Friday, December 30, 2011
"Introduction to Statistics"
Original Airdate: October 29, 2009
I've explained what I love about Community throughout the course of these blog-reviews. The praises range from things such as continuity and character development to humor and wit. One of my most frequented compliments, however, revolves around the show's ability to take an episode that is seemingly focused on one character and instead use it to highlight another character's development. "Introduction to Statistics" is for me, one of the more underrated Britta episodes in the first season, and perhaps the entire series. Explicitly, the episode doesn't seem to be about her, but in fact reveals a lot more about her character than other episodes. I explained last week exactly why Britta stands out for me as a character - "Football, Feminism and You" displayed Britta's weaknesses and vulnerabilities as a character. This episode, though, really solidified her compassion for Annie, which is something wonderful to see early on (considering how their relationship gets rockier post- season finale). It's endearing, and I choose to believe that Britta only truly detested Professor Slimcalves... I mean, Slater, after the statistics teacher acted pretentious. I do think her intentions were focused solely on Annie and making sure that she looked out for the younger woman's well-being throughout the episode. Let's remember that this was - for a shorter period of time - Britta's study group. In fact, you can make the argument that at this point in the season, it still is her group. She used to be in charge as the leader and feels the need to still "protect" the good people in the study group from Jeff. Britta truly is a compassionate and good person at her core. She often has decent intentions that unfortunately (but comedically) go awry, thus making her look either incompetent or rather like a buzzkill. She wants to be needed, as I explained before, and this is one of the things we often forget about her character. We assume that because she's a little rough around the edges that she doesn't care as much as stereotypically "softer" female characters (i.e. Shirley, Annie) do. And thus, this is an episode that is just as much of a Shirley/Britta story as it is a Jeff/Slimcalves one.
If you are potentially in need of a refresher, let's recap what this episode was about. It's Halloween at Greendale, where we learn that Annie has opted to do an extra credit assignment (throwing a Spanish-themed Halloween party), and is attempting to invite everyone. It appears that the vast majority have RSVP'd with the exception of Pierce (who can't figure out how to work his phone) and Jeff "too-cool-to-be-at-Greendale" Winger (who declines the invitation). And see, Jeff is a fun character to dissect in this episode too. Britta genuinely cares about Annie and wants Jeff to show up at the party for her sake. Of course, the former lawyer has yet to learn his fair share of lessons in the value of friendship, so he declines the invitation. And Jeff intrigues me in this episode because we see a bit of continuity between the previous episode and this one in the fact that he's become guilted into "feelings" more than he realizes. And it's this unconscious change in character - a lot of us call it "growth" - that the audience doesn't fully realize until we watch season 3 and compare that Jeff Winger to this one. One thing should be noted: characters don't usually fundamentally change who they are though. Jeff will always be a selfish character in some way, shape, or form. But his perception of himself and of the people around him shifts ever-so-slightly in this episode. We'll get there momentarily, but reflect on who Jeff truly cared about in the pilot (hint: the answer is "himself only") and compare that to the end of this episode.
We learn that Jeff finds his new Statistics teacher attractive and plans to ask her out (it's kind of courteous that he runs it by Britta first, to let her refuse - which she doesn't). All right - let me ask you all this: what makes a good villain? (And I'm not calling Slimcalves a villain... necessarily, but I'll let you make your own judgments regarding her.) I had a conversation at work the other day with my co-workers that involved Harry Potter. And we agreed that, while a lot of people detest Snape and cast him as the villain, we don't. Instead, we cringe whenever we read about Umbridge or see her on screen. And that's what made J.K. Rowling such a brilliant writer - when you have the ability to make an audience cringe or ball their fists or grit their teeth every time a character comes onto screen or the page of a book, you know you have really embodied the adage "show, don't tell." You've gone from merely writing a story to creating a character. This is all to say that I didn't like Slater when she appeared on my screen. To this day, I cannot stand her character. She falls only slightly behind the annoying teenagers in "The Art of Discourse." Why is this? Well, before I tackle that question, I must first wonder if the initial intention of the writers was to make the character unlikeable. If it were so - because later she obviously returns to combat Britta - perhaps it was to make Britta more likeable in the audience's eyes. It would have been a subtle way to encourage those who may not have liked the blonde over to the "good side." Because when your options are Slater or Britta only, most people are probably bound to choose Britta. Unless you love Slater for some reason (but I've met few - Jeff/Britta or Jeff/Annie shippers and non-shippers alike - who feel this way), in which case... well, you may want to skip this review.
So initially, Slater isn't entirely villainous - she's snappy and witty, actually. However, she has an air of haughtiness around her (and that's probably why I didn't care for her character initially, thus solidifying my dislike later on). This is really all lead-in to say that Jeff's attempts to ask out Professor Slimcalves fail when she informs him that she doesn't date students. And Britta looks completely bemused by the sight of Jeff literally chasing his professor out of the classroom. And - again - I genuinely think that at this point she didn't care who Jeff dated. Let's move onto Shirley, then. We get a very nice Shirley storyline in this episode, especially piggybacking from "Football, Feminism and You" where Shirley explains vulnerability to Britta. Here, we have an episode that utilizes Britta (who is completely unconcerned with the idea of Jeff and Slater) to achieve character development for Shirley (who, despite her explanation of being excited to be free of her wedding ring at the beginning of the episode, is really bitter and justifiably distraught over the direction her life has headed - which will come back around in "Comparative Religion"). And again, this is what I love most about the show - utilizing a story that is seemingly about one character to really highlight another.
Jeff, having just been rejected by Slater, turns around in the hallway and apparently Annie - in addition to appearing out of bushes - randomly appears out of thin air and attempts to convince Jeff to come to her party (successfully, actually). This may be one of my top Alison Brie moments because she is hilarious in it. (Also, sidenote: is anyone else rather curious as to how often Annie attempted to use tears in order to get something she wanted? Just a thought). I love also that Jeff appears initially taken aback at Annie's attempts at being "formidable." It's the exact opposite of her "blowing everything off" speech next season, but Jeff seems amused in both cases. Eventually, he cracks which is something pretty nice to see in Jeff - the fact that he gives into the group, begrudgingly at first. Of course, you could make the case that he ONLY did this because Slimcalves blew him off. Nevertheless, I claim progress.
The entire group shows up to Annie's party, and it becomes apparent that Jeff only appears at the party because Slater blew him off. In fact, this becomes even more apparent when Chang informs him that Slater is at the faculty party. Seizing an opportunity to hit on the professor, he ditches Annie's party. And what I find quite hilarious to note is that Jeff's fallback these first few episodes is to bribe people with money. You know, maybe THAT is why he can't afford rent in the next episode! I bet if I tallied up how much he paid off everyone since the pilot to do things for him, I'd have a nice (large) number. Once Britta realizes that Jeff ditched Annie and her party, she goes into "protect the group" mode (by lying to Annie and roping Shirley into helping confront Jeff too). This instinct to protect the study group is something that we will eventually come to associate with Jeff, but for now, it's Britta's turn to help. And at this point, Shirley is still using an form of potential insult in order to justify her own anger. And that's how I feel Shirley's character should behave, right? She would never be purposefully hateful to someone. But the moment she is able to justify an emotion (such as using Britta to take out her own anger on Slater), she does so. I think it might numb the guilt for her a bit.
