Thursday, September 24, 2009

Community, "Spanish 101": Wise up, wiseacre

Spoilers for the second episode of "Community" coming up just as soon as I remind you that real stories don't have spoilers...

The day before my "Community" review, which I had already written, was going to run in the paper, "Spanish 101" arrived in the morning mail. All at once I was excited to watch it - "Community" being my favorite new show and all - and yet nervous that it would stink, since I didn't want to have to rewrite the column, and since I wanted the show to stay good.

So I quickly popped in the DVD, and by the time Senor Chang (played by the always-hilarious Ken Jeong, who'll be a semi-regular castmember) finished explaining how his knowledge will bite your face off, I was completely relieved. I wouldn't have to rewrite a thing, because this episode was turning out to be even funnier than the pilot.

In addition to the hysterical Senor Chang scene ("Use your hands! It's 90 percent of Spanish!"), "Spanish 101" was a great showcase for Chevy Chase as Pierce. As with his guest stint on "Chuck" last season, I think there's a danger at this stage of Chevy's career that the writers who grew up worshiping him in movies like "Caddyshack" and "Fletch" will just assume that his mere presence is an automatic laugh-riot, as he wasn't one of the stronger parts of the pilot. But just as the "Chuck" writers started giving Chevy funny material to play, "Spanish 101" makes it clear just how disconnected Pierce is from reality, in mostly funny but occasionally sweet ways. I'm still laughing at the notion that Pierce's skit was both homophobic and "surprisingly and specifically critical of Israel"(*), and laughing even harder at the montage of Jeff and Pierce's presentation, ironically scored to Aimee Mann's "Wise Up," which has become a cliche choice to accompany extremely earnest movie montages. I can't decide my favorite image: Chevy and Joel McHale in the tiny hats, the afro wigs (a "Fletch" homage?), or the robots. But it was wonderful throughout.

(*) Bonus points for paying off that joke with the Israeli flag in the montage.

Meanwhile, the subplot with Annie and Shirley trying to impress Britta with their protesting skills (brownies, electrical tape) made it clear that "Community" isn't going to be a comedy sausage-fest. And it also made clear that the Jeff/Britta flirtation won't be just the story of a d-bag chasing a completely awesome woman - that in some ways, Britta has constructed a self-image that's just as phony as Jeff's, except that she's better-equipped to acknowledge that. And that's good. I prefer my will-they-or-won't-they pairings to be on equivalent moral footing, more or less.

Abed continues to be the show's go-to character for meta jokes about all the pop culture tropes that are being used and/or satirized here, and I'm fine with that so long as it's limited to him and Jeff. Some shows ("Knights of Prosperity" was one) run into trouble when every joke from every character is a pop culture reference, but so far "Community" is offering a nice mix of jokes built on actual behavior along with lines like, "Conflicts like these will ultimately bring us together as an unlikely family."

The second episode is often the hardest one for a new show with a great pilot. "Spanish 101" makes me feel very confident about this show's future.

What did everybody else think?

64 comments:

Lane said...

I was disappointed; I loved the pilot and thought this one was weaker. Chevy is distractingly not good, I thought (and I, like the writers, love Fletch and Caddyshack). Jeong *was* awesome.

Also surprised since I usually have the same sensibilities as you do, Alan. I'm still on board to watching Community.

Dan said...

I liked it a lot. Loved the "Magnolia" reference with the music during the class presentation. And Abed's "No spoilers!" comment.

I agree that Chase drags the show down a bit. the rest of the cast is great though.

Ryan said...

I dunno. It's a little too max-effort for me. I just feel like they're constantly elbowing me in the ribs, asking me if I got that joke they just did. Will probably keep watching, though, as long as it's on after The Office.

Drew Sarver said...

Really? I thought it was awful.

Jessica Deal said...

The first episode was pretty good. I'll have to say, Jeong does it for me. I think he is hilarious.

lambertman said...

Not liking this show so far, and that's a disappointment since I purposely torpedo any hopes of a social life so that I can be home Friday nights to watch "The Soup." A few chuckles - loved the metahumor of Chevy telling Joel about the face he makes when he's trying to be funny - but most of it just falls so flat for me.

Hurry up, "30 Rock!"

Michael said...

