Ted Lasso, Rom-Coms, and Emotional Vulnerability

Why is it important that a show about men who play soccer did a rom-com homage?

Dickinson Behind-the-Scenes: An Interview With the Artisans

Meet the artists who brought the Apple TV+ series to life!

If You Like This, Watch That

Looking for a new TV series to watch? We recommend them based on your preference for musicals, ensemble shows, mysteries, and more!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nine, Ten, Eleven (This is a LOT More Than Just Counting)

In the wake of watching the latest Doctor Who Christmas special (which tore my emotions into itty bitty pieces of confetti and, of course, caused me to curse Moffat), I thought it was very intriguing how Eleven dealt with his pain and grief. Throughout the course of the series, we’ve seen all three incarnations of the Time Lord Victorious deal with the loss of companions and those he loved very differently. Each Doctor seems to unearth a new layer of pain within himself every time he loses someone and Eleven’s grief over Amy and Rory was no different in that regard.

So I thought it would be interesting to chart the way in which Nine, Ten, and Eleven have dealt with their losses and what this says about each of them as incarnations of the same person. Because truly, it’s revealing when you realize that this person – this alien, traveling through space and time – is not three actors. He’s not even three regenerations, really. He’s ONE man. ONE Time Lord. And ONE person who has suffered.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Call This One: "I Just Have a Lot of Feelings About The Lizzie Bennet Diaries"

I began watching Doctor Who and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries for very similar reasons. I had heard about both shows from friends – the titles kept appearing in conversations and tweets and texts – so I decided to give them both a chance. And I originally had the same thoughts regarding both: they were funny, dramatic, and had engaging characters. I was intrigued. But there came a point in both shows where, for lack of a better phrase, I was hit in the feels.

Doctor Who can cause me, long after the episode has ended, to curl up in the fetal position, rock back and forth, and – in between sobs – yell “MOFFAT!” at my screen. Because the truth is this: Steven Moffat is brilliant. He’s a weaver of stories, characters, and development. For any show to succeed, for any character to become likeable – nay, enjoyable – there has to be growth. And that growth is usually always accompanied by pain. Nothing causes a person to grow quite like having to endure heartache. Moffat, I believe, understands this VERY well. And we, the audience, understand the spiral of depression that he puts us through as a writer. We shake our fists and curse Moffat because he rips our hearts and emotions out. (And then stomps on them. A lot.)

I never assumed that I’d lump Rachel Kiley in with Steven Moffat, but after the past two episodes of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries… well, Kiley has officially entered Moffat Territory (it’s like a theme park of emotional turmoil). But the fact that I am even comparing her to the current writer for Doctor Who means that she must be doing SOMETHING right. So let’s discuss a few things, shall we?

I’m going to preface this post right now, because I’ll always strive to be honest with my readers about opinions regarding characters, plot, etc. So, here’s the deal: I empathize more with Lizzie, normally, than I do with Lydia. I will do my best to remain objective when I discuss both characters because I do LOVE both of them. I honestly and truly love all the characters in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but I see more of myself in her than Lydia. Secondly, I don’t understand all the Tumblr hate toward either sister. I never understand unnecessary hatred toward television characters (unless they’re completely and utterly villainized. Or, you know, Michelle Slater from Community). Especially in the case of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I cannot comprehend hatred for either Lizzie or Lydia – we, the audience, don’t know the entirety of each characters’ stories. We see what Lizzie lets us see, know what she knows, and only that. Unlike a book which can delve into the innermost thoughts and feelings of characters, shows are restricted in that way. Secondly, I’m going to discuss characters and their development (and why I feel they acted the way that they did). Finally, I’ll incorporate the brilliance of the show’s writing into my analysis of these last few episodes. :)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jenn's Pick: Top 10 Television Pilots

Television pilots are tricky things. And by that, what I really mean is that hardly anyone (at least anyone who I have met) will say that their favorite episode of any television series is the pilot. It takes a good, long while for some shows to establish the tone of their show and to develop their characters. For some shows, this may take a few episodes. For others, it will take seasons. But pilots are integral and necessary to a show – I’ve always held fast to the belief that, to measure the progression of a show, you should watch its pilot and the most current episode to date. It is then that you can determine whether the show has progressed or regressed in terms of plot, consistency, character development, etc. Take, for example, the pilot episode of something like Doctor Who. The 2005 pilot, “Rose,” introduced us to a shop girl from London and a 900-year old, time-traveling alien. The ninth incarnation of the Doctor was dark and pretty self-hating. Rose Tyler was young, optimistic, and someone we (or at least I) assumed would always be the damsel-in-distress. As you might know, if you watch the show, Doctor Who has progressed so much in terms of developing characters, plot, and yes, even special effects. (They have come a LONG way since 2005, let me tell you!)

So, I’ve decided to list ten pilot episodes of shows that have passed every test in my book and landed in the “solid pilot” pile. But what you’re about to discover is something pretty interesting: I don’t like some of these shows anymore.

“But Jenn,” you might say, “I thought you said that these shows passed your test!”

While these series may have developed pilots that passed with flying colors, some of them are shows that I merely fell out of love with, and some – shockingly! – I even detest now. Pilots are episodes that are important, as I said earlier, but are not always indicative of a show’s consistency to be spectacular. Also, it’s interesting to note that the exact opposite is true.

(Spoiler alert: you will not see Community or Doctor Who listed. Though these are two of my favorite shows to date, their pilots weren’t enrapturing enough to make my list. I didn’t fall in love with Community until five episodes later, and Doctor Who took me until “World War Three” to really connect with.)

So just because a show is absent from this list or, conversely, because it’s on it, don’t assume that this is indicative of my present feelings toward the series.

With that, are you ready to see which pilots made it onto my list? (Don’t worry, guys. I still have a LOT of great pilots that have been suggested – LOST, Alias, Friday Night Lights – that will not be on here, merely because I have not seen the series yet.) Well, then, let’s head back to the very beginning!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like... A Christmas Playlist Post!

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It’s always been my favorite holiday (and that has nearly nothing to do with the fact that Christmas marks a month and a day until my birthday). It’s a special time of year when families come together, eat, sing carols, and open presents. For me, there’s always been something wonderful and magical about Christmas.

I grew up in a Catholic family, so church has always been a part of my life. Not until I was older and switched churches though, did I actually enjoy going to services. My favorite tradition, without fail, is still going to Christmas Eve candlelight service with my entire family. The hush that falls over a congregation and swooping feeling when everyone quietly and tentatively begins to sing “Silent Night” is just beautiful. And as I’ve grown up, a lot of things have changed – I’ve moved from Pennsylvania, where I spent the first thirteen years of my life, to Florida. I don’t have snow at Christmas, anymore, but that doesn’t bother me so much.

(Snow on Christmas is fun, you guys. … and then there’s slush and ice and snow for the next four months to follow and it’s not so nice anymore.)

When I moved to Florida, however, I got the unique opportunity in to perform with my high school choir (and many others around the area) at Walt Disney World’s Candlelight Processional during Christmastime. This was one of the best experiences in my high school career, as I was able to share the stage with hundreds of other singers and celebrity guest narrators each year. Hearing the Christmas story read by people like Neil Patrick Harris and Chita Rivera was really something quite special. And hearing a powerful chorus of voices sing carols was truly awesome.

What will always remain the same, in spite of everything that may change throughout the years, is how much I love and adore Christmas music. And so, under Amber’s (@amtrak112) suggestion, I decided to do a blog post tonight about some of my favorite Christmas songs and renditions!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Underdogs, Unite! (Five Things You May Not Know About, But Should)

As a fan of Community, I've become used to the term "underdog." And it's occurred to me that there are a lot of "underdogs" in this world that deserve some recognition. There are shows and books that seem like secrets to those who watch or read them -- hidden little gems to be discovered and unearthed. Community is a show that is small in terms of ratings, but mighty in terms of the dedication of its fanbase. I'm proud to call myself a fan of the show and even prouder to align myself with other people who are so passionate about the writers, producers, actors, and content of the show itself. And I'm EVEN prouder to be associated with a show that loves me, the fan, right back -- a show whose actors and writers are accessible via Twitter and other social media outlets, who appreciate and love us, who write and act with us in mind. 

It's quite something to be a fan of the underdog, isn't it? Even though The Big Bang Theory and American Idol may slay us on a weekly basis in Nielsen ratings, the point and purpose of the underdog is not, necessarily, to win but to fight. And fight, Community does. We have made our name known, and because of that, we have won all that matters.

So now, it's time to honor five of my favorite underdogs! These are either shows or books that deserve praise that isn't often given, but always deserved. Ready to find out what I've chosen? Venture below the cut and find out! :)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Of Love, Family, and Vlogs (Or "Watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Everyone")

As a former English major, I used to hear it said that there were only a few plots in all of literature, and that our job – as writers – was to make these plots original, somehow. And it’s true, when you really think about it. The story of “Pride and Prejudice,” for instance, has been told a million (it’s an estimate) times since the story originally was published. We can sit and think of countless movies where the female and male love interests began their respective stories despising one another. It’s not that the plot itself is simple, because it is not. The characters aren’t simple, either. The reason that producers continue to create romantic comedies with similar premises are because the emotions and situations are universal, not simple.

My reason for writing this blog entry is not to convince you that you should watch romantic comedies (though you should, because they can be a lot of fun). I’d simply like to introduce you to the latest version of “Pride and Prejudice” to captivate audiences: “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Missing the Exit (The Ends of Television Shows)

“Endings are never easy; I always build them up so much in my head they can’t possibly live up to my expectations. And I just end up disappointed. […] And even though it felt warm and safe, I knew it had to end. It’s never good to live in the past too long.” – J.D., Scrubs

It’s a known and oft-spoken cliché: “All good things must come to an end.”

The problem, of course, is that people don’t want things to end. We want to hold onto what we love and cherish as long as possible. It’s not a bad desire – it means that we’re human. We have emotions and form attachments to people and things. We even form attachments to television shows. So when we hear that they are ended or cancelled, a part of us – however small – grieves.

But how do you know when a television show should end? How do you know if and/or when a cast member or character should depart? What does this introduction paragraph have to do with Chevy Chase’s abrupt departure from Community? You’re about to find out.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Q&A Friday!

Hip, hip, hooray,
it's Q&A Friday!

We'll try something fun this week, since my last post was rather serious and political-heavy. And really, the vast majority of you aren't here for that (and if you are... sorry to disappoint). I thought that this would be a nice replacement for the blog-reviews that I am used to writing up every Friday for Community or other shows. (I swear I'm going to catch up and do some Ben and Kate and Go On reviews eventually!)

So why not just have a fun day where YOU all can participate? You're so used to reading my thoughts and opinions of shows and topics that I choose. This time, it's your turn to ask the questions. The guidelines are relatively simple -- please don't ask anything that is inappropriate. Please do not spam my inbox. Please don't ask for personal details (I won't be giving you my phone number or address, sorry!).

Other than that, you are free to ask about anything you'd like! Ask about the weather, what my favorite class in school was, what the best movie I've watched recently was, or what I'm having for lunch today. You can be as general or specific as you choose. You can ask about involvement in fandoms or what I think about gas prices.

The point is that YOU are in control this week! And, if I have enough questions, I'll try to make this a semi-weekly occurrence. So where do you send these questions? You  have two options -- drop them in the "Ask Me Anything" post, or send them in an e-mail (one e-mail per person, please!) to justaboutwrite.blog@gmail.com.

Send in your questions all day, and by 5:30PM (EST), if I have received enough questions to do a blog post, I will create one and answer the questions.