Jeff shows up at the faculty party, insisting that he "hates everyone here [but Slater]," which is of course a lie that we will come to realize later in the episode. We know for now though that Jeff will say and do just about anything to get what he wants. And then the study group barges into the party and requests Jeff's help in dealing with Annie's insecurity and Pierce's weird trip. And this is where Britta and Slater meet one another, officially. See, up until the moment that Slater opened her mouth, I thought: "Wow, Slater and Britta teaming up to tease Jeff about his cowboy outfit would be hilarious." And I'm not sure if it was intentional for Slater to come across as mean as she did when talking to Britta. Re-watching I almost feel like she assumed Britta was on par with her intellectually because of her wit, but then perhaps realized she wasn't? I can't figure out if that's what was meant to happen. Regardless, Slater opens her mouth and then becomes pretentious. And then I disliked her even more.
And here's the thing about season 1 Jeff: he doesn't just do anything possible to avoid being convicted by the group, or helping them - he's downright mean about it. In the pilot, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, he calls Abed out on his disorder in front of everyone. In this episode, he yells at Pierce, Britta, and Abed. He's literally a jerk at this point when it comes to getting what he wants.
Everyone leaves the cafeteria and Britta finds Shirley in Slater's office. And I tweeted the lovely Yvette Nicole Brown about this last night, but this is one fantastic scene. If you haven't realized yet, I am a huge fan of Shirley/Britta scenes. And - correct me if I'm wrong (always feel free) - I think that this is the first sincere heart-to-heart (regarding personal life) that we get between the pair. It's touching and perfect, because Britta doesn't know what to really say, so she does the best she can. I think this particular moment perfectly embodies the heart of the show at such an early stage in the series and it was probably my favorite scene during the re-watch.
Slater finally agrees to Jeff's advances and as they walk to his car, the study group (and all other party-goers) are gathered outside of the library and beg for Jeff to help them with Pierce (who has blockaded himself within a fort of tables and chairs). What's fantastic about this episode is that Jeff returns to the party for the person he cares for the least in the study group. It wouldn't be a huge leap in character growth for him to return for Britta or Abed. But the fact that he comes back to help the one person he loathes in the group says a lot. Clearly, his statement to Slater earlier is null and void - he DOES care about people at the school. He doesn't fully realize it yet, or exactly what that means. Also, he turns Slater down in order to accomplish this. Remember the pilot? When he basically turned human beings on one another in order to get a shot at Britta? Yes - character growth.
The episode ends with Abed-as-Batman narrating, and I love that Jeff humors him and refers to Abed as "Batman" rather than his actual name. I also find it interesting that the dance is the moment the writers thought about how Annie was really excited to be dancing with Jeff, and that this kind of is the subtle kick-start to everything else. And I love that we end exactly how we do every Halloween episode - with the study group together.
Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- "If you show up, you get extra credit. Me? I don't even get paid." I miss teacher!Chang
- The voice command gag with Pierce never gets old. Or less funny.
- "The last time you did this, I saved a vial of your tears and have slowly been building up an immunity."
- "I was so unpopular in high school, the crossing guard used to lure me into traffic!"
- "YOU DON'T HAVE TO KEEP DOING THAT."
- Who noticed the oddly-looks-like-Christmas-Wizard-Duncan guy?
- Gillian's delivery of her lines in the cafeteria were brilliant.
- My favorite outtakes include Donald's ad-libs in this episode.
- "Yeah, nice and pretentious." Go Britta. :)
- "Well, when we go to floating skeletons with our problems, we get what we pay for, don't we?"
- "I'm Batman." "You sound like Cookie Monster." Danny Pudi's Christian Bale impression is always, always golden.
Next week we're kicking off 2012 with the episode that I absolutely adore - "Debate 109"! We get more of Whitman, the Dean, hilarious Britta, and an awesome Jeff/Annie story. Until then, everyone - have a safe and happy New Year's Eve. :)
Friday, December 23, 2011
"Football, Feminism and You"
Original Airdate: October 22, 2009
Every fan has a moment where they fall in love with the television show they're watching. It's usually so insignificant that if I were to ask most of you exactly when a television show became your favorite, the majority of you wouldn't be able to pinpoint an episode or a scene. Most of you. Some of you can recall, though, the moment a show went from being just a show to something special. And I begin with this because when I started to stream Community, I enjoyed the first several episodes of season 1. It was a great show, full of wit and humor and heart. But I was still warming up to it - testing out the waters, if I may use that trite phrase. But the moment that I absolutely knew this show was something special was during the conversation on the football field between Jeff and Troy in "Football, Feminism and You." It was literally the first moment in the entire series where I laughed out loud. I remember, quite vividly, because I had recalled that my friend Jaime mentioned how hilarious the show was. And there was no doubt that it was a funny show - while watching on my computer with my earbuds in, I had definitely chuckled and giggled a bit. But that scene, that moment, was the first time that I literally laughed out loud. And I have never looked back since then.
In addition to holding a special place in my television-watching heart for that, "Football, Feminism and You" is ranked in my top 3 episodes of the entire series (falling behind "Remedial Chaos Theory" [#1] and "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" [#2]). The reason that this episode is such a stand-out to me is because it is the first episode of the series where I felt cohesion among the characters and their respective storylines. Nothing in the episode felt overwhelming, even though there were technically five different plots occurring simultaneously (Jeff/Dean, Annie/Troy, Jeff/Annie/Troy, Britta/Shirley, Pierce/Dean). There is something so natural and organic about the way that the characters interact with one another. Additionally, the character growth and development of Jeff, Annie, Troy, and Britta add to my love of the episode. We learn a lot about each of their characters throughout their stories, and those revelations set in motion the development and themes we'll see come up later on in the series. For instance, we learn that Jeff and Annie are selfish characters, but each for different reasons (which I'll explore later on, don't worry). For now, mull over this: Jeff is selfish because he can control things and people, and Annie is selfish because she cannot. Like I said, I will come back to this, but just keep that idea fermenting in the back of your minds until then.
So let's briefly discuss the plot for this episode, in case you need a refresher. The Dean is developing a new mascot for Greendale - one that is as unoffensive and all-inclusive as possible - and Pierce volunteers to assist him with this. Meanwhile, the Dean has an ulterior motive in visiting the study group one afternoon - he wants Troy to play football for Greendale, which the young athlete is evidently against, given Greendale'e less-than-adequate athletics department. Annie too is against Troy playing football - she spends the first half of the episode studying for an Astronomy test, and is enjoying all of the attention that she never received from Troy back in high school. She insists that Troy losing his scholarship to play football was the best thing that ever happened to him.
I'll pause because I took some notes regarding the beginning of the episode, and will mention them now so that we don't have to jump around later on in the review. It's amusing to watch this episode (which is a pretty early episode - the sixth of the first season) and remember that Troy and Pierce were supposed to be the original "best friend" pairing. Pierce actually references this in "Pascal's Triangle Revisited," when he asks Troy: "What happened to us?" Like I mentioned last week, I really love that they played off the natural chemistry between Donald and Danny because at this point in the series, the focus is still Troy/Pierce. And I think that Troy/Pierce works a lot in the way that Jeff/Britta does, in that the relationship highlights each individual's maturity and similarities. Both pairs are alike in ways, and that is why I think they're drawn to one another - they're attracted (whether romantically or platonically) to a person who reminds them of themselves. (Additionally, I think that's why Pierce takes to Jeff so much and strives for his acceptance - Pierce does say in the pilot that Jeff reminds him of a younger version of himself). It is interesting then, to shift the balance - to put Troy/Abed and Jeff/Annie or Troy/Britta and Abed/Shirley together for stories. These are characters we typically think are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of beliefs, morals, emotional maturity, etc. But what's great about this show (again) is that when you have stories with these characters together, you realize they're fundamentally similar. And that is what we get our first taste of in "Football, Feminism and You" - the similarities between Jeff and Annie. But again, more on that later!
