Community S1E1: “Pilot”

“Pilot”

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo   |   Written by Dan Harmon    

First day at community college

By Colin Hart

8.4 / 10

It typically takes a few episodes, maybe even a whole season, for a network sitcom to finally start clicking.  Look at The Office season one.  It was a mess; Michael was a dick.  Look at Parks and Rec.  It began as a shameful Office clone. Look at the 1989 debut of The Simpsons—cringetastic wonkiness perfectly ripe for a vulgar auteurist re-evaluation.

Dan Harmon’s Community—a show that takes every community college joke and expands it ad infinitum—stumbles into the same finding-its-voice pratfalls as its (network sitcom) TV Mount Rushmore brethren.  Luckily, it is only the first few episodes that feel out of place, and not an entire season.  Season four will indeed be a “gas leak” year, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Community’s pilot, written by Harmon, is as simple and conventional as it gets.  This, of course, will be a show—one of my favorite shows—that will come to be known for its wacky high-concept meta-humor.  The pilot merely focuses on getting to know the characters, the setting and the basic ground floor of the series-to-be.

No pillow-forts, Darkest Timelines, or paintball wars as of yet.

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Joel McHale, whom I always thought was a douche on E!’s The Soup, plays Jeff Winger: an attractive, witty, egotistic ex-lawyer who had faked his degree, got caught and now must get a new one from community college.  The school in question is Greendale—a laughably easy institute of higher learning, run by an incompetent Dean who only wants the campus to be as respected as other “real” schools.

GCC is no different than ECC—the community college I attended for two years after high school.  “That’s ECC for you” was a phrase that could reasonably describe any goings-on at Erie.  “High school 2.0” was another good one.  Community colleges are the butt of four-year college’s jokes, and those jokes are funny because they’re true.

Creator/writer Dan Harmon knows what he has here.  The joke at the show’s heart is that “community college is a joke” (already meta). He just has to populate one and then run with it.  The selling point is that it’s a joke that hasn’t been done yet—a universe of untapped potential.

Yet the pilot is one of the lesser Community episodes from the show’s “golden era” (seasons 1 thru 3).  Jeff Winger takes a liking to Britta (Gillian Jacobs), a high-school dropout with progressive viewpoints. He creates a study group to try and get closer to her (i.e. in her pants).  Things go awry, he manipulates the group’s emotions using lawyer-speak.  He finds his heart and uses lawyer-speak again to bring the group closer together.  A neat bow on the beginning of the story—everybody has met and now they are all best friends forever.

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The hilarious ensemble is introduced, but only a few stick with you.

Abed, played by Danny Pudi, is the source of Community’s pop culture-based meta-humor.  He shows symptoms of Asperger’s, may not be able to recognize reality from TV and got the episode’s biggest laffs when he started quoting from The Breakfast Club.

Chevy Chase plays Pierce Hawthorne.  Yes, the elder Pierce is a student at Greendale.  Yes, he’s a racist, homophobic, moist-towellette business-magnate, out of place motherfucker.  Yes, the show will acknowledge that he doesn’t fit and that his old man shtick will become played out and that he hurts more than he helps.  But that’s why he works.

John Oliver guests as Professor Ian Duncan, a rude and drunk and lovable English bloke.

Yvette Nicole Brown plays 30-something divorcee Shirley, Alison Brie plays 19-year-old bright-eyed mood-swinging Annie “Annie Adderall” Edison, and Donald Glover (Childish Gambino! Atlanta!) plays arrogant jock Troy Barnes.  These three were just background noise in the pilot.

Together, with Jeff Winger at the helm, the group delivers plenty of cheesy, sappy sitcom tropes throughout the episode.  The soundtrack in particular, complete with doo-be-doo-be-dum piano and faux-whistling, made me wince.

But, hey, it’s a pilot.  For a sitcom.  On NBC.  Cut the kid some slack.  There are still endearing moments and, if the pilot’s ultimate goal is to convince me that I should continue to watch this show, then I think it did a good job of selling me on the idea.  There are some definite flashes of potential.

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