Ask away, my darling readers! :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

IT'S A PARTY POST! (20,000 times over)


A little over a year ago, I had this notion that I would start a blog specifically designed to review episodes of Community. I really thought, at the time, that the only people who would read it would be me and Jaime. I was expecting to probably drop off before season three was half-over -- after all, I had pretty much given up on my other blog, due to lack of motivation and inspiration. I thought this one would be the same.

And then, in a twist of happenstance, after tweeting my "Geography of Global Conflict" review on a whim to Dan Harmon, he replied. And complimented me. And flattered me. ... and then, people began to notice the blog. It was crazy, really, to see my views jump from a handful to hundreds in a matter of hours. I profusely thanked all of you who read and stuck around because of Harmon's tweet in my first video, and decided that I'd step up my game -- I was DETERMINED to stick this blog out for the remainder of the season.

But an even crazier thing happened -- the blog took on a life of its own. Yvette Nicole Brown, Alan Sepinwall, and Megan Ganz have all read and/or promoted it, and people have found it thanks to articles and the shameless promotions of my wonderful friends. It became not something that I merely "stuck out," but truly something that I enjoyed doing. That I loved, even. And I love this little blog, despite the fact that I'm not a television critic and despite the fact that I'm not the most popular person around the blog-o-sphere. Because I've found something that makes me happy, that has connected me with friends and fans, and makes me feel involved in a fandom.

Recently, I began to expand into new territories, because I want to make my blog more than just Community reviews. Don't get me wrong -- I LOVE doing my analyses of episodes, and I know you all enjoy them too. But I feel like there is so much more happening with other fandoms and shows, and music and movies that I can grow from. Community was the reason I started A Still and Quiet Conscience, and it will always have a huge impact on my life, but I know it won't be the only thing I write about here. And I hope that you all stick around to follow my adventures in writing, wherever (or whenever, eh?) they may take me. :)

For now, I can only profusely thank each of you for being a part of my life over the last year and for helping this blog reach twenty thousand views today. TWENTY THOUSAND! It just blows my mind.

What are you all just sitting around for? LET'S PARTY!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween on Valentine's Day? THAT'S October 19th! (Community's Return)

Well, folks, it has been officially announced that Community will return to our lives and small screens on February 7th, 2013 at 8PM.

I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking: "But... wait. That means the Halloween episode will air on Valentine's Day."


You're thinking: "But... wait. February 7th is a Thursday. That means we're replacing 30 Rock, right? And that means we'll be back in our old time slot, facing the same competition we have for the last three years."


And you're also probably thinking: "But... wait. Thirteen episodes would take us into May, without any breaks. And the middle or end of May if we DID take weeks off. So that means we're not getting a back nine."


I am excited for Community to return, of course. Don't get me wrong -- I don't mean, by those previous statements, to undermine my excitement for the show's imminent (well, in a few months' time) return. I am quire looking forward to all of the hyped episodes that have been written and produced and will finally be able to be seen.

If NBC's desire is to beat the fans of this show down until they are no longer excited or anticipating the return of their favorite comedy, then they will have to work a lot harder to bring that goal to fruition. Community fans are resilient and determined, albeit small. We don't sit back and let things happen to our show without first having a say in it. Or a foot. Or a felt goatee. 

8PM on Thursdays is a battle -- it's like, a Hunger Games-style battle for viewers -- and it's one we have fought for the past three years. But even in its hostility, that timeslot still feels like home to me. It would feel strange, I think, for Community to air at any other time (but, you know, not on any other network... TBS, feel free to jump in and pick up more of the show, please!). 

(And really, in that vein, we saw how Scrubs managed to survive in spite of it being dropped by NBC and then picked up by ABC for an eighth season. So it IS possible.)

Regardless, the-little-show-that-could is as resilient as its fanbase, and I encourage everyone to be supportive of our show but not (and PLEASE hear me out on this) negative toward other shows. It's really irksome to me when I read about how people badmouth and belittle other television shows. I may not like Whitney, but it's for content reasons and not because the show returned to the air sooner than our show did. And I may not care about Fringe, but that doesn't mean I sit around and pray that the show gets cancelled either. I don't want other shows to suffer just because OURS had to.

Dearest Community fans: you KNOW how hard you have fought for this show. Some of you have literally taken to the streets in an attempt to save it. We have made every effort under the sun known to keep this show alive and keep it on NBC's radar. So why would you sit and badmouth upcoming shows, hoping that they get cancelled in a vindictive effort to return our show to the air sooner? 

Again -- please just think about, for a moment, if fans of other television shows vocally did that to US. Just because our show suffers in the ratings does not give us a right to slander other shows before they air, no matter how terrible they may or may not be. And that's part of the point -- we don't KNOW what they will be like when they air nor, frankly, can we convince NBC to cancel shows by refusing to watch them or badmouthing them via social media outlets (Lord knows a lot of people tried that with Whitney). I know you all would not let Twitter or Facebook or any other place on the Internet hear the end of it if WE were being attacked by another fanbase, so please... don't do that to others. Especially other fanbases that don't even exist yet. Who knows -- we may even be friends with them. :)

That being said, I still encourage you all to find constructive and helpful ways to benefit the fandom. Still try to get your friends to watch the show. We have PLENTY of time for lots of friends/family members/co-workers, etc. to get caught up before the new season airs. Spread the word about the show, regardless of the fact that it is (99% likely) its last season. TWEET KIND THINGS to the cast members, writers, and crew. The latter two don't get told enough how awesome they are. If you're so inclined, find nice ways to thank them, much like we recently did with the "It's Not a Pen, It's An Award" awards.

And, as always, remember that we are ALL in this together (and please, no one start singing anything from High School Musical because... it's already stuck in my head) and since these are very likely our last thirteen episodes, let's make the time leading up to them count, eh? :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Red" Album Review (It's T-Swift-a-Palooza!)

I was called “Taylor Swift” by a guy once. It wasn’t, as I soon discovered, meant to necessarily be a compliment. He was implying that I was naïve and young – and he viewed Taylor Swift the same way.

To be honest, a lot of people still think of Taylor Swift as that fifteen year old girl singing about Tim McGraw and high school romances. And it’s interesting that people do this – that they view her, still, as a child – because they don’t frequently act the same way with normal twenty-two year olds. I’m rapidly approaching my twenty fourth year of life, and I can honestly say that no one has approached me on the street, looked at me and patted me on the head, calling me “sweetie.” No one talks to me condescendingly, like I’m a teenage girl, when I announce plans or dreams or visions. And, on the rare times I talk about love or relationships, I haven’t come across anyone yet who shakes their head or rolls their eyes and says: “Would you stop being so immature?”

So I return, once more, to the question: why do people tend to treat Taylor Swift like a child when she has been a legal adult for years? Perhaps it’s because Miss Swift is in the spotlight, or because she is famous for writing break-up songs or because she has a child-like sweet disposition. And Swift’s previous albums have reflected her own personal journey as an artist – from her first self-titled album, to the eclectic “Speak Now” record, it’s clear that Swift has grown both as a person and as an artist. But it’s “Red,” her latest record, which intrigues me the most.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Darkest Timeline Sees The Light (#Darkest401)

How do you really quantify the passion of a group of fans? Recently, Vulture released an article outlining the top twenty-five most passionate fan bases. The frontrunners ranged from artists like Lady Gaga, to movie and book phenomenon Harry Potter, and to television shows like Game of Thrones and Community. Fan power and enthusiasm is often measured in ratings in the television world. An elusive unicorn named Nielsen judges how successful and, conversely, unsuccessful a show is by how many households equipped with a Nielsen box watch.

“But Jennifer,” you might say, “I don’t know of anyone that has a Nielsen box. In fact, I don’t think I know of anyone who knows what a Nielsen box actually LOOKS like.”

To which I reply: “Exactly.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Top 5 "New Girl" Episodes (According to... Well, This Chick!)

I keep meaning to do a review of New Girl (be it a random episode, a marathon from the very beginning, or the start of season two), but I have yet to get around to it. In lieu of that, I decided to do a "top five" post, highlighting my favorite episodes of the quirky comedy. The idea was, in part, courtesy of Kim (of "Head Over Feels"), as we spent yesterday narrowing down our top five favorite episodes of Community.

So, are you ready to see what I chose as the best of the best for Zooey Deschanel's FOX comedy series? Well, venture to the loft, take a seat, but make sure you're using the correct bath towel. Here we go! :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ben and Kate: 1x01 "Pilot" (Growing Up is Hard to Do)

Original Airdate: September 25, 2012

We can’t choose our families, but if we could, I wonder if Kate Fox would have chosen Ben to be her brother. At the beginning of the pilot episode of Ben and Kate, I’m not sure many of us would want a brother like Ben – he’s childish, self-centered, and irresponsible. Kate, of course, is the exact opposite. She is tightly wound, organized, and a functioning single mom complete with a job and a daughter. At first glance, these characters seem to be classic archetypes: a slacker and an overachiever. But beneath the archetype, the pilot digs into the fundamental relationship between Ben and Kate as siblings. We begin by assuming that Ben always needs his sister – he’s always getting involved in a wacky shenanigan, barging into her life asking for help, and then departing as quickly and messily as a tornado. But we’re left to wonder if it’s Kate who needs Ben more than she realizes or admits, and if – perhaps – his presence in her life actually makes her BETTER and not worse. And maybe, just maybe, a little mess is good sometimes.

In the pilot episode, Kate informs the audience, via voice-over narrative, that her brother Ben never seemed to grow up. He always interrupts her life at inopportune moments begging for her to help him orchestrate a wacky shenanigan or get himself out of a self-induced mess. Kate, conversely, grew up too quickly. She got pregnant at a young age and has been raising her daughter, Maddie, on her own. But just as Kate's life is beginning to feel settled (she's been dating a nice guy named George for a while), Ben bursts into her life again. (This time, he's stealing cable from Kate's neighbor.) Ben, upon meeting George, has an initial enthusiastic attitude... until he leaves and attempts to high-five Kate's new beau.  

I love that Ben immediately distrusts George because of his high-five (or lack thereof). It’s kind of endearing that he places so much emphasis on things that other people (see: Kate) would find absurd. But Kate is logical. She sees absolutely nothing wrong with George as a person or boyfriend, and – though he can’t quite explain it – Ben does. He gets a bit unsettled, and perhaps it’s something trivial that should be overlooked, but I think Ben and Kate represent emotion and logic, respectively. Kate relies heavily on planning and organizing her life into boxes. And I think that this probably stems from the fear that she HAS to control her life. She is the one who has to be the grown-up, if not for herself than for Maddie. But, in doing this, she often misses out on the crazy, weird, fun moments that Ben thrives on. Conversely, Ben needs Kate in order to ground him and cause him to think logically about his actions and the consequences that they have.

Kate instructs Ben to leave, because she and George are on a date. Ben attempts to leave, but not before grabbing an entire drum set on his way out the door. Instead of her brother, George departs, leaving Kate a bit more than frustrated at Ben. The following day, Kate awakes to both her daughter and brother beside her bed, anxiously asking what the plans are for that day. Kate, meanwhile, is still wondering exactly WHY Ben returned to town in the first place. He only returns, she insists, when he needs or is planning something. (Ben avoids answering her questions though.)

The Fox siblings arrive at the bar where Kate works, and we meet Tommy and BJ, Ben and Kate's respective best friends. I have to say that one thing Ben and Kate does extremely well from the pilot episode onward is establish solid supporting characters. Tommy and BJ are not only hilarious counterparts to Ben and Kate, but are also very well-established in terms of character development. We may not know everything about Tommy, but we know that he is infatuated with Kate and will do anything for Ben. BJ, we know, is snarky, witty, and lazy (we learn this more in “Fox Hunt”). Both characters are good friends to Ben and Kate, and they both speak truths into the siblings’ lives when necessary. The show, from the pilot, found the oft-difficult balance between humor and wit and heart. Too much heart borders on cliché and sap – a show or a character can become a mere caricature of what they were intended to be. Not so with Ben and Kate, which – to be honest – surprised me.