Also, this is one of my favorite Britta stories, perhaps in the entire series. It really demonstrates her as a character - how she's hard but it's because she's usually isolated from other women. And I love that when she thinks she's screwed up, she really ends up helping Annie. The irony is that in the later seasons, usually when Britta thinks that she helps, she ends up screwing up. And she's just completely oblivious in both cases to what she's really doing versus what she THINKS she's doing. Also, I love the Britta/Shirley friendship throughout this episode, but I also like that it gives us a glimpse into the Britta/Annie side of the story. As much as I love Jeff/Annie, I feel like Jeff (or perhaps the drama that occurred because of him) messed up the entire second season for Britta and Annie in terms of their friendship. And it's not like the two were ever close to begin with (Annie always seemed to be closer to the boys, in my opinion, while Shirley and Britta usually stuck together - see "Competitive Ecology" for example), but they seemed to have a wedge of animosity between them later on. And I think that perhaps people assume that Britta is harsh and abrasive to Shirley in this episode on purpose, but that's simply not the case at all. She's the kind of woman who has never been asked to be a part of traditional feminine things. She's the kind of person whose filter is relatively low when it comes to things she's passionate about. And let's face it - Britta is passionate about feminism. She likes to rant for the sake of ranting. She carries one-sided debates with herself in the bathroom mirror. And honestly, Shirley's face when she turns on the hand dryer? Hilarious.
And I love that the real reason Britta joined Shirley was to feel included and needed. I think that she did kind of feel excluded once she learned that women went to the bathroom in groups - and especially when Shirley didn't ask her. Annie is more feminine than Britta, and Britta has been left out her entire adult life from "mainstream, feminine things." Now, she finally has the chance to bond with women, and she doesn't know how to properly respond. Her story about why she always went to the bathroom alone is endearing, adorable (and funny) and it only makes Britta more likable to me. Her biggest fear in the group is being the one to bring everyone down - she feels like no one needs her around. And it's sad because we sometimes forget that even the "hard" characters get their feelings hurt sometimes. They too, want to feel needed.
Back to our plot, now that you've gotten a diatribe regarding characterization - Jeff learns that the Dean has posters and flyers around the school with his image on them. Dean Pelton agrees to not send out the flyers to the public so long as Jeff does him a favor. Namely, he wants him to recruit Troy to join Greendale's football team so that the community college will not be seen as a laughingstock. Jeff agrees, and successfully manipulates Troy into believing that joining the football team is the best thing for him. This evidently upsets and angers Annie, who (unlike Jeff) knew what football did to Troy back in high school. It caused him to become self-absorbed and egotistical to the point of delusion, and she doesn't like that. And she will have a bone to pick later on with Jeff because of it. It's nice in this scene to see Annie not completely smitten over Troy - there are lines. When he shows up in the cafeteria, acting like a jerk, she doesn't dismiss his behavior. She's genuinely upset. And this is also the first time that Annie makes her formidable face. And it's not her pretend-to-be-formidable face (like in the next episode). It's the face we see re-emerge in "Intro to Political Science." In both cases, she is legitimately upset with Jeff, and this rarely happens.
It's then that we approach one of my favorite early Jeff/Annie scenes. Remember how I said earlier that Jeff and Annie are selfish for different reasons? Jeff is selfish because of the things he can control. He's self-centered because he has power - he controls the group, he manipulates people, and he used to get paid to do it. He has leverage and very rarely finds himself at a loss for control over anything (and when he does, i.e. "Contemporary American Poultry," "Biology 101," etc. he can't deal with it). And that's why he's selfish - because when YOU can control anything, who is the one person that needs to be looked out for the most? You. Jeff is right about Annie though. She is selfish. But here's the difference - Annie is selfish because she cannot control things, people, and circumstances. We never really learn the full extent of Annie's Adderall addiction, but I assume from what we do know (we've learned about her being chubby and having acne and being unpopular and taking Adderall to help her "focus"), she took the pills as a way to try and maintain control over her life. And that's what addictions are - a lack of control. When you feel powerless, you want to grasp onto something that gives you the illusion of power. Annie is selfish because she can't control Troy, but wants to (as she admits later). She can't make life turn out the way that she planned it would in the beginning. And that frustrates her and drives her to the point of doing the things that she does in this episode. So Jeff's speech, while harsh, is accurate. But Annie is also correct - she does care about people. She wants what's best for them, but she also wants it to be what she wants. She hopes that the two will coincide (which they often do not).
(Additionally, I love that Annie causes Jeff to feel guilty. It's awesome character development from the pilot, where he virtually has no remorse for turning the group on one another.)
Britta then is sent into the bathroom by Shirley in order to console Annie (who is crying over Jeff's harsh spiel). The result is hilarious because Britta initially attempts to help someone by acting like Shirley. But she can't be. She's not the sweetie-pie-Oh-that's-nice kind of woman. She's the take-no-crap kind, and THAT is what ends up helping Annie in the end. Britta just had to be herself the entire time.
At the end of the episode, Jeff attempts to dissuade Troy from joining the football team, but he's interrupted from his speech by Troy. It's nice that Troy teaches Jeff a lesson (and it's the beginning of a very long line of lessons he'll be taught in the future). I think that this episode is the one to make Jeff realize that he needs to move forward from where he is at, not where he used to be. Both Jeff and Annie learn to let go of control - a little bit - in this episode. And it's a nice step that they both took separately. Additionally, it's also nice to see Jeff apologize to Annie (he actually says that he's "really sorry," even though it's sort of a back-handed apology). Annie though, doesn't accept this half-apology, and I love that she waits until Jeff fully admits that he was in the wrong to forgive him.
We end the episode with the first appearance of the Human Being (the creepiest mascot ever), and a nice Jeff/Annie moment. I love that this is the a) first sincere "Milady"/"Milord" interaction that we get, b) it becomes a running theme between the two, and c) it is the beginning of their friendship/mutual respect for one another. Jeff didn't really interact with Annie much before this, so I love that this is the episode that kick-starts their friendship.
Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- "What does a star turn into when it collapses?" "A movie of the week." I like to think that Jeff walks into random rooms with zingers already prepared.
- "Did you learn nothing from stand-up comedy in the 90s?"
- This episode features Mary's favorite Greendale professor ("No one has a pen? Why would you not bring a pen to class? Idiots.") and Kerry's favorite ginger ("Is this your first pep rally?")!
- "I think if you said 'Jump,' he'd say 'How high?' If you said 'Stop,' he'd say 'Hammertime.'"
- "Are you blackmailing me?" "...I think so?"
- "You're a football player. It's in your blood." "That's racist." "Your soul?" "That's racist." "...your eyes?" "That's gay." "That's homophobic." "That's black." "That's racist."
- "I'd tell you to do the math, but math isn't important."
- There's a poster in the background of the scene in the cafeteria that says 'Pencils and Such!'
- "I think not being racist...is the new racism."
- "They deploy things in football, right? I went for rhyme over clarity."
- The tag is awesome. Also: I like that episodes such as "Intro to Political Science" are callbacks to old episodes (Troy says "Butt Soup" in the tag).
All right, folks: next week we're moving on to our first Halloween episode with Abed-as-Batman and Professor Slimcalves - "Introduction to Statistics." :) Thank you all for reading and spending the hiatus with me, and I hope that you all have a very merry Christmas!
