Dear TV Writers: Your Fear of the Moonlighting Curse is Killing Your Show

What is the Moonlighting Curse, and why is it such a big deal to television writers? Read this in-depth look at the crippling phenomenon and find out!

Getting Rid of the Stigma: Mental Illness in Young Adult Fiction, by Megan Mann

In this piece, Megan brilliantly discusses the stigma of mental illness in literature and how some young adult novels are helping to change the landscape for this discussion.

In Appreciation of the Everyday Heroine

A mask does not a hero make. In this piece, I discuss why it's wrong to dismiss characters without costumes or masks as superheroes.

Friday, March 30, 2012

3x13 "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" (Actions Speak Louder Than...)


"Digital Exploration of Interior Design"
Original Airdate: March 29, 2012

Sivanada said: "Life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences, whether good or bad of even the least of them, are far-reaching." And I think that this quote and reflection aptly sums up the theme of the week's episode. Each of our three storylines focused on the actions of a particular character (or characters) and demonstrated how simple actions can have extensive consequences. Because, as we saw last week, it's foolish to think that our actions will have no bearing on those around us (be it good or bad). And truly, this entire season seems to be building toward some kind of confrontation between all of these people we have come to know and love. With the exception of Vice Dean Laybourne, there really hasn't been an external "enemy" for the group to fight this year. Essentially, instead, this season is all about the group dealing with the darkness inside of themselves - learning to openly confront things that they had previously kept buried. All three of these storylines converged at the end, but throughout the course of the episode, some characters managed to come to a greater understanding of themselves (Jeff), while other relationships broke down (Troy/Abed) because of words and actions. Throughout the course of the review, we'll highlight the destruction of the (up until this point) relatively peaceful relationship between Troy and Abed, while also confessing my love for Britta Perry in the episode. Finally, throughout the review, we will also deconstruct the Jeff/Annie storyline (and explain why I think everyone could use a good dose of therapy). Ready? Let's begin!

In case you can't remember what happened in the episode because you were too busy craving Subway sandwiches, let's recap: as we have learned in the episodes post-hiatus, Shirley and Pierce wanted to open a sandwich shop. However, in "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts," Dean Pelton explains to them that he already agreed to open a Subway within the cafeteria. The episode begins with the grand opening of the little shop, and Shirley's indignation. Pierce notices a clause within the Greendale by-laws, which stated that any restaurant on campus must be at least 51% student-owned. As it turns out, Subway has hired a guy named Rick to act as their corporate mouthpiece - he's a real-life representation of the sandwich shop, and - as such - Subway is legally allowed to keep their place in the Greendale cafeteria. Shirley and Pierce cannot stand for this, and recruit Britta to help take the new "student" down.

Sometimes, if I'm being honest, I forget how amazing Britta Perry is as a character. And I think that a lot of times we (the audience members) do exactly what the study group does - we brush her off as the buzz kill, the one with the pension for severity, or the girl who "Britta's" everything up. We hardly ever think of her in the way that Jeff did during "The Science of Illusion" - as the heart of the group. A lot of us, myself included, forget that Britta really is just a woman striving to be accepted and loved and cared about, no matter how severe she can come across. She admitted to her insecurities in "Romantic Expressionism" (she has feelings and cares about boys liking her, etc.). She's a woman with emotions and needs to feel appreciated. And she deserves that, just as much as Annie or Shirley. And I love that this episode - while, yes, a bit exaggerated in Britta's professions of love, etc. - but truly the Subway/Britta storyline was hilarious and also touching in that it reminds us that maybe Britta needs to find someone to be goofy and happy with. She, like every character, needs someone in life to balance her out. Arguably, each character has at least ONE person within the study group who balances them out in some way, shape, or form. But perhaps the group is beginning to realize that they also need other people to make themselves feel needed.

There's a Jeff and Annie storyline that runs throughout the episode and is very telling. Troy, Annie, and Abed had to leave their apartment for the week, so Annie opts to stay in the sleep lab for the time being. Troy and Abed, meanwhile, decide to build a pillow fort (which is different than a blanket fort, just so we're clear). Jeff requests that Annie help him get into the sleep lab (he could use the 2 credits to, you know, goof off), but she refuses. The pair are standing at Annie's locker and... wait. Have they always had lockers? Jeff comes to this realization and the pair discover that he's had a locker for two and a half years and hasn't even realized it. Jeff and Annie then discover tons of flyers within the locker and one hate-filled note. And this storyline is very enlightening in terms of both Jeff and Annie's characters. We usually think of Annie as the more mature and developed fo the two - or perhaps just the one who has all of her issues relatively in check. However, this isn't quite the case. As the episode wears on, we realize that Annie has some unresolved issues in regards to her relationship with Jeff (ones that he seems completely oblivious to). Ironically, at the end of the episode, it's Jeff who makes progress (well... sort of). Jeff and Annie decide to discover who sent him the hateful note. But, of course, Jeff doesn't go out of his way if there isn't something in it for him.

