Sunday, September 20, 2009

Community 1.01: "Pilot"

“I discovered at a very early age that if I talked long enough, I could make anything right or wrong. So either I’m God, or truth is relative. And in either case, booyah!”


Community is definitely the most promising new sitcom of the season (and, in fact, the only new sitcom I will be watching and blogging). In the pilot, we meet Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), a lawyer who recently had his license suspended when it was discovered that his undergrad degree was “less than legitimate.” To have a chance at a career again, Jeff must go back to school, and he ends up at Greendale Community College.

The episode opens with Greendale’s Dean giving a not especially inspiring first day speech on the quad. We quickly cut to Jeff grilling Spanish classmate Abed (Danny Pudi) about fellow classmate Britta (Gillian Jacobs). Abed rattles off a bunch of details about Britta in a kind of creepy stalker-ish type way. It’s an interesting commentary on the world we live in today. Since so many people have an online presence, be it MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter (or sometimes all three), it is possible to feel like you “know” someone without ever actually meeting them. I have yet to figure out if this is a good or bad thing. I’m thinking probably bad.

One of the facts Jeff learns from Abed is that Britta is nervous about tomorrow’s Spanish test, so Jeff quickly devises a plan to form a Spanish “study group” and get to know Britta better. Since he doesn’t actually intend to do much studying at study group, Jeff tries to take care of academics by visiting psychology professor Duncan (The Daily Show’s John Oliver), a former client. Jeff doesn’t want academic advice from Duncan, though. He wants the answers to every test.

Jeff thinks that the study group is going to be just alone time with Britta, but gradually, more and more classmates start trickling in. Abed is followed by Pierce (Chevy Chase), the big-shot business man who wants a little extra enrichment to keep his mind sharp, Annie (Alison Brie), the girl who flamed out in high school because she put too much pressure on herself, Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), the single mom who wants a better life for her kids, and Troy (Donald Glover), the former high school athletic star who lost his college scholarship due to injury.

Britta tells Jeff he can take her to dinner after study group, so Jeff decides he needs to prove the other students are “untutorable.” Jeff’s goal is to get to dinner as soon as possible. He uses his lawyerly skills for evil instead of good (boo to Jeff for perpetuating the stereotypes that make people dislike we lawyers…or almost-lawyers in my case) and says things that will specifically rile up certain members of the group. As planned, the group quickly devolves into chaos with everyone fighting among themselves.

When Britta sees all this chaos and realizes that Jeff planned it all to score a date with her, she is, understandably, disgusted. Her “deal,” after all, is “honesty.” I do sort of take issue with this really simple characterization of Britta. Basically, if you tell her the truth, she’ll like you, and if you lie to her, she’ll hate you. I’d like to see Britta be a little more complex than that. What’s her story, other than that she was sort of a wanderer for a few years? There must be other things that she likes/dislikes about people.

Britta tells Jeff that if he manages to clean up the mess he made of the study group, she’ll still go out to dinner with him. Jeff responds by giving the group a rousing speech about how humans are the only species that observe Shark Week, and they need to forgive themselves like they forgive sharks. The speech works, and Jeff pronounces the group “a community.” Jeff is blindsided when Britta beats him at his own game. She tells Jeff that she isn’t going to go out with him after all, even though he did what she asked. Jeff pitches a fit, gloats about how he has all the test answers, and storms out.

When Jeff gets outside of the library however, he discovers that the answers he got from Duncan were fake. After confronting Duncan, Jeff returns to the library, where he encounters Pierce. Jeff is brought down to reality when Pierce, the womanizing has-been businessman, tells Jeff that he reminds him of himself at Jeff’s age. “I deserve that,” replies Jeff. Pierce and Jeff are soon joined by Troy, and Jeff manages to give both of them some good advice. The rest of the study group soon appears on the library steps as well. When they find out Jeff doesn’t have the answers after all, they offer to help him study. The silent conference the group has to decide whether or not to let Jeff re-join is one of the funnier moments of the episode. Poor clueless Abed doesn’t understand what’s going on and has to confirm that he hasn’t gone deaf.

The Community pilot was an entertaining enough way to spend half an hour. It was a little light on actual story, although it did introduce a group of misfit characters that could prove to be compelling. For now, I’m going to chalk up the lack of plot to the fact that this was a pilot. A pilot is a tricky enough balance between character introduction and plot for a one hour drama. It must be even more difficult with less than half an hour to tell the story. I’m definitely going to stick with Community for at least a few more episodes to get a sense of where the writers are actually planning to go with this one.

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