While Kate and BJ discuss the fact that the former has not slept with George yet, Tommy asks how long Ben will be staying in town for. The man skirts around the question, noting that it'll probably just be for the weekend... depending on how things pan out. When George arrives at the bar, Ben volunteers to pick Maddie up from school, which leaves Kate suspicious, but she agrees. In the car, Maddie asks what her uncle is doing back in town and Ben's plan is revealed -- he received an e-mail from his ex-girlfriend, Darcy, telling him to call her.

Instead of calling, Ben drives Maddie to Darcy's house where he sees Darcy inside... wearing a wedding dress. Ben and Maddie return to Kate's house, where Tommy arrives and the trio plan the best way to crash Darcy's upcoming nuptials. Because she is a good mom (and has a nanny cam), Kate realizes that Ben is about to crash a wedding and then, upon Ben's confession, realizes that it is not just any wedding -- it's Darcy's wedding. I think one of Kate’s greatest moments in the pilot is her apparent shock at Darcy getting married. She KNOWS exactly what she meant to Ben, and is genuinely concerned for her brother. Once she realizes, however, that he’s plotting a scheme rather than preparing to talk to her adult-to-adult, she refuses to intervene and assist because it would conflict with her date with George -- a date that is VERY important to her because she's about to take their relationship to the next level. 

(… until she intervenes and assists, that is. Because the truth is that Kate cares immensely for her brother and would do anything for him. Everyone, it seems, in Ben’s life would drop their activities and plans in order to help him out. Kate doesn’t realize it quite yet, but Ben would reciprocate. Kate expresses that Ben gets “smart people to do dumb things” all the time.)

Tommy, Ben, and Kate plot how to best crash Kate's wedding. Ben gives a practice speech about how he'll never change, never listen, and that Darcy should accept him for that. Kate, slightly appalled, intervenes. She insists that Ben's speech would never get Darcy back, because the young woman wants -- she NEEDS -- to feel loved and appreciated for who she is. And truly, Kate’s speech at the wedding-crashing rehearsal is telling – it conveys her insecurities as a person, woman, and single mother. Additionally, she’s the kind of person who lets fear motivate a lot of her decisions. She’s always propelled by the fear that she’ll never have a functioning relationship, or that all guys will run out on her, just like Maddie’s father did. And she admits this, fully, toward the end of the episode. Ben, for all of his faults, isn’t afraid to be fearless. So the trio continue to practice their speeches.

The next day, Kate and  Ben are simultaneously preparing for their big moments, and leave Maddie with a babysitter. Ben, however, becomes agitated as he watches the babysitter chastise Maddie for coloring outside of the lines on her paper and for using the "wrong" color to color the sky with. This moment is small and could be easily glossed over, but I think that it’s really important in terms of Ben’s character. He’s creative and expressive, and it pains him to see someone telling his niece what she should and should not do creatively. The babysitter is telling Maddie to not do things and that she is incorrect in the way that she colors, which more than irks Ben. In fact, the man goes so far as to fire the babysitter and readjusts his plans in order to take Maddie with him. He loves his niece and he always wants her to be accepted, to feel free to be weird, and to color outside of the lines (both literally and figuratively in her life).

Ben, with Maddie in tow, drive to the wedding while Kate prepares with BJ for her big date at the bar. There, the single mom reveals her insecurities as a mother and a woman -- she relays the fact that she and Ben never had a normal childhood (there is a flashback to Ben and Kate's parents yelling in the background and Ben - the older child - motioning for his younger sister to hide under the table with him, creating for themselves a peaceful, sacred place) and that's all she really wants for Maddie. BJ, slightly pained, insists that Kate will "get there" in her own life.

George and Kate have a drink, and the man asks if Kate wants to get out of the bar and go somewhere else. Kate nervously laughs and agrees, unaware that she has accidentally dialed Ben on her phone (who is now listening to the entire conversation on his way to Darcy's wedding). Luckily for Kate, when she leaves the table (after a hilarious mishap with her sweater), George calls a woman he has been seeing who is out of town and Ben hears. The brother turns his car around and returns to the bar in order to help his sister.

In spite of his occasional one-track mind, Ben does care deeply about his Kate. When he finds out that George is toying with Kate’s emotions, he drops everything – the actual and entire reason that he came into town in the first place – in order to defend her and help her out. And he doesn’t expect anything in return, which is an admirable trait. George admits that he is actually seeing someone, apologizes, and then leaves the bar. Kate is visibly hurt and then realizes that Ben is missing Darcy's wedding in order to help her. Motivated, the pair grab Tommy, BJ, and Maddie and head to the ceremony.

There, Ben finds Darcy and nervously stammers, attempting to remember his big speech about why she shouldn't get married. Instead, Kate delivers a speech about her brother. I loved Kate’s speech to Darcy about why she cares so deeply for Ben. Even though he tends to ruin her plans, Kate loves her brother. She knows that he would do anything for her, and likely everyone around him. He has a big heart (sometimes a narrow perspective) and tries to be a good person. And he tries to be a good brother. Unfortunately for Ben, Darcy's new husband enters the hall and the young woman informs Ben and Kate that she got married an hour ago. Ben, visibly crushed and Kate (also disheartened) leave, but not before Ben high-fives Darcy's new husband (who, in fact, has a good high-five).

At the reception, Kate sits alone at a table, watching Darcy toss the bouquet  The woman begins to cry and, from across the room, Ben notices and approaches her table. I love how Ben automatically knows what to do when Kate is upset, and even that she IS upset. He may not know how to fix everything or everyone, but he does try to make things right. Wordlessly, Ben looks at his sister before dropping to the floor and crawling under the table. Kate laughs and follows suit. The callback to their childhood was one of the best pilot moments I’ve seen in the recent past. It was honestly one of the sweetest moments too, exhibiting that even though they have grown up, Ben and Kate are the same people they were when they were children – Ben protecting Kate and sheltering her from the things that terrify her and Kate desperately needing that escape and someone to look after her.

The siblings then discuss their lives and the entire conversation was so telling in terms of the personalities of Ben and Kate as people, as well as siblings. Ben finally (we assume finally, because up until that moment Kate is still trying to decipher why her brother gets involved in crazy schemes) admits that the reason he does stupid things is because it’s fun and yeah, it’s scary, but that’s what makes it WORTH it. Kate, meanwhile, is scared to jump into the unknown. It terrifies her that she doesn’t know what lies ahead, and in a weird way, Ben is a person who can help to guide her. And, once Maddie crawls underneath the table to join her uncle and mom, Ben informs the pair that he plans on staying in town and help raise Maddie.

After the reception, Ben, Kate, BJ, Tommy, and Maddie walk to where BJ parked the car. Before they make it to the parking lot, however, Kate retaliates for Ben pushing her into the pool when they were younger by pushing HIM into the hotel's pool. The rest of the group jumps in as well, laughing. I loved this moment and thought it was a great, solid way to close an episode.

Later that night, Ben and Kate tuck Maddie into bed. And you know what? I love that Maddie will always have two people who love her in her life. Sitcoms that are family-driven are traditionally mother-father, but I love seeing the brother-sister comedy.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- “Kate, I need your car. And a piñata. And six dresses, size 8 through 12.”
-  The girl who plays Maddie is the literal cutest child on television.
-  It’s endearing that Kate still sucks her thumb. I don’t know WHY it’s endearing, but… okay, that’s a lie. It’s a nice – albeit brief – moment that demonstrates that Kate is still the younger sibling.
- “You look like a Korean lady golfer.”
- “You’re so naïve. You’re only five, but you’re VERY naïve.”
- “There’s so much I want to say! Why are you so young right now?”
- “We’re gonna crash this wedding, Kate style. Which means you guys are gonna be prepared and no one’s gonna go to prison.”
- The three-point turn gag was perfect. Mainly because I hate doing three-point turns, too.
- “He loves somebody… at a conference!”
- “We’re like, two peas in the worst pod ever.”

Thank you all for being so supportive of this blog in all of its endeavors! I'll be posting new reviews of Go On, Ben and Kate, and (potentially) New Girl weekly, until Community returns! Keep an eye out for those and, as always, have a wonderful weekend. :)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Community Is Returning... Wait. What, Now?

When you’re a kid and you act up or misbehave, occasionally your parents will yell at you. They’ll punish you and send you to your room without dessert or take away your favorite toy. But sometimes – on those rare occasions when you actually wince and anticipate a blow-up – they’ll remain quiet. And then, just as you peek to open your eyes and brace for your punishment, they’ll calmly utter six words that make your stomach curl into a knot.

“I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.”

That’s kind of how I feel right about now toward NBC. I’m not mad at you, really. I’m just disappointed. For those of you who have remained blissfully unaware of any sort of news involving Community, I’ll fill you in – last night it was announced that the quirky comedy’s fourth season premiere would not be on October 19th, as was previously scheduled (Whitney, too, will not be premiering that Friday).

Before I explain why I’m disappointed in the network’s decision to further push back the premiere date of Community’s fourth (and likely final) season, I’ll just lift your spirits up a bit. Because I think we’re going to be okay. Yes, you DID just read that correctly. I think we’re going to be okay. And here’s why:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Go On: 1x01 "Pilot" (For Better or For Quirkier)

Original Airdate: September 11, 2012

I looked up the word “quirk” in the dictionary – because I’ve clearly got nothing better to do with my time – and discovered that its definition led me to the word “idiosyncrasy.” Intrigued, but not surprised, I realized that the definition for this particular word was linked to “eccentricity.” And so, really, those quirky comedies that we all love are really shows that “deviate from an established pattern or norm, especially odd or whimsical behavior.” When I first heard that there would be a new NBC comedy starring Matthew Perry, my first thought was – excitedly – “Yes!” That thought was deflated as soon as the second thought entered my head: Mr. Sunshine. So I was a bit hesitant to get attached to Perry’s new show Go On for fear that it would just be cancelled after two episodes anyway. But I watched the trailer and thought I would give it a trial run for a few weeks before my fall lineup of television shows returned to the air and… I was pleasantly surprised. Now, mind you, I’ll only be discussing the pilot in this review and judge that as a stand-alone episode before I discuss the rest of the series (at some point).

I think that what bothered me the most when I was reading real-time reaction to this show’s advanced pilot was the idea that people were heralding it a less funny version of Community – that Jeff Winger and Ryan King were the same character, that the study group paralleled the support group, and that it was “obvious”
Go On was attempting to copy Community. Here is something that you should know before I go any further in this review – I love Community. I love its fans, I love the show, and I love the writers and the actors. I love Dan Harmon. I think he is wonderful and brilliant and crazy, all wrapped up in a beard. But Dan in no way, shape, form, or alternate dimension invented the idea of an ensemble comedy. He does not have a patent on shows with study groups, support groups, or any other form of group. He did not invent the “too-cool-to-care” archetype, nor did he create the “studious-young-woman” or “jaded-woman-who-wants-to-help-others” archetypes. He utilized these archetypes to create Jeff Winger, Annie Edison, and Britta Perry. These characters exist in every television show to some degree (the naïve/good girl aspects of Jess in New Girl, the too-cool-to-care attitude that Dave sometimes adopts in Happy Endings, the group dynamics of How I Met Your Mother, etc.) No television show is perfect, and I’m not saying that Go On and its writers did not utilize aspects of Community in their writing of the show or the pilot script. All I know is that you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence to insist that the shows are identical. And we’ll get to that, momentarily because I will discuss spend the majority of our time examining some key similarities between the shows that are defining characteristics of archetypes, not of individual or unique characters.

