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!

Friday, January 20, 2012

1x12 "Comparative Religion" (A Shirley Story)

"Comparative Religion"
Original Airdate: December 10, 2009

Shirley is, in my opinion, one of the more under-appreciated characters on Community. Like I've said in past reviews, I personally do not have a least favorite character, but I do have a favorite character in Annie Edison (in general, because from week to week, this can vary). But I feel like a lot of people wildly underestimate how wonderful Shirley can be as a character. And truly, as a character that learns and grows, she is right on par with Jeff. Because as we know, Shirley is selfish just as Jeff Winger is. The difference is that Shirley's selfishness manifests itself in the desire for protection and safety and comfort. The reason that she cares so much in this episode about everyone attending her party is that she believes surrounding herself with people will somehow allow her life to make more sense, or at least give her the comfort of some sort of stability. While Jeff's motives for his selfishness often are more outright manipulative, Shirley's are masked a bit behind her sweet-natured attitude. That doesn't mean, however, that either Shirley or Jeff are terrible human beings. Both of them truly learn from the other by the end of the episode, and that's why I really enjoy "Comparative Religion" - it's a great episode for their development as characters together. And arguably this is the first time they really do have a heart-to-heart storyline, even though they have had a plot together in the past. This is the hinge story for the Jeff/Shirley friendship because it's an episode where they both come to grips with how fundamentally different they are in terms of beliefs and attitudes, but they both form a mutual respect for one another by the episode's end. Shirley learns that family means supporting and loving, even though you may disagree. And Jeff learns that sometimes love drives people to do crazy things, but that doesn't make them crazy. It also doesn't make him care about them any less.

In case you need a refresher on the plot of this episode, here goes: It's finals week at Greendale, which means that Jeff is desperately trying to cram for Spanish because in between all of the shenanigans the first half of the season, Jeff has still yet to learn how to study properly. Shirley, we learn, is planning a Christmas party for everyone after they finish their final exams and is decorating the study room accordingly. She also gives each of the members a "WWBJD?" bracelet, which she informs them stands for "What Would Baby Jesus Do?" so that they are reminded of the true meaning of the holiday season - Christmas (meanwhile, the Dean is hilariously trying to be as unoffensive as possible and insists on proclaiming "Merry Happy!" to everyone, while in a non-denominational Mister Winter outfit). Abed gets harassed by a bully named Mike while trying to get cookies for his friends in the cafeteria, which leads to Jeff standing up for his friend and agreeing to fight the bully. But we'll get to that momentarily.

(Also, this episode, while on the downhill slope in the Pierce/Troy friendship is a nice reminder of why the pair are hilarious together. The opening scene in the cafeteria indicates the two bonding over a mutual adolescence. And truly, this episode was funny to watch because the men in the study group band together for the duration of the episode in order to teach Jeff how to fight.)

This episode is a stand-out for Yvette Nicole Brown, in my opinion. There have been a few episodes and scenes that she's really stolen, and this episode is definitely one. I love that "Comparative Religion" sees Shirley at her most vulnerable, while not expressing it in a heartbreaking way. When I discussed "Introduction to Statistics," I noted that the conversation between Britta and Shirley in Slater's office is poignant. It causes the viewers to really empathize with Shirley. We want to reach out and hug her because she's supposed to be the victor in her divorce. Even though her husband cheated on her and left her, we - again, as audience members - want the underdog to always overcome. That's why shows like "Glee" first appealed to the masses. Within each of us is this desire to see the underdog win, and to have a pleasant bow wrapped on the end of each episode. "Comparative Religion" doesn't focus on the heartbreaking aspect of Shirley's growth as a character, since we have already had a dose of that a few episode ago. Instead, we focus on what love can cause a character to do.

But let's also momentarily discuss Jeff in this episode. And Jeff is always a fun character to dissect because - whether he likes it or not - he's always learning something. We haven't really seen Jeff become protective too much throughout the season. Usually he's the try-to-act-cool-and-not-care type. This is the guy who seeks to benefit himself first and foremost (most of the time, but more on that later on), and yet defends Abed against the school bully. And he's the only person who actually stands up from the table to go over and protect him, which is a turn-around from the pilot where Jeff merely used and abused Abed in order to gain what he wanted. Slowly, but surely, Jeff is growing to love and respect his adorable gang of rag-tag misfits, and he goes out of his way to protect Abed. He also steps forward when Mike moves toward Abed, which is a nice physical manifestation of what I mentioned earlier. 

The first scene in the study room marks the point in which Shirley's "perfect" college family image begins to crack. When the woman asks if everyone is going to go home to change into their Christmas attire before her party, the group guiltily looks around at one another, before declaring that they are all of different religious backgrounds. It's at this point that Shirley's faith (pardon the pun) in the stability of this aspect of her life begins to crumble. And I'd bet that this is how Shirley's real family issues spiraled as well - most of the hardest moments in life don't start out as waterfalls, but tiny cracks (a prick of pain here, or a little jab there) which grown and soon spiral into something we can no longer control. And control is a big deal to Shirley, because she's frustrated and devastated by the lack of it in her real family. But the irony is that in trying to control something, you often lose control and everything you have built up because of it. The study room moment is a "tiny crack" moment for Shirley. At this point, she's clinging to every piece that she can (perking up when Pierce mentions being "born again," trying to confirm that Jehovah's Witness is a type of Christian, etc.), but she'll hit the waterfall moment soon.

