Friday, February 3, 2012

1x13 "Investigative Journalism" (It's Better When You're Buddy-ing)


"Investigative Journalism"
Original Airdate: January 14, 2010

What words would you use to describe Jeff Winger from the pilot episode of Community up until "Comparative Religion"? Snarky? Egotistical? Smarmy? "Investigative Journalism" kicks off with a new semester at Greendale Community College - one in which Jeff apparently resolves to become more relaxed. But see, the most intriguing thing to me regarding this proclamation is the reason that he gives for doing so. He claims that during the previous semester, he was "a drag" and "uptight." This is interesting to me because I don't think that those words necessarily classify Jeff. In fact, I doubt that they classify him at all. Sure, he hadn't exactly made peace with being at Greendale (see: "Football, Feminism, and You") but he made leaps and bounds of progress by the Christmas episode. So why does he cite this as his excuse for wanting to be more relaxed? Perhaps - in some weird, subconscious way - that's how he feels the group sees him: that one day, they really will get tired of his shenanigans and just kick him out for good. He's seen that they are capable of doing it once (and this episode's ending kind of solidifies this theory of Jeff's reasoning for me), and I think that he genuinely takes the group for granted. Jeff always - and I do mean always - wants the study group to cast him in the best light possible. He's seen what happens to those who the group views negatively and doesn't want that to happen to him. Especially not when he's beginning to come to the realization that these six people mean more to him than he wants to admit.

If you are looking for an episode of Community with a simple plot, but a complex idea, then "Investigative Journalism" is the place to look! The plot of the episode is pretty simple, really - the group has returned from winter break to another semester at Greendale only to find that Chang is still as crazy as ever, and a guy from their Spanish class - Buddy - wants to join their study group. In a sub-plot between Annie, Jeff, and Abed, Jeff gets appointed the editor of the school newspaper. Now, "Investigative Journalism" is a precursor to "Competitive Ecology" (and slightly to "Asian Population Studies," you could argue) in the way that it forces outsiders into the study group and observes the internal chaos that occurs from doing that. I said the same thing during my review for 3x03, but I feel like we - as audience members - always attempt to cast the main characters of our favorite shows into the most positive light possible. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that, really - we're conditioned by television to narrow our focus in on the small group of main characters. Everyone else, though, we consider to be an "outsider." And each outside character that has been featured on the show (Todd and Buddy, in particular) highlight the group's flaws. It's not that the study group is mean, per se - they are exclusive, though. They don't like change. Because in theory, EVERYONE loves the idea of change. We want to change our hairstyles, our living arrangements, our jobs... and yet, there is something within us that just hates the thought of adjusting our comforts to fit something "different" that most of us never change (or if we do, we don't change drastically). This is pretty much the mantra of the study group throughout this episode, and truly whenever outsiders are introduced into the mix.

The episode opens with the study group greeting one another after winter break (hey, remember that time where Britta and Annie were friends and actually hugged? No? Don't worry - it's not going to last much longer. #stillbitter), and we can assume that this break is what finally flipped the Troy/Abed friendship switch on. They definitely appear to be much closer in this episode than they had been throughout the previous ones, and it makes sense because apparently they spent their entire break together playing video games. Pierce then enters, deciding that he wants to be "cool" by wearing ironic t-shirts (he gives them up by the end of the episode, no worries) and then Jeff enters, proclaiming that he wishes he was still a lawyer, doesn't want to be anyone's friend, and is really only there because he's hot for Britta... just kidding! The Jeff fake-out is a nice touch especially because of the huge, goofy grin he wears during the group hug.

We then proceed to throw Buddy into the mix, who is played by Jack Black. Now, Jack Black is a fantastic actor, and the reason that I didn't care for Buddy-as-an-outsider as much as I did Todd was that I felt like Todd provided a better foil to the internal insanity of the study group than Buddy did. Todd was a normal guy with a wife and kid, and the only reason he snapped was because the group drove him crazy. Buddy, on the other hand, appeared to be a bit more unstable to begin with, so we didn't get to see a descent into madness, really. Additionally, Jack Black didn't seem to be on top of his comedic game during this episode. Perhaps it was the writing, or just an off-week, but this is the same guy who was in "The Holiday" and "School of Rock" and shone. He just didn't shine like he could have. Nevertheless, his character teaches us a lot about the study group. So is it ironic to anyone else then, that Annie is the person who a) first hints to Buddy that he's not welcome, and b) moves to institute hazing? This is a young woman who is smart, driven, academic, and generally all-inclusive... unless it messes with her plans and systems. See, Annie is thankful to have the study group in her life. So thankful, in fact, that she'll go to very un-Annie-like lengths to keep it together (see: "English as a Second Language"). She's the person who will protect the things that she loves, no matter what the cost, which is both good and bad. And despite the fact that the group accepted her when others wouldn't, she's not willing to generally return the favor (until she is reminded of this fact by Jeff later on).

