Premiered September 17 at 9:30pm
Whenever there’s a good thing, there’s a tendency to want more of it. If something works, make it bigger. Taking a successful television personality and giving him the lead role in a scripted show seems like a perfect idea. Jon Stewart is an example of why this doesn’t always work (his performances in “Big Daddy” and “Death to Smoochy” aren’t exactly legendary), while Craig Ferguson has managed to do well in both fields, starting with his role on “The Drew Carey Show” and his current late night talk show. Joel McHale, host of The Soup, falls somewhere in between these two. As the lead in NBC’s new comedy “Community,” he’s playing a role that isn’t quite Joel McHale, and which understandably isn’t as effective or smartly scathing. The man knows how to talk, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to act.
“Community” is all about life at a community college. As expected, it’s laden with jokes about how the students couldn’t do much better. They’re well aware that they’re the bottom of the barrel and that they shouldn’t be too proud of themselves for being at community college. Jeff (McHale) is fully cognizant of this, and at first seeks to exploit it so that he can excel in classes without trying and impress the hot girl with his average intelligence. By the end of the pilot, it’s clear that Jeff is able to see the good in everyone and pinpoint their strengths among their many weaknesses. The show isn’t as confident about all of its characters, and as a result every one of them is overstuffed with so much energy and attitude that it’s difficult to bear. McHale is the least outlandish of all the characters, yet he’s still aggressively focused on overplaying his part to the utmost comedic effect. It’s especially jarring to see so many loud personalities in a format so similar to “The Office,” where some characters are over-the-top but the show succeeds because of the balance achieved with low-key background players and “straight men.” “Community” doesn’t have any of that. There are spotty laughs throughout, but it’s all too big, the entire time. Alan Alda’s character Lester in the Woody Allen film “Crimes and Misdemeanors” explains over and over, “If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny.” This one, well, it breaks.
How will it work as a series? They’ve already declared themselves a community, so now it’s more of a matter of whether they’ll get along and actually learn something from each other (or in class). That means an infinite number of community college jokes like the ones that dominated the pilot, but it could also mean an exploration into the lives of all the supporting characters whose roles haven’t been fully explored yet. I don’t think it has much to offer, though I imagine those impressed by the pilot will probably want to see more.
How long will it last? It fits pretty well with the other comedies on NBC’s must-see TV Thursday, and the positive mentions it’s received thus far should help guarantee it a decent lifespan. It’s not guaranteed a second season at this point, but NBC will likely try to keep it going for at least the rest of the season unless it really tanks, which I doubt it will. I imagine it will make it to a second season, though I really don’t think I’ll be watching.
Pilot grade: D+
Please note: a version of this review was originally published in the Washington Square News.