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Friday, September 30, 2011

3x02 "Geography of Global Conflict" (The Annie of it All)

"Geography of Global Conflict"
Original Airdate: September 29, 2011

It's no secret that my favorite character on Community is Annie Edison. I've said this before, but I feel like the reason is that I relate to her the most out of all of the study group members. I can genuinely empathize with her, because I feel like there are parts of me that are her - that crazy, neurotic little girl trapped inside of a young woman's body. I still watch Disney movies. I still crave to be praised by people around me as if they actually matter. So that's why this week was a spectacular episode for me - perhaps one of my favorites out of all three seasons. Be aware that I am a Jeff/Annie shipper, but even though this episode was about them, I will not be posting "OMG THEY'RE SO AMAAAAAZING AND YOU ALL NEED TO LOVE THEM." (I had my moments last night during the airing). The focus and purpose of this blog is to actually review the development of the show as a whole. That being said, there will be discussions about the Jeff/Annie dynamic, as it was an important factor in 3x02. Cool? Cool. Let's begin.

So we open last night's episode with Martin Starr, who I did not know because I never watched Party Down, as a PolySci professor. And here's where I will stop momentarily and discuss guest stars on Community. I'll be honest - I'm a spoiler junkie. And when I heard that the writers were planning on bringing in an assortment of guest stars, I was quite frankly a bit worried. But I think that Glee had scarred me from that. See, here's the thing with guest stars - guest stars are great. They are wonderful. Every show should (and usually does) have them at some point. In order for a guest star to work, however, they need to not take the focus of the show away from the main cast. And I think that for a lot of shows, that's the stumbling block. It's great to have someone like, say Katy Perry, on an episode of How I Met Your Mother. It's bad if she overshadows Neil Patrick Harris or Jason Segal in scenes, however (she never did though, and I liked her episode because of that). Also, I feel like shows sometimes try and bump up their ratings or viewership by throwing in completely extraneous guest stars (really, I'm talking to you Glee) just for the sake of having them. That hasn't been the case of Community, however. The writers and producers know how to use their guest stars to enhance the chemistry that the cast already has. (I had to sit and actually think that, yes, between the first two episodes this season, there have already been three guest stars, but it's not detracting from the group). Martin Starr did a fantastic job of fulfilling that role as a guest star.

So, back to our plot: as it turns out, Annie Edison has a new, younger protegee of sorts in who we will politely call "Other Annie" (or the less politically correct name, "Asian Annie"). As it turns out, little Other Annie is sort of like a shadow of Annie Edison's past. (I really hope she returns for later episodes, because I loved her character). Other Annie is being called on to answer questions in class (which she answers correctly, of course) and this doesn't sit quite well with our Annie. Throughout the episode, it's nice to see our Annie slowly unravel and delve into the crazy. But more on that in a minute. Now we'll discuss the apple of my eye this week: Britta.

I think that a lot of Jeff/Annie shippers dislike Britta. And I don't quite understand why, because I absolutely adore her. I don't, obviously, prefer her and Jeff together romantically, but I love when they have side adventures together because they're quite funny. But I digress - Britta Perry owned this week's episode. We know because of last week's tag that she finally committed to a major - Psychology - and this week was about her getting serious...sort of. As she walks with Shirley and discusses her new additions (a backpack, and highlighters), she receives a flyer about three people who have been imprisoned for protesting in another country. And, of course, Britta knows one of the girls. I'll pause here and say that the whole Britta storyline this week was awesome in its symmetry to 1x02. Let's take a step backwards in time and discuss some character development on Ms. Perry's part:

So, in "Spanish 101," we learn that Britta is an activist and she educates Shirley and Annie about anti-journalism violence in Guatemala. I think that the key in this episode is the fact that the audience realizes that Britta can talk a big game, and she really is so hilarious in that - she is actively involved in passively changing the world. Britta finally decides that instead of just yelling about causes to individuals passing by (which she does in 2x03, ironically enough), she's actually going to do something and participates in a silent protest that Annie and Shirley organize. Let's flash forward to 3x02, then. In this episode we realize that there is a part of Britta that wants to embrace that rebellious side of her (if for no other reason than to be noticed, because her friend in jail "has a Facebook page!") and defy authority for the sake of defying authority and proving that she hasn't lost her game. Really, it's a fantastic example of the kind of character that Britta is. Throughout the first half of the episode, she tests Chang's authority and eventually both she and Chang are confronted by Chang's security guard boss regarding their behavior. More on that in a minute.

