E’s Joel McHale generates NBC’s ‘Community’ spirit

Posted Sept. 16, 2009, at 5:41 p.m.

A star vehicle is a great thing when it works.

True, recent TV history is littered with series designed for certain comedians who weren’t good fits.

Still, every now and then, a well-crafted show comes along that suits its star. One such vehicle is “Community,” debuting at 9:30 tonight on NBC.

Created by Ben Harmon (“The Sarah Silverman Project”) and directed by Emmy winners Joe and Anthony Russo (“Arrested Development”), “Community” stars Joel McHale, the snarky host of E!’s “The Soup.” McHale’s sarcastic quality serves him well in his role as sleazy lawyer Jeff Winger, who’s facing disbarment after his degree is revoked.

Jeff, who can string together a few words in Spanish, puts together a Spanish study group in an effort to seduce Britta (Gillian Jacobs), a 28-year-old dropout with something to prove.

Before long, however, Britta has gathered a sizeable study group, including pop-culture junkie Abed (Danny Pudi), sassy middle-aged divorcee Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and senior citizen Pierce (Chevy Chase). All have their baggage, which Jeff digs up in an attempt to keep the others from realizing how little Spanish he knows.

“Community” succeeds because the producers have given novice actor McHale a strong supporting cast. One standout is John Oliver as a professor whom Jeff had gotten off from a drunken-driving rap and is now trying to blackmail for help. Oliver is the latest “Daily Show” “correspondent” to make his mark as a actor, joining Steve Carell, Ed Helms and Rob Corddry.

“Community” is a worthy addition to NBC’s Thursday night comedy block. It’s not as polished as “The Office” or “30 Rock,” but it certainly can hold its own with “Parks and Recreation.” It starts the season behind “The Office” before moving to the 8 p.m. slot later in the fall, so it has some time to develop.

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