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Community: Series Premiere

Before you can say "The Breakfast Club," Community begins challenging stereotypes while also arguing that community college is one of the great equalizers.


Community

Airtime: Thursdays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, Danny Pudi, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, John Oliver
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: NBC
Air date: 2009-09-17
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The funny thing about being smart is that you can get through most of life without having to do any work.

-- Jeff Winger (Joel McHale)

Community gets the obvious jokes out of the way early. Tracking out from a shot of an idyllic college campus full of busy-seeming students, the scene soon reveals that the bells tolling in the background are coming not from a ivy-covered tower off in the distance, but from a dodgy boom box operated by an incompetent dean fumbling his way through a Welcome Week speech.

And so, within the first minutes of NBC's new comedy, we are reminded that community college can be a rinky-dink affair, populated by high school dropouts, middle-aged divorcees, and one Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), a fast-talking lawyer prohibited from practicing until he actually earns the college degree he faked so many years ago. Rather than do any actual work, he's enrolled himself at Greendale, what he calls a "school-shaped toilet," where he means to skate by on his charm and cunning. After all, it's only community college.

Jeff's master plan involves a psychology professor, Dr. Duncan (The Daily Show's John Oliver), whom he once cleared of a DUI charge by claiming his drunken U-turn on the freeway was actually an act of post-9/11 patriotism ("2002 was a simpler time," he recalls wistfully). To pass his classes, Jeff must convince Duncan to give him the answers to every test in every course he'll take that semester. To keep himself from being bored, he must convince Britta (Gillian Jacobs), the girl in his Spanish class who looks like Elizabeth Shue, that he's not a complete "shallow douche-bag," which is her seemingly spot-on summation after dealing with him for just one afternoon.

For Jeff, any evaluation other than "shallow douche-bag" is going to be a tough sell, considering that if Jeff is talking, Jeff is lying. Confident and charismatic, he proclaims, "Either I am God, or truth is relative. Either way, boo-yah!" Luckily, the insanely likeable McHale grants Jeff a Bill Clinton-esque charm: you know he's smug and dishonest, but you like him, so you just don't care.

But of course Britta cares, and she doesn't like him at all. Seeking more time to woo her, Jeff organizes a Spanish class study group, which becomes the series' central literal and symbolic community, one that embodies all the clichés imaginable for its middling students: the good, the bad, and the ethnic. But before you can say "The Breakfast Club," Community begins challenging those stereotypes, while also arguing that community college is a great equalizer, leveling differences of race, class, and nationality. Consider Abed (Danny Pudi) a Palestinian-American pop culture geek with Asperger Syndrome, who functions as the group's moral compass and voice of reason. How refreshing to hear for once that Arab-American voice be laugh-out-loud funny without resorting to an exaggerated accent.

As utopian and smart as Community aims to be, there's one cliché its not willing to forgo: tall and white, Jeff maintains the authority over their group, even after he's outed as a liar and a creep. Given the heft of the show's themes and the crispness of the writing (thanks to more than one Arrested Development alum on board), it's got to be a brilliant social commentary disguised as a major network sitcom, right? Or maybe Joel McHale really is that likable and we're all wallowing in nostalgia for a simpler 2002. Either way, boo-yah.

8

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

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Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

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