Let's backtrack to our A-storyline this week, and discuss our Annie versus Other Annie. Throughout the episode, we hear Jeff consistently praising Annie, albeit in a way that we've come accustomed to - "kiddo." Okay, let's backtrack even further now, and return to first season, specifically 1x09. The debate episode is the real hinge in the Jeff/Annie dynamic. Until this point, there had been subtle indications that the two cared about each other in a friendly way. But 1x09 established the tension that existed between them. And - if we're being honest - that tension hasn't been settled since. Here we first meet two of Jeff's defense mechanisms - a head pat and a "buddy." And I am really quite glad that they gave the explanation of such defenses in this episode so that there is no confusion. If there is one thing, just one thing, that Dan Harmon should be aware of, it's that his audience is astute. And shippers, perhaps, are the most astute out of them all. Maybe it's because we thrive on picking out little moments, dissecting them, and extracting meaning. A lot of the times, we are grasping at straws. Occasionally, we are right. This is one of those rare times.

You see, Jeff admits in this episode that he uses "kiddo" and head pats as a crutch - they are a way of telling Annie that he cares about her, without actually saying or acting on it. And if you re-watch seasons, the times that he pats her head or calls her "kiddo" are moments of tension between them ("Introduction to Political Science," "A Fistful of Paintballs," etc.) It makes sense because it's a way for him to distance himself from figuring out how he actually feels about her (also, it's very nice that we finally got Jeff admitting to feeling something - the Annie of it all isn't in our heads!). It's easy, that way. I was in love with this kid in high school who I used to call "kiddo" all the time. And I've done that with practically everyone that I have liked since then. Why? It's just easier than trying to decide what I actually feel for them.

Anyway, I'm digressing - we learn that Jeff thinks that Other Annie can't hold a candle to their Annie, and he gets quite defensive when the newcomer steals our Annie's idea to form a Model U.N. at Greendale. The confrontation between Other Annie, Professor Cligoris (would it be Greendale if we didn't have professors with names like this?), Jeff, and our Annie is fantastic. We get a moment where Jeff switches from the collective pronoun "our" to "my" when describing Annie. Our Annie - rightfully - looks proud at this. Turns out that Jeff volunteers our Annie to combat Other Annie in a "Model U.N. Battle Royale" moderated by the professor later on the next night.

Heading back to our Britta storyline, we learn that maybe Britta has grown up more than she thinks. Perhaps she's not the person that she once was - the one who would angrily protest things that she didn't even know about, get teargassed and then thrown into jail. Our little Britta is growing up. She's got a major now, and a backpack, and highlighters. And maybe she's starting to get some direction in life. But much like a parallel of our A-storyline between Jeff and Annie, she's afraid of losing what she is so used to. She's afraid that "growing up" means that she's no longer going to be the person that she was in the past, and maybe - just maybe - this means that she'll have to figure out who she is apart from that. And that's one of the biggest things that I hope this season accomplishes. I really want to see these characters struggling with who they want to become. And 3x02 was a perfect example of how I believe they're going to do that without losing sight of the heart and humor of the show. Because let's be honest - these characters are in their junior years of college. They don't have much time to figure out who they want to be anymore. They're forced with the inevitability that maybe they've already started growing up and just haven't realized it yet. But when they do realize it, that revelation alters how they think about the future.

