Blinkbox by Tesco is offering users the chance to sample 28 Television Pilots. I’ve decided to take those 28 Pilots and give each a watch and then review them right here on my website. Next up, NBC’s perennial underdog cult sitcom ‘Community‘.
Community is not a show I’ve never seen before. Over the years it’s been on the air, I’ve had occasion to dip in to the series and see what it’s like. So I had an idea what to expect from the pilot – Joel McHale being a loveable jerk, Chevy Chase being humorously out of touch with modern social norms and Danny Pudi’s Abed being just generally weird. I was also familiar enough with the show’s general tone of absurdity, couched in painfully real observations about modern society.
The Pilot is fairly by-the-numbers, setting up the archetypes and roles of the various characters and giving the audience some idea of the relationships between them. Unusually though, it manages to do so whilst keeping the events in the service of comedy. Too often, a Pilot will be a relatively weak episode of a given series because it spends a good chunk of screen time on expository obligations. The best pilots, of the best shows, don’t have this problem. Community is one of them. Another great example is How I Met Your Mother, whose pilot manages to establish where its characters are in their lives and relationships almost entirely as part of jokes (many of which would become part of the show’s running gags). It’s the same here.
The best scenes in the pilot are those where Joel McHale’s Jeff is trying to trick the other members of the group into fighting with one another so he can slink away with attractive co-ed (As the Yanks say) Britta, played by Gillian Jacobs. His efforts prove to be in vain after she figures out what he’s up to and calls him on it, and he is ultimately banished (though the group takes pity on him and offers to let him study with them in the end, ultimately setting up the premise the show ran with once it was picked up). The events in these scenes also lead to a great moment where Jeff admits, wholeheartedly, that he is a liar and equates his former profession (A lawyer) with the act of telling lies. It’s not an original joke, but it’s well executed.
Other standout moments come in the interactions between McHale and recurring guest star John Oliver (as Dr Ian Duncan) who Jeff is attempting to con into helping him cheat his way to success. Particularly amusing is the scene in Dr Duncan’s Smart Fortwo, which he notes is “Good for the earth” (Jeff retorts, bitingly, that so is “wiping your butt with a leaf, but it’s not how a man gets around!”).
It’s a promising start to a series, and it gets you up to speed and invested in its characters very quickly. As soon as it’s over, you’re ready to see more of their escapades (and, undoubtedly, disastrous misunderstandings – it’s a sitcom). Having seen some of what the rest of the series has to offer, it’s also a very indicative Pilot. Not just in terms of quality, but also just with regards to what the show is like. That might seem a trite observation, but many a show has wandered away from its pilot with time. Community did not, it has stuck fairly well to the formula established here (aside from things like character & plot progression, plus slight variations in the episode structure for the sake of novelty) over the years. That’s probably a good thing.
Except of course, the upcoming fifth season. Which sees the loss of Chevy Chase, and another character (Troy) dropping from the regulars to the recurring cast. Only time will tell what toll those moves takes on the show; but the pilot makes a firm bet on the relationships between the characters being important. Tinkering with the group seems like a dangerous area.
Verdict: Order to Series
The verdicts on the Pilot reviews will be given as if the Pilot was being reviewed by Network Execs prior to announcing the Fall Lineup. Possible results, in descending order, are:
Order to Series, with Super Renewal (3 Season Commitment)
Order to Series, with Renewal (2 Season Commitment)
Order to Series
Order to Series, with Network Notes
Order Second Pilot
Order Second Pilot, with Network Supervision
Burn The Tapes