Friday, December 16, 2011
Original Airdate: September 17, 2009
A very wise singing nun once said that to start at the very beginning is a "very good place to start." (And now that I've gotten The Sound of Music stuck in your heads, let's continue!) Perhaps one of the most entertaining and beneficial things that you can do as a viewer in order to evaluate a television show's progress is examine the similarities and differences between the pilot episode of that show and the most current episode aired. What this does is allow you to focus on the character development and progression of the show in general. As to recap your middle school or high school English class, you may recall that there are really four categories of characters. There are dynamic characters (characters who change), static characters (characters who essentially do not grow or change), round characters (developed characters), and flat characters (these are usually represented caricatures - characters who are not developed). What a re-watch of the pilot episode will help determine is whether or not the characters were dynamic, static, round, or flat to begin with and whether or not they have developed since that first episode. In case you didn't know where this was going, a re-watch of the pilot episode of Community reveals a lot about the character of Jeff Winger, in particular. We can ask the question: what has Jeff learned about his circumstances since the beginning of the series? What has he learned about others? About himself? Jeff - apart from his Winger speech and typical snark - is sort of unrecognizable in the pilot (if we compare him to the Jeff Winger from season 3, for example). Maybe though, "unrecognizable" isn't the best term to describe him. Maybe it's more... "incomplete." There's something lacking in his character, and it's something even he doesn't recognize (and perhaps the viewers don't recognize either. At least, not initially).
In case you need a refresher, let's discuss the premise of the pilot episode. We meet the character of Jeff Winger, who has recently been disbarred as a lawyer by the state of Colorado because his college degree was "less than legitimate." His desire is to cheat his way through the first year (and likely the next four years), and sleep with the hot girl from Spanish class. We come to know her later on as Britta. Initially, Jeff is presented as a bit smarmy, but sort of endearing in his attempts to get close to Britta. He makes effort to go out to dinner with her. However, when it is proving to be more difficult to do so through unforeseen complications (the introduction of five other study group members), he soon dissolves into full-on mean-spirited smarm and sleaze. This is so weirdly not the Jeff Winger in season 3, and I love that. I mean, let's review quickly: the Jeff Winger in the pilot? He's the same character who defends Abed later that semester when he's being picked on by a bully. This is the same character who tackles Annie to the ground because he thinks she's in danger. This is the same character who cried when the puppet Horsebot 3000 died in the puppet show. Oh, and did I mention that this is the same character who - later in the first season - will give up his chance of getting with Slater in order to help out a friend who he really doesn't even like that much? This is what character growth and development looks like. Jeff didn't immediately change and become a perfect person. Doing these nice things didn't negate all of the smarmy things in the pilot and throughout the seasons. But this is what should happen with characters - they need to grow organically, not drastically. (Take notes, folks. Yeah, Ryan Murphy, I'm talking to you about Quinn).
We're introduced to Abed early on in the episode, and I will pause to say that Danny Pudi perfected this neurotic, quick-paced demeanor of Abed's character in the pilot episode. Abed changes pretty dramatically in terms of how much the character becomes toned down later in the seasons. And we don't usually think of Abed as "toned down," but just watching the pilot made me realize how... normal he has become over the course of three years. I have to praise Danny because he does very well with those adjustments and making them in the necessary areas. He makes Abed more human, and it's both endearing and wonderful.
Since we're discussing character growth and development, I'll continue tracking the progression of our characters. We'll return to Jeff, because I have a short essay in regards to him:
- Jeff: Jeff starts out as a self-centered, egotistical smarmy jerk. And, honestly, what else is he supposed to be? He's a recently disbarred lawyer who used to lie his way through everything. And that's worked - until now. Now he's forced into a place where all of his "real world" tactics and strategies won't help him, as Duncan advises. In fact, the very aspects of his character that people used to fawn over him and pay him for, people used to resent him for. And really, Jeff's only ambition is to look after himself. We really don't see him progress completely through this (because he's human after all) by the time we hit season 3, but one thing that we do see is dynamic growth throughout the seasons. We've seen Jeff go from a selfish jerk who has no desire to spare feelings in the pilot (calling out Abed on his disorder in front of everyone) to someone who - merely two years later - spares Britta's feelings by not telling her what "to Britta" something actually means. Jeff has a lot of issues and is one of the more complex characters. This makes sense because he is obviously the "leader" of the group, and thus the one that we tend to focus on more. He's insecure, and it's obvious at the beginning of the series that (even if they don't realize it yet) the study group needs him. They flock to him with this weird sort of dependence. I believe it's just the next episode where instead of asking Jeff to arrive on time, they all sweet talk him (Annie gives him hole-punched notes for his binder). And I'm not exactly sure where to pinpoint the moment that the group stopped needing him as much as he needed them. Honestly, I think that it's during "Early 21st Century Romanticism" though - the moment that Jeff expects the group to call him with their problems and beg him to fix them is the moment that he realized HE has been fixed by THEM. And that's when he tells them that he loves them. It's not a pivotal moment, but it's impactful because we then spend the rest of the time in our series following his dependence on them. It's amazing to me, how much I absolutely love Jeff now. Yet when I watch the pilot (as funny as I found him), it's weird to see Jeff Winger as a shadow of what he became. It's awesome.
- Britta's a bit more interesting to develop. She starts off the series as someone who deflects Jeff's advances, but I'd say that she's pretty much an open book. She tells Jeff snippets of her life, and is upfront with her expectations of him and of herself. Yet in "Pascal's Triangle Revisited," she literally has developed into this guarded person. I mean, don't get me wrong - I still absolutely love Britta as a character. But the Britta in the pilot episode seemed to know where she stood on issues. She had a moral compass of right and wrong, and she was really out to protect everyone in the group - she was their watchful eye. She's really quite soft in the pilot. Everything about her is, from her wardrobe and hair to the way she inflects sentences. It's so intriguing because now I don't describe Britta as "soft" in the least bit. Britta is someone who has completely backwards views on life, but accepts herself because she knows she's flawed. And we accept her for that reason too (and love her for it). And I think she really has grown to pride herself on being imperfect - in making mistakes and being rebellious. Pilot!Britta seemed to want to protect an image - an air of having it all together, if only for the sake of protecting the good people of the study group from the Jeff Wingers of the world. I just love her so much.
Soon, we meet the five other people who will change Jeff's life. Even though Jeff set up a fake study group to meet and get close to Britta, she takes the opportunity to invite Abed, who then takes the opportunity to invite others from their Spanish class. First of all, re-watching the pilot, it's amazing how young they made everyone look (especially Alison Brie). It's also nice that we briefly were able to learn about these characters: Annie is initially skeptical of Jeff, Troy immediately wants others to do the work for him, Shirley is concerned about her kids and Pierce is... well, Pierce. It intrigues me that the original idea for the friendship pairing was supposed to be Pierce and Troy. And I only say that because Troy makes a snide comment to Abed in this episode (and really there's not a whole lot of love there in the first few episodes - a lot of frustration). But now, look at Troy and Abed - they are arguably the greatest bromance since Turk and J.D.! It's definitely neat to see how even as a writer, you have to be willing to concede your initial ideas in favor of actor chemistry. Donald and Danny had awesome chemistry together, and the writers bounced off of that (sort of like what happened post-"Debate 109" with Jeff and Annie). It's hard as a writer to part with your ideas - you want them to work because they're YOURS, but I applaud the Community writers for doing what worked, rather than what they may have wanted.
Since we're on the brief subject of my favorite character, let's take a run-down of her, Shirley, Troy and Pierce's development, shall we?