So let's refocus on our A-storyline again: Annie, Jeff, Pierce, Shirley, Troy, and Abed are on Annie's Blue Model U.N. team, and they are actually doing quite well. That is, until someone farts and disrupts the focus of the team (isn't it wonderful how this is completely in-character for all of them?) Annie then throws a fit, the likes of which make look "Cooperative Calligraphy" look tame. The fit ends in her running out of the room, embarrassed (and rightfully so). Jeff confronts her in the library and Annie admits that she feels like such a child for throwing the tantrum. It is here that we get one of the best Jeff/Annie dialogues I think we have ever gotten:

Jeff: When you hate someone as much as you hate Annie Kim...or, when you feel the way I feel about you, the easy loophole through the creepiness and danger is to treat them like a child. "Chip off the old block" or "You're the best, kiddo." It's a crutch - a way to tell you how important you are from a distance. But now you're becoming this mature, self-possessed young woman and I can't keep patting you on the head or talking down to you.
Annie: But I like how close we are. I don't want to grow up if it means losing what we have.
Jeff: Well tough, Annie. You  have to grow up because the world needs more women like you. We can't keep doing this forever, kiddo.
Annie: ...can't we?

The reason that this dialogue is perfect is because we've established something between these two characters that had been previously subtext. We have had evidence that Jeff cares about Annie, and obviously that Annie looks up to - and cares about - Jeff. What's great about this episode as a whole is that it's forcing characters to stop hiding behind their crutches because it's easy. "Relationships are complicated," Jeff said in "Asian Population Studies." And for him, it's easier to use that as an excuse for not addressing his feelings, period. He's taking the easy way out in calling Annie a cute little nickname, and pretending like it's under pretenses of being a big brother or a father to her. But what they realize in this scene is that they both have to grow up. For Annie and Jeff, this both is unfortunate because with addressing a relationship, there's automatically the potential for it to fail. Annie is comfortable with what they have, because moving forward means that there is a potential to lose everything they have built up - all the walls and subtext included. But I'm glad that it's Jeff, this time, who admits that they can't keep tip-toeing around things. Those sort of games have expiration dates, and they've reached theirs. Both of them know now what Jeff means by calling her "kiddo" - they can't go back to just being that, because it's creepy. It's weird to call someone a kid when it really means that you have some sort of romantic feelings for them.

This season seems to be all about exposing the characters and their wants and their desires moving forward. And to me, that's exactly where this show needs to progress to. I love the group shenanigans that they encounter. I love episodes like "Basic Rocket Science" and "A Fistful of Paintballs." But the hard reality is that they're all learning to address what they've previously buried behind those facades. Because things like that - those fun, awesome moments - are great, but they have to move on. They won't always be able to play a game of paintball or Dungeons & Dragons in order to escape the life that's outside of those four study room walls.

And perhaps that's reading too deeply into what this episode was about, but I don't care. I know that I may have mentioned last week that this season has a different feel to it. And it's not a bad feel, by any means. It's something that we're not used to, much like what these characters are going through - unfamiliar territories in relationships and life. Quite frankly, I am glad we are along for the ride with them.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- "Hello." I will never hear this song or "Gravity" the same way again. Thanks a lot, Hermione!
- Troy swapping out Annie's cup in the cafeteria had me laughing. For a solid minute. I have no shame.
- Britta's rant in the study room was A+++
- Annie's first outfit was insanely cute. I want it.
- Why is it that it has become a stereotype in sitcoms for nerdy characters to wear huge glasses? 
- Britta eating the paper was hilarious. Britta wearing the dress of Barbie dolls was hilarious. Britta doing anything this episode was hilarious.
- Troy's Southern accent. I can't even begin to articulate how much I loved it.
- GARRETT. AND VICKI. Thank you.

Next week we have our first swap of the season - they're airing what was originally supposed to be episode 3x04 as 3x03: "Competitive Ecology." Apparently this episode has everyone attempting to pair up for a Biology assignment. It sounds like a bottle episode, but a promising one! Until then, kiddos. ;)

Friday, September 23, 2011

3x01 "Biology 101" (And We're Baaaaaack!)

"Biology 101"
Original Airdate: September 22, 2011

Welcome to my new blog-review of NBC's hit show Community. I feel like I should preface this blog by explaining who I am and who I am not. First of all, I am not affiliated with NBC, Community, Dan Harmon, or the writers in any way. I am a 22-year old recent college graduate with a degree in English (special emphasis in Creative Writing) who is working as a writer/researcher for a company in Orlando, Florida. I am a huge fan of this show, and decided that writing weekly reviews of the episodes could potentially be beneficial to me (so that I remember little nuances that may recur throughout the season) and to you, my lovely devoted readers... of whom there are probably very few right now.