Count me as a vote for not close to the pilot. This episode felt redundant. We get it, everyone loves McHale but he isn't a good person, and only the attractive girl he wants to like him can see that. You don't need to beat us over the head with it by bringing the point into the dialogue.

I did love Kim Jeong (for the most part anyway) and the presentation was quite funny.

CEK said...

The piƱata/ beaten to death joke was amazing. Well constructed and slightly underplayed. I laughed outloud, rewound and laughed again.

I wonder how chase feels playing he old man to a character he would have owned 25 years ago?

Dale said...

I enjoyed this one considerably more than the pilot. Both episodes had some major laughs but it seems like the show is built for maybe two seasons.

Glass said...

I am absolutely loving this show. Agreed about the pinata joke.

Comet said...

I laughed so hard at the tardiness bit I had to pause the show.

dead souls said...

Wow. This show is painfully unfunny.

I'll most likely be deleting my season pass. Just the Office and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for me on Thursdays until 30 Rock comes back.

Hoof Hearted said...

It looks to be shaping up as a "love it" or "hate it" show, and it can change by episode.

For me:

Pilot - loved it

2nd Ep - hated it

Danny said...

I hated it, and even moreso because I loved Modern Family so much. Done with this one!

Anonymous said...

I laughed more at this episode than the pilot, but felt it went deeper into a more cartoonish world than the pilot suggested. Not that that is a bad thing.

The Aimee Mann/Spanish presentation montage was non-stop fantastic (or fantastico, if you speak spanish) and Ken Jeong pretty much sealed the deal. I am in for the season.

Does this mean John Oliver is out? Cause he was a delight in the pilot.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part was Senor Chang subtly brushing the face of the guy in the front row with the back of his hand at the end of his big speech

Brian said...

Wait, how has "Wise Up" become a cliche? Has it been used in anything other than P.T. Anderson's Magnolia? And, I mean, the use of that song in that film is pretty untouchably great. But that montage was so funny that I forgive the sacrilege.

I liked the episode but don't think it was nearly on the level of the pilot, for one reason: pacing. The pace of the pilot was UNBELIEVABLY fast -- it was like a Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder screwball comedy. I suppose it was inevitable that Harmon and co. couldn't keep that up, but I was still a bit disappointed to find that the jokes (funny as they were) were coming at a more normal speed. Still think the show is pretty fantastic though.

Anonymous said...

I liked the episode, but I only laughed out loud during Ken Jeong's antics, which I already knew were awesome because they were on NBC for a week.

Joel McHale is certainly likeable, but I don't know something just feels....off. Is he trying to hard? Or maybe it seems like the show is just going to consistently give us the "Guy wants girl, does wacky stuff in misguided attempt to look sincere, girl says witty remark, fin" formula. I hope they give some of the supporting characters more screen time, specifically Abed and the other women.

Louis Mastorakos said...

I think my favorite bit of the whole episode was the rap at the end of the episode. The pure nonsense of it was really delightful.

Andrew said...

I'm a bit surprised at how polarizing this episode ws, since I fall in the loved it camp.That mainly came from the overflowing goodwill from the pure hilarity of Senor Chang's speech. And the pinata. And the montage (montage!)

Scott said...

I'm in the love it camp as well. Joel McHale kills it as TJ Lavin would say, but I agree on the statement of they are writing him thin. My dvr cut off the part at the end, what did they say?

Kent said...

I'm in the "love it" camp. I just committed to watching this show for the rest of the season. Pierce catching himself on fire, the "tardy" discussion, Senor Chang, the presentation and the shirt swapping all had me laughing.

Anonymous said...

LOVED IT! I loved the pilot too, but we had to rewind a few parts because we were laughing so much - more at the unspoken details than the dialogue, ie. Abed being the only one to use his hands when the entire class says adios, the pinata, Senor Chang touching that student's face, Jeff wearing the super tight short shirt and Abed swimming in the giant button down... ah, I love Thursday TV.

Steven said...

I absolutely loved it, outside of the Jeong parts. He's never really done it for me.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Wait, how has "Wise Up" become a cliche? Has it been used in anything other than P.T. Anderson's Magnolia?

yes. It was in "Jerry Maguire" before that, and has been used in a bunch of TV shows (I remember it in a "Cold Case" episode) since.