And I think that last week's episode is a perfect prelude to this week's episode for a few reasons. First, we definitely understand more now about Jeff's egotism. The only reason he decides to figure out who Kim is (the person who sent the note) is because that person insulted him. And Jeff does not take well to the idea that he is anything less than perfect in the eyes of everyone around him. Truthfully, that's why he goes crazy in "Biology 101," gets into the debate with Annie in "Intro to Political Science," and also why he has a mental breakdown in "Contemporary Impressionists." It's also why he needs the group so much - he needs people who need HIM. He's used to being the savior of the group, and also the one who is the most admired and respected. Jeff, then, does not take very well to being displaced from this role.

Elsewhere, Shirley and Piece confront Britta on seducing Subway (the student, remember) in order to take the sandwich franchise out of the cafeteria. Britta storms out of the conversation, however, offended by the notion that she would sell out her gender. And I really enjoyed the fact that Shirley and Pierce teamed up for the episode. I'll expand a little on this later, but they manage to balance one another out quite well.

So as I mentioned earlier, last week's episode was a good set-up for the events that unfolded this week. The Troy and Abed relationship, when we left off, was on the rocks. And I think that in the back of his mind, Troy must wonder sometimes what he gave up for Abed (and if it is worth it for how he's being treated and the lengths that he goes to in order to protect, defend, and rescue his friend). Troy literally gave up the chance of a career in order to stay with his best friend. And, after last week, I didn't have very many warm, fuzzy feelings in regards to Abed's character. This week, I attempted to go into the episode with no preconceived notions or judgments though. Both characters - Troy and Abed - need to realize that friendship is a two-way street. And I think that Troy has an easier time adjusting to this concept than Abed does. He tells Jeff in season 1, I believe (forgive me, because I've forgotten which episode it is) that people always assume that he needs their help, but really, he doesn't. People just need to understand him. And I think that Abed wants to be the kind of person who simply exists in a slightly-detached state. He wants to live in a world where he can do what he wants to and say what he wants to without long-lasting consequences (that's how TV operates, no?). But, demonstrated by the quote that I opened the entry with, even the tiniest of actions has a consequence.

Both Troy and Abed allow Vice Dean Laybourne's voice to intrude upon their thoughts, and therefore affect their actions. So who then, is the better of the two? The Vice Dean attempts to destroy the relationship between Troy and Abed, and we boil down to an Adam and Eve-like scenario. Laybourne appeals to Troy's vanity - to the athlete's desire to prove himself to the world and take charge of his life. Troy, as we have seen from the end of last season until now, wants others to think of him as an alpha male. Laybourne then appeals to Abed's misconception of relationships - to either his selfishness or naivete and encourages Abed to not compromise. The Vice Dean is extremely apt at appealing to the creative side of Abed - to the filmmaker who is suffering for his art, even though he doesn't understand WHY. So, then, Abed wonders why he should compromise in a relationship in the first place. And I've really tried to wrap my head around this characterization of Abed as someone who subtly manipulates people and situations, rather than being a completely detached third party. We see and know how he affects the other study group members, and therefore have to assume that he is at least slightly aware of this notion. Nevertheless, we have discovered that Abed is uncomfortable with a lack of control - the fact is that perhaps, buried underneath everything, when Abed doesn't have control, he wonders if people will leave him.

We then return to our Jeff/Annie storyline where we learn that Annie has a lot of pent up bitterness and anger toward Jeff. We've seen glimpses of this throughout the seasons (most noticeably, of course, in "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" where Annie goes "off-book," lets Jeff know how much he hurt her, and then... fake shoots him. Therapeutic, no?) but this episode was definitely an eye-opener as to how much Jeff actually continues to hurt Annie by refusing to apologize for making out with her and then ignoring her.

Britta actually finds herself becoming attracted to Subway who is - for all intents and purposes - her perfect match. And what's even more adorable is how terrible Shirley is as a manipulator - she is genuinely excited for Britta, and that he smiled at the blonde.

I think that in every relationship, there's a trigger, whether or not is a natural-occurring one, or one manipulated by... say, the Vice Dean. Abed and Troy are in the process of building a pillow fort, even though Troy really wants to expand it to make it a world-recorded fort. At Laybourne's subtle prompting, Troy abandons Abed's pillow fort in order to build a blanket fort. An insignificant moment for anyone else, for Troy, becomes the last straw. Because it seemed like Abed was about to respect Troy - to see him as an equal. And instead, Abed displaced Troy's ideas. Perhaps this derives from the desire to maintain "order," or from the idea that last week Troy had control, and this week Abed wants control. Whatever the case, Troy decides that he can't be a part of Abed's "master plan" anymore, if he's only seen as a sidekick and not an equal.

In our Jeff and Annie storyline, the pair are told by a guy standing in front of Kim's locker that Kim died two weeks earlier. Jeff is wracked with guilt... but his motives aren't entirely pure. He is the kind of person who believes apologies are designed so that they will make HIM feel better, not because he wants to learn or grow. And there's this great role-reversal from "Geography of Global Conflict" with Jeff lying on the couch and Annie approaching him. And Annie calls Jeff out on what apologies actually are - not a "Winger band-aid" that's meant to fluff up a situation and make it slightly-less-worse than before. Apologies come from places of humility and understanding that it doesn't matter how you feel or if the other person receives it - they're so a relationship can be mended.

