Community – Pilot [1.1]

It was  a few years ago now that my friend Rod was telling me about this show entitled Community.  I apparently reminded him of Abed on it, although he was quick to tell me that this was in every way.  Anyway, I was eventually convinced to give the show a go, and though I felt it got off to a slow start, I’m very glad I did.

I just recently enjoyed my birthday and with that I enjoyed an iTunes gift card as a present.  This has gone into purchasing the most recent (and last?) season of the program.  So far, I’m only one episode into it but what I’ve seen has made me feel it’s worth my while.

I’ve been thinking of going back to the beginning of the program re-visiting all of its best and worst moments, and now that I’m done with Star Trek:  The Next Generation, it feels like the right time!

So without further ado…

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“Pilot”

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Plot
Lawyer Jeff Winger comes to Greendale Community College in an effort to quickly earn the law degree that he had previously faked.  He tries to convince former client Professor Ian Duncan to give him test answers so he can cheat his way through his education, and also pretends to form a Spanish study group so he can get a shot at sleeping with Britta Parry, a beautiful fellow student.  Both efforts fail, and Jeff ends up finding a community of friends, after a fashion, with the group once they begin studying for real.

Written by Dan Harmon • Directed by  Anthony & Joe Russo
Next Episode: Spanish 101

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Cast Notes
In addition to the regulars, the episode debuts John Oliver as Professor Ian Duncan and Jim Rash as Dean Pelton.  Both will go to on have major roles in the program, especially the Dean who will become a series regular.

I’ve now seen most of the show’s main characters in other things, but at the time that I first saw this, the only one that I was familiar with was Chevy Chase – from Saturday Night Live, the Vacation movies, his unsuccessful talk show, and even from a graduation speech at my college once.  Even so, apparently Joel McHale (Jeff) was in Spider-Man 2, Danny Pudi (Abed) appeared in The West Wing, Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley) is in 500 Days of Summer, and John Oliver had a small part in the 1980’s version of Bleak House,so I guess I have seen them in stuff.

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Comments
It’s funny seeing this episode.  Like many shows, Community went through a lot of changes after its initial pilot, and even after its first season.  So much of this episode is spent establishing the series’ premise, with Jeff and his “plight,” his attraction to Britta, and the comedy of errors that leads him to form and be part of the study group.  We are introduced to all the central players and get very minimalist introductions to their characters, and the setting is familiar, but for the most part this doesn’t feel like a the show that we’ll eventually come to love.  The meta-quality of the program is almost non-existent; most of the characters don’t really feel like the people we’ll eventually get used to (especially Britta, who will undergo almost a complete personality change); and aside from the opening bit with the Dean, Greendale itself doesn’t yet have that surreal absurdist vibe that becomes so important to the series.

Having said that, there are still some nice moments, and I found enough laughs that when coupled with Rod’s recommendation brought me back for the next episode.  I especially liked it when Jeff asked the group what separated humans from animals, and Troy responded, “Feet!”  Abed channeling The Breakfast Club is also sort of a defining moment for the early days of the show.

The end of the episode feels like it does bring the characters more or less to the place where we are used to seeing them:  recognizing that they do have something in each other that they normally don’t.  But still we know it’ll be a few more episodes before the show’s storytelling and humor really begin to gel.

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Pop-Culture Connection
There are a number of references (ie Bill Murray, Michael Douglas, Elisabeth Shue) but the  most prominent one is the way the episode ties into the film The Breakfast Club.  Abed rightly notes the similarities between the study group and the kids in the movie, and even breaks into their argument with his rendition of the famous “Cigarettes for Christmas” speech.  Also, a version of the film’s Don’t You Forget About Me plays at the end of the end of the episode, and there is a dedication to director John Hughes, who had died the year this episode came out.

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Meta-Qualities
The only real moment in this episode where the show gives any hint that it is aware that it is a fictional program comes when Jeff tells the cafeteria lady that he’s been conditioned by television to believe that every black woman over 50 is some sort of cosmic mentor.  This is odd because really, this is the sort of thing that Abed would more likely say.

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Observations
Whoa–the Russo Brothers!  I knew they were involved with the show, but I didn’t know they directed the Pilot.  How many other episodes did they do?

Britta is really very unlike how the character will later be depicted:  she seems primarily smart and grounded, and doesn’t really get to make any jokes.  However, she does demonstrate a little bit of her later interest in psychology when she asks Abed, “Do you have something balled up inside of you?”

The Dean has got only a small part in the episode, when he’s giving his “welcome” speech at the start.  But it’s a great bit, and feels like it fits well with how the show goes on to develop.

We get our first “Jeff Winger Speech”.  It is, apparently, completely facetious, but it is still used to help establish the show’s premise:  “You’ve just stopped being a study group.  You have become something unstoppable.  I hereby pronounce you a community.”

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Most Inspired Moment
In any good episode of Community, there are usually several moments where the show transcends “normal sit-com” material to really take me someplace unexpected.  For this episode, my favorite moment is when Britta, Annie, Shirley and Troy all start silently mouthing words to each other behind Jeff’s back, and then Abed suddenly freaks out!

What’s going on?  Can you guys hear me? Am I deaf?  Can you hear me talking right now?

That was good stuff.

Next Episode: Spanish 101

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Community – Pilot [1.1]

  1. It’s funny that we recap television shows. Or at least, funny to me. It is argued that tv and other digital entertainment is killing people’s interest in reading, and then you have moments like this, where it brings people together to review and comment on the subject or shared interest. Just a thought I had in a moment of insomnia.

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