Community -- TV Review

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"Community," the only new scripted NBC show without gurneys or IV drips, gives an illusion of being shiny and fresh thanks to its unique setting: a community-college campus. It turns out that the setting is mostly irrelevant to the comedy; it's about the characters, some of them stock sitcom types.

The show owes far more to such sitcoms as "Night Court" or "Newsradio," with their quirky supporting casts, than it does to, say, "A Different World," which truly tried to incorporate the college experience into its comedy.

But if creator/writer Dan Harmon earns only a "C" for the framework of his show, he gets higher grades for its brisk pace and clever writing. And some extra credit is in order for casting, as well.

At the core of the show is Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), a slick, conniving -- but nonetheless lovable -- lawyer forced to attend community college after the state board suspends his license. (Don't bother rereading the preceding sentence. It still won't make sense.) Granted, it's a shaky premise but probably no weirder a starting point than a cat-eating alien or a mother reincarnated as an auto, both of which found homes on NBC.

By sitcom tradition, the show is required to have, at the very least, an aloof love interest and a black woman with attitude. These roles are adeptly handled by Gillian Jacobs and Yvette Nicole Brown, respectively. Jacobs plays Britta, the dropout and former Peace Corps alumni who knows Jeff is a liar and a cheater but still is attracted to him. To her great credit, she makes it entirely believable.

Chevy Chase also gives the show a lift as Pierce Hawthorne, a slightly pompous and more-than-slightly-clueless senior. Rounding out the cast are Danny Pudi as a pop culture-spouting quasi-foreign student, Donald Glover as a former high school jock and Alison Brie as an overly sensitive and easily offended coed.

In the pilot, Jeff forms a study group to make time with Britta. He also hopes to persuade a psychology professor (guest star John Oliver), a former legal client, to get him all the answers to all the tests. There are genuinely funny scenes between McHale and Oliver, enough of them to make you worry a little about succeeding episodes in which Oliver does not appear. NBC supplied only the pilot.

Even so, it's clear that "Community" has the ingredients needed to attract and build an audience, something that could not be said for many of the shows NBC has run at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays over the years.

Airdate: 9:30-10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17 (NBC)

Production: Krasnoff Foster Entertainment, Harmonious Claptrap, Russo Brothers production, Universal Media Studios in association with Sony Pictures Television
Cast: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Chevy Chase, Yvette Nicole Brown, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, John Oliver, Jim Rash
Executive producers: Russ Krasnoff, Dan Harmon, Joe Russo, Anthony Russo, Gary Foster, Garrett Donovan
Co-executive producer: Tim Hobert
Producers: Patrick Kienlen, Jake Aust
Consulting producer: Jon Pollack
Creator/writer: Dan Harmon; Directosr: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Director of photography: Jim Hawkinson
Production designer: Aaron Osborne
Editor: Peter B. Ellis
Casting: Dava Waite Peaslee
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