It's finally time to take the Spanish exam, and Mike interrupts in order to pick a fight with Jeff (only because Jeff snarked a remark at him). And here's also the funny thing about Jeff in this episode - every time we see Jeff progress in some way, shape, or form as a character, we are also reminded that he is human. There are lengths that Jeff will go to in order to help out his fellow friends. But there are also lengths he's not willing to go to unless there's also something in it for him. If you recall from last week's blog-review, I mentioned the "selflessly selfish" concept. Take note of the reason(s) he gives Shirley later on for fighting Mike. And yes, notice that there are two. 

By the end of the scene, Jeff agrees to fight Mike at 3 PM that afternoon. Since Jeff has never been in a fight, Pierce, Troy, and Abed agree to help prepare Jeff for it. Meanwhile, in the study room, Shirley (oblivious for the moment that Jeff agreed to fight someone on her special day) and Annie are preparing the decorations for the Christmas party. And I wondered why Annie, out of the entire group, is most offended by Shirley's behavior (she's the only one who leaves for Jeff's fight looking disgusted at Shirley's behavior). There's this scene between them in the study room (where Shirley has begun her slow descent into love-and-control-induced Christmas insanity), and Annie looks quite upset with the woman. After pondering it, I think that it's perhaps because Shirley is supposed to be wiser than Annie is, and the younger woman looks up to her. And indeed, Annie looks up to both Shirley and Britta for different reasons. She admires the independence and "cool"-ness of Britta. With Shirley, I think there was always more of a respect there, and perhaps this episode just shifted her perspective of Shirley slightly, and it probably unsettled Annie to feel that way.

Shirley (informed by Annie) discovers that Jeff is preparing to fight the bully before her Christmas party. And see, to Shirley, December 10th is so important because it represents Christmas, not because it IS Christmas. It embodies the time of year where she is supposed to be surrounded by people who love her and with whom she can celebrate. And instead, this year is a year that is very much upsetting to her. It's not the defamation of Christmas by political correctness, or religious differences (though that does upset her) - it's the defamation of what it represents.

But see, Jeff doesn't understand that. Jeff only sees the surface issues sometimes with the study group. He's focused on doing something because HE wants to do it and because somehow it will make HIM feel better. He never does ask Shirley why the day is so important to her - he just dismisses her insistence by noting that it's only the 10th of December, after all (while the rest of the study group has the good sense to actually look guilty during this). Remember what I said earlier, though? About the reasons Jeff gives for fighting Mike? Here are his two reasons: "Because he picked on Abed and because he corrected my Spanish." Recall, once more, that Jeff is a selfish character and that he wants to do things that benefit others, while somehow also benefiting himself. He agreed to recruit Troy to play football in order to avoid being blackmailed; he joined the debate team to get a parking spot; he confronted Chang to have a shot at passing Spanish, etc.

(In all fairness, Jeff DOES try to explain his point of view to Shirley regarding religion.)

Shirley and the group meet up in the study room for the party, and when Jeff doesn't show up because he has decided to fight Mike, Shirley banishes him and informs that anyone else who wants to go to Jeff's fight (if they do so) will be dead to her. Shirley loves  her study group so much that she tries to glue them together into a vacant puzzle board in the sincere belief that when she is finished, they'll look exactly how she wants them to. But what she doesn't realize is what a lot of children don't realize when they attempt puzzles - you can't make a piece fit into a puzzle if it wasn't intended to. In fact, if you try to jam a piece of a puzzle into a board that doesn't belong, you end up both frustrated and damaging the piece. Instead of (initially, because by the end of the episode she learns this) accepting people for how they are (flaws and all), Shirley desires to "fix" them into the images she wants to see. And this is understandable because she wants to do the same with her real family. Britta identifies that Shirley wants to hard to recreate something she's afraid has been lost. But instead of walking through the hallways of McKinley High School belting "What I Did for Love," and probably learning very little, Shirley comes to accept that when the pieces of the puzzle don't fit, it's not that you've done something wrong - it's probably that the picture you're making is different than the one you anticipated.

As @RobZuber mentioned on Twitter (and practically read my mind!) the breakdown scene in the study room exemplifies that Britta still considers the group to be hers. With Jeff out of the picture (momentarily), she takes charge and provides insight into what should be done. She gives what we will come to know as the "Winger speech" and does a great job at pointing out what Jeff had failed to - the root cause for Shirley's actions. Jeff didn't take the time to understand WHY Shirley acted the way that she did but Britta (season 1's soft Britta) did. See, you can't fix a problem until you can identify the actual cause of the problem. Shirley's behavior wouldn't be altered until she realized what she was doing and why she was doing it. (This is also a perfect example of how Britta didn't "Britta" anything up and really would make a great therapist).