Ingrid said...

I must be watching a different show than you, Alan. The pilot was a bit lame, but promising. The second episode is a total snoozefest.

I love Joel McHale's Soup Host persona, and I find myself underwhelmed by his character in Community. I dislike the Britta character immensely, the others are just cookie-cutter quirky characters and Chevy Chase is not funny. Even the Spanish teacher was unfunny, and that actor is good.

AppleJill said...

I liked the pilot, but didn't really care for this episode. I don't like Ken Jeong's angry routine, so that is going to be a big obstacle for me enjoying the show. I much prefer John Oliver.

Everything about Danny Pudi's Abed makes me laugh.

Sister T said...

When I saw the tiny sombrero on Chevy Chase, first I chuckled, then I thought, homage to "Three Amigos"?

(And then, Joel McHale delivered the "...you're breath away?" line and I laughed out loud).

So, yeah, in context, the afros probably were a "Fletch" homage.

Jerry said...

I'm in the "loved it" camp too, or at least "liked it a lot". Jeong was great, and I thought Chevy Chase was good too actually. Like a lot of shows now, it's a little too self-aware and cutesy at times, since the writers know we know the cliches and where the relationships will probably go. Still, I thought it was funny.

Karen said...

(*) Bonus points for paying off that joke with the Israeli flag in the montage.

Bigger bonus points for the scene having both the Israeli AND Palestinian flags.

I'm with the folks who thought this was much, much weaker than the pilot. I laughed out loud this week. This week didn't really get me until the Spanish "rap" during the credits.

Mike C said...

I was pretty disappointed by the pilot, but I really enjoyed this episode. I thought it was much funnier and has me looking forward to next week. For some reason, Chevy Chase's delivery of "Did you say 'S'?" at the end really killed me.

Bryan said...

I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the pilot either but I think this show is gowing to become something very good. I think they are trying very hard to establish the personality of every character right away instead of letting us get to know them gradually - not necassarily a bad thing but a little bracing in spots.

Looks like they are going to be able to get a lot of mileage out of the faculty also - they're 2 for 2 so far.

Anonymous said...

I didn't hate it, though I too wonder where the show is going. If it's all about Mchale getting with Britta, then I think they're in trouble. There's not much chemistry there and the story line is played out.

Also, loved Chase's "she's ugly" said in the exact same way he delivered the line in Vacation after the pool scene. Not sure if that was intentional or not.

Lane said...

I think part of my problem with Chevy is that I find it hard for me to think of him as Pierce -- he sticks out like a sore thumb as "Chevy Chase".

Wes covington said...

I think it has been said already, but I don't see the appeal of the Brita character. She may be attractive, but she's not interesting.

I couldn't picture myself going to any trouble at all to go on a date with her. Because I would just be annoyed.

Otto Man said...

I loved it. The tardiness bit was great.

Trilby said...

I'm not nuts about this show. I think the biggest problem is that buzz-kill named "Britta." Apparently they gave her the stupid name just to throw in a joke about it, and now we're all stuck with it forever. Yeah, I know it's a Scandanavian name. So what?

I don't blame the actress. The part as written is a thankless job. I don't think it's fair that we are supposed to give a crap if Joel McHale gets to screw her or not. We don't even know these characters yet. And she's no Pam Beasley. By that I mean Britta, the character. I have no opinion about the actress.

Brent said...

Just FYI:

While "Wise Up" is on the Jerry Maguire soundtrack, it's actually not on the theatrical cut of the film or on the DVD. It was added later to TV broadcasts of the film. I remember coming across the scene on TBS or TNT a while back when the song is playing, and I was confused because I've seen the DVD 10,000 times and never heard the song.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The Abed/Troy rap wasn't on the screener NBC sent out, but it's damn funny.

Anonymous said...

The rap at the end was far and away the best part. The protest subplot was pointless. Love Joel on 'The Soup' .. as they say, he should not quit his day job.

Steve said...

I thought this episode was much, MUCH better than the pilot.

I am going to enjoy Thursday night.

Jen said...

I thought the Spanish presentation was hilarious. Robots? Afro wigs? Annie as Tiger Lily? Silly string and sparklers? Just ridiculous and awesome. And yes that rap at the end was amazing.