- Initially, we're introduced to Annie as this adorable, naive, and more-than-slightly neurotic girl. She's the kind of person who craves attention from others, and who is meticulous and detailed in everything that she does. And even from the first episode of the season, she desires to be treated like an adult. Her desire to be treated as a woman and not a little girl makes frequent reappearances throughout the series. It's difficult for Annie because she IS the youngest in the group, and people forget that they can't treat her like a child. And to be honest, Annie only occasionally acts "girlish," if you will. Yes, she giggles about crushes (but I do too, and I'm almost 23). And yes, she has had outbursts. But honestly, she's one of the most grown-up characters in the show. She's the character that a lot of the others turn to for advice. She apologizes. She owns when she's wrong. Instead of going to Shirley for advice, Jeff unconsciously finds himself gravitating toward Annie in "Basic Genealogy." And the reason it's so hard for Annie is because she is literally trapped in the in-between. She doesn't want to lose what it means to be a child (nor do any of us, really), but she doesn't want to be seen as such. She wants people to ultimately look at her for who she is, not how old she is (and that's very similar to Shirley's character too).
- Shirley, we know, had thinly veiled rage issues (as noted in the pilot and also "Debate 109"). And she does seem distraught and upset over the life choices that brought her to Greendale. It's not something that she is proud of, but it's something that she has at least accepted (unlike Jeff, who hasn't quite gotten there yet). This episode also is where Shirley gets her first "That's nice!" line. And I'd like to think that over the seasons, Shirley has become more accepting and less judgmental. I mean, sure...she has her moments, as every character does. But she's beginning to see past characters' beliefs and personal quirks and into their hearts. And that's what's lovely about her character - she's so quick to agree and (for the most part) forgive.
- Troy is a lot like Jeff in the way that he's pretty egotisical in this episode. He's just like any other college freshman though - students come out of high school thinking they're all that and a bag of chips. And Troy's desire is really for others to see him in a certain way. As Jeff said, he's doing everything to please others - it's all for them. And that is exactly why people come out of high school wearing their "Class of [fill in the blank]" t-shirts to college. It's a different type of insecurity - a less overt one, if you will. But it's insecurity, no less. In the rest of the seasons, we've seen Troy accept who he is and not really care what others think about him (save for "Epidemiology" - but even then, he finally accepts who he is at the end of the episode). This is the guy who would rather spend time watching TV with his best friend than decide on a career path. He's the guy who saved Britta by dancing on stage at a recital. He's the guy who made a giant blanket fort. He's the guy who has accepted himself for who he is. Yes, he still struggles with the details (how much of a leader should he be, for instance?), but he's probably the one character who really knows himself. And that's awesome.
- Pierce's desire has always been to be respected and admired. So it stands to reason, then, that the pilot is no different. And it's not. He (much like Troy) brags about who he is and what he's done for himself. And really, Pierce's desire to be accepted runs through every season we encounter. He always feels like an outsider in the group. And the reason? He drives the group away and then pities himself for it. He's not a villain - he's simply (like the rest of the group... see a running theme?) insecure. If he's not a part of a group of people, then who is he? Can he truly fall back on his former success? Will anyone care?
Jeff's first Winger speech really encapsulates the theme of a lot of his speeches. Namely, they usually have little to no significant substance to them. What's amazing about Jeff as a character though (it's really fascinating) is his ability to read and dissect people in the blink of an eye. It's what makes him admittedly both a good and bad leader of the study group. He can pinpoint a person's weakness and then use that to his advantage (like the words of praise each member of the study group wanted to hear - from listening to that conversation earlier, he recognized their insecurities). Amazing. You know what's interesting? Two things really: 1) he doesn't mention Britta in his "what makes you awesome" speech, and 2) instead of pinpointing a weakness or insecurity of Abed's, he highlights legitimately the benefit of Abed as a person (or well, maybe the benefit of his disorder - so yes, Jeff is still self-centered, in case you were wondering).
Britta though, calls Jeff out in front of the group and kicks him out for being a lying creep. Jeff (with a packet full of "answers" Duncan gave him) leaves the library, only to find that Greendale has started trying to teach him lessons. "What you have, my friend," Duncan tells him, "is a second chance at an honest life." And yet, at the end of the episode - despite all of the bad stuff he had done to the group - we realize that he isn't a terrible person after all. He's just... misguided, we should say. And the group then agrees to help him study for their test the next day. And here's the most pivotal moment in the entire series (it's the hinge that everything will swing on): the moment that Britta says "it's your study group" is the moment where a) she relinquishes control, because up until then, the group had turned to her to lead them and b) Jeff's life officially changes for the better.
Additional de-lovely aspects about this episode:
- "Abed, nice to know you and then meet you...in that order."
- Was the Dean originally supposed to be married? He wears a wedding ring and this intrigues me a lot more than it probably should. But I have to know!
- Okay... seriously, what was going on with the blazer/track pants combination on Jeff?
- "Abed, I see your value now." "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."
- "I'm a student." "...well that cannot be an inspiring journey."
- "Interesting. It's just the average person has a much harder time saying 'booyah' to moral relativism."
- "Pierce! Let's discuss this creepiness."
- "You know, bluffs this weak are how your people lost the colonies."
- "You have become something unstoppable. I now pronounce you... a community."
- "Woah, you just wrinkled my brain, man."
- "The funny thing about being smart is that you can get through most of life without ever having to do any work." PREACH.
- "Can you guys hear me? Am I deaf?"
Thank you to all of you who participated in my live-tweet re-watch of the pilot last night! I seriously had a blast, and can't wait to continue these throughout the hiatus. Next week, we'll be watching my favorite episode of the first season - "Football, Feminsim, and You." This is literally the episode where I officially fell in love with the show. Milady/Milord does Thursday Night Re-Watches as well (we're doing "Comparative Religion" next Thursday). So join us there between 8 and 8:30. Then around 9:15, hop onto Twitter (@notajenny) and bust out those season 1 DVDs to join me in our 1x06 re-watch!
Thanks, as always, for reading. :)
Friday, December 9, 2011
"Regional Holiday Music"
Original Airdate: December 8, 2011
This may surprise you (and it may appall you), but there was a time in the not-so-distant past where I was obsessed with Glee. In fact, I once wrote an entire essay-length blog post about how Community drastically shifted that viewpoint. Regardless, I do still watch Glee semi-faithfully each Tuesday night. Instead of watching it with rapt attention and sincere awe, Glee is my Gossip Girl - a show that is full of so many plot holes and gaping inconsistencies, and whose content is not meant to inspire deep thought, but is pure and unadulterated entertainment only. I accept the show for what it is, and understand that (because of that) I shouldn't expect too much. The same doesn't hold true for Community, in case you were wondering. Dan Harmon's show is held to a higher standard than Glee - so high that they actually exist within different dimensions - because it has consistently proven to be a smart, witty comedy, where the musical dramedy about McKinley high has proven to be fluff, on its best days. Here's the thing about parodies (and gentle jabs at pop culture): in order to do a parody right, you have to capture what the show, person, event, etc.'s most unbelievable and laughable qualities are. You have to highlight these, and assume that your audience notices these qualities too, otherwise the parody falls flat. Why a sketch like The Miley Cyrus Show makes me laugh so much on SNL is because Vanessa Bayer does a fantastic job in exaggerating the already laughable qualities that make Miley Cyrus who she is. And I like watching her poke fun at Miley, because I can sit there and point to the television and say: "Yes! That is so true!" And this is why last night's episode of Community hit such a high note (pardon the pun) with me as it jabbed Glee. I'll pick out my favorite jabs throughout the review, so no worries there. But let's first discuss the plot of the episode.