Jeff may not have learned the root cause behind why Shirley acted the way that she did, but that didn't stop him from learning something about himself and her in the process. He looks at the bracelet right before he is about to fight Mike and realizes that sometimes, not everything is about him - he takes special care to place his glasses, watch, phone, etc. out of harm's way and wants his face to remain un-touched by fists. But it's wonderful that he also recognizes that the season of Christmas - whether he agrees with it or not - means something to someone he cares about, and that warrants respect. And at that moment, Shirley realizes too that though her college-family may be different than her real one in the sense that they all have different morals and beliefs, Jeff truly does care and that warrants HER respect of HIM. 'tis a beautiful full circle, no?

The entire study group bands together to fight Mike and his cronies, and the whole sequence is just fantastic, especially when fake reindeer and giant candy canes are involved. By the end of the episode, everyone exhibits varying degrees of sustained injury. Chang interrupts the group right after Shirley has completed an unoffensive holiday song (and Yvette's voice is beautiful, so she should sing on the show every chance she gets!), to announce that the final grades have been implemented and that everyone will be moving on next semester... except Jeff.

There's this moment of terror on Jeff's face when Chang tells him that he wouldn't be moving on with the study group. And normally, I'd attribute it to something like Jeff being horrified that his four-year plan is de-railed, etc. But I honestly think that because of this episode and the progress he made as a character, he was frightened by the thought that he could be separated from a group that he had just begun to care about. His fear and dejection are palpable, but short-lived because Chang then announces that Jeff is moving on too (he just wanted to psych everyone out). The episode ends with a celebration of friends, a  new "family" and another semester of Spanish!

Additional de-lovely aspects:
- Anyone notice that our favorite bully was in the background at the beginning of the episode?
- "I'm... gonna put that in the pocket closest to my heart."
- Yvette's guilt-voice is perfection.
- Annie and Troy not knowing who Billy Joel is depresses me. Perhaps because my dad introduced me to soft rock 'n' roll growing up.
- "That guy wasn't gay! He had a mustache."
- "Because doing more than the minimum work is my definition of... failing."
- I love that Annie throws a paper ball twice at Jeff during the study room scene.
- "Senor Chang, can you do something about this?" "...I'll allow it."
- "You've never been in a fight?" "Technically  no. I guess I'm too charming and likeable. Call me a name." "... I can't."
- "You know, in boxing you fight for the purse and the belt." "I've gotta write a paper about that!" Honestly, I have said this about so many things before. Britta, I adore you.
- "We're trying to get Jeff ready for the fiiiiiiiiii...ght. I couldn't think of another word." "Idiot. He meant we were fi...ghting. It IS hard to think of another word."
- "Are you perpetually on your way to the gym?"
- "Come on, I'm being punk'd, right?"
- The tag will always be golden.

All right folks, next week I will be taking the week off. Since my birthday is on Thursday, I have a friend coming into town for the weekend and will be spending time with her (which I am excited about!). In celebration, however, you should all make time between Thursday and Friday to watch ANY episode of "Community" you choose!

Our re-watches will resume on Thursday, February 2nd (the blog-review will follow the day after, as usual) with "Investigative Journalism" which features some "MASH" references and this guy named Jack Black. See you all then! :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

1x10 "Environmental Science" (Selfishly Selfless)

Community" Environmental Science (TV Episode 2009) - IMDb

"Environmental Science"
Original Airdate: November 19, 2009

What does it mean to be selfless? According to the handy-dandy Dictionary, we find that the definition of selfless reads as follows: "Concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than one's own." I've said a lot throughout my reviews that Jeff is a selfish character. And really, every character on this show is selfish at some point in time. But we have to remember that pre-Greendale, Jeff's only concern was looking out for his own well-being. He didn't need to worry about how his actions affected others, so long as he got paid, won cases, etc. But at Greendale, Jeff is forced into a relationship with six other people - a relationship he's not used to yet, and one that he grows to gradually accept and eventually love. 

This episode is another little turning point in Jeff's character in regards to his selfish vs. selfless nature. Because we know, as viewers and as human beings, that no character is completely self-absorbed 100% of the time. Jeff has redeeming qualities and a soul, despite the fact that his moral compass is a bit off-kilter. He's a good guy at his core, but he really has just started to perhaps realize that through his relationship with the group (as a whole) and the individual relationships within. Britta taught him in "Home Economics," for instance, that he should strive to set goals (even if that goal is something she detests - materialism). The group needs him as their leader, or so we believe. But remember something important that I have said before: this was once Britta's study group, and this episode is another example of how early season 1 Britta is quite different from the rest of the seasons. The forefront goal in her mind is still to protect the group from Jeff Winger. She doesn't trust people as easily as Annie does - Annie always gives people the benefit of the doubt (she did to Jeff in the pilot and this episode too). And truly, the rest of the study group seems to blindly follow Jeff for the most part. Britta, however, is a bit jaded from the world (which isn't a bad thing, necessarily) and thus is more hesitant to let people in, and even more hesitant to let those people hurt people she cares about. She's entrusted Jeff with "her" group of people, and so far he's proven to be flawed but redeemable in his handling of them. This is arguably the first episode that pits Jeff against the rest of the study group. We a see a Jeff vs. "group" dynamic later on in the seasons ("Early 21st Century Romanticism" - which I may reference a bit in this review - and "Biology 101"), but this is the first time in season 1 that the group kind of bands together as its own entity against Jeff personally (with the exception of the pilot, which was more or less Britta vs. Jeff though). And I think that (much like those other two episodes I just mentioned) it's more than just a fight about something silly - it's almost as if the group is representing his conscience, or in the very least the "good" things he's learning at Greendale.