As a sidenote, I adore that Annie and Jeff have constant parallels within their lives - the couch thing, for one. The fact that Annie seems to always know where to find him (i.e. "Intro to Political Science," "Asian Population Studies") and the fact that she knows, in her heart, what HE knows he should do ("Basic Genealogy") and never patronizes, just prompts.

Britta continues a relationship with Subway, and there's an awesome Pierce/Shirley balance too - both are business-driven individuals but obviously Shirley is the more compassionate of the two. She provides them both with a reality check - "look at what we're becoming!" - and encourages Britta that she doesn't have to sabotage Subway (the shop) anymore. Pierce, however, insists that the woman has one more assignment left to complete.

In returning once more to our Jeff/Annie story, I think it's endearing that Jeff buys flowers and actually follows through with approaching Kim's locker and apologizing. It's a step in the right direction for Jeff. No, he's not a flawless human being, but Annie helped him take the next right step in correcting his past mistakes. Unfortunately for Jeff, he doesn't realize that - right in front of him - is someone who was hurt by one of those mistakes. And perhaps she wants him to realize how to apologize so that he will apologize to HER for things that she has clearly bottled up. And that's the biggest issue with Annie - Jeff doesn't read subtext (...by Calvin Klein. Catch the reference and you win!) very well. The reason that he is affected by Kim is because h (yes, he) left a note calling Jeff out on his behavior. Annie, meanwhile, has only subtly hinted at how much he hurt her... and for that, I have to fault Annie. In light of the episode, it seems that the only way to get Jeff to own up to the fact that he's hurt you is to directly tell him. And it's hilarious that Annie masks her outrage by blaming it on "defending her gender" when it's really about the fact that it took Jeff less than a day to apologize genuinely to someone and make up with them (even though he barely knows them), and yet, he has not done the same thing with a person who he's known for three years and has a much deeper relationship with.

The episode comes to a head with Britta's tryst with Subway being revealed (thanks to a bug that was planted on her by Pierce), and the young man being hauled out and away from Britta. Meanwhile, Annie apologizes to Jeff for her behavior earlier. The episode ends with Troy vs. Abed - the friends have parted ways, with the former setting up his blanket fort, attempting to set the world record. The Dean insists that the fighting between the two sides stop, and that Abed's blanket fort will be torn down. Starburns cannot stand for this, and throws a pillow... which lands on Troy's blanket fort and collapses part of it. And suddenly, war breaks out. There's this mutual horror, perhaps not even a real understanding yet of why the war occurred or what they should do about it, but Troy and Abed share a look with one another. And you can palpably feel the tension, as well as the rising question of: "Is this the end?"

... but it's not, because Abed then says: "To be continued!"

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- "I don't recall seeing Subway in my Pre-Menopausal Post-Feministic Experiential Marketing Class."
- "What other animals travel in herds? I want to say snakes." Oh, Pierce. Never change.
- "I totally predicted this in my high school newspaper column, 'Britta Unfiltered.'" Go home, everyone. Britta Perry just won all of the awards.
- "I am not a whore! And, not that I've done the math, but if I were, I'd be the classy kind that gets flown to Dubai to stay in an underwater hotel."
- "Annie, that's what you think of me? I don't make out with forgettable women."
- "Who do you think I am? I lived in New York!"
- "Put it in a letter, Jane Austen!"
- Oh! I spotted who (I think is) the female writer who was in the sketch comedy troupe in season 1. She's on Team Troy, by the way.
- The music during the war scene is EPIC.
- I love that as soon as war breaks out, Jeff immediately backs up and starts texting.

Next week, we come to our exciting conclusion of the blanket fort-pillow fort war in an episode called "Pillows and Blankets." Until then, folks! :)

Friday, March 23, 2012

3x12 "Contemporary Impressionists" (The Darkest Timeline Returns)


"Contemporary Impressionists"
Original Airdate: March 22, 2012

This episode was dark. And usually I will come up with some witty opener or an analogy that relates to the theme or plot of the episode. But the truth is that these characters have reached dark places in their lives. Two stories in particular - our Jeff/Britta storyline and the Troy/Abed one - highlight this. And I think that a lot of things, in Jeff's case, can be boiled down to the concept of fear. What keeps Jeff grounded, ironically, is the fear that he isn't good enough. So he, as a character, strives for others' attention in order to validate himself as a person. In excess, this is obviously a dangerous thing, especially when coupled with anti-depressants. An excess of something (be it a person, substance, etc.) can cause chaos in our lives. In Jeff's case, an excess of self-pride (in an already egotistical man) can cause hyper-narcissism. In Abed's case, an excess in fantasy can be dangerous in reality. And this is, at its core, what the episode was truly about. Thankfully for Abed and Jeff, they both have people in their lives that look out for their well-being (in Troy and Britta, respectively). Both characters want what's best for the other. However, Britta and Troy approach the issue of a friend's slow descent into delusion differently (and we'll discuss later which I found to be more effective).