Between Jane Sterling on FlashForward and Trudy Campbell on Community, I'm wondering which of the other Mad Men wives will be showing up on new fall shows.

Anonymous said...

I thought the second episode was funnier than the pilot, used the characters better, and told better, smaller, more specific stories.

Unfortunately, I think this show is dead in the water. Watching it with my sister, she said something that is probably the death knell for any show-- "what are all these people doing here?"

Because she missed the pilot, she didn't see any of the back story, and since none of it was restated, she was just lost. Without the set-up of McHale's character, it was hard for her to imagine why such a cool, funny, together guy is going to community college at all, let alone hanging out with this group of outcasts, misfits, and weirdos.

I think the show has a problem-- they can either re-state the premise each episode to engage new viewers and risk boring repeat viewers OR they can hope new viewers will spark to the comedy and go back to find out the premise. Sadly, in the current TV landscape, I think that's too big a risk.

When you tune into 30 Rock, no matter how surreal it is, you can figure out that it's a about a group of people at work on a television show; Parks and Rec is about low-level government workers; Always Sunny in Philadelphia is about buddies who run a bar. These are all situations that exist in the world and people recognize almost immediately on-screen.

I'm sure it's happened that a disparate group of adults and young people at Commnity College have become fast friends and spent a lot of time together in a Spanish Study Group, but I don't think it's an experience very many people can relate too, nor readily recognize when they see it on television.

It's a funny show, but it's going to struggle to find a sizable audience. Mark my words.

Mark them!

-TheWatcher

jenmoon said...

I thought it was hilarious. About the only thing I don't care about is Jeff's pursuit of Britta, but that's a requisite sorta thing on a show, gotta have a love interest.

Senor Chang's "why is an Asian guy teaching Spanish" speech cracked me up, as did the entire presentation. And pointing out the water filter thing that everyone's thinking.

I am starting to wonder if there's some kind of trend of those who love this show don't like Modern Family or vice versa, because this cracked me up, but Modern Family was only mildly funny to me. Then again, I just plain don't find mockumentary television funny somehow, so that might just be me. Cannot love P&R or The Office no matter how much they get hyped to me.

Anonymous said...

The difference between this show's pilot and the 2nd episode (the former was outstanding, the latter OK) was the manner that the seven principle characters interacted. It will probably take some time before we get episodes where characters (in this case Abed and Troy) aren't left sort of on the sidelines while we have A and B plots that link together the others; Jeff and Britta's non-romantic-romance storyline is likely to stretch across the plots in any case.
For tonight's show, my favorite part were the horrified reactions to Pierce's unheard Spanish rant, first from Jeff and then from everyone else except Abed who was a big fan. I guess he liked the Palestinian story element, while the biggest laugh of the episode came when Jeff wondered how Pierce's monologue found an overriding and negative focus on Israel.
This is a work in progress but it's one that has the basic materials to hugely succeed.

Hatfield said...

I really hope The Watcher's wrong, because I'm liking this quite a bit so far. I hear the ratings were weak last night; signs of trouble?

Brian said...

So is John Oliver not going to be on this show anymore? That would be disappointing because I thought he and McHale were funny together in the pilot.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oliver's going to be back. He's not a regular like the people in the study group, or a semi-regular like Ken Jeong (who's signed to a series regular contract but won't be in every episode), but I know they've already arranged for Oliver to be in an upcoming episode, and the creator has said they want to use him as often as they can.

Arlo J. Wiley said...

So far I'm very mixed on this show. A lot of it falls flat, but there's an occasional home run, like McHale and Chase giving their Spanish presentation or the rap at the end.

I'll probably keep watching it, but it's not something I'm excited about.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the NTI's, Community dropped a staggering 30% P18-49 Share from its The Office lead in. Like most posters, I also think the show was disappointing. Would not be surprised to see it canceled quickly. There is only so much Chevy Chase one can take. I love to watch Trudee from Mad Men, and she'll keep me interested for one more week.

Jake said...

I like this show a lot.

Dan Harmon has come a long way from the days of Laser Fart and Most Extraordinary Space Investigations.

Tyroc said...