The main plot for this episode is a Jeff/Chang one - the Spanish teacher is being extra hard on his class recently because his marriage fell apart. Thus, in anger, he's given the class a twenty-page paper to write (in EspaƱol!) and the study group is obviously not very fond of this, so they send Jeff to talk to Chang and convince him to ease up on the workload. In two other subplots, Shirley recruits Pierce to help her prepare for a speech in her Marketing class that Friday, while Abed and Troy work on a Biology lab project involving a rat and the song "Somewhere Out There." Essentially, they are training their rat (Fivel) to respond to a song. The rat does manage to do this. Additionally, overarching this entire episode is the revelation that it's "Green Week" at Greendale, which means that the Dean is going all-out to make it a great, environmentally friendly week (hence the title, "Environmental Science"). 

And I'll momentarily talk about Chang, because obviously he was an integral factor in this week's episode. I really do miss Chang as a teacher. It's not that I didn't appreciate his Gollum-like characteristics in season two when his character pretty much pined to be in the study group. He was a bit more pathetic though in that season. And I think that was the intention - to characterize him in that manner as contrasted to the first season. The first season portrayed Chang as a ruthless teacher, so in the second season I did feel this twinge of pity toward him as a character. But I like the return in season 3 to Chang wielding some sort of power. He's this maniacal, power-hungry man who - like every other character on the show - is dimensional in the sense that we root and cheer for him when Duncan picks on him in "Pascal's Triangle Revisited," and we love seeing his interactions with the study group because he provides a nice foil to the intra-group crazy. It's fun to have a "villain" of sorts (even though I don't see Chang as a pure villain... perhaps just a misguided character with a power trip) that is outside of the study group and causes the group to band together against him (a la season 1). Ironically though, this episode is one where Chang is still an outside force to be reckoned with regarding the study group, but in being that, he manages to drive a wedge between Jeff and the group.

(As a sidenote, here's something that I found interesting: the study group claimed that Chang didn't teach them any Spanish beyond how to say "hello," "goodbye," and "that table is female," but if you look on the chalkboard behind him during classroom scenes, you'll see that Spanish words and phrases are clearly listed. Evidently - according to his essay - Pierce knows how to say "la tienda de manzana" too. I just think that this is hilarious because we've seen the study group take three classes together so far, and yet in all three of these classes they don't seem to remember or learn anything of substance at all. Perhaps because they're a study group that doesn't really know how to study. Just a slight amusing digression!)

I love the Troy/Abed storyline in this episode because I think it's the first real evidence that we get of Troy caring about Abed as a friend. Like I've said before, we all know that the original pairing was supposed to be Troy/Pierce in regards to friendship, but that didn't work out as planned. However, we see evidence of this in the early episodes, with Troy and Pierce bonding over their mutual adolescence (as Abed puts it), and Troy pretty much being indifferent - and at times a bit cold - towards Abed. We even see almost a one-sided friendship on Abed's end in regards to Troy. "Introduction to Statistics" and "Debate 109" kind of eased viewers into the idea of a Troy/Abed friendship for a bit, but I think that this is arguably the first episode where we really see growth in relation to their friendship. And I really like that Troy is the one to grow, because we've learned that he - much like Jeff - cares about and thinks about himself a lot. And relationships within the group force them both outside of that realm of thought and into one that is unfamilar. Abed is so used to people needing things from him that he gives willingly without expecting a return, necessarily. This isn't the case with Troy. And this is the episode where Troy is the one to reciprocate. 

The study group confronts Jeff in the study room and asks him to help them in regards to Chang. Jeff reluctantly - at this point - accepts the role that was thrust upon him as the leader. I think it's something that he really would never admit to enjoying (but pretty much does in "Early 21st Century Romanticism"). But he enjoys feeling needed, then. At this point in our character growth though, he's still just learning to get over the hurdles of self-centeredness, so the group is still sort of an adorable nuisance to him, more than anything. And I'll explain my thought progression in regards to his selfish vs. selfless nature: Jeff is selfless in this episode for selfish reasons. (Shall I repeat that?) The primary reason that Jeff agreed to talk to Chang was really two-fold: 1) the group would be appeased and 2) he could keep pulling a "C" in Spanish class. His desire to get out of Greendale as fast as he could coupled with the desire to please the study group together caused him to agree to their demands (which makes a bit more sense when Britta asks at the end of the episode if he did all of what he did for the study group and he vaguely responds with "Mmm... kinda.") It's nice that Jeff wanted to help the group, in theory, and I think that there is this decent-sized chunk of him that initially went to Chang with their desires at the front of his mind, and his own desires creeping slowly in the back. But I'm still not entirely convinced that he would have gone to Chang in the first place if he hadn't contemplated the ramifications of Britta's statement first. I feel like this was sort of the catalyst to realization than anything else. (There is the moment where he puts his cell phone down on the table and nearly visibly sighs with exasperation - he's on the cusp of doing something for the group and the group alone, perhaps. But he's still not entirely sold yet on the idea of doing something potentially painful for people he likes without there being some other reason that will benefit him personally. Selfless for selifsh reasons, see? And it's nice in this scene because the study group actually stands up for themselves against Jeff. But remember what they said to him before he left - "Well guess what, handsome hobo? Your gravy train is leaving the station." Just keep that in the back of your mind because Jeff is going to mention something interesting later on in regards to this conversation.

