The great majority of us will never truly experience the whimsy and wonder of community college life. We’ll never know the grandeur of multitasking, when the worlds of faculty-manned tribunal and swimming pool collide. We’ll never see the ardor of John Keaton clumsily and ever-comically brought to life; and most of all, we’ll probably never have a socially-hypersensitive racist lunatic claiming that a fight calls for the “best final exam ever.”
Okay, so maybe this doesn’t represent every – or any – community college. But if it did, wouldn’t we all go? That’s almost a safe bet.
Finally exploiting a highly untapped source for comedy, Dan Harmon and NBC introduced “Community” this fall, following the reluctant journey of Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), former lawyer and charming con-artist extraordinaire. It seems that not-so-young Winger had apparently never completed his B.A. and now has exactly four years to replace it, lest his law license be permanently revoked.
So now, for the first time in his hitherto short and relatively carefree life, Jeff will have to genuinely work – and learn, and mature and build legitimate friendships. After all, his little attempt at swindling Doctor Duncan (John Oliver) for all the exams’ answers certainly didn’t work.
Along the way, he ineffectively tries to woo the pants off of noble, though thoroughly standoffish Britta (Gillian Jacobs), unwittingly gathering a Spanish study group along the way. Most of the episodes, with the exception of the season premiere and finale, consist of three related storylines that ultimately culminate in a witty revelation by the chapter’s end. At times it works, like in the Halloween-inspired “Introduction to Statistics” and sometimes falls relatively flat, as in “Home Economics” – or fails completely a la “Debate 109.”
Its characters, however, are by far its strongest suit. Britta is the sexy straight man; Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) is the mildly explosive mother figure; Pierce (Chevy Chase – that’s right. He made a come-back) is the aging and borderline senile student often responsible for the sitcom’s most ignorant, racist, sexist and funniest lines; Troy (Donald Glover) is the former prom king cast adrift in the seas of unwelcoming adulthood; Annie (Alison Brie) is an uppity overachiever, hopelessly in love with the aforementioned prince of popularity, who never saw fit to give her the time of day in high school; and the season’s funniest character by far, Abed (Danny Pudi), is an Asperger’s patient with more knowledge of pop-culture, human nature – and apparently almost anything – according to “The Politics of Human Sexuality” – than the rest of the group.
Amusing instructional staff makes an appearance as well, as the psychotically self-indulgent Senor Chang (Ken Jeong) virtually steals the screen in every scene lucky enough to bare his brusquely megalomaniacal presence. Professor Whitman (John Michael Higgins) teaches the students the benefits of standing on desks (though seems to neglect the importance of sturdy carpentry) and “seizing the day.” Still, as clueless as he may be, he seems to me the only member of Greendale’s faculty to call Jeff on his duplicitous nature.
And who can forget about Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) and his ongoing crusade against the terrors of the oppressive “isms.” In an effort to combat racism, sexism and virtually every other form of potential offence, he created the only mascot a place like Greendale could have: a blind, deaf (the costume’s incredibly restrictive), and sickly grey “Human Being,” barely capable of walking, much less actively cheering them on – because the students at the college “have been called animals their whole lives,” apparently.
“Community” thrives on a cerebral brand of humor that relies heavily on pop culture, new and old. Abed makes constant fictional references that carry contemporary weight and Anthony Michael Hall plays a nerd-turned-super bully in the finale, intent on picking a fight in Applebees if Jeff doesn’t show up at the flagpole at their mutually designated time. One way or another, he’s getting into a fight that day.
Although certain episodes are stronger than others, each installment is guaranteed at least one laugh-out-loud moment – usually from Abed, though they’ve been known to come from Jeff, Shirley and Pierce, as well. In fact, the execution is usually so enjoyable that it almost makes community college look like that mystical Shangri-La of recaptured childhood.
We’ll never feel the quiet reassurance of the thirteenth and fourteenth grades, or the patronizingly quiet (or sometimes vocal) and altogether ironic, chastising lectures of the faculty, evidently more at home than babysitting than teaching capable adults (like Greendale knows what those are), but for half an hour at a time, it’s nice to familiarize yourself with the seemingly paradoxical notion of at once turning your brain off and activating it fully.
You’ll love the clever wit, but you’ll also treasure the carefree conduct. Maybe we could all use a little community college in our lives.