So, let’s discuss the pilot, shall we? If we’re going to parallel Go On and Community, I’ll start off by explaining that Ryan King is no Jeff Winger. The pilot version of the latter is self-centered, destructive, and pretty unapologetic until the end of the episode. Ryan, for what it’s worth, wants what Jeff does – both want to return to their normal lives, to escape the circumstances that brought them to a place they didn’t want to be. The means by which they go about doing this are relatively similar (both lie, but Jeff takes it a step further as he oft does), but the emotional reasoning and the ends by which the characters manage their desires are different.

But now onto something basic like plot: we learn in the pilot that Ryan King is a sports radio host, who has been out of work for a month because of his wife's death. He insists that he's fine and wants to return to work -- he NEEDS to return to work, he insists. It's the only place where he feels like he matters and is actually doing something important. His friend and boss urges Ryan to attend ten group therapy sessions of his choice in order to cope with the loss. Ryan begrudingly agrees. Jeff Winger and Ryan King both feel like they don’t need anyone. Now, the difference between these characters is that Ryan is a relatively honest guy – he is hurting and wants to try and cope without anyone else’s help. Jeff, in the Community pilot is not necessarily hurting – he’s ready to take the cheater’s way out of correcting a mistake (and a lie) that he created in the first place. Jeff starts from a selfish place, whereas Ryan does not. The baggage that brings Ryan to the support group is not of his own doing. The baggage that brings Jeff to Greendale IS.

Ryan instructs his assistant, Carrie, to fill his mp3 player with his syndicated radio shows so that he can attend ten sessions of group therapy and zone out in the process. I like the introduction of the support group but – if we’re being honest – the pilot does make the group scenes feel rushed. The comedic timing is there, but the joke isn’t allowed to settle long enough for the audience to fully appreciate it before another line or joke is brought up. Nevertheless, Ryan meets the support group and prepares himself to settle in with his sports radio and ignore the discussion of feelings and emotions. The group, who is familiar with one another, plan to get their meeting started, as their leader -- Lauren -- is running late. That's when Yolanda, one of the group members, notices that Ryan is in attendance (and consequently draws everyone's attention toward him). He introduces himself, and then listens with intrigue as the group begins to compare their sob-story experiences with one another. What intrigues me the most about Ryan is the fact that he could have taken the easy way out throughout the support group – he did, after all, have a pair of ear buds and hours’ worth of his own syndicated radio segments – but chose not to do so. Though the game he decided to create (“March Sadness”) is arguably not a conventional way to deal with feelings and emotional trauma, it IS a way for the group to connect and bond, and even have friendly competition. They’re laughing and no one seems to be TOO upset with anyone else in the group. They may even be having fun. And Ryan MAY even be helping them. Moreover, he is also enjoying himself and running "March Sadness."

(Again, if we’re comparing this aspect of Ryan to Community, recall that Jeff Winger in the pilot wanted nothing to do with the study group, and – instead of bringing them together for a friendly bit of anything – turned the entire group against one another for a chance at Britta. Just saying.)

Lauren finally arrives to the support group, a bit horrified at the "March Sadness" that took place under Ryan's control. The woman settles everyone down and encourages them to return to sitting in their circle and to deal with their emotions without comparing experiences with others. Owen, who opened up and spoke to Ryan earlier (and who was smiling and enjoying participating in "March Sadness"), remains silent when Lauren returns to the group.  Lauren is conventional, and she’s Britta Perry-esque (from the Community pilot, at least) in the fact that she wants to genuinely help people. But that’s about where the comparison ends. Lauren is just as much of a fraud as Jeff Winger was – she’s never truly experienced a devastating loss, and yet is trying to counsel people through theirs. She’s, internally, afraid of letting the group down. They look to her for support, and she offers it, not by allowing the group to do what they did with Ryan and LIVE, but TALK. Granted, neither Ryan nor Lauren are completely correct in their approach to dealing with grief, because there should be a balance. Still, Ryan is able to connect with people in a way that Lauren can, but chooses not to. And that is, in fact, the moment Ryan tunes the world out and decides that a support group is not worth having. Because for him, pain is something that you need to deal with in a different way each moment of the day. He doesn't understand or care for discussions and displays of emotion, nor does he want to really come to terms with his loss. So he places his ear buds back in, and checks out of the group.

There's a montage of the group members dealing with their losses in different ways. Some are angry, others lonely, and then there's Ryan, who we see struggle to fall asleep in his bed, before settling onto a chair in his living room. The montage of the group, including Ryan, dealing with their grief was one of the best moments of the pilot. It felt a bit rushed, but I think that this is where Go On will really shine – in simple moments like these, if it can slow down and trim back the unruly and unnecessary scenes.

The next day, Ryan returns to group and is paired with Owen to do an assignment. They're supposed to discover three words that describe their common experience -- even though each loss may be something different, Lauren explains, there are common things that each person might share. Neither Owen nor Ryan truly want to participate in that, and instead, the sportscaster pulls out his phone and the two decide to watch funny Internet videos. Excited, Owen asks if Ryan has ever heard of the Google Maps car, and then proceeds to show him photographs of people who, noticing the car, dress up weirdly and get themselves onto the maps. The young man then opens up -- his brother sent him the photographs right before his accident. As it turns out, Owen's brother is in a coma and is pretty much brain dead. Ryan, unsure of how to proceed, changes the subject back to funny videos but seems to genuinely soften at Owen's openness. The scene between Owen and Ryan is a particularly impactful one, because it demonstrates to Ryan the importance of these people and their stories. He genuinely feels for Owen, and tries to help him cope by discussing funny videos. And maybe in that moment, Ryan realizes that he is the type of person others will open up to, and it’s something that he needs to see as a responsibility.

When it comes time for Ryan to share the three words he and Owen were supposed to discuss, the man comes up blank and then -- at Lauren's prompting -- admits his true feelings: he thinks that group therapy is stupid. He doesn't agree with sitting around and discussing feelings. Instead, he argues, everyone needs to find a physical way to cope. They need to go out and DO something. If they're angry, they need to go hit something, and if they're upset, they should find some way to make themselves feel better.  I do like how neither Ryan nor Lauren are completely right in their assessment of how to handle grief. Ryan still sleeps on his couch because he can’t bear to sleep in the bed he shared with Janie. So, while his charge to “go do something” instead of wallowing in grief is a noble charge to take, he also doesn’t realize how important talking is (until, perhaps, later on in a parking garage). And Lauren predicts this about him. In spite of her lack of training and/or significant loss, she IS like Britta in a way – Britta is, oddly, a person that manages to fix people, often unintentionally.

At the end of the session, Ryan asks Lauren to sign his papers proving that he attended group therapy. Lauren refuses and explains that she would sign, only if he opened up and shared something remotely significant about Janie or his loss. Ryan doesn't want to do this, especially upon learning that Lauren isn't a licensed therapist or even trained in psychology. She's a former Weight Watchers consultant. But Ryan knows that Lauren cares about her group. And he appeals to this side of her, this side that wants to desperately help others and fix broken people. And he exploits that by lying and creating a story about how Janie died. So, okay. Definitely not one of his finer moments, but he doesn’t believe he NEEDS anyone yet. He doesn’t need his co-workers to look at him with solemn faces and sad eyes. He doesn’t need Lauren to tell him how to grieve. And he doesn’t need to sit and talk about his emotions with strangers. What he needs, Ryan decides, is to bury himself in his work and just… go on.

Lauren, touched, gives Ryan a hug and thanks him for opening up to her, before signing all ten of his sessions. What Ryan is, though, we realize, is honest. He could have walked away from Lauren without admitting that he lied about how Janie died (or anything about her).  He could have taken his sheet and not thought for a moment more about the support group. But Ryan, at his core, is someone who genuinely cares and someone who also FEELS. And he feels remorseful for how he acted. So he admits freely that he fabricated a story about Janie in order to get his sheet signed. Lauren, visibly disappointed, walks to her car and drives away.

And so, Ryan continues with his normal life, interviewing an arena football star the following day on his show. As the sportscaster and star head to the parking garage, Ryan notices that the football player and his girlfriend are driving, the former texting as he attempts to exit the garage. In a sudden outburst, Ryan begins to pelt the vehicle with fruit from a sympathy basket that had been given to him. Ryan then continues to yell and explain that the athlete could have killed someone for texting and driving. (He then proceeds to insult the football player and has to be dragged away by his tiny female assistant.) When he and Carrie sit down on a bench, the young woman expresses concern for Ryan over the fact that he blew up so suddenly at someone.

The following day, Ryan shows up late to the support group (bringing a box of donuts with him, no less).  The group session that Ryan has at the end of the episode is pretty important. The first important thing to recognize is that Ryan returned on his own accord. He wasn’t forced or coerced (or, well, maybe he was by people who saw that display in the parking garage). Lauren’s words made some sort of impact when they were echoed by Carrie. The second thing to notice is that the group welcomed him back. Danny gave up his seat, which was really nice. The third, and most important thing is that Ryan recognized his own pain and the need to address it with other people. It wasn’t about competing to see whose hurt was worse. And it wasn’t about burying it to pretend life was somehow okay. It was about letting other people help him get better. And that’s what Ryan realizes he needs in the end – other people. We weren’t meant to do life alone. Though, Ryan comes to terms with his love for the support group and his need for them a LONG time before Jeff Winger ever recognizes how important the study group is to him.

(As an aside, Matthew Perry EXCELS at drama in this scene, too, where he describes that Janie died in a car accident while she was texting. He is fantastically nuanced and absolutely wonderful. It was a powerful moment that was not too over-the-top, and a monologue that had a lot of layers. You can tell that he’s still a bit angry and obviously still grieving her. Perhaps because he blames himself for Janie's death, or even her. After all, she was texting him right before she ran a stop sign and passed away.)

As he proceeds to talk more about Janie, Ryan stops himself. He beckons Owen over to the window, where the two realize that the Google truck is at a stoplight. The pair smile and then decide to do something extraordinary -- dress up in medieval garb and run down the street after the truck. Even though grief is about discussing the people or things that have been lost and mourning them, Ryan’s realization is not even necessarily that he can HELP other people by living life, doing crazy and random things like chasing down the Google truck, but that somehow he NEEDS to do these things. That this is what life is really about, and maybe it’s what healing is about too.

And yeah, in case you were wondering, Jeff Winger comes to a similar conclusion at the end of the pilot episode of Community – he recognizes his own inadequacy and that he’s going to need other people, not for the sake of getting things OUT of them, but (perhaps) for what they can BRING to his life. So maybe the whole point of shows like Community and Go On aren’t just to remind us of how quirky or sad life can get. Maybe the point isn’t even that everything will resolve itself eventually. Maybe the point is simply that we need other people so that we can become better versions of ourselves. Always.

Additional de-lovely aspects about this episode:
- “It now occurs to me that there is no such thing as a sympathy cake.”
- “Stop taking notes, right now.”
- “Bradley Cooper’s the sexiest man alive, because apparently People Magazine has never heard of a Mr. Ryan Gosling.”
- “You frighten me.” “Good.”
- “And thanks for saying my name so much. It’s weird, but nice.”
- “You’re a very nice lady. I’m gonna send you all my sad friends!”
- “She was the only girl I ever loved. That part was true.”