Jeff goes to confront Chang, and what's funny is that he asks if Jeff was there on behalf of the class, but Jeff - while clearly still selfishly selfless - doesn't care about the rest of the class, so much as just HIS group. And then we realize in that moment that Jeff does indeed care about this study group, because he gets excited once  Chang agrees to cancel their essay. But there's this momentary confusion and slight horror when Jeff realizes that he can't help the group out (because Chang decided he would only cancel Jeff's essay, not everyone else's, so long as Jeff would take him out clubbing or bar-hopping). He still seems a bit unsure, but then quickly, any trace of guilt is wiped (temporarily) from Jeff's mind and he's back into selfish mode in no time flat. Because that mode - the "look out for yourself first" mode - is in every one of us, and some more prominently than others. The guilt only resurfaces once Abed enters the room. But I feel that the only reason Jeff feels any guilt whatsoever is because he fears getting caught, not because he knows what he's doing is wrong (there IS a difference in guilt). Because if he hadn't gotten caught by the group - as he will, momentarily - he would have kept up his shenanigans.

The next day, Jeff - clearly hungover from his night out with Chang - is in the cafeteria and confronted by Troy, Annie, and Britta who ask if Jeff talked to Chang and if it helped. Jeff lies and says that his head hurts because Chang yelled at him so much, and then departs out of the cafeteria, black coffee in hand. And once again Annie and (ironically) Troy immediately defend Jeff while Britta is rightly skeptical, noting with an immediate sneer (literally!) that Jeff is hiding something. Abed appears in the cafeteria and we know from his sub-plot with Troy that Fivel escaped from his cage because Troy (who is afraid of rats) accidentally knocked it over and let him out. So when Abed appears in the cafeteria, Troy evades him in order to forgo having to help out his lab partner in finding the rat. It's hilarious to me, in this scene, how much Britta goes out of her way to spare any sort of feelings for Abed, when he just consistently returns blunt statements to her like: "Try to join the rest of us in reality, Britta."

The other sub-plot for this episode is a Piece/Shirley story and I REALLY want another good storyline for these two in the future. What's fantastic about both of these characters is that they both desire respect from the group as individuals, not because of their age, race, creed, etc. (which is why their heart-to-heart moment in my otherwise detested "The Art of Discourse" is wonderful) Pierce spends most of this episode with her and manages to remain - for the most part - completely unoffensive. Their storyline is touching because of the fact that Pierce is genuinely helpful to Shirley and wants her to succeed. Moreover, he volunteers to help her when there's no possible way it can benefit him (well, perhaps a smidge - he does assume, maybe, that she'll tell others how he helped her). This is a nice contrast to last week's "Debate 109" which was all about Pierce offering to help Britta out so that he could feel better about himself and feel respected.

Chang announces to the class that Jeff already turned in his essay, and the study group grows rightfully skeptical of this. I'd like to think that when they walked out of the classroom, Britta convinced the rest of the group that she had been right all along and that they needed to confront Jeff on his behavior. Jeff, because he is growing a bit in his character, feels a twinge of remorse and you can see it clearly portrayed on Joel's face, which is lovely. That remorse though, fades into oblivion as soon as it becomes clear that he can coast his way through Spanish class by taking advantage of Chang's emotional state.

The group confronts Jeff in the hallway about his behavior, and I love that Britta's insult is the only one that is directed at Jeff's behavior, rather than a jab at his personal appearance and/or a threat. Ironically, Jeff does not look entirely surprised to see the group, nor does he initially try to Winger his way out of a confrontation. He does, however, momentarily make an interesting point. Remember earlier how I noted Annie's dialogue to Jeff in the study room when they initially asked him to confront Chang? The group never ACTUALLY threatened to kick Jeff out of the group. All Annie said was "the gravy train is leaving the station." That could have meant that they wouldn't help him with his essay, but Jeff's immediate fire-back is to insinuate that they wanted him out of the group. And I wonder why he did that. Jeff's subsequent "fake outrage" is very foreshadowing of his "THIS is a fight. WE are fighting" outrage in "Early 21st Century Romanticism" later on. In both cases, the fights were about something fundamentally (for the most part) erroneous.

Later on, Jeff realizes that maybe the group's emotional outburst was manageable, because an emotional breakdown with Chang is definitely not. And maybe - just maybe - being needed by the study group is much better than being needed by Chang. Shirley gets frustrated with Pierce and all of his speech suggestions towards the end of the episode and says that she'll just end up writing the speech on cards. Troy continues to refuse to help Abed search for their rat, and insists that because Abed would do anything to help Troy, that makes him a good friend. Abed though realizes that their friendship is one-sided and leaves the room, letting Troy ponder what the true meaning of friendship is.

