit it, he likes these people.

The show’s pitch-perfect pilot was followed by a few solid, mildly funny episodes. However, an awesomely unhinged Halloween episode—with Chase’s genially racist loudmouth crashing a Day of the Dead party dressed as The Beastmaster wacked-out on hallucinogenics and Viagra—put the show back at the forefront of funny TV.

“Community” is the work of creator Dan Harmon, who along with pal Rob Schrab founded the medium- and genre-busting network/website Channel 101. (Any “Laser Fart” fans out there? “Twigger’s Holiday”? “Chad Vader”?) While the show has got a sitcom foundation as solid as any in prime time, it’s not afraid to venture far afield for laughs. (I did mention the Beastmaster-on-Viagra episode, didn’t I?) Here’s hoping NBC gives it the benefit of the doubt as opposed to the quick ax. (“Southland,” we hardly knew ye.)

“Community” airs Thursdays at 7 p.m. on KOB-4.

 
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