Jeff agrees to accept Buddy, but only because his new rule is to have no rules in the group. And see, I am convinced that Jeff's "new" demeanor stems from his insecurities about the way the group sees him. He attempts to be so laid back (and it's not like he was uptight in the first season, really) in order to appease everyone. But here's the truth about  that - it never works. People spend their entire lives trying to please others and make everyone happy and, in the end, while there may be happiness for some people, ultimately not everyone is happy. There's another theme that returns this episode - one that I have talked about throughout the course of many reviews: Jeff doesn't get involved with problems unless they directly concern him, nor does he become invested in issues unless he can garner something from them.

Jeff is appointed, by the Dean, the position of editor of the school newspaper, which means that he now has - at his disposal - Abed, two random students, and Annie. His first act as editor? Manipulating the two student reporters into getting him pizza and beer. So here's the question: is it being "laid-back" and "relaxed" when you are only subtly and not outright manipulating those around you for your own good? Because, quite frankly... that's no different from how Jeff was running the show earlier in the season. (Also, Jeff knows exactly how to side-step Annie, the only person who would ruin his manipulative streak - by manipulating her into keeping busy with an article). Take note of what Jeff says to her before she leaves though. The very best part about  the Jeff and Annie dynamic (or one of the best, at least) is that they're constantly teaching each other things, even if they don't want to. And very frequently (take "Biology 101," for example) one of them says things that will come back and bite the other. Jeff's "This is Greendale, we can do whatever we want" will come back around later on to bite him.

After Spanish class, the group hangs back to discuss Buddy. I think that the hesitation in everyone (even Abed caves later on) is so intriguing. Our study group is so isolated and self-righteous. Again, I absolutely love them, but when faced with "outsiders," the group simply does not know how to cope. Shirley's "Can he just decide that he's one of us?" kills me. Although, Pierce makes the best argument against Buddy - it's hard to find a right "balance" with a group of individuals, and to add people into the mix sometimes compromises that. What's interesting too in this conversation is in regards to Jeff. The former lawyer noted his own character flaws without prompting (cynical, elitist), but what's more interesting to me is that he didn't necessarily decide to change who he was, fundamentally. He assumed that by changing his surroundings, he'd be able to change his persona. That's - of course - not true. In order to change the things that you don't like about yourself, you have to face them head-on. Jeff just avoids them.

Meanwhile, out in the hallway, Annie corners Jeff and excitedly discusses a scoop that she discovered - when a Toni Braxton concert got moved, the only people who were alerted were the black students on campus (and one French kid named LeBron). Jeff encourages Annie to call the number that sent the text message alert, and as it turns out, it was the Dean himself.

Buddy then returns to the study group as Annie is explaining her journalistic discovery. And I think that what threw me off with Jack Black (besides him looking like a hobo the entire episode) in this episode is that he either: a) makes two flubs that they keep in with his lines, or b) the writers kept in two very lame jokes. Either way... that story doesn't end with laughter. Buddy is an interesting "outsider" to bring to the group. While Todd notes essentially what is wrong and weird (after he has a mental breakdown, though) with the study group internally, his main purpose was a) not to seek out the group (Buddy's was), and b) to merely work with the group in the classroom setting, nothing more. He didn't want to be a part of the study group. Buddy, on the other hand, notes that the group isn't perfect and that they could be improved. The study group does not like his ideas, but I think - at the core - they don't like the implication that they need to be "fixed." Buddy then attempts to convey why he is a perfect addition to the group, and demonstrates his high-kick... right into Jeff's face. Notice when Jeff finally decides to step in? When Buddy (literally) directly impacts HIM.

The study group then reconvenes the next day in their second-favorite location: the supply closet. They meet up to discuss kicking Buddy out of the study group. Pierce and Jeff, at this point, are the only ones who do not oppose Buddy in the group - Pierce, because perhaps he's just being contrary and likes Buddy's "in your face" attitude, and Jeff because he wants to remain as "laid-back" as possible still. But in spite of that, he is still subtly manipulative and is a master of puppetry. Therefore, by the end of the conversation he has managed to inadvertently convince everyone to kick Buddy out of the group. Again though, Jeff's idea on how to change himself is to change the people around him. Abed notes Jeff's manipulation when they are sitting in the editor's office, and commends him for it, noting that he did it so that he could "keep smiling." Jeff then responds: "And with Buddy gone, staying that way will be a lot easier."