There's a montage of moments from all of the storylines that play over the song "Somewhere Out There" (which is being sung by Abed and Troy because the latter decided to help his friend look for Fivel). Jeff apparently calls Chang's wife and invites her to the "Green Week" concert so that the she and Chang can re-connect (through dance). Jeff is kind of smiling when he's watching Chang and his wife dance together. I think it's a moment so subtle that you'll likely miss it, but it helps us realize that maybe Jeff enjoys this whole "fixing problems" and "not being selfish" thing more than he knows. In Shirley's story, she nervously is reading directly from her cards when her professor informs her that she needs to put them down. As she does so, Shirley notices that Pierce is in the back of the classroom. She then proceeds to give her speech using all of the tips that Pierce gave her. She ends up getting an A and Pierce looks quite proud of her.

The episode ends with the study group realizing what Jeff did to help them (and himself), and inviting him back into the study group once more. And then, everyone dances to the festive sound of Green Daeye!

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- I love that Abed and Shirley clap at the Dean's "Envirodale" announcement, while Annie looks puzzled and a bit upset.
- I want Britta's necklace in the first half of the episode. Also, I want all of the key necklaces we see her wearing throughout the first half of the season.
- Will I just buy that Troy and Abed took a Biology lab and not a class, even though a lab is usually a co-requisite for a class? I'll let it slide, writers, since you've been so good to us.
- "In a way, all of you are right. ...okay, what was I tuning out?"
- "Wait, you ARE convincing!"
- Anyone notice this poster in Chang's office? It appears he keeps tabs on his students. Either that or Jeff is just really famous around Greendale.
- "...teaching us the word 'esposa' means 'liar'..."
- Donald Glover screaming, squealing, and/or crying will always be hilarious.
- "My head still hurts from all the yelling. And my pupils are more sensitive to light because he yelled so much."
- "That's not a filler word." "Whatever, Valley Girl."
- "You devious clump of overpriced fabric and hair product."
- "Let me rest gently on your pecs."
- The outtake of Chevy falling back in the chair and Gillian freaking out is HILARIOUS.
- "We found the stupid rat. And Abed's gonna shut up about it now." "It's true."
- The tag is wonderful. And one of the more underrated ones, but hilarious.

Next week we're re-visiting our first Christmas at Greendale with one of my favorite Shirley-centric episodes, "Comparative Religion." Have a wonderful weekend everyone! :)

Friday, January 6, 2012

1x09 "Debate 109" (You're Knee-Deep in it Now, Brother!)

"Debate 109"
Original Airdate: November 12, 2009

There's this moment that's unmistakable, but not often noticeable. It's the moment when you look at someone you have seen one way for a certain period of time, and suddenly they appear different to you, somehow. This can be either a positive or negative experience. For example, if you used to see someone as caring and trustworthy, but now realize they are a back-stabbing liar... well, that's not so good. If, however, you go from seeing someone as just a person - a friend, a buddy, or an acquaintance - and then begin to see them as a romantic prospect... that usually changes things positively. Usually. This happened to me, personally, when I was a freshman in high school. I clearly remember the moment when - at my friend Jeremy's surprise birthday party - a girl I knew approached me. We sat in the back of the room and watched the birthday boy dance or sing karaoke (or do something that made him appear utterly dorky). And then this girl asked: "Isn't he cute?" The strangest thing was that up until that very moment, I hadn't thought of him in a romantic light whatsoever. But that girl's comment caused me to stop and think about how I felt regarding him. (P.S. This is the guy who I would later fall in love with and who would never return my feelings... self-esteem boost, right there). I bring this up because I feel like this is the hinge episode for Jeff in regards to Annie. And the ironic thing is that this ISN'T the hinge for Annie, as one might think. I say this nearly every week: I promise I'll get to that point later on in the review. But if I had to create a thesis statement for this episode, it would be as follows: "Inadvertent actions often have unintentional consequences." (You can apply this to our Jeff/Annie, Pierce/Britta, and Troy/Abed/Shirley stories).

As we do every week, let's briefly refresh ourselves with the plot for this episode. In this episode, quite a bit occurs. We open the episode with the revelation that Britta is attempting to quit smoking, that Abed is making movies for the film department's website, and that Annie is on the debate team and has her championship debate that weekend. Britta is hilariously on edge and snaps at Pierce (who is attempting to re-tell a joke that apparently took 27 minutes to tell the first time) and then Jeff. Everyone thinks Britta should keep smoking, and as the lovely Kerry recapped in her picspam of this episode, their respective answers (at least Shirley and Annie's) highlight their jealousies of Britta, which is intriguing, no? (And then Pierce's is just... well, Pierce)

- Shirley: "I really think you should, they say it makes you lose weight and your skin looks really good when you smoke."
- Annie: "That's a good idea, all the cool people are doing it, and you have a leather jacket."
- Pierce: "Absolutely. I've seen no literature on it, to be honest."