So there you have it, folks! I'm hoping to expand this blog-review to more than just Community, so we're adding Go On to the mix of reviews I'll do! Additionally, I'm excited to try my hand at some others in the coming week -- be on the lookout for a Ben and Kate pilot review in the near future. But, until then, have a fabulous weekend. :)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

2x15 "Early 21st Century Romanticism" (L-O-V-E)

Early 21st Century Romanticism (2011)

"Early 21st Century Romanticism"
Original Airdate: February 10, 2011

Personally, I think that one of the most important, or at least memorable, moments in a person’s life is when they either hear or receive an “I love you” from someone who is not a member of their family. Because here’s the thing about families – people are born into families and – hopefully – those families express love to one another for the entirety of their lives. Friends, conversely, are people we pick and choose to spend time with, love, and care about. It’s an enormous cliché to claim that we cannot choose our families, but we can choose our friends. And, boiled down in its simplicity, that statement is quite true (though I’d argue that it’s a conscious decision to love anyone, friend or family… that’s a moot point at the moment). Now, I’m the type of person who considers herself to be… emotional. All right, perhaps that’s an understatement. I am super emotional. Once I meet someone, I open up to them rather quickly. It may take a few hours, but generally I’m a relatively talkative and friendly person. I also attach quickly to people on a relational level and seek to form bonds with them. That’s who I am. I am not Jeff Winger. (Finally! I bet you all were just itching for me to arrive at the point of this introduction.) “Early 21st Century Romanticism” is an extremely significant episode in terms of character development for Jeff because he finally opens up to the group and utters three words that always – for better or for worse – alter relationships. Because the truth is that telling someone that you love them (or, in Jeff’s case, telling six people) is scary. Why? Because loving someone always costs you something in return. For Jeff, I think the price is his ego and pride. But more importantly, I believe that it cost Jeff a lot more, emotionally. Saying “I love you,” puts you in a vulnerable position, always, and Jeff had to conquer his fear of abandonment and his insecurities of not being enough in order to take the step that he needed to in regards to his relationship with the study group. But we’ll cover this more in depth later on in the review! We’ll also discuss some of the comparisons and contrasts found in the other storylines throughout the episode. Jeff’s story, Troy and Abed’s, and Pierce’s all focused on themes of love – what it means to love someone, the sacrifices you make for love, and what a lack of love will do in a person’s life. Britta and Annie’s storyline is a bit different and sharp in contrast as it looks at what pride and ego can do in a person’s life (the very vices that Jeff must sacrifice to make his “right step” at the end of the episode) and to their relationships with others.

We'll begin the review by recapping the plot of this episode. It's Valentine's Day at Greendale, and that means half of the campus is thrilled and half are retaliating against the day and its social conventions. Troy and Abed both pine over the librarian -- Mariah -- throughout the episode and decide to ask her to the Valentine's Day dance so that she can choose which one of them she likes better. Annie and Shirley lay rather low throughout the episode (though it's interesting to note that they are both wearing black on Valentine's Day), the former tagging along as Britta embarks on a mission to befriend a lesbian named Paige and invite her to the dance. (Don't worry, we'll get to that story momentarily.) Elsewhere, Pierce is popping painkillers like they're candy and beginning to grow more and more agitated and distant from the group as the episode wears on. And Jeff?  From the very start of the episode, Jeff expresses his extreme disinterest in participating in or believing in any sort of love or close friendship. He tells Troy and Abed that he doesn’t believe in love, or best friends, or doing things. It is only when Pierce enters the room, grumbling and griping about Valentine's Day, that Jeff changes his tune. Because I think he sees a reflection of what he COULD be, if he doesn’t let the group into his heart soon. And he isn’t a fan of that picture. At all. And he even snarks at the notion of opening his heart to someone else – what will happen if he doesn’t, he asks? Will he miss some sort of deadline? What’s also interesting is the growth and parallelism from the beginning to the end of the episode. “Early 21st Century Romanticism” begins with the notion of opening your heart (which Jeff dismisses; which Pierce then walks into the room and also dismisses) and concludes with the acknowledgment that you NEED to open your heart and let other people in (which Jeff affirms; which Pierce dismisses).

Annie and Shirley notice, when Pierce sits at the study room table, that something is amiss -- the elderly man is sneaking pills. Britta enters the room, not-so-casually informing the group that she has a new friend named Paige and that the young woman is (complete with a perfect Gillian Jacobs hand flourish) a lesbian. The entire study group turns to Pierce, who usually makes fun of Britta and accuses her of being a lesbian. Instead of a snappy remark or joke, Pierce reaches into his bag and opens his mouth to read from a prepared statement (which then cuts away as he takes a deep breath, remaining my second-favorite cold open in the show's history, second only to "Investigative Journalism"). 

I love that – post-cold open – even ABED appears shocked at what Pierce’s prepared statement said. In fact, this is actually quite a good episode to remind us that Abed is human and has feelings. Pierce leaves the room (moonwalking), and pops another pill as he exits. The group then turns to Jeff and explains that they need an intervention for Pierce. Jeff dismisses their concern, which leads to him making a snarky comment about The Barenaked Ladies. And then, quite suddenly, every other group member leaps to the band's defense.  One of the most important things to realize about this episode is the way that Jeff perceives himself in regards to the study group, the way they perceive him, and the way things actually are. (Okay, so maybe that’s more than one thing.) Jeff, rightfully so, thinks of himself as the leader of the study group. And the rest of the group seeks him out for advice, approval, and guidance (see: “Investigative Journalism,” and “Asian Population Studies,” for example). It’s hard to imagine that they could function without him when they instinctively turn to him for everything. 

But, the reality is that the group does not always need Jeff. This episode is a hinge – it represents the moment Jeff realizes that the group can, and WILL, function without him present. They will not dissolve into utter chaos. They will not blow up the study room. And I think, honestly, this revelation terrifies him (but we’ll get to that later on). For the moment, Jeff is frustrated – frustrated with the notion that he has to babysit the group all the time, frustrated with how they are a nuisance in his life, frustrated with how they rely on him for everything and WANT him to be better than he is. Because the truth is that Jeff, I am certain, is tired of having to be good. He’s tired of having to care about Pierce and about little things that he wouldn’t usually care about if it weren’t for the group. When I wrote a review of “Accounting For Lawyers,” I explained it this way: He [Jeff] cares long before he can recognize the emotion. And that happens a lot, to be honest. Similarly, Jeff loves the group at this point, but can’t recognize that it is love that he feels until “Early 21st Century Romanticism.”

After their argument, Jeff storms out of the study room and runs -- quite nearly -- into a lurking Duncan who has overheard his tiff with the group. Duncan, quite honestly, may be the most important character in this episode.  He is certainly the most unintentionally advice-giving and truth-speaking character. But I'll get to that later on.  Duncan invites himself to hang out at Jeff's apartment to watch the Liverpool vs. Manchester United soccer match, but the former lawyer hesitates. Ironically, even though Jeff is in an argument with the rest of the study group, he initially is unwilling to back out of his commitment to attend the dance. And this is so… unlike Jeff Winger from season one. First season, Jeff would do anything to get out of a commitment. He blew off Annie’s Halloween party in order to get a shot with Professor Slater. He prioritized himself over his friends and relationships with them. But this season (or at least this episode), Jeff is different. So what changed? What fundamentally caused him to act differently? Arguably… nothing. Sometimes, people remember that there are others who need prioritizing. Jeff has always been a person who cares, but it just takes him a bit longer to arrive at it than others. After their conversation, Jeff allows Duncan permission to come over and watch the game, and - nearby - Chang is eavesdropping on this bit of information.

Pierce’s story, in contrast, is about what happens when you’re left on your own for too long. Apologies – perhaps I have been watching too much Doctor Who, but hear me out. The study group, in its simplicity, is a wonderful thing because it provides necessary support and – pardon the pun – community. When one member of the group is isolated from the others, things usually don’t turn out so well (re: “Biology 101,” “The First Chang Dynasty,” etc.). The beauty of the group is that they are there for one another. But Pierce is a prime example of what happens when you forbid others from being let inside of your heart -- what happens when these people, the ones that you NEED around you to prevent you from being stupid or selfish or reckless are absent. And, in the end for Pierce, it's not a pretty picture.

Now, the Britta/Annie storyline is interesting because, in stark contrast to the theme of Valentine’s Day (and to, frankly, what Jeff learns throughout the episode), this storyline is fundamentally about selfishness and vanity. Britta – while not entirely well-meaning – does go into her friendship with Paige befriending her because she thought the other woman was cool (and, well, Paige being a lesbian put her a step forward on the “cultural progress” cool scale). So what’s interesting, then, is not the way that Britta treats Paige but the way Britta treats ANNIE (and, conversely, the way Annie treats Britta at the end of the episode). We all know the two women have had an unsteady relationship. And the fact is that Britta can often be quick to belittle the petite brunette for her lack of experience and naïveté. She spends the episode attempting to prove that she knows more about life, more about people, and more about relationships than Annie, chastising her for asking questions because it makes the brunette appear homophobic. Britta always strives to be the most “accepting” member of the study group. In “Studies in Modern Movement,” she attempts to prove a point to Shirley by letting a stranger hitchhike in their car. She wants to prove herself to the world, Britta Perry does. And when she makes grand gestures to attempt to accomplish this… she often fails. She lets her ego, her desire to “win” and “be right,” and her pride stand in the way of genuinely being able to locate flaws and faults in those she desperately needs to.

Britta approaches Paige at the vending machine, and -- in order to prove something to Annie -- asks the other woman to the Valentine's Day dance. Meanwhile, Annie and Paige's (similarly brunette) friend chit-chat, and both realize something important -- neither Paige nor Britta are lesbians. Britta only THINKS that Paige is, and vice versa. The moment Britta returns from the vending machine is pretty reminiscent of episodes like “The Psychology of Letting Go,” where the blonde patronizes Annie. And I don’t mean to be mean-spirited toward Britta. I genuinely love her as a character. However, Britta is a bit abrasive in the second season, and has some pent-up bitterness that usually manifests itself in sarcasm. And, unfortunately, sometimes it’s directed at those who desire to help her. Annie could have saved Britta from embarrassment and disappointment later on when Paige makes snippy remarks to her, but instead, the brunette keeps quiet and prepares to enjoy the sure-to-be trainwreck.

Back at Jeff's apartment, he and Duncan are hanging out and enjoying the game. This episode is one of the reasons that I miss Duncan so much. He can be a complete and utter tool when he chooses to be (and generally is just a selfish guy looking for a way to scrape by on doing the least amount of work possible), but this is one of those episodes where Duncan is not only RIGHT, but he is also POIGNANT. Though he openly mocks Jeff for being dependant on the “six-headed ball and chain,” at the end of the episode, he makes a very astute observation. As rid of his ball and chain as he may be, Jeff’s character growth throughout the episode relates directly to his friends – to being the “savior” and rescuer of people. In this case, he’s forced to rescue someone (Chang) he can barely tolerate. And it’s an interesting parallel, is it not? Moments earlier, Jeff was compulsively checking his phone, worried that his friends would call and need his help. Yet, when Chang needs help and a place to live, Jeff’s immediate response is to do anything BUT help.

Chang shows up at Jeff's apartment (with the former lawyer's drivers license in hand), and requests to watch the game. After he breaks one of Jeff's lamps, Chang insists that he make it up by ordering a pizza. Instead of doing so, Chang calls Starburns at the dance and invites him (and everyone else Starburns can manage to find) over to Jeff's apartment for a party. What’s amazing is that Jeff Winger is the “cool guy” and yet… does not seem to enjoy doing much socializing with others. Perhaps it was just his mood, but I choose to believe that Jeff is much more of a homebody than he appears.

At the dance, both Troy and Abed are attempting to woo Mariah (the latter explaining the Saw franchise to her). When she chooses, she ends up selecting Troy as her date, rather than Abed. The film student is okay with this decision, handing his glass of punch over to his best friend and departing. One of the things that is so important early on in this season (because it resurfaces in the following season), is understanding the level of devotion that Troy has for Abed. We see it in episodes such as “Contemporary Impressionists,” but the young athlete really strives to spare Abed’s feelings at whatever cost he can. It’s sweet, and endearing, and means that Troy is a great friend. Even when Abed can’t understand WHY Troy acts the way that he does.