"Regional Holiday Music" is the most bittersweet episode of the season, and perhaps the series in general. Obviously under normal circumstances, we would be lamenting the lack of Community on our televisions, but would know that - come January - the study group would faithfully return to Greendale. Since this is unfortunately not the case this year, it was a dark episode for a lot of us. And speaking of dark references, this is what Abed enters the cafeteria at the beginning of our episode confirming. The film student has bought a copy of the holiday episode of Inspector Spacetime (I love that they have holiday episodes! I'm more than a lot excited for the new Doctor Who Christmas special), and wants to watch the movie over Christmas break. Sadly though, the study group already has plans solidified, which leads Abed to disappointment. Jeff, however, informs him: "I think what we've learned, Abed, is that attempts to make the holidays brighter lead to a certain darkness." And I can't exactly argue with Jeff there - their first two Christmases proved to be a little dark in their own rights - but the most important thing that Jeff failed to mention was that in spite of the darkness, the group always finds its way back to each other in the end. At the end of both "Comparative Religion" and "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" (and at the end of this episode too), the study group realizes that they need each other to get through the dark times. The darkness then, isn't this bleak sort of darkness that you would assume it to be - it's the kind of darkness where life gets rough, and you feel like giving up, but then you see six faces looking back at you and realize you can't.
At any rate, Abed's discussion about their dark times this season is interrupted with the entrance of the (five) glee club members into the cafeteria. And if Greendale's glee club is the representative face of college glee clubs around the television nation, New Directions should just call it quits now. There is one common straw between Glee and Community - everyone hates the glee club. (However, unlike Glee, Greendale doesn't magically acquire ten new members when they need to compete at Sectionals. Just saying.) And no one hates the glee club more than Jeff, remember? As the five members start to perform a terrible mash-up, the study group recalls when they filled in for the absentee club last year (because that club got hit by a bus and died), and wonder if they were truly as awful as the current glee club is. Jeff - in his crafty jack rabbit-y ways - has filed an anonymous tip that the glee club is using copyrighted materials to perform. Just as the study group celebrates, the glee club dissolves into an uncontrollable meltdown. And, rightfully so, the study group sneaks out of the cafeteria.
Dean Pelton and Mr. Cory Radison (played by the extremely talented Taran Killam) confront the study group and attempt to convince them to replace the club once again for the holiday pageant that week. The group rightfully declines the offer, and throughout the scene, the Glee-seque acapella background music plays. (Here's the original music, and you can compare for parody's sake):
Additionally, Taran Killam does a fantastic job throughout the episode as "Mr. Rad" (an obvious parody of the sweater vest-wearing, insanely optomistic and clean-cut "Mr. Schue"), and I sincerely hope that he returns in the future. After the study group agrees not to let Mr. Rad convert them to the dark side by joining the glee club, Abed finds himself drawn to the cafeteria by the sound of a piano playing. Mr. Rad is, of course, at the instrument and manages to convince Abed to get the study group involved with the Christmas pageant. Now, typically, Abed is the last person you'd expect to be sucked into Mr. Rad's schemes - we've spent the past few seasons, after all, attempting to be convinced that Abed is either a) a robot, or b) insane. Even though both of these are refuted, we usually believe that Abed is devoid of any emotion whatsoever because he never seems to have any emotional attachment to individuals. But as we learned in last year's Christmas episode, this time of year is difficult for him, and he is thus vulnerable. In a way, his drive throughout this episode mirrors Annie's in "English as a Second Language." Both of their drives are to keep the study group together because they are afraid they'll fall apart otherwise.
We then proceed to a musical duet between Mr. Rad and Abed, which continues to highlight the eccentricities of Glee (how DOES the piano keep playing the song? Why is everything cooler when cameras are spinning?), and ends with Abed telling the choir director that he will recruit his friends for the pageant. Excelsior! In his apartment, Abed manages to convince Troy to join forces with him, and the two perform an awesome rap (I wondered if they'd ever have Donald actually rap on the show). One interesting and fun element to note is when Abed raps the line "If years were seasons," this awesome clock appears:
(Notice the clock spans significant episodes in the seasons? Brilliant show is brilliant)
The rap ends with Annie entering the room and realizing exactly what has happened. Rightfully so, the young woman backs out of the blanket fort in fear. This leaves us with Pierce, Annie, Britta, and Jeff as un-converted. However, this will soon change. As the study group enters their room, we are met with the second-greatest jab at Glee this episode. The study table has been removed, and choir risers have been put in its place. Elsewhere, across the room, OUR BEARDED ACCOMPANIST BRAD (it's not really Brad, the accompanist character in Glee) is at the piano. Hilariously, Pierce asks: "Can everyone else see him?" (Because Brad is typically joked at as being invisible and unimportant by Glee characters). Troy and Abed can't understand why the group is so against joining glee club. "Glee literally means...glee," Troy explains (which is also a nice callback to the musical show - if you remember before season 1, FOX aired a few different "What is Glee?" commercials to promote the show).
Troy and Abed interestingly target Pierce to join the group next. And it's intriguing how each member of the study group is lured, and who they are lured by. Let's take a rundown quickly:
- Abed is lured by Mr. Rad, who appeals to his desire to unite his friends for fun during a dark semester
- Troy is lured by Abed, who appeals to Troy's desire to do everything with his best friend
- Pierce is lured by both Troy and Abed, who appeal to his vanity (and also I think to a desire to have fun with them - we've seen how Pierce is jealous this season of their friendship)
- Annie is lured by Mr. Rad, Troy, and Abed, and she's practically cornered
- Jeff is lured by Annie, who appeals to his weakness for her
- Shirley is lured by singing children, who appeal to her desire as a Christian to maintain the sanctity and truth of the season
- Britta is lured by Jeff who... well, we don't really know how Jeff lured her. Potentially by assuring her that if he can be in glee club, so can she.
At any rate, once Pierce is lured, the next one to become converted is Annie. And the young woman uses her powers of seduction (or...well, we'll get to that) in order to lure Jeff into the club. She emerges in a little sexy outfit and Jeff's reaction is hilarious because his jaw pretty much drops and he sputters: "Whaaaaa?" Alison Brie then does a fantastic job at channeling Lea Michele-as-Rachel Berry (the inflections in her voice, and her gestures were spot-on), before she delves into what her idea of "sexy" is - a Betty Boop-esque number. It's hilarious because Annie's idea of seduction is to look and sound as young as possible (even though clearly Jeff thinks she's sexy because she's "an intelligent woman"), which then spirals completely into exaggeration (also a nice shout-out to the suspension of disbelief that Glee numbers often have). At the end of the performance, Annie hasn't actually managed to convince Jeff to join the glee club. So it begs the question: if that didn't convince him, what did?
Everything about Shirley's luring is perfect. And when I say everything, I literally mean it. After Shirley is lured, that leaves Britta as the last man standing, so to speak. She still believes Jeff is glee-free, so she confronts him (and obviously he manages to convince her to join). Now, the only issue that I had with this episode was mentioned by @misssara11: Regionals never come before Sectionals in Glee. That is the one and only minute tidbit that I had issue with. We learn that Mr. Rad isn't satisfied with merely keeping the study group for the pageant - his intention is to keep them in glee club... forever. And it's then that Abed realizes he is definitely the sane one in this situation.
