I can’t think of a single TV series that’s gained a cult following that I wasn’t incredibly late to the boat for  (except for HBO series which I generally watch immediately). I’ve been burned so many times by emotionally investing myself in a program that I don’t want to get hurt again when it’s canceled. And of course, millions of people think like that we self-fulfill the prophecy for high-brow  television by not turning in for the fear that others not doing so will get us hurt. Considering that Community has had the axe of cancellation hanging over it practically since it began, my fears have been semi-justifiable. Despite being very intrigued by the premise of the series and hearing my friends talk about it constantly and the way that its use of meta-humor and pop-culture references was right up my alley, I just never tuned in. It took a friend here in NYC forcing me to watch it with her at her apartment to make me finally realize what all of the fuss was about. The first season of the series showed moments of brilliance that could make the series the funniest network comedy since Arrested Development. The only thing holding it back at the moment is occasionally inconsistent humor and how long it took for the series to find its voice.

Community is about an eccentric Spanish study group at the small (and fictional) Greendale Community College in Colorado. Jeff Winger (The Soup‘s Joel McHale) is a former attorney who has been disbarred for faking his schooling and so he’s attending community college in order to get his life back. He finds himself immediately attracted to the feminist Britta (Chokes Gillian Jacobs) in his Spanish class (taught by The Hangover‘s Ken Jeong). Jeff founds a Spanish study group to at first get closer to Britta, but he eventually strikes up an unexpected friendship as the leader of a group of ragtag misfits all trying to survive the surreal landscape that is Greendale. With a group consisting of the Asperger’s suffering pop-culture fanatic Abed (Danny Pudi), the former jock and sensitive idiot Troy (Donald Glover), the racist, homophobic, and obnoxious Pierce (Chevy Chase), the virginal and shy ex-Ritalin addict Annie (Mad Men‘s Alison Brie), and the single black mother Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), there’s bound to be conflict and personal crisis, but when they learn to stick together and care for each other, this study group becomes its own little family.

The show’s cast is its biggest selling point (even if there are two really unfortunate weak links in that chain). I would have never in a million years thought that the smarmy and slightly unbearable Joel McHale was leading man material, but he proved me wrong as the glue that literally holds this show together. Danny Pudi and Donald Glover have better comic timing, but he’s got the charisma and charm to be the face of the show and he succeeds. He can also be hilarious (“Modern Warfare” [but more on that later] and “Physical Education” for sure), but his strengths lie in being the man that has to hold the series on his shoulders and he does. Gillian Jacobs isn’t necessarily as funny as her counterparts in the cast but she too has her moments, but the simmering sexual chemistry between her and Joel McHale gives the show it’s on Sam and Diane dynamic (which the show explicitly points out). Alison Brie is the most under-rated member of the cast. I didn’t think she was actually funny for the first five or six episodes, but out of nowhere she really came into her own and defined where she wanted to take the character, and Annie’s naivete is a constant point of comic gold. Donald Glover also took a while to develop his character past dumb jock, but once he figured out who Troy was, he was another brilliant addition to the cast. My only complaints in the main group are Chevy Chase and Yvette Nicole Brown. Chase’s character is meant to deconstruct the kind of lame humor Pierce tries to use but it doesn’t make him any less irritating and his broad, prole physical humor got old in the 80s. Yvette Nicole Brown just makes Shirley seem like a really unfortunate racial stereotype and she actually irritates me more than Pierce.

However, there is a shining star in the making in this cast, and it’s Danny Pudi as Abed. If you were to imagine the way that Jim Parsons plays Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory (in terms of his obvious case of Aspergers and his often inability to maneuver social situations) but you replaced theoretical physics with movies and television, you’d have Abed who has quickly become one of my favorite TV characters of all time. He seems designed solely to make jokes that I think are hilarious (i.e. obscure and never-ending pop culture references), and Danny Pudi manages to make Abed much more likeable than Sheldon. His completely deadpan delivery of 97% of his lines might be a turn-off to some but I like my humor sandpaper dry so it works. Ken Jeong is also a scene-stealer as Señor Chang. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single show/movie with Ken Jeong where he didn’t take the attention from everyone else, but he cranks it up to 11 in Community as just about the worst, creepiest, and most insane Spanish teacher ever. I just wish he was in more episodes.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that Community got off to a rough start. Even from the beginning, the meta-humor was present (Abed didn’t just lean on the fourth wall. He would open trap doors and walk back and forth around it), but it didn’t seem to be occurring as naturally/with as much ease. The characters took a long time to get fleshed out, and before they really figured out who they were all supposed to be, the group dynamic often felt very strange. Honestly, it wasn’t until the group came back from their Christmas break that I felt like the show really embraced its surrealist and bizarre roots. Once it decided to let its freak flag fly though, Community became like virtually no other show on TV. I can’t think of another comedy that feels as fun as this one. You can tell the cast is enjoying itself and because it doesn’t take itself seriously whatsoever, its energy and enthusiasm is completely infectious. One of the last episodes of the season, “Modern Warfare,” about a paintball tournament in the school for priority registration that turns into every action film ever made is one of the best episodes of a sitcom I’ve ever watched.

I’m going to draw this to a close because I still have to review Game of Thrones (which I didn’t get to review last night cause I was seeing the Shins! I’ll take that trade cause they were amazing) and I have to watch a couple episodes of Bleach (to catch up with where I am in the manga). Plus, there’s a new episode of Glee tonight where they’re finally auditioning for NYADA. So, to put it lightly, I’ve got enough writing for the rest of the evening ot keep me busy. Even though it’s my day off, I spent my first two hours awake researching for a phone interview I did with British band Keane for work (should up on our website in a week or two) and then I spent an hour doing my write up of the Shins show. It seems like all I do is write these days. I don’t have a problem with that. Just observing how weirdly true it is. Anyways, when I get around to starting the next season of Community (which will be soon after it’s shocking ending in hte season finale), I’ll review that one on a disc-by-disc basis unlike this first season. Also, I just want everyone to know that if I was grading this season solely on the second half it would be an “A-“. So, if you start this series after my recommendation and don’t get what the big deal is immediately, give it some time and Community will really grow on you.

Final Score: B+