Community joins the sitcom lineup

NBC's breaking out a new off-kilter comedy to join the likes of "The Office" and "30 Rock." Will "Community", which takes place at a community college, enjoy-the same success? Based on the reaction at the summer press tour, it's a good bet.

Show creator Dan Harmon drew on his real-life experience of going to community college when he was 32 -- with a few tweaks. "I exaggerated my point of view by making [the main character] a tall, handsome person," he joked.

That tall, handsome role is filled by Joel McHale, host of the cable show The Soup. He plays Jeff Winger, a successful lawyer whose career comes to a screeching halt when his colleagues discover his academic credentials aren't what they seemed. While taking classes at Greendale Community College, he meets a motley crew:

  • Britta (Gillian Jacobs), the hot chick who started it all. Britta quit high school to pursue other opportunities -- Greenpeace, foot modeling -- and is now working to get back on track. She sees through Jeff's crap... but she's got issues of her own.
  • Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), a divorced mother who can't rein in her maternal instincts even when she's with her fellow students.
  • Abed (Danny Pudi), a socially maladjusted misfit who specializes in saying the wrong thing.
  • Annie (Alison Brie), a high-strung perfectionist and housewife who didn't get into Harvard, so she's going to remake Greendale in Harvard's image.
  • Troy (Donald Glover), an arrogant high school athlete who picks himself as his all-time-favorite football player.
  • Señor Chang (Ken Jeong), the Spanish professor who gets angrily defensive when he feels that others are questioning why an Asian man would be teaching Spanish.
  • Pierce (comedy legend Chevy Chase), a pre-moistened wipes mogul who has infinite wisdom -- and is hanging out in community college.

Chevy Chase was one of the first actors cast -- he read the script, loved it and "was delighted to say please hire me," he said. The show's producers were thrilled to have him.

"We never auditioned anybody else for Pierce," Harmon said. "We landed that whale." Chase winces. "Are you more sensitive about your age or your weight?" Harmon asked, solicitously. "Mostly about my weight," Chase responded. "We landed that fossil of a whale..." Harmon continues.

Yep, it's that kind of cast -- loose, funny, and who obviously have a fantastic time together. For example: Chase asked for more background on his character during the press session, and Harmon spun a story about a near-death experience that sent him looking for enlightenment. "There he is, more god than man, like Christ come back to Earth, here to fraternize with the youth." "The Jesus Christ of wet-wipes," McHale added. Chase nodded approvingly.

But no matter how much fun they make of each other, Harmon insists he's not making fun of community college, or the students that attend it. "Greendale college is a character in the show," he said. "I compare it to Charlie Brown's Christmas tree -- its ambitions exceed its grasp, and it's therefore heroic. That's not funny." Pause. "I think the funny thing is farts."

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