In order to save his friends and Christmas (again), Abed convinces Britta (who we all know cannot sing, and who he knows full well) to take over his role in the pageant and sing whatever is in her heart. And I love that this year everyone has been sparing Britta's feelings, but at the same time acknowledging that she's the worst. Jeff didn't tell her in "Horror Fiction and Seven Spooky Steps" what "to Britta" something actually meant, just like Abed didn't tell her that he really wanted her to perform because she'd ruin the pageant. It's funny because in a weird way it's like...family. No one is allowed to pick on your sibling but YOU. And no one is allowed to call Britta "the worst" except for the study group.
Since Britta cannot sing, she manages to ruin the pageant and cause Mr. Rad to become enraged. This leads to a startling confession - he is responsible for murdering the first glee club! Gasp! In a hilarious attempt to evade everyone, he points into the distance and exlaims: "Look! Kings of Leon!" which is literally the best Glee jab in the history of Glee jabs. (And if you didn't catch the reference, here's the story behind it). So put that in your juice box, and suck it, Ryan Murphy.
Abed, disappointed with how the episode ended dark even though all of his intentions were for it to end otherwise, genuinely shows emotion at the end of the episode. This is terrific nuanced acting from Danny Pudi because normally, as Abed, he has to be very precise and meticulous in his facial expressions. But he softened his expressions a lot for that scene, and it made the audience (and the study group) realize that Abed is, indeed, human. But as Abed returns home to settle in - by himself - and watch the holiday episode of Inspector Spacetime we hear the soft singing of "The First Noel." It is heartwarming and precious that we end this Christmas episode with everyone together. It's also nice to mirror how sincere they are when singing "The First Noel" to Abed (as opposed to when they are performing at the pageant). Sometimes I feel like the study group realizes that they have one another to lean on, but never really comes to terms with what that means. They often get so caught up in their individual pairings or their small groups, or tangled in their intra-group issues that they forget to enjoy one another... to cherish one another. And the ending to this episode is perfect because it reminds them of this.
(Additionally, I cried. I can't help it.)
The episode ends with a little choir of children singing: "We'll see you all after Regionals." Which are when? Vaguely sometime in March or April? (And while the children's choir was sweet, it was also creepy because the last time I remember an episode ending with children singing was "Closing Time" in Doctor Who - and that clearly didn't end too well. I'm happy this one did!) And there's this nice parallel of the study group sitting in front of the television, much like we saw their reflections IN the television at the end of last year's Christmas episode. They're together, all together, and that's what makes it perfect.
Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- The end tag is FANTASTIC.
- "They're THIS CLOSE, Pierce."
- Taran Killam needs to return to the show. I'll bribe him. With everything.
- "That guy's like human fro-yo."
- "It's all a weird, happy, musical fog."
- "He is equal parts Hanson and Manson."
- "Glee is the answer when questions are wrong!"
- Joel (I knew from watching recent episodes of The Soup) shaved and got a haircut. Baby-face McHale is different. But applause, wardrobe department, for locating a green ensemble for him. Green is great.
- "Good point. Sing about it?" "NO!"
- "There's also Britta." "Britta's adooooooorable."
- "I realize the stakes aren't actually that high, but somehow that makes it extra scary."
- Although Jeff doesn't seem convinced at the end of Annie's performance, he does subtly check her out still. Just something to note.
- Apparently the study group already knew about Jeff seeing a shrink. I wonder how that happened.
All right, readers, now it's your turn. See that comments section below? Follow my Twitter? Then you get to dictate what episodes we watch over hiatus! (Or in the very least, dictate which ones you'd like me to write about). Every week, I'll select a few episodes, and you can choose which one you'd like to read about for the following week. For next week, your choices are as follows:
- 1x01 - "Pilot"
- 1x04 - "Social Psychology"
- 1x06 - "Football, Feminsim, and You"
Drop me a tweet, a DM, or a comment and let me know which one you'd like to read first! (Chances are I will end up doing them all at some point). Thank you ALL for being amazing readers, and even more amazing Community fans! We'll get through this hiatus together. :) Until next week, then!
Friday, December 2, 2011
"Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism"
Original Airdate: December 1, 2011
One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who is the first episode of the fourth series titled "Partners in Crime." Though Rose Tyler is my favorite companion of the new era of the show, Donna is a close second. For those who don't watch the show, basically the premise of the episode is that the Tenth Doctor is reunited with Donna after they have a series of hilarious near-run-ins throughout the first half of the episode. What I love so much about the Tenth Doctor/Donna dynamic is that they don't have a whole lot in common, and yet they really understand each other. Donna can never really understand the pain that the Doctor feels - she's a human, after all, and he is a Time Lord - but she still empathizes. She represents simultaneously the best and worst of humanity. And whenever the two are together, you can really feel the genuine partnership between them and how deep that friendship and platonic love runs.
The reason I mention this now is because last night's Community seemed to parallel partnerships within the show that don't get a whole lot of screentime - Jeff/Shirley and Troy/Annie/Abed. But the best thing about these pairings is that they truly understand one another. If I had to choose a theme for this episode, it'd be forgiveness and acceptance, and loving in spite of imperfections. I'll get to that momentarily though. Let's talk about the plots for the episode first, shall we?
We open with our study group hanging out in the student lounge - a place that is not their typical hang-out spot, but I actually like seeing them outside of the study room for a change, personally. We learn that this episode Britta will be off-screen, volunteering at an animal hospital where her cat, David, got his surgery. This leads to a discussion between Jeff and Britta regarding her cat, and also her new (can I assume it's new? What happened to her blue and white one?) terribly ghetto cell phone (that sparks and catches on fire). Meanwhile, in the background of the scene, three Europeans are loudly playing foosball, which has begun to irritate Jeff. And let me pause here. I loved this episode immensely. Honestly in my mind, there has yet to be an episode of Community this season that I dislike (or even one that I only sort-of like). So I loved this episode worlds more than I loved "The Art of Discourse." In fact, that episode is the only one in the entire series that I cannot stand (my apologies to Dan Harmon and company). The teenagers in the episode are insanely grating (which I suppose was the point), but Jeff and Britta aren't exactly likeable in the episode either. It's funny when Jeff gets competitive, because he's the type of person (as Abed says in "Debate 109") where things bother him more than he lets on. And this episode is another example of that happening.
The raucous cheers and jeers of the Europeans starts to annoy Jeff, so he leaves the group and approaches the foosball table. Initially, Jeff attempts to Winger his way out of playing foosball with the Europeans, before he obviously gives in (and loses swiftly). Let's remember - Jeff's pride is of utmost importance to him. In our other storyline for the evening, Troy and Abed acquire a special expensive "Dark Knight" DVD (with exclusive bonus features. Oh, and it's signed by Christian Bale). Needless to say, Abed is extremely protective of the DVD, and warns Annie not to try and do anything absurd (like clean it). If Pierce or Britta are your favorite characters in the show, say goodbye to them - they'll be back for the last scene this episode, but that's it.
As it turns out, Annie just can't let the whole "not cleaning" thing go in the apartment. So Ms. Edison, being not the brightest bulb in the shed (see what I did there?), steps on Abed's "Dark Night" DVD accidentally and breaks it into little pieces. Oops. This episode solidified for me that we need more Troy/Annie/Abed stories, as well as more Jeff/Shirley stories. I think what's great about this cast is that they can work together in any combination, and the stories are essentially flawless, as is the chemistry. What's difficult though about having a cast of seven fantastic actors is that there will always be pairings that tend to get more stories and screentime than others (still hoping for another decent Pierce/Shirley story or a Troy/Shirley one). Jeff, being the lead of the show, usually gets the most screentime of course, but I really do enjoy seeing the other characters interact. Each character brings out different qualities in the others and... well, we'll get to that.