Before I begin the review, I have to - again - discuss the importance of re-watching episodes. Central Florida preempted the beginning of the episode because of coverage of a Trayvon Martin rally (if you don't know about the case, please read up on it -- it is a sad, tragic case that deserves justice), so I missed the first six or so minutes. During my first watch, I felt pretty neutral -- I assumed that this would be an episode "too weird" for new audience members to embrace. During my second watch of the episode, I discovered everything that you are about to read, and really came away with a new understanding of the characters. During my third watch, I realized that this episode only had a few moments that I didn't connect with. Otherwise, it was quite an emotional, dark episode that I think set up even more events to come.

If you need a plot refresher for the episode, here goes: the entire group returns from winter break (this episode was actually supposed to air before "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts," so bits of continuity are off), where we learn that Abed has been hiring celebrity impersonators to reenact scenes from movies with him all break. Annie doesn't find this very amusing, but Troy is enthralled. Britta announces that she gets to study and diagnose someone for a Psychology mid-term assignment. And Jeff announces that he started seeing a new therapist, who prescribed him anti-anxiety medication. Britta is horrified at this, noting that Jeff has a large ego as it is -- anti-anxiety drugs will only enhance that to the point of dangerous delusion. And I absolutely adore Jeff/Britta stories because she's usually so frank and curt with him about his flaws. She's not afraid to call him out on being, say, a narcissist. And I think that's what makes their dynamic so intriguing - he very rarely ever admits that he is the person she claims he is (this differs from his relationship with Annie, where he apologizes for things being his fault, etc.). But this episode is a nice example of how their dynamic as characters has grown.

Or perhaps this is the episode in which Jeff finally recognizes the ability for Britta to be that person in his life. He won't feel bad if she calls him out on how he acts - he's used to that from her. In this episode, he doesn't need a soft person like Annie (and even though we have seen her grow, Annie taps into Jeff's emotions and feelings, which works on a dynamic level for them); he needs someone like Britta who will slap his face, insult him, and tell him to get his act together, no questions asked. Jeff needs both women for different purposes, and Britta is a person who - for however flawed she is otherwise - is dedicated to her friendship with Jeff and strives to ensure that he doesn't fail as a human being. And that's what I adore about Britta - she's the kind of person who will be the "buzz kill" because it's what people need. And perhaps this makes it sound like no one needs an Annie or a Shirley, but that's simply not the case. Every study group member has a different role to fulfill, both in Jeff's life and in one another's lives. Britta gets the ability to exercise her gift for severity quite well during this episode -- and it's effective. Notice how, at the end of the Troy/Abed story (which we will get to in a little while), the roommates and best friends confronted one another, but seemed not to have grown. That's because, fundamentally, Troy wanted to preserve his friendship with Abed. There's this notion that sometimes we care more about a relationship than a person. And don't get me wrong - Troy cares IMMENSELY for Abed as his best friend. But Britta cares more about Jeff than she does about their relationship -- she wants Jeff to be bettered as a person, and doesn't care if he hates her in the process; she won't stop trying, throughout the episode, to make Jeff leave the party and spare himself from a breakdown. And I think that's why, at the end of their arc, Jeff comes to the realization that he needed her help. Abed doesn't come to this realization. But we will get there, like I said, momentarily.

There's a Chang storyline developing in the background of this episode, which will set in motion the plot for episodes later on in the season. And I'm definitely intrigued to see where this storyline is going. Chang, the lone security guard, shoots a tranquilizer dart at the study room window, which causes the dean a bit of concern. Dean Pelton then agrees to let Chang have other students help him so that he isn't a "one man army." I think in the latter half of the season, I'm becoming more invested in Chang. Perhaps because he's interacting with the dean rather than security-guard-whom-I-could-have-cared-less-about. It's nice to see this slow rise to power again, since in season one, this was where Chang was. 

Jeff's ego is slowly growing, and Britta warns him of the dangers of this. And I really enjoy the fact that Jeff actually DOES listen to Britta. Sometimes he jokes and dismisses her as a buzz kill or incompetent. However, in the cafeteria, he clearly has recognized that he has an issue and admits this to her. It's nice to see Jeff - someone we consider to be traditionally single-minded - actually listen to someone's advice apart from his own. It's unselfish. It's also an intriguing contrast to someone like Abed during this episode, who we usually concede to be the "innocent" of the group. And Abed, in a lot of ways, will always remain that person for the study group. Yet in this episode, we encounter the idea that Abed's naivete could be merely that... or could be fundamentally rooted in the idea that he doesn't like being told what to do (as Troy mentions at the end of the episode). So doesn't that notion alone provide us with some insight? Is Jeff the selfish one? Or is Abed?

In the cafeteria, the group is approached by a French Stewart impersonator (French Stewart himself, actually!) who announces that Abed owes him $3,000 for all the celebrity impersonators that he has hired over break. Abed casually says that he doesn't have that kind of money, and French Stewart announces that the group could pay off Abed's debt by working at a bar mitzvah that weekend, dressed up as impersonators. Annie, worried, announces that they will discuss it. Once Abed leaves the table, the group seems to decide that feeding into Abed's delusions is a bad idea.