As for Troy, we realize that his goal will always be to rescue and help Abed, even when the film student doesn’t realize that he needs rescuing. And even when he doesn’t ASK to be rescued. Because that is who Troy is – someone who cares so deeply for his best friend that he will do anything it takes to make him feel wanted, included, and – above all else – normal. When Troy asks why she didn't choose Abed, Mariah insults the film student by calling him “weird.” Troy, infuriated, leaves Mariah and finds Abed, relaying the conversation. Abed, surprisingly to Troy, agrees with Mariah and notes that he IS weird, which solidifies my theory that Abed is the most self-aware of the group. In spite of perhaps not always liking it, Abed is assured of who he is as a person. He knows what he likes, what he doesn’t like, and what he can and cannot understand. This proves problematic in episodes like “Contemporary Impressionists” and “Virtual Systems Analysis,” where Abed simply refuses to compromise with others and their ideas. Nevertheless, this episode reveals – however small – the truth that Abed will always be protected by Troy, because the athlete feels a compulsion to do so. (And what’s sweet and endearing (and a bit heartbreaking, too) is that Troy assures Abed that “there is someone out there for us” – he doesn’t separate himself from Abed, even when discussing the possibility of someone else coming into their lives.)

Pierce, meanwhile, continues to spiral at the dance and snaps as his favorite of the group (Annie) approaches him. The elderly  man has the opportunity, right then, to make things right – to make amends for his actions and choose to ask for help, to let the group into his heart. Instead, he pushes them further away and Annie walks away from Pierce, looking apprehensive but choosing not to pursue any further action.

Back to Britta and Paige’s story, we realize that Britta actually cares about Paige as a friend. But, being who she is, the blonde wants to defy societal conventions and nothing says “rebellion” to her more than showing up to a Hallmark-holiday dance with another woman, right? After all, if nothing else, Britta Perry prides (there’s that word) herself on being progressive – she chastises Annie for her naiveté, when in actuality, Britta was the naïve one throughout the episode. Annie took the little effort it required to put aside her pride and ego and talk to Paige’s friend. Britta and Paige were too wrapped up in competing with themselves, in proving that they were somehow more progressive than everyone else, that they managed to hurt each other in the process. In order to "defy" society, Valentine's Day, and all the people who are staring at two women dancing together, Paige and Britta decide to kiss... and then both realize simultaneously that the other isn't actually gay.

At Jeff's apartment, a raging party is taking place and Jeff is actually enjoying himself. And I adore that Jeff is actually enjoying himself at the party, because it’s so easy for him to become the uptight puppet master that Buddy accused him of being a season earlier. The truth of the matter is that – prior to this episode – the study group needed Jeff more than he needed them. Even during their fight in “Early 21st Century Romanticism,” he thinks of the group as a nuisance. But he realizes at the end of the episode that the group can function without him – they can sort out their own problems (Annie counseled Britta, Troy comforted Abed, and the group attempted to help Pierce). So, the question Jeff is left to ponder is… do they even NEED him? Or does HE need THEM?

When Jeff discovers that Chang is doing laundry at his place and orchestrated the entire party just so that he'd an excuse to crash at the apartment, Jeff is fairly compassionate at first. Unfortunately though, it doesn't last long and he kicks the man out of his apartment, before shutting down the party altogether. 

At the dance, Paige and Britta are (understandably) upset at one another. I think it’s interesting that Paige is set up (even in looks) as kind of a parallel of Britta, if Britta Perry had no compassion. Because Paige merely wanted to exploit what she assumed was Britta’s sexuality for the sole purpose of being “progressive” and cool. Britta genuinely liked Paige, and is stung by the fact that the woman only thought she was a lesbian, not that she was cool. Hurt, Britta watches Paige walk away and Annie approaches. I love that this is one of the rare episodes too where we get a chance to see Annie counsel Britta. Moreover, Annie could have launched into a tirade of “I told you so,” but chose to play dumb and let Britta have her moment.

As Duncan and Jeff are cleaning up after the party, the man wonders aloud what it is about himself that makes people drawn to him -- especially those in need of help. Duncan sold this episode for me, mainly because he unintentionally speaks a LOAD of wisdom into Jeff’s life. He explains that Jeff must either stop resisting or admit that he actually is enjoying rescuing and leading other people, since the former lawyer is already half-way through his second year at Greendale. He should accept where he is at. See, Jeff LIKES coming to the rescue of the study group. It's a role that he begrudgingly took, but now can't seem to live without. And then, there is a moment that Jeff expects the group to call him with their problems and beg him to fix them. This 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.

When Jeff attempts to prove his own point to Duncan -- that the study group could not function without its leader -- and pulls out his phone to replay voicemails he is certain the group left him, Jeff finds... nothing. The group didn't text or call him at all. "Must be in some kind of trouble," the man mumbles, befuddled. Duncan then replies slowly: "Ah. What a relief that would be."  DUNCAN. YOU WIN ALL OF THE THINGS FOR THIS LINE. And I have to abuse capslock because it is true – Duncan recognizes that Jeff ENJOYS coming to the aide of the study group. And Jeff actually IS disappointed that they aren’t in some kind of mortal peril, that they don't NEED him to fix them.

So Jeff realizes in that moment that perhaps Duncan is right – maybe broken people really DO flock to him because he’s making some kind of difference, or doing some kind of good. And when he finds Chang in the garbage chute in the hallway, Jeff decides to live up to his role. (And when Chang says he’ll be gone in the morning, Jeff tries to fight a smile, knowing he won’t. I think Jeff really does enjoy caring for people.)

As Chang and Duncan crash on his couch, Jeff sends a text message to the study group, who have all congregated together on the couches at the now-deserted Valentine's Day dance. Together, they read Jeff's message:

It might not shock you guys to hear the real reason we had a fight today. It wasn’t about The Barenaked Ladies, although I do have some unresolved issues there. Caring about a person can be scary. Caring about six people can be a horrifying, embarrassing nightmare, at least for me. But if I can’t say it today, when can I say it? I love you guys. Oh, and Pierce? Take it from an expert – these knuckleheads are right outside your heart. Let ‘em in, before it’s too late. Happy Valentine’s Day.

And, quite sadly, the only group member absent from hearing this message is the one who needs to hear it the most.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- “The Barenaked Ladies are triple platinum. Are YOU?”
- “THIS is a fight. WE are fighting.”
- “Where are the white women at?”
-  I forgot that this episode was also our first introduction to Magnitude! POP POP!
- “What is it about me that makes broken people flock to me? Is it my height? Do huddled masses mistake me for the Statue of Liberty?”

Thank you ALL if you made it this far down the review! :) I appreciate all of you who have read, commented, or retweeted these blog-reviews over the past year. Can you believe it's been a YEAR since I started these? Again, know that each one of you are so very special to me and I am extremely grateful for everything you have done and said. Next week -- if I can get my act together! -- expect a blog-review of Megan Ganz's gem "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking." Until then, folks, have a great week!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Top 10 Sob-Worthiest Moments of "Doctor Who" (According to Me)

There are a few things that Doctor Who does really well. It is a show that is nearly flawless at simultaneously developing plot and character within the span of forty-five minutes. It also is really good at tugging at heartstrings (or, in the Moffat era specifically, ripping out your heart completely) and creating iconic sad moments. Given that "The Angels Take Manhattan" aired last night (and in fact, makes this list), I was inspired by my friend Kim's (of "Head Over Feels") response to the episode. So I decided that I would create a list of some of the saddest Doctor Who episodes that I can recall. I've cried plenty of times in this show, but these episodes are ones that have made me sob. Are you ready to find out if your favorite "sob-worthy" episode made my cut? Get those tissues out and ready, then!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2x12 "Asian Population Studies" (Everyone Has a Twin)

"Asian Population Studies"
Original Airdate: January 20, 2011

I’ve heard it said that everyone has a twin somewhere in the world. If that’s true, then there are two hopeless romantic, music-loving, 23-year old female poets out there (and one of them is writing this blog-review). I think it’s an intriguing theory, don’t you? To know that there is a person somewhere in the world that has every trait that you do – or who looks nearly identical to you. And that’s kind of what this episode focuses on, in a way. There’s this question throughout “Asian Population Studies” that resonates clearly: who IS Rich and WHY does he bother Jeff so much? I’ll make a statement that may intrigue some of you regarding the two characters. I believe the reason that Rich bothers Jeff so much is because the doctor is essentially Jeff’s twin. Rich is everything that Jeff is – charming, handsome, has an electric personality, successful – and it frustrates Jeff to no end because he feels like the one looking in a carnival mirror. Rich is everything that Jeff is with the exception of his flaws. Rich isn’t egotistic or insecure or vain. He possesses none of Jeff’s negative qualities and all of his admirable ones. And THAT is why Rich bothers Jeff so much. At the end of the episode (which we will get to, eventually!) Jeff insists that Rich is “perfect” but that he is not. And I definitely believe that Jeff expresses this belief with the full knowledge of who Rich is and who he is not. Additionally, this is an intriguing episode for Jeff/Annie as a dynamic. The audience learns that Annie is attracted to Rich, a man who is very similar to Jeff in – once again – positive traits and age. Jeff, for jealousy regarding Rich solely or jealousy of Annie being interested in him (or both) cannot seem to handle this new relationship. And, throughout the episode, this parallelism builds between relationships: the relationship between Shirley and Andre, and the one between Jeff and Annie. It leaves viewers wondering exactly what makes the foundation for a good relationship. Is it communication? Is it a mistake-free track record? Is it age?  Honesty? Or is it something more? Perhaps it’s the acknowledgement that caring about people around you is scary because it leaves you vulnerable, but that it’s worth it, in the end. The idea that it doesn’t matter how many wrong turns you take, so long as you come back home in the end. And the episode, like each episode and like each moment in life, provides characters with a choice that defines them. Andre chooses to be defined one way, while Jeff… well, we’ll get to him.

Let's start first by recapping the plot of this episode. It's the beginning of a new semester of Anthropology, and the study group returns from winter break and meets in their usual spot -- the study room -- to catch up before class. Troy discusses how he checked Pierce's wardrobes for secret portals to magical worlds, Jeff informs everyone that he discovered a new back muscle to work out, and Annie talks about the campus volunteer group she was a part of. When she can't stop smiling as she talks about dredging a river, Troy -- interestingly enough -- is the first person to notice that Annie is using her "I love butterflies" voice. Britta and the rest of the group tease her, the blonde insisting that her young friend must have met a cute boy. And here’s something that is interesting to note: until Annie admits that she actually does like someone, Jeff happily teases along with the rest of the group, ‘ooh’-ing at her embarrassment, until he realizes that Annie actually HAS found someone that she’s interested in. His face goes from teasing to suspicious in less time than it took me to write this sentence. Now, theoretically, Jeff has absolutely no reason to be jealous of Annie’s potential blossoming relationship. Nor does he have any reason to be jealous of the fact that she's interested in his nemesis. (Remember, at this point he is not aware that the young woman is interested in Rich.) His growing suspicion of her dating life (and insistence that the group change the subject later on when they continue to pester her to discover who the mystery guy is) is even more intriguing in light of the events of “Paradigms of the Human Memory” – if Jeff and Britta had been secretly sleeping together for the entire year on and off, why would it possibly bug Jeff if Annie was interested in someone else unless there were feelings involved on his end?