Troy walks into the room just as Annie has broken the DVD, and after an initial freak-out, suggests honesty, which is a nice example of how much he's grown (you know, having lied to Pierce in "Mixology Certification" for fun, letting Jeff manipulate him in "Football, Feminism, and You," etc.) and it's Annie this time who chickens out and can't bear to tell Abed what she has done. She's like me - a people pleaser, and probably afraid that either Abed will a) never speak to her again, or b) kick her out (and then she'd literally have no place to go).
Now I'll return to our Jeff/Shirley story, which is really the "meat" of the episode. The last time these two had a story together was in the first season's "Social Psychology." And please, don't bother to correct me in the comments section - I know that Jeff and Shirley had a story together in "Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy," but I'm choosing to dismiss that. There are few episodes, like I said earlier, that I dislike in the history of Community, and while I don't really hate that episode, I honestly don't feel like it was a strong story for either of the characters. What is perfect, however, about 3x09 is that we get to the heart of both Shirley and Jeff as individuals and - shocker! - as friends. Because the bottom line is that we've never really seen the two of them as friends before. First season, their story together proved they could be gossip buddies (so superficial friends, if you will). The second seasons outlined their dependence on each other (Shirley depending on Jeff to manipulate people and Jeff depending on Shirley to do what's right). This is the first real glimpse of friendship between them and I absolutely love it.
Jeff, we notice, is in the student lounge practicing foosball by himself because those guys really bugged him earlier (because Jeff is really insecure and a little bit crazy at times - just take a look at "Beginner Pottery" or "Biology 101" if you need examples). This episode finds us delving into the dark side of Shirley and the heart of Jeff. We'll get there momentarily, no worries. What's funny about these interactions is that Jeff is super honest with Shirley. Jeff is never honest. I attribute this to his therapy. And then, for a moment, selfish Jeff emerges. And Shirley recognizes it (because Jeff says that Shirley "finally [has] one thing [he] actually need[s]"). And so does Jeff. Then, instead of backpedaling and attempting to guilt Shirley into helping him anyway, I really do think that Jeff feels bad and apologizes while not expecting anything in return.
A lot of people think that Jeff and Shirley are polar opposites. And in their faiths, perhaps they are. But what I love about Community is that it reveals to us that we may not be so fundamentally different from each other as we think. At our cores, we all have things tucked away that enrage us, for instance. We're not perfect. And that is something to cling to (in both storylines, I like how this is a parallel theme: forgiveness and accepting each other because we are imperfect). Also, let's not forget that Shirley has a lot of rage, and so does Jeff (even before he learns that Shirley tormented him years ago).
Back at the Trobed apartment, Abed and Troy return home to find that Annie has (unbeknownst to Abed) staged a robbery in an attempt to cover up the fact that she broke the DVD. There's a nice callback to "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design," because the cop who investigates the robbery is the same one from that episode. Troy and Abed appear confused and intrigued when he mentions that he remembers Annie after he taught her and Jeff a lesson. I guess they didn't tell the group exactly what went down that night. Anyway, Annie elaborately lies about the break-in. But just as her conscience gets the better of her, Abed blames someone else (their landlord). And thus, the comedic tale continues. Abed emerges from the apartment's Dreamatorium dressed in his Batman costume from season 1. Since he is now convinced that their landlord stole and broke his DVD, he sets out the window to confront him. Annie and Troy decide to follow him.
Let's just get something straight, as we return to the Jeff/Shirley story: I saw the twist coming, but that's okay because I still loved it. The twist then, is revealed at a Mexican restaurant. The reason, we learn, that Shirley stopped playing foosball was because she felt guilty after making fun of a kid when she was twelve years old. The kid ended up peeing his pants and we learn that this kid was (...hold for dramatic music) Jeff. And this is a nice twist because Jeff is the one who ends up vulnerable, and Shirley is the one who is portrayed as mean-spirited. Usually we're so focused on Jeff's selfishness and Shirley's piety that we forget (again) that neither character is perfect.
Abed enters through the landlord's window in order to steal back the DVD (that doesn't actually exist because, remember, Annie broke it). The landlord reminded me a lot of that neighbor in the Happy Endings episode "Like Father, Like Gun." Go watch it - you'll see what I mean. Annie is still trying to spin her elaborate lie until the very end of the episode, and Troy keeps expressing his disapproval with her. It's quite amusing and wonderful.
Shirley and Jeff confront one another, and this is one of the few times we see Jeff get irate with anyone in the group besides Pierce, is it not? And with good reason too - Jeff blames people for the way he is now. Shirley is right though in stating that he "doesn't have a trademark on self-pity." But see, here's the thing - neither of them are really upset with one another. They both have pent-up rage inside of them that they just happen to direct at one another during this incident. Jeff blames Shirley for something that was admittedly bad, but ultimately not really her fault because she was a child, after all. And Jeff? Jeff blames his dad for a lot of things, I think, and hasn't yet come to terms with that. And maybe that's why therapy is beneficial to him at this point. Because if he does keep all of that rage pent up and keeps blaming everyone else for issues that he has yet to resolve, he'll never truly progress as a person.
(We then get a really awesome - I mean, really awesome - anime-style foosball match.)
This causes both Jeff and Shirley to realize that they can't measure their worth on something like a game of foosball. They're more than that - both to the world and to each other. And then... Jeff apologizes. And thus, the theme of imperfection comes full-circle when Annie apologizes to Abed-as-Batman for breaking his DVD. And she apologizes on behalf of all of those who are imperfect. It's lovely.
The ending of the episode is perfection. Jeff and Shirley team up to "defeat" the Europeans (they cause the ball to get stuck in the middle of the table). And yes, for the second week in a row, I teared up at the end of the episode. "Greendale is Where I Belong" plays as Jeff and Shirley stroll off arm-in-arm, and as we watch them, they become little Jeff and little Shirley.
Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- Alison Brie's dress was adorable. Also, Joel McHale continues to look good. And in blue. Wardrobe, are you trying to give all of the female viewers heart attacks?
- "I can't exactly buy him a cat monocle, can I? It's pretentious."
- "Foosball is like the soccer of ping-pong."
- Troy hums the song from "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps," I believe.
- "STOP IT. THAT'S NOT A REAL OPTION." Any time Donald-as-Troy uses his "my whole brain is crying" voice, I die laughing.
- Alison Brie's Christian Bale impression is golden.
- Jeff's European puns are pretty awesome ("Deutsch-bags," "power krauts," etc.)
- "That was so disturbing, I almost proposed on the spot."
- I spied four different Inspector Spacetime posters in Abed's apartment. Did I miss any?
- "Troy, what are we gonna do?" "NOW YOU'RE OPEN TO INPUT?!"
- Jeff refers to Vaughn, not as Annie's boyfriend or by his actual name, but as "Britta's boyfriend."
- The tag was golden. GOLDEN.
Next week is the final episode before a very dark hiatus. However, the episode (entitled "Regional Holiday Music") guest stars SNL's Taran Killam (does anyone else remember him from "Stuck in the Suburbs"?) as the glee choir director who recruits all of the study group for the holiday pageant.
Note: Next week, I'll have family in town so I will most likely not be posting the review at my regularly scheduled time. Look for it Friday afternoon or evening instead! (And be sure to tweet me - @notajenny - with suggestions for episode reviews you'd like to read in the future. I'll cover anything from seasons 1 and 2, because all of you suggested that I keep the blog going). Thanks, as always, for reading! :)