And Troy - initially - defends Abed as his best friend and as someone who is traditionally misunderstood. He refuses an intervention because he doesn't want to dash Abed's view of reality. Troy is a good person and insists on helping Abed live comfortably in a bubble, essentially, of never-growing-up. And I think that in a lot of ways, Troy is beginning to realize that this isn't always what his best friend needs. Sometimes being a best friend means being tough and realistic - it means calling friends out when they are beings selfish or downright wrong (re: Britta throughout the episode). But Troy also wants to preserve the friendship that he and Abed have, and not muddy Abed's view of the world up with "reality." So he goes out of his way to help his friend (much like Jeff does in "Critical Film Studies") only to discover that Abed really doesn't WANT to change. He wants people to accept him the way that he is, to leave him that way, and to bend and change around him. But sadly, that's not how the world works. And the easiest way for Abed to cope is to detach himself, as we see at the end of the episode.

And I'm still torn between two notions -- is Abed really selfish? Or is he just so detached from reality that he genuinely doesn't understand that what he is doing is wrong. Regardless, Troy wants to cater the world to Abed. And that makes him a fantastic best friend. Why? Well, besides that fact, look at how far Troy has come since "Environmental Science." In that episode, arguably, the Troy/Abed relationship is finally established. Initially though, Troy insisted that friends only do things for HIM, not the other way around. The extent now to which Troy has developed and grown astounds me. But the problem for Troy is that, in order to cater the world to Abed, Troy has to go out of HIS way to do so. And this usually leads to frustration on his end when Abed can't seem to understand or reciprocate the emotions involved behind the actions.

The group arrives at the bar mitzvah, dressed as their celebrities (with Jeff about to don a suit to become a Ryan Seacrest impersonator -- the inside jokes with this never fail to amuse me). Britta confronts Jeff about leaving the party - she knows that if he stays, his ego will only get larger, and this will become dangerous. Earlier in the cafeteria, when he encountered a slight surge in ego, he acknowledged it to Britta. And instead of dealing with his issues, Jeff chooses the easiest way out of his problems. Or rather, he's just trying to suppress any sense of issue in his life (it's what Jeff does best). Instead of dealing with WHY he has a large ego, he takes medication to suppress it. And of course, when his emotions aren't dealt with, they are easily triggered. And - like I mentioned earlier - I really enjoy that, in his moments of desperation, Jeff decides to turn to Britta, who he knows will be brutally honest with him.

Slowly but surely, the bar mitzvah is getting out of hand -- Abed and the others keep moving from their assigned "quadrants," which is frustrating to Troy. The whole reason he agreed to the event in the first place was because French Stewart threatened that - if Abed didn't pay his debt - he would hire people to hurt the film student. Jeff's descent into insanity rapidly grows out of control until, when the boy whose bar mitzvah they are performing at wins an award for "Most Handsome Young Man," Jeff snaps. He becomes a Hulk-like egomaniac and "ruins" the party (the boy is thrilled that his father hired a Hulk impersonator). Troy breathes a sigh of relief when French announces that the debt has been paid for Abed.

And Donald rarely gets a chance to shine, using his "serious moment" acting chops. But the scene in the blanket fort is perhaps one of the best things that he has ever done. When Troy returns home from the party, he realizes that Abed is there and has hired more celebrity impersonators the entire time. Rightfully so, Troy is upset with his best friend. And I love that he consistently acknowledges (to the group) that Abed is different -- magical and fantastical, living in his own world. And yet, Troy treats him the same way he would treat anyone else. He expects Abed to learn and to know and to grow, and it frustrates him that Abed won't be "normal" sometimes. Which is ironic, because Troy spent the beginning part of the episode convincing the group that Abed's fantastical nature was the best quality about him. And see, this is the thing about excess -- even good qualities (ego and fantasy) can be detrimental w hen there are too much of them.

The absolute cutest thing ever (and props to Danny Pudi for this one) is the way that Abed sort of shuffles his feet when he sits down on the bunk. The subsequent conversation feels a lot like a parent-child dialogue would. Abed - ever the either a) innocent child or b) forcibly innocent child - doesn't understand why Troy is upset. And if he does, even a little, he cannot reciprocate the appropriate emotions to assist Troy and move forward in their relationship.

And it's not even that he can't reciprocate, perhaps - Abed doesn't like being constrained. He doesn't like being constrained by reality or by others' opinions or by what they tell him to do and not do. As we learned from their dialogue, Abed doesn't want to trust Troy - he wants do what he feels he should do. Troy, the wiser, knows what's best for Abed. But it's up to the latter to allow that to happen (and Abed, deep down, doesn't want that). He doesn't like change. And fundamentally, he doesn't want to change who he is as a person so that Troy can feel better. Because in Abed's eyes, there's nothing wrong with how he is. 