Nevertheless, the group tries to change the subject which leads to the discovery that Chang has been atop the bookshelf the entire time (likely noticing Jeff's growing jealousy since he brings it up later in the episode), waiting for the study group to let him join, as they promised in "Anthropology 101." Instead, the group dismisses Chang from the room and promptly returns to attempting to discover the identity of Annie's crush. Shirley then announces that there is someone special in her life -- her ex-husband turned boyfriend, Andre. There is a dynamic within this episode that gets a lot of focus, but not a lot of screentime and that’s the relationship between Shirley and Britta. I believe it was in my “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” review that I expressed my love for Shirley/Britta storylines and also why I felt that Britta reacted as strongly as she did to Shirley’s decision to get married in that episode. There is something strong about the bond between these two women because they are seemingly polar opposites, but are rather internally similar. They’re strong, independent-minded women and both value trust and respect. Britta has been burned in her life, often by men, and that caused her to become a bit hard, cynical, and jaded toward relationships (much like a former lawyer the audience knows). But unlike Britta (and more like Annie), Shirley hasn’t let the disappointments and pitfalls in life define her as a person. She has only let them make her a stronger, more stable woman. And while Shirley may have hang-ups of her own, she is more apt to forgive and to love again than Britta, whose automatic reflex is to erect walls and guards to shut others out (see: “Cooperative Calligraphy”). The instinct, then, for Britta is to protect Shirley from ever potentially incurring the bitterness and resentment that she has.

There’s this issue of forgiveness that returns time and time again with the Shirley/Britta dynamic (re: “Studies in Modern Movement”), mainly because of their religious backgrounds. But, as I said earlier, I feel like most of the differences between Britta and Shirley derive not from spiritual preferences, but rather, how each woman views the world in light of the experiences that have happened to her. BECAUSE of Britta’s past, she finds it hard to forgive. IN SPITE of Shirley’s, she forgives. There’s a definite contrast between the two, and the women often clash because of their particular views.

In Anthropology class, the study group is broken off into pairs (Jeff/Annie, Britta/Shirley, and Troy/Pierce), each discussing something prior to Duncan's entrance. In the corner of the room, Troy accidentally lets it slip that he is relieved Shirley's getting back together with Andre and not Chang. He additionally informs his elderly roommate that Chang and Shirley slept together during the Halloween that no one can remember. Pierce, rightly appalled and befuddled, agrees not to share the information... though he does almost tweet it. Meanwhile, Annie apologizes to Jeff for the discussion of her having a crush getting dragged through the study group. Jeff insists that he doesn’t care (which is indicative of his detached too-cool-to-care attitude), and Annie seems to drop the subject of him having any sort of feelings for her. She genuinely does not mention it for the rest of the episode until AFTER Jeff brings it up later on.

Duncan enters the room, explaining that he is now sober and -- consequently -- Anthropology will be getting a lot harder and more focused. As he implements his new chang(es), Rich enters the room, apologizing for his tardiness by explaining that he was at a graduation for the seeing eye dogs he trains. Jeff groans at the man's presence, while Annie excitedly waves in his direction. Jeff puts two and two together, and is not pleased by the fact that Rich is Annie's new crush. Rich aggravates Jeff, I think, because he’s so loved by everyone automatically. And this is the flaw that Jeff seems to have when it comes to people – it takes Rich mere moments to cause a room (and the study group, subsequently) to fall in love with him. It took much longer for the group to completely warm up to Jeff and longer still until they loved him and accepted him. And, even though they do deeply care for him, there are attributes of his character that they still are turned off to. Not so with Doctor Rich, who can pretty much say or do whatever and people STILL are in awe of him. (Also, I love that even Duncan and Britta adore him.)

In the cafeteria, Annie continues to discuss Rich with excitement, since (allegedly) Jeff has no problems or jealousies whatsoever. Annie polls the group: since Rich joined Anthropology class, that means he must like her, right? Britta replies with: "And why wouldn't he, Annie? He is so sweet." This line never really struck me until I read @TweetingKerry’s picspams. And then, I was intrigued because this isn’t a compliment to Annie, who asked the original question, but a compliment to Rich’s personality. Normal people say: “Why wouldn’t he? You’re so sweet” or “You’re so nice” or “You’re so pretty.” But it’s interesting that, instead of that, Britta compliments Rich (a person she barely knows) instead of her friend of two years. Once again, I think it’s a fairly insignificant and easy-to-miss line that exhibits the tension and divide between Britta and Annie during season 2.

Jeff, interestingly enough, is the one to bring up the age difference between Annie and Rich (the same, arguably, age difference that exists between him and Annie). I think he’s doing this to test the group’s loyalty which, surprisingly, lies with Rich. The group nearly massacred Jeff in “Anthropology 101” when they discovered that he had shared a kiss with Annie outside of the Tranny Dance the year prior. Instead of finding the similar age gap between Annie and Rich disgusting, the group seems to agree unanimously that they have no real issues with it.  Keep this conversation in mind because I will return to it more in depth toward the end of the review. (Also, Britta’s suspicious glare at Jeff says it all in this scene.) Jeff’s jealousy is also pretty evident to the rest of the group (the bewildered glances that Shirley and Abed throw, as well as Britta, are priceless).

Annie wants to invite Rich to join the study group, but Jeff insists that this decision isn't fair to everyone else who may want to join. They need to have a process, and that will take time (arguably, enough time for Annie's crush to wane. Just throwing that out there.) What’s really wonderful, though, is that Annie begins to catch on to what Jeff is attempting to do. She may have brought up the topic of jealousy and feelings earlier in the episode, but she let the whole subject fall by the wayside. It is JEFF who pursues the subject, and he is also the one to ACT on the nonexistent jealous feelings that he has. Instead of sitting back and taking it, however, Annie decides to challenge Jeff at his own game (which is why I adore her).

As the group agrees that they should hold a mixer and invite people they want to consider to join the group, Shirley's ex-husband turned boyfriend, Andre, sidles up to the table. I think I’ve mentioned this before (but if I haven’t… just go with it), but I can never fully accept that MJW plays the same character who abandoned Shirley and her family in the first season. The way that he is described (Shirley’s ex-husband) is consistently negative and the face of Malcom Jamal Warner (and the personality that he brings to the character – this warmth, really) sort of negates that. Perhaps it’s just a disconnect between character and actor, though. Nevertheless, Shirley introduces the (more than hesitant and skeptical) group to Andre, and the man attempts to win the group over by offering to buy soft serve ice cream for everyone. Once he departs, Britta tells Shirley that she needs to be careful about getting back together with her ex-husband. The mother snaps that she can make her own decision and then drops a bombshell: she's pregnant.

I do believe it was the lovely @TweetingKerry who also pointed out that when Shirley announces she’s pregnant, the study group each reacts accordingly and, though Jeff and Annie are supposed to be upset with each other, both automatically turn and share reactions. (Also, notice that Abed looks at Shirley’s stomach under the table when she announces her pregnancy. It’s hilarious.) Shirley announces that she is eight weeks along, and Troy and Pierce count on their hands, terrified at their realization -- eight weeks prior was Halloween. Dun DUN.

Later that night, the group (or, more likely, Annie) organizes a mixer that a handful of students in the study room to potentially induct them into their study group, and Troy takes the opportunity to attempt to figure out if Andre and Shirley slept together near or after Halloween. Troy and Pierce, when placed together in an episode, usually is a pairing that is utilized to highlight their mutual adolescence. Though the two are arguably an immature combination together, they do have moments in which they occasionally do consider the best interests of Shirley throughout "Asian Population Studies." Pierce suggests that they tell Shirley that she slept with Chang on Halloween to be honest with her (his last redeeming act in the episode), while Troy wants to preserve the woman’s dignity (and perhaps sanity) by refraining from disclosing the information. So while both are looking out for her interests, one of them forgoes that later on in order to serve his own interests. Jeff enters the study room with a blonde young woman in tow. This is the first introduction of Quendra (also known as Marcy McCusker – go follow her on Twitter at @MarcyMcCusker, why don’t you?), and I hope we see more of her because she’s a gem, initially introduced as a ditzy character, but someone who becomes progressively more awesome in “For a Few More.”

Nevertheless, Jeff tries to shamelessly lobby for Quendra, but his attempt fails in light of Rich entering the room with bags of homemade kettle corn. Obviously, Jeff gets progressively more and more desperate as the episode wears on. In the cafeteria, he attempted to reason with the study group into not letting Rich join them. When that tactic failed, he brought in Quendra in order to attempt to make Annie jealous (and to pay the petite brunette back for trying to bring Rich back into their lives). The tactic only works briefly until Rich enters the room with kettle corn for everyone. Jeff is finally SO desperate that he is willing to let Chang into the group in order to keep Rich out. And, since at the beginning of the episode he wanted nothing to do with Chang and letting him in, we KNOW he was desperate.

Quendra leaves the room in a huff after Pierce makes an offensive comment to her (while Jeff is distracted by watching Annie and Rich), and Jeff trots out of the study room in an attempt to retrieve her, to no avail. Annie follows, and confronts the former lawyer, insisting that since everyone else left, it's obvious that Rich is the best candidate for the study group. Jeff agrees with a large, fake smile, but once Annie flits away, groans to himself. I find it interesting (I use that word a lot in these reviews, don’t I?) that Chang calls Jeff out on being jealous of Rich because Annie is interested in him romantically (“unless you want a front row seat to Annie-loves-Richie, it’s time to Chang your point of view”). What’s even MORE interesting is the fact that this is the catalyst for Jeff acting the way that he does. He hastily agrees, not even having a game plan prepared. And this is not like Jeff Winger, really. Jeff Winger is always prepared to deliver a speech or to win an argument. But his desperation to beat Rich or to get Annie to stop fawning over him or both drives him to action.

The Winger speech that Jeff delivers is my second favorite of the season, falling only behind the one that he gives in “Introduction to Finality.” What’s great about the speech that Jeff delivers is that, even though it is hastily spun together, it demonstrates how brilliant Jeff Winger truly is as a public speaker. And it really exemplifies how well he tailors his speeches for a particular audience. Just like earlier in the cafeteria, when attempting to appeal to each group members’ beliefs, Jeff caters to Britta’s skepticism and distrust of others (a nice parallel to her storyline with Shirley in this episode, might I add), to Abed’s ability to relate to culture (comparing Rich to infamous figures in the media, thereby drawing in the filmmaker’s rapt attention), and to the group’s general tendency to believe whatever he says. (At the beginning of the speech, you can see Britta already begin to eye Rich with suspicion.) He attempts to sway the group's allegiances in favor of Chang, rather than Rich because -- as he explains -- they KNOW who Chang is, in spite of the fact that they don't like him. But they don't really KNOW who Rich is at all.

If you watch the progression of Jeff’s speeches throughout the series, you’ll notice that they sort of hit a snag in season two – what I mean is that the group, prior to their sophomore year, tended to absorb everything that Jeff said without suspicion, comment, or complaint. Not so with the second season Winger speeches. The group slowly finds their voice, and not everyone agrees 100% of the time with what the self-appointed leader says. Moreover, in the third season, the group actually expresses that Jeff’s “speech” in “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps” is sub-par and lame. Perhaps the former lawyer is losing his touch, eh?

Jeff concludes his speech with wondering exactly who Rich is.“Who is this kettle corn-popping phantom? This human question mark? This number eight scoop of  vanilla tapioca with a PhD in ‘Being Swell’ and a Master’s in ‘Everybody Loves Me?’ Who is it?” This may be one of my all-time favorite things Jeff has ever said to another person, not only because it’s cute in its backhanded snarkiness and hilarious but also because it’s evidence of how Jeff actually views Rich as a person – he’s baffled by who exactly this doctor is and why everyone loves HIM so much. Because the truth is that Jeff is a selfish character. I know, I know. I’ve said this half a dozen times before and will continue to say it because it is true. Jeff wants HIS study group to view HIM as their leader – he wants them all to idolize him, and he needs them to NEED him. But the truth is that when Rich enters the picture, the group doesn’t need him as much anymore. If they elected the doctor, Jeff would be second-best. And if there is one thing that Jeff does not do, it’s settle to be second place to anyone.