I felt the pilot was MUCH stronger. I was expecting a natural progression of seeing McHale's character win over the group, but it feels like weeks have gone by and they all know each other well now. Makes me wonder if the network switched the order of the episodes?

Also, I assume I missed it but if they've had this study group together for a while why was their teacher just introducing himself now? (Maybe I'm slow.) And are any of them taking other classes?

The Wise Up bit was funny but went on way too long. Hard not to see the negative reaction from the teacher coming.

No more meta jokes please. Horrible. Completely takes you out of the reality of the show. Ironic distance is one thing, this is just annoying.

Like the cast. Like the pilot. Will keep watching.

Maxed Out said...

Occasionally a laugh-out loud moment, but so uneven and I find the two lead characters unappealing. Way too self-aware. I think from the variety of comments this is a show that is a bit polarizing. I am about to drop it, might give it a couple more episodes.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this episode more than the pilot. Better use of the other characters helped and the pinata joke was up there with the some of the stuff The Office has given us over the years.

Joshua said...

I'm sorry if this has already been addressed, but:
Are we going 2 see less of Allison Brie on Mad Men because of her role in Community? No offense to Community, but my hope is that Mad Men remains priority #1. I would feel ill if they had to recast Trudy. I think Allison is perfect in that role.

Zach said...

This has been the most underwhelming show of the season so far, especially considering that I had such high hopes. The premise already feels stale and you wonder where they are going to go with it. It certainly doesn't help that Gillian Jacobs appears to be one of the least funny people on network television.

R said...

I loved it and I'm really surprised to see as many negative comments as there are on this thread. I laughed hard several times at this episode. I can't decide if I'd say it was better or on par with the pilot, but I have definitely liked both of them so far.

Chevy Chase has definitely annoyed me in the past in certain roles (and as a person haha), but I haven't had any problems with him on this show so far.

I hope this show does well and survives the season ...

Lisa said...

Actually, I have incorporated the phrase "douche-ray vision" into my permanent lexicon, and am most happy with it. And the Amy Mann sequence gave me pleasant dreams that night.

I love this show because the cast is great and the writing and premise are superb. But "Community" is a show that expects an audience to work hard for its reward and doesn't have the big-time guest star bump that "30 Rock" has to make those weak-hearted NBC executives smile. (Though, I'm that rare customer who thinks John Oliver qualifies as a big-time guest star because he's wonderful.)

That said, same weak-hearted executives will ensure that Leno and Howie Mandell will kill off NBC's legacy of great scripted television, so I'm already scoping out my online choices to view unaired episodes of "Community" once it's cancelled.

Last thing. Joel McHale. Who knew?

Anonymous said...

Starburns!

Anonymous said...

I think Community is coming off the TiVo and Parks and Rec is going on. I really laughed during P&R, Community, not so much

Maura said...

This was even funnier than the pilot. There was lots of rewinding, because we were laughing so hard.

Starburns!

I know! Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I'm suprised how many mixed reviews this show is getting. I think it's absolutley hilarious and so does the rest of my family. I mean, every moment of the show isn't laugh out loud funny but I don't expect it to be. That's why I can't stand 30 rock anymore. It's filled from start to finish with unrealistic, goofy situations and constant jokes, one after the other... which isn't necessarily a bad thing. For me though, it gets old really fast. With community, at least there is a little more behind all the humor. Plus, I remember not liking the Office so much when it first came out, but after sticking with it, it became one of my favorite shows. Since The office, 30 rock, parks and recreation (ect.) came out, I think people are sort of used to seeing that kind of formula used in the NBC comedy shows. This is a bit different and so instead of thinking it has to be a certian way and insanely hilarious in just the first two episodes, I think people should be a little more open minded and Give it a chance.

Paul Outlaw said...

After reading these reviews (and because I fell asleep watching the pilot--twice), I am more sure than before that I am going to pass on this show and stick to ABC, CW and Showtime on Thursdays.

Mike F said...

This comedy is setting land-speed records for fast starts...I can't believe how good it is, how sharp, how polished...that this is on network tv...

Chevy Chase absolutely killed in this episode...just about every beat worked with the major and minor characters...this show is already one of the best comedies ever to air on NBC...

I LOVE the Office, I like 30 Rock, but this is a cut above...this show has a chance to be the best NBC comedy of all time