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. :)


  1. Jeff and Annie's debate prep session ranks among my favorite scenes of the entire SERIES and was what ultimately sealed my love affair with Community (and Jeff Winger). I really don't know why that is...perhaps like Jeff, this episode was the "box moment" for me. Great review as always!

  2. What's cool is that Abed's prognosticating ability is totally something that people like him can do in real life, and I have no idea how Dan Harmon knew this.

  3. Have to admit, that kiss is always going to be the reason I adore this episode - one of my favourite things about it is also the way Jeff's hands immediately go to Annie's waist as soon as he drops Simmons (*sigh* Joel looks like such a good kisser).

    But I agree with everything else you said here. I only recently got my Season 1 DVDs for Christmas so I am going to marathon it tonight with a bottle of wine. Thank you for being so thorough and taking the time to spread your love of this show with us all :)

    x x x

  4. This is interesting because I never really thought about the kiss meaning more to Jeff here. He is certainly stunned by the revelation that Annie is hot (and probably a very good kisser by the looks of it). But you make a good point.

    However, in Romantic Expressionism we do learn that Annie felt something too. Maybe at that particular moment she was just swept away by the competition and only realised it had more *meaning* on reflection.

    Anyhow, I still love this episode. I remember watching it and thinking how amazing their chemistry was and how I would never think of Jeff/Britta in a romantic light again, not that I really did in the first place. Jeff/Annie stole my heart in this episode. :D

  5. @Anonymous 2: My theory is that Annie fully came to believe the kiss meant more after Jeff shared that look with her in Romantic Expressionism. I feel like THAT was the moment where Annie realized that something had been working in Jeff and she hadn't realized it (can't wait to talk about it in my RE review!) But yes, I totally agree - I think the kiss meant something to Annie, but it didn't cause a light bulb moment like it did with Jeff.