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!


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