And clearly we are headed back into the darkest timeline, folks. Buckle up. Because it looks like Chang is about to rise to power and Troy/Abed will begin to fall.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
- Can I just say that my favorite part of the first few moments was the fact that Annie and Britta actually hugged? No wait... I lied. PIERCE AND BRITTA HUGGED, YOU GUYS.
- Jeff really DOES have swagger. And Joel looks mighty fine with scruff and aviators.
- I love the "intervention" callback. Apparently the group does a lot of interventions. Maybe as much as this group of friends.
- "If you had hit a small student, they could have died."
- "Britta, how could an apple make that clear? Imagine it expanding? Use a balloon." "I was on my way to lunch!"
- "Even his shadow! LOOK AT HIS SHADOW!" (Jim Rash continues to steal every scene he is in.)
- I love that Pierce continues to refer to Abed as "Aybed."
- "No, no. More like a taller, hotter Ryan Seacrest."
- Not!Moby is in this episode! I LOVE THAT!
- Shirley may not have been in this episode a lot, but she owned her scenes. Her Oprah impression was golden. And her kiss with Jeff was hilarious. Also, Britta's subsequent "No, God! No!" killed me, as did Troy's reaction.
- I'm fairly certain that Britta had a yellow "Occupy Greendale" bumper sticker on her car.
- The return of Evil Abed!

Next week we head into a Pierce/Shirley story again - "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" will feature the two working on their sandwich shop idea. It's also the first part in a two part all-out blanket fort/pillow fight between Troy and Abed. And I don't know about you all... but I feel like war is coming. Until then, folks!

Friday, March 16, 2012

3x11 "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts" (Of Love and Following Dreams)


"Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts"
Original Airdate: March 15, 2012

I've only ever been in love twice - both times I ended up with my heart broken. And it's not like I'm seeking out pity when I mention this. The truth is, a lot of people have gotten their hearts broken. For what it's worth, it's grown and matured me. It's taught me, granted, to be cautious, but not to be cynical or bitter. This episode is, at its core, about love and sacrifice and the things that we learn along the way. It's an episode devoted to Shirley (in which Yvette Nicole Brown shines, by the way) but - like I have said countless times before - it's not merely about one character. We learn a lot about Britta and Jeff throughout the episode as characters as well. Both are anti-wedding, but we learn that it stems not from a fear of commitment or the desire to be "anti" everything. This belief on their part does stem from fear, but I'll pinpoint that later on. And of course, we learn a lot about Shirley throughout this episode as well. I love that the first episode back focused on her and her development as a character. Because it's Britta that reminds us of the reason Shirley came to college in the first place, and encourages her not to lose sight of her dreams and goals in life. It's wonderful, then, to see Shirley stand up for herself and grow as a character who expresses her wants and needs too.

In case you were too busy fawning over the fact that Community finally returned to the air last night and completely forgot what the plot of the episode was, never fear because that is what I am here for! We return to Greendale Community College to find that the cafeteria is being remodeled (remember that time Chang burnt part of it down?). As the group settles in, Pierce enters, hair dyed brown because he is branching out as an entrepreneur. Shirley discusses her ideas for a sandwich shop in the cafeteria, and at the end of the conversation, it seems like she and Pierce have decided to work together on making the idea come to fruition.

I've said before that I wished we had more Pierce/Shirley stories and I am so glad that the writers delivered on this one. I think the most wonderful thing about their dynamic as characters is that - while Shirley admits that Abed humbles her - Shirley really humanizes people, and she does this for Pierce. Annie and Shirley are the two characters who have really caused Pierce to be open, honest, and genuine. And I think that it may be because he respects both women for various reasons. (That's not to say that he doesn't respect Britta, though. I think they just clash more.) Shirley, in turn, occasionally needs to be challenged and Pierce provides that for her. They work surprisingly well as a team, because both have great ideas. But Shirley reins Pierce in when he is being absurd or excessive and Pierce allows Shirley to be more open and free to ideas - to step out on faith, as it were.

As soon as Shirley and Pierce agree to their sandwich idea, Andre enters the cafeteria and explains to the entire room that he fell in love with Shirley back at a Spring Fling dance. The only thing, he insists, that is missing in their relationship currently is to get re-married. Shirley - of course - agrees, much to the clear dismay of Britta. (In this scene, it's awesome to watch the background characters: Britta makes a sour face and Jeff - after looking at Annie to gauge her reaction to the proposal - makes a face at Britta for making a face.)

And I think that the whole point of this season is this kind of understood notion that everyone in the group is struggling with something internally. The first season was a base slate to work from - we met a group of people who evolved from being just a study group to becoming friends. Second season, there was a lot of external conflict (the group actually left the four walls of Greendale), but there were also internal wedges driven (the Annie/Jeff/Britta triangle, Pierce's villainy, Shirley's pregnancy/Chang storyline, etc.) but was also all about Jeff learning to fall in love with the group. Third season doesn't drastically deviate from that, but we also begin to examine each character individually and what they struggle with (Annie has already had an enemy, Pierce battled the demon of his father, Jeff is struggling with those emotions, etc.)