There's a squabble outside of the editor's office, and when Jeff and Abed investigate, they discover that Annie is confronting the Dean about racially profiling by sending that text message. When Annie informs the Dean that she's going to run the story, Dean Pelton urges Jeff to do something because Annie listens to him (which intrigues me that the Dean would know that Annie listens to Jeff. Where has he seen examples of this?). Jeff's laid-back nature starts to crumble when he realizes that he can't just breeze through life without interfering in anything - being blase does not solve problems, and in fact, only creates more. When Jeff attempts to convince Annie not to run the story, she sends his earlier words shooting back at him: "But this is Greendale, Jeff. We can do whatever we want."

Jeff and Annie enter the study room and realize that Buddy is still in the group. Apparently, everyone assumed that if someone were to be kicked out, Jeff would do it. When Jeff informs Buddy of the group's decision, the "outsider" refuses to leave and insists that Jeff is not relaxed, and is infact "an uptight puppetmaster" and that the study group are his puppets. And in "Contemporary American Poultry," we discover more of this. Buddy is right, and for that only, I cannot fault him. And see, the reason that Jeff then dissolves into utter hysteria and rage is because when he transformed into his puppetmaster-self, he didn't REALIZE what he was doing. He didn't pause, acknowledge how uptight and controlling he could be, and admit this to Buddy. He continued to live in denial, and that was his downfall. So Jeff literally then drags Buddy out of the study room (I think Shirley's reaction is my favorite), and then comes back in, barking at Annie to not run the story.

Later on, in the editor's office, Jeff admits to Abed that he is not laid back at all, and instead is the "same uptight jerk [he] was last semester." And I absolutely adore Jeff and Abed storylines, because I feel like in this weird way, they truly understand one another. But the best part of this conversation between them is when Abed explains that Jeff is a leader, and that it's his job to do things like that. Jeff then responds with: "Yeah? What's in it for me?" (Enter: Annie) It's really nice to see Jeff soften though, and apologize for being in the wrong. Though technically Jeff was right in telling her that she shouldn't run the story, he didn't need to yell. And I enjoy the fact that Annie comes and apologizes to HIM for letting her desires be bigger than her conscience, essentially. And THAT is the upside, Jeff realizes. Not necessarily Annie herself, but resolution - knowing that you did something and that you matter to someone, and that their relationship matters to you.

The study group enters their room, only to find Buddy sitting at the table. As they back out and strategize the best way to kick him out (again), Jeff appears and informs the group that he invited Buddy. He says: "So how can I exclude someone from something that I'm so lucky to have?" And I think that this may be the little moment where Jeff realizes something about his relationship with the study group. He doesn't deliver a Winger speech to drive the episode home, but we end on the idea that the group is beginning to mean something to him, and he's accepting that.

Additional de-lovely aspects include:
- The "natural rapport and timing" gag STILL is one of my favorite things to air on the show, to date.
- "I received a text message about free Sephora samples."
- "And you get an English credit." "Well that ain't bad neither."
- Senor Chang's fake death is fantastic.
- "Yo, I need my genitals."
- "Oh, that's nice. Suppose I decide that's my job?" (And thus, we begin the 'Britta is a buzz kill' theme. Also, I love that Jeff is STILL laughing at Britta on his way out of the room)
- Seriously, how adorable are these two?
- "No, it's fine, it's just a little nosebleed. I get them when it's dry... or when my face gets kicked."
- I REALLY wanted to meet Gary. Too bad he transferred at the end of the season. :(
- I hadn't noticed before, but Abed asks Piece: "Why don't you like my tight jeans?" during the group conversation
- "No one will care about my time in rehab if they think I'm a writer." Sad, but likely true.
- I want to know HOW Buddy knows that Jeff/Annie are Milord/Milady
- "I am NO man's puppet, sir!"
- "Ooh, you made me so happy, I just peed a llittle."
- How hilarious is it that Britta and the rest of the group are appalled that they are not the cool group on campus? And how awesome is it that the "cool" group at Greendale has Owen Wilson in it?

Next week, we re-visit one of my favorite Jeff/Britta and Jeff/Annie episodes - "Romantic Expressionism." Until then, everyone! :)

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