There’s a lot of discussion about The Breakfast Club in the pilot episode of the NBC sitcom Community, which makes sense since they have a lot in common: Both the movie and the TV show follow a group of misfits holed up in a school library, and both feature a cast of characters so unhinged they can barely function in the outside world. But all the talk about Breakfast Club is essentially a self-conscious effort to undermine any real comparison between the two. In fact, when one character acts out Judd Nelson’s famous cigarettes-for-Christmas spiel to his shocked and confused classmates, everyone’s befuddlement at the outburst makes it clear that Hughesian bursts of weepy melodrama are unlikely to figure prominently in Community.
Created by Dan Harmon, one of the minds behind Heat Vision and Jack and The Sarah Silverman Program, Community follows Jeff Winger, a crooked lawyer who is forced into community college after the state bar invalidated his law degree from Colombia rather than Columbia. Winger puts together a phony study group as a ploy to get closer to a female classmate and subsequently finds himself acting as a Spanish tutor to a group of students who don’t realize that he can’t speak a word of the language.
At its core, Community is not a “nice” show; it seems doubtful that the show’s depiction of such institutions as a bastion for high school dropouts, drug-addled burnouts, and fiftysomething losers might not sit well with the nation’s junior college attendees. But with a cast featuring The Soup‘s Joel McHale, Daily Show correspondent John Oliver, and career wiseass Chevy Chase (who seems to be trying to make something out of his public image as an unpleasant egomaniac), the show’s unapologetic snark shouldn’t come as a surprise. While the cast delivers solid, funny performances, they’re mostly just playing caricatures of themselves, and the rest of the supporting players range from forgettable to obnoxious, especially Danny Pudi, whose rambling Abed is about as endearing as stepping on a nail.
Still, Community has a boldness to it that sets it apart from traditional network sitcoms. Like Sarah Silverman, it dispenses with the idea that characters need to be relatable or pitiable. The purpose of Community isn’t to teach Winger to stop his dishonest, lazy, smart-alecky ways (no matter how hard Oliver’s hapless psychology professor tries), but rather to relish in his calling Abed an Asperger’s case and then giggling at it sounding like “ass burgers.”