At any rate, the study group reconvenes later on in their room, where Britta and Jeff begin discussing how stupid marriage is. I think we were always meant to believe that Jeff is afraid of commitment, but I don't think that's the case at all (remember "Introduction to Statistics"? Jeff is not a bad boyfriend -- he's extremely committed to his relationship and, unfortunately, gets burned with Slater). Thus, Jeff is not afraid of being committed to anyone - he is afraid of being hurt, because that's what he equates marriage with. And perhaps, that's what he equates "love" with too. Wouldn't it be easier to just die alone if it meant that no one got hurt or had the potential to get hurt? And that's why Andre's speech to him later on is more significant, as is the miniature one that Annie gives him. But more on that later.

Britta's reasoning, on the other hand, for being anti-marriage is more based on the idea that she is afraid marriage means succumbing to female gender roles, and she cannot accept that idea. She wants to be against the grain and, by doing so, aligns herself anti-marriage. There's a fear in there that she will become exactly like her mother (and a lot of women feel this way) and all of the other women in her family. Like Jeff, it's easier for her to be against something because she's afraid of what being for it will mean.

In the study room, Shirley discusses her wedding with excitement (and insists that Troy and Abed act normal for the affair, which they spend the entire episode doing), which worries Britta since the older woman brushes off the sandwich shop business in order to prepare for the wedding. And you know what's interesting? I think that the reason that Britta approaches Shirley is because she is afraid that this is what her life will amount to someday. Shirley is the kind of woman with dreams and ideas, but who didn't follow through with them at the beginning of the episode. Britta, if you haven't noticed yet, tends to be the same way - she makes big, empty gestures about what she will do with her life (let's call back "Spanish 101" momentarily for that), and what a difference she will make. And yet... she admits that she fails to do these things. She's a passive activist. And I think that, deep down, Britta is afraid of ending up "settling" (in her mind) for the life that Shirley is going to have.

And while I do think that Britta is projecting a lot of her feelings about weddings (and her insecurities about becoming the woman she doesn't want to be), it is very nice to see the young woman take an interest in her friend, especially because it IS so easy for Shirley to become comfortable. Like I mentioned earlier, Shirley is the type of woman who doesn't take chances. It's not who she is. She's very precise. But the reason that she came to Greendale was to follow a dream that she had. And Britta is right - it would be easy for Shirley to forget about that. Because that's the thing about dreams. Dreams take guts to follow through. I've dreamt for years about publishing a novel. But I have forgone actually following through with that dream because it's scary. With the pursuit of a dream, there is always the potential for it to fail. And Shirley's dreams (of a perfect, neat marriage and family) have failed her before. She is not about to willingly take that chance again.

However, Britta manages to convince Shirley to follow through with the idea for a sandwich shop and pitch it with Pierce to Dean Pelton. Meanwhile, Britta and Annie set about preparing for Shirley's wedding. Britta, we learn, is surprisingly good at planning weddings, which slowly eats away at her throughout the episode. 

Back to our Pierce and Shirley storyline, when the two meet up to discuss the pitch to Dean Pelton, Shirley gets frustrated with Pierce's clear lack of direction and nearly  bails on him in order to focus on her wedding. But I love that Pierce actually admits to Shirley the reason that he needs this business deal to go through (Hawthorne Wipes' management, as it turns out, was just waiting for Pierce's father to die so that they could fire Pierce). We are so used to seeing Jeff and Pierce cling to their prides that it is nice to watch them relinquish that control. Pierce isn't afraid to admit when he needs help (again, a nice callback to episodes like "Mixology Certification" when he asked for her help too) when it comes to Shirley. Perhaps because he knows she'll always help or that she will do it without judging him. Either way, it makes for a great dynamic. I really and truly adored that scene between them.

Jeff, who had earlier agreed to write a toast for Shirley's wedding, is sitting in the quad with seemingly no ideas. Annie walks by (humming "Daybreak" as she does so), and Jeff asks for her help. The honest moment that occurs between them is one of my favorites and also exemplifies why I love their relationship. He's always gone to her for advice ("Pascal's Triangle Revisited," "Basic Genealogy," etc.) because he knows she'll be honest with him. She tells him to write what's in his heart and ends with: "There's something real in there. Maybe that's what scares you." And here's the epitome of Jeff as a character - it took him two years to tell the study group (just a bunch of friends) that he loved them. It takes me all of ten minutes, meanwhile, for me to tell you that. But Jeff is so guarded and jaded that he can't bring himself to be the kind of sentimental person that Annie is. Even though they have both had their hearts broken, and both have an unpleasant picture of marriage (Jeff's dad, obviously. And we assume Annie's family relationship isn't that much better), Annie didn't let that stop her from loving. It does stop Jeff though. The reason he thinks marriage is stupid is because he assumes it'll end like his parents' did, and he can't deal with that. He can't deal with the idea that if he pours his heart and time and life into someone that they'll leave him one day.

