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Test Pilot: Community

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Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next fall’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But, premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: Community, NBC

The Premise: Slick lawyer Jeff (Joel McHale, The Soup) faces disbarment and is forced to return to community college after it is discovered that his undergraduate degree is less than legitimate. His first thought is to hit up an administrator (Jon Oliver), whom he once helped beat a DUI charge, for test answers. As a backup—and to try to get into a comely fellow student’s pants—he organizes a Spanish study group of misfits, including a senior (Chevy Chase) in school to stave off boredom, a former high-school football star and a middle-aged woman with anger issues. Personal clashes, Breakfast Club references and a very small modicum of learning and growing ensue. 

First Impressions: Whether McHale is the next Greg Kinnear (or at least Hal Sparks), this could be a breakout performance for him as the amoral protagonist who “discovered at a very early age that if I talk long enough, I could make anything right or wrong.” His smarmy character is more funny than likeable (by design), which could turn off some viewers; the show is sort of like a reverse My Name Is Earl, in which Jeff sets out to get his life right one bad deed at a time. (Or, another analogy, an Arrested Development with the protagonist being Gob, rather than Michael, Bluth.) The pilot is heavy on the pop-culture references (Ben Affleck, Shark Week, Dirty Dancing) and on getting-to-know-you character introductions that sketch out Jeff’s classmates in pretty broad terms; the question is whether we ultimately learn that they’re more than their stereotypes. (That would be very Breakfast Club.) But for an introductory episode, it’s brisk and funny, with hints of some bigger melting-pot themes. 

Do I Want to Watch Another Episode? Definitely, though I hope the comedy develops more depth (while Jeff doesn’t develop too much depth).