Jeff wants Britta to keep smoking either because he wants to keep the peace (which is likely) or hopes that a less on-edge Britta will be a more-willing-to-sleep-with-him Britta (also very likely), so he encourages her to stay smoking as well. Britta is insistent that she quit, and agrees to a hypnotherapy session with Pierce to help. And you know what I need more of in my life? Pierce/Britta stories. It's interesting because everyone in this group is so dynamically different, yet fundamentally similar. Stories like the one between these two only help to solidify that. Pierce has always strove to be accepted by the group. And I think that one of Britta's biggest insecurities is that the group would be better off without her. She doesn't often vocalize it, but I think that's probably how she feels. She wants people to like her. And I don't think that she ever wants people to feel left out of the group. So she goes the extra mile to pretend to need them so that they'll feel needed. It's something she calls herself out on a bit in "Modern Warfare" - the idea that her good humanitarianism is a shtick, but Jeff (and the audience) realize it's not. She gets a bit carried away sometimes, like all well-meaning characters do. But she wants everyone to have a place (herself included). And if her place is to make people feel needed by pretending to need them, then so be it!

Dean Pelton and Professor Whitman return which can only mean that an epic episode is about to occur. (Sidenote: I also love how this show throws in references to Ryan Seacrest, Mad Men, and other projects that the cast is involved with. It makes the moment funnier). We learn that Annie's debate partner dropped out and the trio (the Dean, Annie, and Whitman) corner Jeff to convince him to be Annie's partner. Jeff - unsurprisingly - does not feel quite gung-ho about this option, and still isn't at the end of the conversation. But the Dean offers him a parking spot, so he agrees. We return to our Pierce/Britta storyline to find that Pierce is reading up on a hypnotherapy for beginners. "Sometimes I think people don't take me seriously," he quips to Britta. And here's the inherent irony in what Pierce says - within the next moment that Britta opens her mouth, she's NOT taking him seriously. And HE isn't taking the session seriously (at least not initially... once he gets going, he does). And yet both of them are trying to do something for the other, with selfish motives (Britta is trying to make Pierce feel good to make herself feel good, while Pierce is trying to do something for Britta to make himself feel needed). Still, it's nice to see some interaction between these two characters.

In the Abed/Shirley/Troy story, we learn that Abed is seemingly psychic - the movies he creates for the film department's website are nearly identical to events in real life that occur between the study group. The only caveat is that Abed makes his videos weeks before those events take place. While everyone else is frightened of this skill, Abed explains that he's not psychic or a witch, but just studies human behavior and can predict how characters (er... his friends) will respond to situations. (It's also amusing to me that Shirley wants to know her future from Abed, but then says in "English as a Second Language" that horoscopes are the devil's way of tricking us all.

Returning to the debate, I'll discuss what I found interesting about Simmons and Jeff (that I honestly hadn't thought about and/or noticed until my re-watch last night). Personally, we don't know much about Simmons. But as a debater, we know that he does exactly what Jeff used to do as a lawyer (and still does as a character in the show) - he charms people. He uses words in order to cause others to gravitate toward him. The difference between Jeff and Simmons in its simplicity is two-fold: 1) it doesn't ever appear that Simmons uses this power to manipulate people in a non-competition setting. We don't know for sure, of course, but that's my general guess. 2) the reason Jeff loses to Simmons in the first round of debates is - presumably - because he doesn't care, but the underlying cause is that his pride prevents him from viewing the debate as anything to actually care about. In fact, the ONLY reason he actually begins to care about the debate is because Simmons insults and taunts someone he cares about (draw your own conclusions romantically or platonically, but Jeff definitely cares about Annie). This is where Jeff's pride becomes second to his desire to defend. We see that quite a bit when it comes to him - he steps up for Abed in the Christmas episode later on in the season. Nevertheless, this is the fundamental difference that I see between them. And still, Simmons and Jeff are alike in an interesting way.

Jeff attempts to Winger his way out of the debate, which fails miserably. (How many times must you learn that the things you did outside of Greendale will not help you inside, Jeff? I thought Duncan taught you that in the pilot.) And then Simmons taunts Annie and all bets are off. I love the moment where he doesn't even ask if Annie's all right, or if she wants him to do anything about it. He just looks at her once and springs into action. Again, this happens a lot. And not just with Annie. Jeff likes coming to the rescue of the study group (see: "Early 21st Century Romanticism"). It's a role that he begrudgingly took, but now can't seem to live without.

Interestingly (back to the thesis I stated at the beginning of the review), Abed's movies clearly have unintentional consequences in this episode. They were the spring board for everyone to be on their guards (and perhaps a teensy bit paranoid). I think that perhaps what Abed caught a glimpse of in this episode was that sometimes you should just live life rather than predicting what will happen next. Or maybe he doesn't realize that concept in its entirety, but I think he understood it a bit better.

And now we segue into one of my favorite scenes in the entire episode. Like I said earlier, there's a moment when someone goes from one box to another in your mind. Right now, Annie is in the "friend" box in Jeff's mind. Or maybe not even there. She may still be in the "acquaintance" box. And though that's not going to change for him (yet), this scene helps establish the thought of moving Annie to another box, so to speak. Jeff and Annie are preparing for the second round of debates the next day, and are learning all about the prison experiment, in order to win their point that man is evil (and if you know anything about the Stanford experiment - I learned about it in AP Psychology - it's pretty intense stuff). I think what I like the most about this scene is that Jeff and Annie take away something from one another. Jeff finally admits that he needs to prepare for something, and Annie acknowledges that she's often high-strung and tightly wound and could loosen up a bit and "go off-book." Because Annie DOES need to loosen up and Jeff DOES need to buckle down. 

