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Showing some ‘Skin’: Brandeis Asian American Student Association puts on a fashion show

By Danielle Gewurz

Section: Arts

March 26, 2010

NBC’s Thursday night lineup may have taken significant hits in the last decade, but upstart “Community,” currently in its first season, has proven that NBC might be able to get a bit of its bite back. Similar in aesthetic to recent sitcoms, a great deal of “Community”’s humor derives from the self-referential use and acknowledgement of sitcom tropes, much like “Modern Family” or “How I Met Your Mother.”

“Community” has the advantage of being set in a local community college. This permits the writers to play with a much more diverse set of characters and perspectives than your average sitcom can. Jeff, the main character played by Joel McHale of “The Soup,” is a disbarred lawyer who returns to college in order to get a legitimate degree. Chevy Chase’s Pierce, meanwhile, is a retiree, Donald Glover’s Troy is a failed high school athlete and Yvette Nicole Brown’s Shirley is a recently divorced mother. This, combined with the wacky antics of Ken Jeong’s Spanish professor provide opportunities for establishing a dynamic that isn’t based on a group of white friends with nonexistent jobs.

Danny Pudi’s Abed, a frequent highlight of the episodes, imbues the show with a meta level of humor. Abed, whom the show somewhat jokingly implies might have Asperger’s Syndrome, also makes references to other sitcoms, TV plotlines, Batman and, in the most recent episode, enacts his own voiceover of Jeff’s actions. Indeed, he and Jeff do part of the dance from “Sixteen Candles.” But where Pudi really shines is with Glover in the end-of-episode tag scenes. The two rap in Spanish, pretend to be Bert and Ernie or practice krumping. It’s a nice flash of absurdity in what is otherwise a conventional show.

Sure, sometimes the pop-culture references are a bit overused. In fairness to the show, a large number of them seem to be targeted at people who are older than 21, so I’ve missed several jokes as a result. The success for the writers is that “Community” is still funny without catching those references. The show’s best gags have little to do with pop culture and often depend on visual impact, like the college’s alien-looking mascot, the Greendale Human Being or the sailing class that takes place entirely in the parking lot outside a classroom.

When it comes down to it, “Community” isn’t interested in narrative innovations. There are no running plots—plotlines are linear and fairly comprehensible. It’s both the writing and the cast that make the show work and worth watching. It’s a pleasure to watch the cast members interact, because there’s chemistry in all the possible pairings of the ensemble. The show has thankfully let the romantic tension between Jeff and Gillian Jacobs’ Britta fade to the background, rather than making them the token “will they/won’t they” couple.

On the whole, “Community” is shockingly good, going beyond its premise and offering a good 22 minutes of entertainment. As “30 Rock” and “The Office” have been struggling somewhat this season, “Community” has stepped in to fill the void of NBC’s Thursday lineup. A low-key show with a great deal of promise, it’s worth giving a chance.

“Community” airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

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