Nevertheless, I'd like to kick off the blog by highlighting the past two seasons of Community, before I start off with a review of last night's season 3 opener. I'll  be honest with you - I didn't watch this show when it first aired. I'm not exactly sure why, but what I do remember is this - NBC was hyping the life out of it prior to the season 1 premiere. And yes, perhaps that was due to the fact that it was a new comedy, and was opening the NBC Thursday line-up, no less. I'm certainly thankful that they had enough faith in the show to do so. I loved Joel McHale from The Soup, so every time I saw a promotional trailer, I mentally thought "Oh, it's that guy. Maybe I'll give the show a shot."

But for some reason, unbeknownst to me still, I never did. My first-season fix had become Glee, and Community just became a fleeting thought and nothing more. And to this day, I really don't regret holding off on watching the show until almost a year later, because I think that I appreciated it more (and a fan is still a fan, no matter when they join, right?) Eventually, "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" aired, my best friend freaked out via Twitter, and convinced me that I just had to watch this show because I would love it. So I trusted her judgement (thanks for that one, Jaime!) and streamed the first season. And I fell in love.

I think that the episode where I really became drawn into the show was "Football, Feminism, and You" (which, by the title alone is fantastic). The conversation between Troy and Jeff on the football field had me literally laughing out loud, and I knew that this show and the dynamic between these characters was something special. What's great about first season was that it really presented this solid foundation - it gave us glimpses into who these characters were and more importantly, who they had the potential to become. We all know that Jeff is egotistical, vain, and self-centered. But that's not all that he is, and by the end of first season, we had begun to see flickers of emotional nuances in his characterization. We saw him become vulnerable, and downright paranoid at one point, and I think that those aspects of him are really coming back around for season 3. More on that in a minute though.

By second season, I was hooked on the "little show that could" and its spectacular team of writers. Season 2 is definitely what I would classify as the "fantastical" era, and I know that Dan Harmon has mentioned this in interviews recently. If season one helped to lay the groundwork for the characters, then season 2 really established what the show could do as far as pushing these characters to their physical and mental limits. For the first time, we encounter Britta's life outside of Greendale, meet Shirley's ex-husband, and oh - we battle zombies on Halloween. No big deal. All of the internal insanity within the walls of Greendale just comes pouring forth at the seams. Though the suspension of disbelief was greater that season, I never did feel like it was "over the top," in terms of credibility. 

And now, we move into season 3 and a season that - I feel like - returns to the internal conflicts between characters themselves - their wants and needs and their expectations of themselves. We've seen this group battle zombies and City College in paintball. We've watched them go on fantastic journeys in space buses and travel through winter wonderlands of claymation. If anyone can prove to me that these episodes were short of brilliant, I dare you. But let's not forget that now these Greendalians are now juniors. They have one more year left until they reach the end of their community college journey, and they are going to begin to have a lot of inner conflicts and struggles. But I digress - onto the review!

"Biology 101" opens with a fantastic and hilarious dream sequence. As it turns out, Jeff must like Glee more than he lets on, because this is a musical sequence with vibrantly-clothed characters straight out of a Saturday morning children's special. "We're gonna have more fun and be less weird than the first two years combined!" they sing. And there is evident irony in the fact that yes, of course these characters are singing their pledges to be "normal" (What really is normal though, at Greendale? Well, more on that in a minute). As it turns out, Jeff has zoned out during a conversation with the study group and is snapped from his daydream right as the musical number concludes. Perfect timing!

Of course, the big unresolved issue in last season's finale is brought to light within the first few seconds post-Glee sequence: Pierce. And this is what I really admire about Community - there's an instinct in television today to drag cliffhangers through the mud of an entire season, in hopes that the audience will follow. But as an audience member, that is the worst thing you could do for me. I have a short attention span. I need sharp, witty one-liners and things addressed that I have wanted to know about right away. Otherwise, you run the risk of the audience member getting to a point where they just say "Who cares anymore?" And you don't want that. Anyway, when we last saw Pierce, he walked away from the group (to the dismay of everyone, but not really Jeff because Jeff hates Pierce, we are told). But in the opening, we find out that Pierce now wants to re-join the group. In his Winger-ish ways, Jeff assures everyone that Pierce doesn't need to join their study group in order to be their friend. They have, after all, evolved past needing to be in the same class in order to maintain friendship. This was a nice callback to "English as a Second Language," and even nicer that Jeff's words come back to bite him (courtesy of Annie) later on in this episode.