At the end of the speech, everyone apart from Annie applauds (I never noticed that even Rich claps at the end of Jeff’s speech. What a nice guy!). After it’s all said and done, even though Troy applauds Jeff’s speech, he ends up voting for Rich instead (I think he and Pierce were swayed by the homemade kettle corn). So the group then takes a vote. Jeff, Britta, and Abed vote to induct Chang into the group, while Pierce, Annie, and Troy raise their hands for Chang. Andre isn't in the group so he doesn't have a say, but Shirley refrains from raising her hand and making a decision. Pierce growls and insists that Shirley needs to vote for Rich or else he'll "shatter her world." The woman, in defiance, votes for Chang, much to the delight of Jeff. This may be the beginning of Pierce’s villainy for the semester. Later on in the episodes (and really, throughout the remainder of the season), he serves as the intra-group villain, and I think it may begin when he crosses Shirley because she disagreed with him. So he blurts out that Chang and Shirley slept together during Halloween. No one can remember that night, but everyone is -- rightfully -- appalled. Troy confirms that it's true, as does Chang. Shirley slowly spirals into crisis, with Andre left baffled and hurt.

Very quickly, relationships in the group begin to fracture: Shirley/Andre slowly begins to crumble, which is the catalyst for Britta to take action and protect her friend. And I’ll digress for a moment and explain why this makes Britta a good friend – she doesn’t always know WHY she does the things that she does, and she doesn’t always agree with the person she’s sacrificing FOR, but she helps. She sets aside her opinions of Andre in order to help Shirley, because the truth is that her love for her friend comes before her agreement with her friend’s decisions. As friendship should be, to be honest. Jeff/Annie, Annie/Rich, and Jeff/study group similarly begin to fracture throughout this scene as well. Jeff has become so self-involved that he cannot do what Britta does – recognize that a friend is hurting and set aside his personal bias in order to help her. Jeff is, as we have said, an inherently selfish and competitive character. And he has just won, so he’s blindsided by his victory (which is, of course, his downfall).

Rich, Andre, Chang, Annie, and Pierce all leave the room for various reasons as the elderly man insists that Jeff has finally found a way to hurt the group in a way that it'll never heal. Later, in the men's bathroom, Annie approaches Jeff and the two have a serious conversation. So the scene in the bathroom between Jeff and Annie is really integral to their relationship for a few reasons. In my other blog (which I have sadly neglected since focusing on this one!), I said the following in regards to the scene: “I’d say that they’re at this sort of impasse, where both have to grow before they can actually have a functional relationship. Jeff is still afraid of screwing the group up and himself up. He’s back at Greendale because of the latter, and he doesn’t want to mess up the – arguably – best six relationships he has. That’s why addressing things like in “Asian Population Studies” was so difficult. To him, relationships are always complex. To Annie, it’s just the opposite – to her, relationships have to be black and white. You either want me or you don’t. What’s it gonna be? And in this instance, I think that Annie asked Rich out to prove her point – decisions don’t have to always have drawn out discussions preceding them. Sometimes, if you like someone, you should just go for it (which of course, for her, actually backfired). And in this situation, I’d like to think that neither was completely right. Sure, things are “complicated” for Jeff, but that doesn’t mean he can’t know how he feels about her. And yes, relationships can be simple, but Annie should also realize that sometimes you can’t just be put on the spot about your feelings.”

There are a few things that I really love about this moment in terms of Annie and Jeff’s character development. For starters, Annie is brash and bold enough to enter the men’s room in order to confront Jeff. She chastised him in the study room, but this is a woman on a mission – she needs, as we will learn in a few moments, answers. Jeff attempts to act cute in order to deflect her anger, and when she questions him about Rich, it is JEFF who mentions the idea of jealousy. It would be easy, given the beginning of the episode, for Annie to act like she did in “Anthropology 101” – to twirl her hair around her finger and insist that he liked her and pester him about why he acts the way he does around her. But to have Jeff Winger, the man we are conditioned to believe does not address relationships, be the one to breach the topic is unexpected and also refreshing. The whole scene demonstrates the differences and similarities between the two regarding relationships. And Jeff’s “relationships are complicated” is even MORE loaded in light of the fact that he was sleeping with Britta throughout the semester. Relationships, to Jeff, are so complicated that they cannot be aptly summed up in a men’s bathroom or anywhere else. He’s jaded by them and would much rather lead Annie on forever than approach the topic openly (though, once again, HE is the one to mention the word “jealous,” not Annie). And he certainly would never be able to explain to Annie why he’s sleeping with Britta if he has feelings for her. To Annie, relationships are relatively simple – if you like someone, you tell them and if they like you back, you date. There is no baggage involved. There are no complications or confusions. It’s cut and dry, really. So she gives him a not-really ultimatum, because essentially, she sought him out in that moment to get some sort of answer as to why he acted like a jerk the entire day. And she didn’t expect, necessarily, any sort of confession. But if that’s the way the conversation was headed, then she came armed with a plan: if Jeff confessed any feelings, she would have most likely agreed to discuss them rationally. But, since Jeff skirted the issue, she essentially explained that he blew his chance with her.

And really, even though neither of them are entirely correct (you can't boil relationships down into cut-and-dry things like Annie wants, nor can you refrain from telling someone how you feel like Jeff does), Annie has a point – it doesn’t take much to tell someone you have feelings for them… unless you’re Jeff Winger. It takes him TWO years to tell the study group that he loves them. I’ve said it before, but it takes all of ten minutes for me to tell you that. So perhaps this is a lesson for Jeff – knowledge of the fact that Annie will not wait around forever and that when she walks out of the door, he may have lost his chance for good.

As Annie leaves, insisting that she's going to ask Rich out to prove that telling someone how you feel isn't complicated, Jeff watches her leave and pouts. That pout. That pout that Joel gives is fantastic and brilliant and nuanced. Joel does not get nearly enough credit for his subtle acting. So this is me, giving him credit. After Annie leaves, Britta walks through the door, looking for Jeff (who muses that he must have walked into the wrong bathroom). It’s endearing that Jeff seems to have softened from the earlier study room debacle and agrees to help Britta out (albeit a bit begrudgingly because it IS Jeff). Slowly but surely, with each conversation, the man realizes that his actions have consequences that don’t just impact him but also deeply affect the people around him. The blonde requests that he find Andre and talk to him, because Shirley is devastated. Jeff agrees and exits the room to find the man.

Jeff discovers Andre outside, standing beneath an overhang and watching the rain. As Jeff appears ready to delves into a Winger speech, Andre cuts him off and makes a speech himself. It's a brilliant turn of tables, hearing someone give JEFF advice for once. The Jeff/Andre conversation is great because it’s loaded, as well. Andre asks the former lawyer if he ever had something and didn't realize the importance of it until it was gone. Though Jeff expresses regret that he no longer has an important facial scrub, it’s difficult to deny that he might just be reflecting on the conversation that he had with Annie in the bathroom, even briefly. And Andre? Andre is older, and a little wiser. And in spite of all of his mistakes, he’s learned from them. Moreover, he’s GROWN from them. And moreover than THAT? He’s learned not to make the same mistakes again. I think it’s a nice scene that provides a parallel – the idea that Jeff COULD be the kind of person Andre is, if he allowed himself to be, instead of being caught up by the mistakes he’s made and letting them define the decisions he continues to make. Because Jeff Winger is an astounding human being who can do and say the right things when he chooses to. The fact is, of course, that he often chooses NOT to. And therein lies the problem. But I think it’s refreshing for Jeff to have that conversation with Andre, because he knows that he CAN change, if he makes the effort.

Andre insists that he isn't going to leave Shirley, and that the old version of him would have been long gone by now in cowardice. But he insists that he'll be around for the long haul because the "love of a good woman" can make any person change. And he's willing to raise Shirley's child, whether or not it's actually his own, which is quite endearing and wonderful. As the man leaves Jeff to ponder outside, Abed approaches, phone in his hand, announcing that Annie texted him and said that she asked Rich out. What I love most about the text that Annie sends to Abed is that: 1) she sends it to Abed, not Britta or Shirley (well, Shirley WAS going through her own crisis so I suppose that’s understandable), and 2) Abed reads the text to Jeff. And perhaps, in her mind, this was a way for Annie to still see if Jeff actually cared about her. She shared her heartbreak with the one person who knows more about pop culture and romantic chick flicks than anyone else. Maybe a part of Annie hoped that Jeff would run to her apartment in the rain and confess his feelings after he realized Rich had broken her heart. Perhaps that’s the hopeless romantic in her. It’s obvious that Jeff DOES care, even before he hears what Rich’s response was when he flatly says: “Cool.” But Abed informs the former lawyer that Rich denied Annie, and this causes Jeff to perk up and -- finally -- run out into the rain. Were this a chick flick, he would be running toward Annie's apartment. But Community is no chick flick.

As "Running Through Raining" plays (a brilliant score, by the way), Andre returns to the study room and to Shirley, with a smile, exemplifying his commitment to her and the child. Pierce, Britta, and Troy are all relieved (as a sidenote completely unrelated to anything, but because I haven’t discussed him much this episode, Donald Glover’s smile is just precious in the study room moment).

A lot of people have analyzed the scene at Rich’s door to death, so here’s my not-so fresh take on it. After letting it ferment for months and months, I now realize that the speech was not really about Annie at all. At the time, I think a lot of people wondered what the writers were doing - if they were blatantly saying that Jeff wished he could be like Rich and forget about Annie, or – in the very least – say “no” to his attraction to her. But now I don't think that's at all what they were aiming for at all. The whole moment before Jeff ran in the rain was about Annie, in a sense, but more so about Rich. Let's think about it: here is a guy who the group BARELY knows, who Annie BARELY knows, but who has stolen everyone's affection (and attention) away from Jeff in a very short amount of time. Jeff realizes how good of a person Rich is - how Annie fawns over him, and the group nearly accepted someone they essentially JUST met - and he wants that. I mean, not REALLY, but he wants the complete and utter adoration of the group. And he wants to have those qualities of Rich – the selflessness, the magnetic energy, the attracting qualities that seem to draw every single person toward the doctor (not The Doctor… that’s another kind of magnetism), and why? He wants to have these powers so that he can abuse them. He wants to have the magnetism so that he can attract people he WANTS to attract. And he wants the selfless nature so that people can and will pay attention to him. And he wants the complete adoration, not so that he can better himself but so that he can get away with doing what he wants without consequence.

Let’s return momentarily to the cafeteria scene, shall we? Annie mentioned Rich’s age. The group fawned over Rich and cooed about him, explaining how sweet and wonderful and perfect he was. So Annie dating Rich, who is around the same age as Jeff? Not a problem. But the thought of Annie and Jeff together repulsed the group. Jeff wants to use the perfection inherited via Rich to abuse by not really CHANGING at all and just – as he explains – “fake being good in order to get away with doing bad things.”

So maybe Jeff won't really change, or if he does, it definitely won't be overnight. But perhaps there's something within him... some momentary acknowledgement that there ARE precious things and people in his life that he is unwilling to lose.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
- I love how excited Britta gets to see Pierce and Troy. And how she actually gives Pierce a hug! I wish we had more stories between the two of them.
- “Why are you using your ‘I love butterflies’ voice?”
- “It makes me so Changry. … oh God, it’s happening to me!”
- “Also, there’s going to be more than one diorama.”
- “He has a landline and uses the word ‘album.’”
- “Kettle corn! That’s a fun time snack!”
- Abed’s “it’s a mixer” trick was flawless.
- “Oh, I’m serious, baby.”
- “Nice sweater.” “My dad gave it to me.”

Thanks to everyone who is participating in #CommunityRewatch FRIDAYS, now! This week will be a hiatus from them (as I'll be out at a bachelorette party!), but we will resume at 8:30PM EST on Friday, September 14th with "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" so join me then! :)