Community, on NBC (seasons 1-5)
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Well, from the previews I read, I wasn't really expecting to like the show, even though the critics all sounded fairly enthusiastic about it. Their opinion made me give it a shot, and I'm glad I did. It really is quite funny (at first I put this review in the comedy shows section, but I thought from the start that I might eventually move it to the quirky section, which obviously, I did... after the second season's stop-animated Christmas episode, though I very well could have moved it sooner). The whole series is really quite amazingly clever and cool and weird. A lot of the episodes have... very inventive plots. The show kind of likes to celebrate or spoof sitcom or movie conventions, in ironic but fairly original ways. (Seriously, nobody and nothing does "meta" better than this show.) There have been a number of webisodes based on the show, which I need to watch someday.
So, there's this fast-talking lawyer named Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), who's facing disbarment, because it turns out his college degree was fake, or whatever (he got it from the country of Colombia, rather than Columbia University). So, he goes to Greendale Community College, hoping to get a degree fairly easily. He's smart, but that means he never really had to work for anything in life, never did anything the right way. And he sees morality as ambiguous. And um... there's a psychology professor named Ian Duncan who works at the school. He's sort of a friend of Jeff's, since Jeff had represented him in some legal case in 2002 (which was like seven years earlier). Now Jeff wants Ian to help him get through school as easily as possible, though Ian seems unwilling to break the rules for Jeff. (We don't see Ian very often in the show, but he's pretty amusing, which isn't surprising, considering he's played by John Oliver.)
Meanwhile, Jeff meets a student named Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), and he wants to go out with her. So he lies, and claims to be a Spanish tutor with a study group. Of course, there's no one else in the group, but I guess Britta invites this guy named Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), who apparently has Asperger's. He's also way into pop culture, and wants to become a filmmaker. And Abed invites some other people to the study group, including Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase), Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown), and Annie Edison (Alison Brie). We quickly get to know a bit about all of them, mainly because Jeff's trying to avoid studying. (At first, Jeff gets them to start squabbling with each other, but later, to please Britta, he gets them to accept each other as a kind of "community;" hence a double meaning for the show's title.) It's a fairly eclectic group. Pierce seems to think he's a lot wiser and cooler than he actually is, and he's probably even more self-centered than Jeff, as well as having some offensive attitudes about various things (which I guess is supposed to be funny because he's old). Annie is rather uptight (also the sweetest and most studious member of the group), and she has a crush on Troy (with whom she went to high school), though he's totally oblivious to this. Troy was a football star in high school, and is quarterback on Greendale's team, though they're not very good. Shirley is a recently divorced, middle-aged mother and devout Christian, who likes to gossip, mainly with Britta. She seems to have a kind of mother hen vibe about her, although some people in the group (mainly Abed) look at Jeff and Britta as the sort of parental figures of the group. (Abed also seems to see everyone as characters on a TV show, though he knows that's not really true. Which I guess is amusingly ironic, in a meta sort of way, considering we know they really are.)
Aside from the main group, there's also the Spanish teacher, Seņor Ben Chang (Ken Jeong), who doesn't seem to have a firm grasp of Spanish, but no one else wants his job. Anyway, he's kind of... I dunno, Wikipedia says "slightly unhinged," I'll go with that. And then there's the school's dean, Craig Pelton (Jim Rash), who is mainly interested in making the school better (or at least making it seem better than it actually is). He's kind of weird (and gets weirder as the series progresses, often dressing in outlandish costumes, and he seems to develop a crush on Jeff). There are also various minor recurring characters, other students at Greendale, including a guy who the gang refer to as "Star Burns," and an old guy named Leonard Briggs, and a guy called "Magnitude" (starting in season 2). And others.
Anyway, it isn't long before Jeff comes to truly care about the people in his study group (even if they don't actually do much studying). And while he continues to want to date Britta, and she continues to refuse, he does genuinely like her as a friend. I should also mention that Abed and Troy become best friends; episodes usually end with a scene of them doing some weird but funny thing together, sometimes with Jeff or someone commenting on it. (Though the end tags don't always involve Troy and Abed... especially not in seasons 5 and 6.) Also, later in the season, Jeff starts dating a statistics professor named Michelle Slater. But that doesn't last past the first season. There are some developments in the romance department that I'd rather not spoil, except to say they don't necessarily last, either.
