You had to know that one day America’s community colleges would provide the fodder for a TV sitcom. Filled with “non-traditional students”—that is, not your newly minted high school grads who see four more years of college as the final hoop to jump through before entering the “real” work world—such low-tuition, open-to-practically-anybody colleges provide a real cross-section of society. Most of the students are older, wiser, and, yes, quirkier than the wide-eyed innocents who tend to see college as a two-pronged affair: studying and partying.
“Community” revolves around a study group that began as an attempted seduction. Disbarred attorney Jeff Winger (Joel McHale, “The Soup”) sets out to get to “know” a former political extremist named Britta (Gillian Jacobs) by inviting her to a non-existent Spanish study group. But she thwarts him by inviting five members of the Spanish class to join them. The group met and continued to meet over three seasons now, with Spanish less the focus than life itself. All this support group needed was someone like Bob Newhart to say, “You w-w-wanna go with that?”
Among them are a single mom with a Christian focus (Yvette Nicole Brown), an overachiever (Alison Brie) who ended up at community instead of Harvard because of an ADHD pill addiciton, a former star quarterback (Donald Glover) who lost his Division I scholarship after an injury, a social misfit who withdraws into pop culture when threatened (Danny Pudi), and a millionaire (Chevy Chase) who has no goals and takes classes just to be doing something with his time, and because he likes being “average.”
The group’s highly unqualified, unstable and eccentric Spanish teacher is “Señor” Ben Chang (Ken Jeong), while the school administrator who comes in contact with this group is Dean Craig Pelton (Jim Rash), a man with unrealistic visions of Greendale Community College becoming one of Colorado’s top-tier schools.
Collectively, they all have various tics and oddities that we’ve come to expect with an ensemble comedy.
This season, Señor Chang begins working as an overzealous campus security officer, the study group decides to tackle Biology 101 together, Troy, Abed and Annie move in together, Britta tries to get the group to take a personality test because she suspects one of them might be psychotic, Pierce’s father crashes a party he throws for his friends and colleagues, Dean Pelton features the group in a commercial promoting the school, the group subs for Glee Club, Andrew and Shirley want to remarry, some of the group tries to shut a Subway down, others try a “Dreamatorium,” an old ex- of Britta’s turns up, and the gang has to deal with thte death of someone close.
The first season of “Community” didn’t impress me. The writers and performers all seemed to be having a contest to see who could be more over-the-top. But by Season 3 the series regulars are feeling comfortable enough to pick their zany moments and let the serious and funny moments fall where they may. The episodes themselves can be a little uneven from week to week, with some considerably stronger than others. Then again, that’s true of so many sitcoms.
Twenty-two episodes (467 minutes worth) are contained on three single-sided discs and housed in two slim plastic keep cases tucked inside a sturdy cardboard slipcase:
“Geography of Global Conflict”
“Remedial Chaos Theory”
“Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”
“Studies in Modern Movement”
“Documentary Filmmaking: Redux
“Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism”
“Regional Holiday Music”
“Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts”
“Digital Exploration of Interior Design”
“Pillows and Blankets”
“Origins of Vampire Mythology”
“Virtual Systems Analysis”
The “Community” episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and for standard definition it’s an awfully clear video with strong edge delineation. Colors and skin tones are natural and black levels are consistently strong.
The featured audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 that, given how dialogue-driven this series is, really doesn’t distribute the sound across the speakers with any authority. It’s all pretty front-and-center. Dialogue is clear and crisp, at least, and nicely prioritized over background music and effects. Subtitles are available in English and English SDH.
There aren’t a lot of bonus features, but fans may enjoy a featurette on the episode in which the group replaces the missing Glee Club to save Christmas, or a similar featurette on behind-the-scenes of the “Pillows and Blankets” episode. Commentaries on every episode seem perfunctory—I personally prefer more bonus features—and a handful of deleted scenes and gag reels round out the extras.
“Community” hasn’t done as well with audience share as NBC would have hoped, which perhaps accounts for why the show is returning for a fourth season but moving to Friday night. It also hasn’t reaped many awards or award nominations. But “Community” has found a niche fan base that can appreciate the spirit of community college—home of the Great American Second Chance.