Rewind: ‘Community’ – ‘Pilot’

Welcome to the new column Rewind! As we launch our television section of the site this week, this article will also be the launch of Rewind. Rewind will take you back to read about the shows that our writers love. We hope that you enjoy going back to watch entire series with us – new episodes and old. CT will look at the individual episodes, the effectiveness of each, character development, culture references, and the overall success of the series.

We’re getting things started with Community. Why Community? Just like Cultural Transmogrifier, it is filled with endless pop culture references. Also, it’s a huge hit with its dedicated fan base – despite the low ratings. It’s a show that I love, despite some of its flaws, and love to talk about. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back through the series with me.

Currently in its third season, Community is on hiatus, but is returning on March 15, back in the 8pm EST time slot, as announced yesterday afternoon. There are plenty of sites out there praising its merits hoping that NBC would decide to give it another shot. The similarities of Community’s critical praise, cult following, and low ratings are extremely familiar to fans of Arrested Development (2003-2006) a show that suffered the same fate of the network overlord kibosh.

Rewind: Community
S1 Ep 1 – September 17, 2009 – Pilot

NEW CHARACTERS:

Dean Pelton – played by Jim Rash
Troy Barnes – played by Donald Glover
Britta Perry – played by Gillian Jacobs
Shirley Bennet – played by Yvette Nicole Brown
Pierce Hawthorne – played by Chevy Chase
Abed Nadir – played by Danny Pudi
Jeff Winger – played by Joel McHale
Ian Duncan – played by John Oliver
Annie Edison – played by Alison Brie

EPISODE REWIND:

Welcome to Greendale Community College, the setting of our new show. Community bases itself around Jeff, a former lawyer who lost his license to practice. Entering Greendale, Jeff hopes to manipulate former client and Greendale psychology professor, Ian Duncan, to provide all the answers to his tests during the semester.

Having established that Jeff wants to coast his way through Greendale, the episode moves right along to plot point (B)ritta. In an effort to play past her immediate “don’t hit on me” response, Jeff quickly lies that he is a Spanish tutor and running a study group. Britta knows so little about Spanish that Jeff’s gibberish works like a charm in convincing her in her helplessness that he is her Spanish savior.

Jeff, with the only option of tutoring his way to a date with Britta, takes the lead in directing the group, only to have it quickly unravel at quick snap judgments based on visual stereotypes and clichés. Abed, sensing the group’s instability, breaks the tension the only way he knows how – by likening the group to the characters in The Breakfast Club (1985), with Bender’s famous cigarette tirade.

Jeff leaves to trade his Lexus to Duncan for every test answer of the semester. After the successful trade, Jeff returns to a failing tutor group and navigates another trade – a date for calming the storm.

As the music builds along with Jeff’s confidence, he extends the dinner engagement to Britta, only to have Britta snap that moment by revealing his true intentions behind the speech, lying about being a Spanish tutor, and true ambitions to “get in her pants.” Jeff, having lost this battle, explains he lied, made up the speech, was a lawyer, and has all the answers to the test, so he doesn’t need to be there. Abed’s response? “I was wrong, you’re more like Michael Douglas in any of his films.”

Jeff retreats, tears open his package to see that Duncan has played him with an envelope full of “Booyah” and no answers. Duncan in the next scene explains that Greendale has given Jeff the opportunity to start over and change his life, a prospect that Jeff dejectedly refutes and walks out of the room with his Lexus key back in hand.

As Jeff begins to leave campus, he runs into the study group. The study group, feeling the same compassion Jeff so sarcastically preached about, looks to Britta to help Jeff back up from his low place. Reluctantly, Britta invites Jeff back to study with the group. As the members turn and enter the building, Jeff sits on the stairs awhile longer as Simple Mind’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” (1985) – another Breakfast Club reference – begins swelling in the background. Jeff, accepting that he can no longer sweet talk his way through college, gets up and returns to join his new community.

The 45-minute pilot episode ends in memory to Breakfast Club director John Hughes, who passed away just over a month before Community debuted on NBC.

COMMENTARY:

Pilot episodes generally have a real challenge bringing in an audience. Community takes a unique approach – the main character is a handsome, unlikable, and manipulative asshole. It can be tough for an audience to accept that Jeff is going to be the center of this collective study group and cast of characters. The pilot episode doesn’t seem to succeed upon first viewing because of this. However, re-watching the series, I appreciate this episode more because I’m able to see the roots of the characters, knowing where they’ll end up in two seasons. Yet, this episode needs to be viewed as its own entity and an entrance to the show. In this regard, it’s a difficult episode to convince you to come back. It’s entirely reliant on you enjoying the brief glimpses of the main cast and the references thrown at you.

Of the main cast, Abed is my favorite character. He lives a life expressed through pop-culture references. The first is the study group’s comparison to The Breakfast Club and a group of students with repressed issues balled up inside. The show, much like Abed, is filled with endless pop-culture references, many of which fly at you so fast and so subtly that you will likely miss them on first viewing. Like Arrested Development, Community is a show built upon creative storytelling, colorful characters, and pop-culture.

In its own way, Community can act as tribute to the legacy that John Hughes left. His characters, their relations to members in groups, and how people evolve are foundations for artists who today are churning out the entertainment for new generations of fans. Almost everyone over the age of 25 has seen most of Hughes’ films that he wrote or directed. Many under 25 may have seen a few, but for new generations, today’s artists like Community producer, creator, and writer Don Harmon respect the roots and offer shows like Community in homage to the creative legacy Hughes left behind.

What is so unique about Community is not the cast of misfits, but the stories themselves. Dan Harmon also has a close and public relationship with fans that he details on his blog. Pardon the pun, but the community that surrounds the show is just as important as the show itself. They may very well influence the future of the series.

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THE BEST LINES IN THE EPISODE:

  • “Abed, I see your value now.”
  • “I thought you had a bachelor’s from Columbia?” “And now I have to get one from America.”
  • “If I wanted to learn something, I wouldn’t have come to community college.”
  • “I was wrong, you’re more like Michael Douglas in any of his films.”

THE REFERENCE SECTION:

  • “You going to pay for that lunch Seinfield? Of course… and it’s Seinfeld.”
  • Shark Week
  • Ben Affleck
  • Stripes, Meatballs, or anything with Bill Murray.”
  • Michael Douglas
  • “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Abed compares the study group to TBC. A group of troubled people with balled up emotions.
  • Bender’s cigarette scene
  • “Don’t You Forget About Me” exit music
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4 Comments

  1. you missed on reference. "nobody puts Baby in a corner."

  2. Thanks! I'll add it. I'm guessing there are a few I miss every week, hopefully everyone can help me keep track of them all!

  3. Pingback: Rewind: ‘Community’ – “Spanish 101″ | Cultural Transmogrifier Magazine

  4. Pingback: We Barely Got to Know You, ’30 Rock’ | Cultural Transmogrifier Magazine

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