We meet a new Biology professor - Professor Kane - who we learn is quite serious. And this is where I'll begin my discussion on Greendale and the study group. I could tell that there has been a tonal shift in the writing this season, and I must say that I really enjoy it. In "Applied Anthropology," toward the end of the last season, there was this humorous little exchange between Vicki, Starburns, and Fat Neil regarding the study group and how basically everything is always about them. And while I love my little study group to death, it's funny to think that there actually is life outside of Study Room F. People who are genuinely trying to get degrees, who work night-shifts at taco places to put themselves through business classes actually attend this school. People who are serious about their classes and who don't have insane side-adventures. And I love that we get a glimpse of that in this Biology professor. Sometimes we forget that Greendale is actually supposed to be a school...that we're not in McKinley High or East Side High where people can run down the halls and have choreographed dance numbers follow them. So we need the study group to be grounded every now and then, and I think this is their year.

The dynamic between Pierce and Jeff is something that I find to be extremely intriguing. Pierce's continual redemption is nice to see displayed on-screen. Even from the very first episode, Pierce tells Jeff: "You remind me of me at your age" to which he replies: "I deserved that." But really, how much difference is there between Pierce and Jeff, fundamentally? They both desire to be respected, and they both go to extraordinary lengths (becoming a villain, destroying the symbolic study room table with an ax, etc.) in order to do so. (The group kicks Jeff out for the latter act, by the way) And why? Because both are trying desperately to find something within them that is redeemable. And - ironically - in an attempt to find the good in themselves, they both often end up becoming villains. Because they are fundamentally afraid of beings screw-ups, so they act like screw-ups. There is such a unique connection between the two, and I am interested to see how this is explored further.

In what I suppose is the "B plot" of this week's premiere, Abed begins to have a break-down when he realizes that Cougar Town has been bumped to mid-season. In an attempt to help him, Britta introduces him to the British show that Cougar Town was based on: Cougar Town Abbey. My theory here is that, much like having a lesbian friend, Britta is attempting to be "progressive." And what do progressive people like? British television! Britta's attempt fails miserably, however, when Abed watches all of the Cougar Town Abbey characters die in the final episode (episode 6, apparently). He then shuts down into a comatose state until Britta finds another show that - wait for it - has been on since the 1960s and - wait for it - is a British science fiction show and - wait for it - is called "Inspector SpaceTime."

...cue all fellow Community Whovians imploding with laughter. 

As a die-hard Doctor Who fan, there are just so many things that are right and wonderful with this parody, that I cannot even express them through the written word. Everything about it is so hilariously accurate, that I can only pray we get to see more adventures of Inspector SpaceTime and his bowler and trenchcoat in the future.

Of course, Community ends with the group letting Jeff back in and then debating kicking Pierce out (in his continuing act of redemption, Pierce lies in order to cover up Jeff's crazy antics earlier), to which Jeff summons up a mini-Winger bow about friendship. And that, friends is how we end our episode. Oh, wait - we learn in the tag that Britta is going to become a therapist, that Chang is the new security guard, and that this is the year that everyone dies. Weeeeeee!

Additional de-lovely aspects of tonight's episode include:
- "We're gonna sleep together." Dan Harmon single-handedly may have caused the entire Jeff/Annie fandom to implode on itself.
- "All hail Sir Eats Alone!"
- Jeff attempting to fit into a vent
- John Goodman. I really really look forward to his role in the show. In addition to Michael K. Williams' role.
- Annie's beginning to get formidable. I like it.
- "Me and Abed have an announcement..." "...Troy and I are living together!"
- Britta's hair is back to being curly. I appreciate this.

Next week is 3x02 - "Geography of Global Conflict" and apparently introduces us to Asian Annie, who will be a rival to our study group Annie. I am looking forward to this. Thanks for reading, everyone!