Now, if you followed my Twitter feed last night, you know that I got quite excited because I caught two moments I had previously missed. If you were curious, let me explain them now. So there's this moment (about 13:05 - it may be literally half a second long) where - when Annie is taking her hair down - Jeff momentarily looks both confused and also simultaneously intrigued. He furrows his eyebrows. And this is the moment where things are going to start to click for him. The second moment is this: right before Jeff says "yeah," I always thought that he was just mesmerized by Annie's hair (because, hello, Alison does have awesome hair!). But I realized through the re-watch and a .gif I found that I was wrong. Carefully (if you are so inclined) watch Jeff's line of sight. It's on Annie's face the entire time, right up until the moment he says "yeah," at which point his eyes do notice her hair. Joel is superbly nuanced with his facial expressions in this episode. It's pretty fantastic. The pair (after being warned by Shirley that Abed thinks they were going to kiss) then becomes super awkward around one another because they realize that they may or may not have just had some sort of ~moment~ and don't quite know how to respond. 

Back to our Pierce/Britta story, Britta continues to fake being hypnotized in order to make Pierce feel good about himself. Pierce notices, however, and then gets rightfully upset that Britta didn't take him seriously. While having good intentions, Britta unfortunately couldn't humor every facet of Pierce's hypnotherapy. Thus, she did one thing she shouldn't have - wounded his pride. (Pride was also a theme in two out of the three stories for this episode). Ironically though, Pierce's revenge helps Britta. And then balance is restored. (Also: hey guys... remember that time before Pierce became the intra-group villain?)

The second round of debates is starting and Team Jeff/Annie are on fire against Team Simmons/That Other Guy He's Friends With (notice their secret handshake? It's cute, but not as cute as Troy and Abed's!). Britta gets up to leave because apparently a community college debate tournament is so intense that Britta feels the desire to smoke to get her through it. And this, folks, is why I love Britta Perry so much. The Dean informs Jeff and Annie that Simmons is essentially finished, as he'll need a miracle to win. This causes Simmons to dramatically rip up his notecards. According to Abed, this is a gambit on his part. And since I am a terrible English major, I had to look up what the word "gambit" actually means. So for those who didn't want to admit it, here's the definition: "A device, action, or opening remark typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage."

Simmons then heads in his wheelchair directly for Annie - he looked her in the eye - and I think he knew that Jeff would get up and move in front of her. Because Simmons was with them in the hallway - he saw how Jeff protected her back then, and he knew that to take Jeff down, he had to do something that would cause his protective instincts to once again kick in. As Simmons flings himself out of the chair, Jeff catches him (thus proving Simmons' point that man is good). Now to learn one thing about Annie: Annie does not lose. Annie cannot lose. Annie is driven, self-possessed and does not go down without a fight. And her "fight" involves kissing Jeff so that he'll drop Simmons. And I love the kiss for a few reasons (so bear with me or skip ahead if you aren't a fan of Jeff and Annie): 1) the rest of the group's varied reactions are HILARIOUS in and of themselves, 2) Alison literally has to stand on the top of her toes in order to kiss Joel. Their height difference is always amusing to me. 3) I love that Whitman was also witness to this kiss, because he must be thinking "Wow, Winger kisses a lot of women!" 4) the moment that he drops Simmons, his arms immediately go around Annie's waist to bring her closer, 5) Jeff looks properly stunned when she breaks the kiss and even more stunned that he's still on stage.

But here's the biggest reason that I love the kiss: Joel's face after Alison delivers her "off-book" line. And I know Alison herself mentioned this in the commentary and what a fantastic job he did. It's this mixture of surprise and revelation. And literally THIS is the moment where Jeff puts Annie from one box into the "romantic feelings...or something" box. And I don't think this moment is what does it for Annie, though. The kiss clearly means a lot more to him (and affects him a lot more) than it does to her. She jokingly laughs it off and he is just stunned.  

And there's still this underlying tension that comes with the realization that things can't exactly go back to being "the same" as they were before (we get another reset of this in "Geography of Global Conflict," remember?), and how to deal with that is difficult. But this is the episode where Jeff establishes the crutch that he referenced in 3x02 - it's only after he feels something that he realizes it's best to try and compartmentalize it and not deal with it than deal with its potential consequences. And as Joe Russo mentioned in the commentary, THAT is the button that needed to be touched on once more before ending the episode.

(See? Actions and consequences are important, folks. And will always be in this show).

Additional de-lovely aspects:
- "I will slap that smug look right off your pointy face!" This line is always golden, as is Gillian's delivery of it.
- "He's also very vain." "Pft. Ridiculous." "...ohhhh."
- "Hey Jeff, I think your shirt's trying to get out of your pants."
- "Oh, great try, Bruce! Great try!"
- "No. Who am I, iCarly?"
- "That's it. Dude, we are gonna debate the living crap out of you."
- "No, you're right. My feet are long and stupid. You can't un-ring that bell!"
- "We're so in sync. We're like a perfect duet or great seeeee...hey Professor Whitman."
- Notice how small the debate trophy is? How sad.
- "I'mma die by werewolf!"

Okay folks, so next week we get to learn some more about Chang when we visit "Environmental Science." We also get a fantastic "Somewhere Out There" duet! Have a wonderful weekend, and I'll see you  then. :)