A few weeks ago, I visited the sets of NBC’s “Community,” and here’s the syndicated feature that resulted…


OK, hands
up out there, who went to a community college? Come on, ‘fess up, no need to
feel ashamed. Besides, considering the fierce competition to get into a tiny
circle of high-priced, elite universities, America‘s community colleges may be
among the last truly egalitarian institutions of higher learning around.

Just about
anyone can go – high-school grads, dropouts (college and high school), military
veterans, kids without money or older people looking to keep their faculties

You might
even find a lawyer with a propensity for prevaricating who now has to really
get a bachelor’s degree or face disbarment.

That lawyer
is Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), and his story is at the heart of the NBC comedy
“Community,” premiering Thursday, Sept. 17. The show is the creation of Dan
Harmon, who has actually attended community college and is not ashamed to admit
it. He even stars in a series of online “orientation videos,” playing Dean of
Admissions Pat Isakson.

Stuck at Greendale Community College, Jeff falls for
28-year-old fellow Spanish student Britta (Gillian Jacobs), so he forms a
Spanish-language study group – under false pretenses, of course – and winds up
being the unlikely leader of a motley bunch of students.

These are
middle-aged divorcee Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), pop-culture junkie Abed
(Danny Pudi), high-strung Annie (Alison Brie), former high-school football star
Troy (Donald Glover) and philosophical yet
oddball businessman Pierce (Chevy Chase).

teacher is the excitable Senor Chang (Ken Jeong).

distinctly ’70s-flavored, appropriately scuffed sets for “Community” are housed
at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, and on this bright August day, there’s a
celebration under way.

“My mom’s
here for my birthday,” Brown says. “I’m so excited. It’s a great day.”

In between a gala event in the hair
and makeup trailer, and a handmade card featuring
Communit_Yvette_Nicole_Brown.jpgBrown’s two biggest crushes, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Brad Pitt (click here for a video of the birthday celebration), she explains why community-college alumni should embrace
the show.

everybody had to go to community college, the world would be a better place,”
she says. “They’re amazing. It’s a little sad; I guess some people that haven’t
seen the show thought that it would be a negative portrayal, and it’s not. It’s
really a love letter to community colleges, because it’s a love letter to
people who go to community colleges.”

is a comedy without a couch or a workplace or a family home. It does, however,
have a library and classrooms, and McHale sits down in one of them to discuss
his character.

“In so many
comedy pilots,” he says, “here’s the main character, everyone around him is
insane; he’s the normal guy, he’s the everyman.

“This guy
is actually not the moral compass of this show. Britta is the moral compass –
Shirley, a little bit – but my guy was a liar and a cheater. Now he can’t be,
for the first time in his life.”

Of course,
change doesn’t come overnight.

“It’s like
a Navy SEAL,” McHale says, “who’s been trained to kill someone in 400 ways, and
my guy can lie 400 ways. So when he’s presented with different circumstances,
his first instinct is to do one of those things. He can’t stop himself.

“Then he
has to go, ‘Uhhh … ,’ and try to do what’s right, with varying degrees of

And if he
fails, well, starting over is what community college is all about.

“There are
no strict rules,” Brown says, “that if you’re not good enough or haven’t
achieved enough (you can’t go). If you want to start over again, this is the
place to do it.

“You get to
understand about life, and it’s a cross-section of everybody.”

UPDATE: My alma mater — yes, I am a community-college grad, couldn’t you tell? — responds to “Community.” Go, Pioneers!

Posted by:Kate O'Hare