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New school year starts Thursday on 'Community'

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Joel McHale and Yvette Nicole Brown star in "Community," returning at 8 p.m. Thursday on NBC. (Jorin Althaus/NBC)
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I was going to write about the return of "The Walking Dead" this week, but I decided not to. Sure, I've been eagerly awaiting the second half of season three, which starts Sunday, but so have the rest of the show's legion of fans.Instead, I decided to write about another returning show, one with an equally passionate -- although much smaller -- fanbase: NBC's "Community." After nearly nine months away, "Community" finally returns at 8 p.m. Thursday, filling the slot left vacant after the "30 Rock" finale last week.I love "The Walking Dead," but it doesn't need my help; it's one of the hottest shows on TV right now. "Community," on the other hand, is an underrated gem that doesn't have nearly the audience it deserves.The show is wildly creative. Using the framework of a study group at the fictional Greendale Community College, it consistently churns out refreshingly unique episodes.For instance, last season, the show had three of what might have been my favorite sitcom episodes of the year with its "Law & Order" spoof ("Basic Lupine Urology"), mock historical documentary ("Pillows and Blankets") and 8-bit video-game homage ("Digital Estate Planning"). It's won raves for its paintball episodes, which have parodied action movies, spaghetti Westerns and "Star Wars." Its season-two claymation Christmas special won an Emmy.The cast has gone from Joel McHale in the starring role surrounded by the other study group members to a true ensemble with everyone (except, in this last season, Chevy Chase) contributing equally. In fact, it could be argued now that Donald Glover's Troy and Danny Pudi's Abed have eclipsed McHale's Jeff Winger to become the heart of the group.The humor is very quirky and sometimes absurd, and I think that might be what drives people away. I, personally, prefer that style, which is why I also like shows like "Parks and Recreation" and "Happy Endings." Some of the more out-there elements (like the flamboyant, cross-dressing dean played by Oscar-winner Jim Rash) might put off fans of more traditional sitcoms, but I'd rather have shows that dare to be different and sometimes miss the mark than one-dimensional ones that don't stray from their comfort zones.If that appeals to you, too, then be in your seat when the bell rings at 8 p.m. Thursday. For extra credit, recruit some of your friends to join you.

•••Premiered last week: "Do No Harm," 10 p.m. Thursday, NBC (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde medical thriller); "Monday Mornings" 10 p.m. Monday, TNT (medical drama).

Returned last week: "Rules of Engagement" 8:30 p.m. Monday, CBS; "Smash" 10 p.m. Tuesday, NBC; "Body of Proof" 10 p.m. Tuesday, ABC; "Tosh.0" 10 p.m. Tuesday, Comedy Central. ("Smash" and "Body of Proof" pre-empted this week for the State of the Union.)Series premieres: "Guinness World Records Gone Wild" 8 p.m. Thursday, Tru TV (people try to set records); "The Job" 8 p.m. Friday, CBS (candidates vie for jobs at top companies); "Something Borrowed, Something New" 10 p.m. Friday, TLC (choosing between a new wedding dress or an heirloom); "The Jenny McCarthy Show" 10:30 p.m. Friday, VH1 (comedic talk show); "Car Lot Rescue" 11 p.m. Sunday, Spike (reviving struggling dealerships); "The Face" 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oxygen (beauty competition).Season premieres: "Community" 8 p.m. Thursday, NBC; "Touch" 8 p.m. Friday, Fox; "Supah Ninjas" 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Nickelodeon; "Bar Rescue" 10 p.m. Sunday, Spike; "Jerseylicious" 8 p.m. Monday, Style Network; "Bizarre Foods America" 9 p.m. Monday, Travel Channel (fan favorite moments special at 8 p.m.); "Survivor" 8 p.m. Wednesday, CBS (fans vs. favorites); "My Strange Addiction" 10 p.m. Wednesday, TLC; "Southland" 10 p.m. Wednesday, TNT.Returning: "Brand X with Russell Brand" 11:30 p.m. Thursday, FX; "The Walking Dead" 9 p.m. and "The Talking Dead" 10 p.m. Sunday, AMC (note new "Talking Dead" timeslot; also expands to one hour).Season finales: "Buckwild" 10 p.m. Thursday, MTV; "Shahs of Sunset" 9 p.m. Sunday, Bravo; "Cake Boss: Next Great Baker" 9 p.m. Monday, TLC; "Teen Mom 2" 9 p.m. Monday, MTV; "Happily Divorced" 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, TV Land.
Specials: Charlie Brown Valentine's specials, 8 p.m. Saturday, ABC; "Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome" 8 p.m. Sunday, Syfy (TV movie prequel to the series); "Just Seen It" 8 p.m. Sunday, PBS2 (previews of network midseason shows); "Saturday Night Live in the '80s: Lost and Found" 9 p.m. Sunday, NBC; "Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show" 8 p.m. Monday (CNBC) and Tuesday (USA); State of the Union Address, 9 p.m. Tuesday, NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox; "Inside the Actors Studio: Hugh Jackman" 8 p.m. Wednesday, Bravo.Awards shows and specials: "The Grammys Will Go On: A Death in the Family" 9 p.m. Saturday, CBS (a look at how 2012's show changed after Whitney Houston's death); Grammy Awards, 8 p.m. Sunday, CBS; BAFTA Awards, 8 p.m. Sunday, BBC America; "Fashion Police: The 2013 Grammy Awards" 9 p.m. Monday, E!Of note: David Tennant on "Shakespeare Uncovered" 9 p.m. Friday, PBS.Catch-up: If you haven't been watching Fox's "The Following" -- which you should be -- get caught up on the first three episodes starting at 10 p.m. Friday on FX. Also, AMC has a "Walking Dead" marathon beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday with all of season two and the first half of season three. (Season three episodes start at 12:57 p.m. Sunday.)W.Va. alert: A Martinsburg clan is the focus of the new TLC series "Gypsy Sisters" 9 p.m. Sunday.Reach Amy Robinson at
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