Chang is no longer teaching Spanish. In fact, he's not teaching at all, so he enrolls at Greendale as a student, and wants to become a member of the main characters' study group (so he can destroy them from within, I guess). Meanwhile, they're all taking Anthropology together, so that's ostensibly what their study group is for this season, though as usual, there's not much in the way of studying or anything truly school-related. It's just about friends hanging out, or whatever. That class was initially taught by Professor June Bauer (played by Betty White), but she was only in one episode. Prof. Duncan took over after that. Okay, I'm leaving out a ton of stuff about season two, but whatever. It's better to just see it for yourself.
This season, the group takes Biology together. Their professor is an ex-con named Marshall Kane, who has a hard time understanding some things about the outside world, having spent most of his life in prison, apparently. Of course, it doesn't help that the study group is nuts. Meanwhile, Dean Pelton discovers that the real power in the school is in the hands of Vice Dean Robert Laybourne (played by Johnn Goodman). And for reasons relating to that, the dean's budget gets cut, so he can't afford to pay security guards anymore, and Chang takes a job in security, in exchange for the dean letting him live in the boiler room. Troy and Abed move into an apartment together, and later Annie movies in with them. And Vice Dean Laybourne wants Troy to leave his friends to join his Air Conditioning Repair Annex (a class at Greendale that's kind of like a secret society). But Troy doesn't want to. Also there was an episode that showed different possible timelines, based on Chaos Theory, which also introduced "Dark Abed," a sort of evil mirror universe version of Abed. Oh, and Britta decides to major in psychology, though she's not very good at it (but she does seem helpful in "therapizing" Abed). There are tons of ongoing subplots, like the death of Pierce's father, Troy and Abed's obsession with a British sci-fi show called "Inspector Spacetime" (an obvious parody of Doctor Who), Shirley's attempt to open a sandwich shop in the cafeteria, Abed's sanity apparently deteriorating, Chang hiring a bunch of little kids to serve as his security team, and ultimately taking over the school... for awhile. And that's on top of all the usual (mind-boggling brilliant, hilarious) episodic stories.
Season four got delayed, starting in February 2013 instead of October 2012. (This means we get to see holiday episodes several months after the holidays had gone by. It also means that the season only had 13 episodes.) The season is also notable for the lack of involvement of series creator Dan Harmon. A lot of critics and fans seem to think the show suffered without him, but I don't really see that it changed much. Personally, I think it wasn't quite as good as seasons two or three, but at least as good as season one, possibly better. I don't doubt it would have been better still with Harmon's involvement, but I do think the show remained about as clever, funny, quirky, and innovative as ever. Anyway... this year, the study group takes European History together, a class taught by Professor Cornwallis (Malcolm McDowell). And Chang returns to Greendale, apparently suffering from "Changnesia," with no memory of who he was, but calling himself Kevin. And in the season finale, Jeff and Pierce both graduate. (Though not before a typically Community-ish alternate universe scenario helps Jeff come to terms with how he's changed in the last four years.)
This season, Dan Harmon returned to running the show. Apparently it's set like a year after everyone graduated, but things aren't going so well for any of them. This seems to be because a Greendale education is useless, so they form a "Save Greendale" committee, to fix all the school's problems. Jeff gets a job at Greendale as a law teacher, while most of his former study group re-enroll in the school. (Pierce isn't really part of the season, at first because of a restraining order that prevents him from coming near the school. I don't recall if the reason for this was ever explained, but I doubt it.) Professor Duncan also becomes part of the committee, as does a previously unseen criminology professor named Buzz Hickey (a somewhat cantankerous man, who wants to become an artist). And I think Chang was on the committee, though his involvement in the season's plot was more random than in previous years. A little while into the season, the group learns that Pierce has died, and they all inherit things from him. The main beneficiary is Troy, but to receive his inheritance he must sail around the world on a boat Pierce left him, so after that he's absent for the rest of the season. Also this season, Abed starts dating Rachel, whom he'd met in a season 4 episode and never called again. (I'd always wanted to see more of her, because I thought they were good together. So it was nice to see her again, even if she was only in a couple of episodes this season.) Other than that, I don't want to say anything about the plot, but of course it's as inventive as ever, with several of the show's trademark surreal episodes.
NBC cancelled the show after season five, but Yahoo! Screen picked it up for a sixth season.