We then get glimpses into Jeff's heart which includes (from what I noticed): a car, a house, cards, his BlackBerry, some famous woman celebrity, a dog, scotch, Annie's boobs (not the monkey), and Annie herself appears quite a few times. And here's where a line that Jeff says later on is a blatant lie -- at the wedding rehearsal, he claims that he looked into his heart, and couldn't find anything. But clearly, Jeff did find something. He could have written a heartfelt speech. There were a lot of things in his heart - there was one woman in particular in there multiple times - but the idea of being honest and going for things (like with Shirley as well - nice parallel, no?) scares Jeff because there is a potential for something to fail. And Jeff would much rather maintain the status quo than take a chance on anything. So he, instead, goes to get a drink.

At the rehearsal, we realize that Britta planned a wonderful and beautiful wedding. And again, I love the idea that Britta's becoming something she never thought she would be (like Shirley becoming independent or Jeff becoming sentimental) and everyone's natural response is to run from the idea until they're forced to embrace it as a part of their character. So Jeff and Britta get pretty drunk at the rehearsal, and each admits the reason that they hate marriage. Why I love Jeff and Britta as friends is because, when they argue, you can see how competitive they are and also how alike they are. They're both so afraid of becoming something, that they try and become the opposite, instead of embracing the idea that they are NOT those people. It's easier to blame. It's harder to change.

Shriley and Pierce successfully deliver their pitch to Dean Pelton regarding the sandwich stop. However, in her excitement, Shirley forgets all about her rehearsal and shows up two hours late. Andre is not pleased with this and expresses that he thought their re-marriage would end with returning to motherhood and forgoing the sandwich shop ideas. Shirley stands up for herself and - when she and Andre remedy the drunk Jeff and Britta situation - expresses to Andre that things have changed in their relationship. Andre, softening, realizes this and recognizes that he's had the reins of their relationship for a while and now needs to relinquish that control over to Shirley. The two end up remarrying on the spot, and everyone is happy.

(As a final sidenote, I love that Andre gave the advice to Jeff because it reflects Jeff's fears from earlier - the fact that loving people or being emotional is a risk. But it's a risk you take with a person you want to be with. So it's not painful - it's worth it.)

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- I love the entire cast, but Yvette, Joel, and Gillian shone this week.
- Also, the Troy and Abed storyline was awesome, but I didn't recap it only because... well, it was basically an episode about them acting normal until the end. 
- "If the good Lord wanted you to have a penny, you'd have one."
- "I have loved you ever since there was a Soviet Union and only one Damon Wayans."
- "She's just pro-anti."
- "It's like a thought with another thought's hat on." If I ever teach, THIS is what I am making my English students memorize as the definition of "analogy."
- "Our church has certain policies regarding things like second weddings, tight jeans... and calico cats."
- Annie's wedding book is bigger than MONICA GELLAR'S.
- The "literally two minutes later" gag had me in stitches.
- "Color me lavender. Lavender means impressed."
- "That's me! Where'd I get all the money I'm holding?" (And this is when Jim Rash stole all of the scenes)
- "Shut up, Leonard! Those teenage girls you play ping-pong with are doing it ironically!" So... they're hipsters?

Since our show is finally back on the air, next week we get an all-new episode! This one is titled "Contemporary Impressionists" and from what I gather, it features the group impersonating celebrities at a Bar Mitzvah. 

Thank you sincerely to EVERYONE who was with this blog during hiatus! I'm so glad to be back, and I know you all are as well. :)

Friday, March 9, 2012

1x21 "Contemporary American Poultry" (The Taste of Power)


"Contemporary American Poultry"
Original Airdate: April 22, 2010

There is an oft-quoted line from the original Spider-Man comic (and subsequent movie) that says "With great power comes great ___." (I didn't even have to finish, because most of you have already completed the line in your heads, haven't you?) Truly though, with great power does come great responsibility. And as we near the end of the first season, Jeff Winger has never been more powerful - his command of the study group is undeniable at this point, as is his ability to always fix, always provide, and always demand respect and attention from them. Perhaps the most evident example of this is something he does in the episode - a silencing gesture that the study group always obeys. And in its own way, Jeff's mini-Winger speech when he discusses being sheep versus being wolves applies to the group. Up until this point, there hasn't been an episode where they have become wolves. And in this episode, I'd argue that they don't either. They appear to be, perhaps, if you squint. But in all actuality, the study group is merely a flock of sheep choosing to follow a new leader. And there's something to be said about being a flock of sheep: it's not intended to be a compliment. And sheep are not inherently dumb animals, as one might think. They are merely animals who travel in herds (for reasons of comfort, protection, familial access, etc.). In a lot of ways, the study group IS like a herd of sheep - they stay together because they desire companionship. However, sheep need shepherds in order to guide and corral them, lest they stumble into danger. And this is where the leader steps up. Now, we've discussed egotism, vanity, and selfishness quite a lot in recent blog reviews as they pertain to Jeff. But we have also discussed his growing fondness for the study group and his increasing dependence on them at this point in the story. Jeff does not take kindly to a loss of power or control or attention in regards to these people. Not only does it unsettle him, but it also drives him to do things he usually wouldn't do (re: "Beginner Pottery"). I like that this episode displays the intra-group threat because we have seen how Jeff reacts to being threatened from afar, but when he loses power over the group from within, he begins to slip into desperation.

(What  is interesting to note about power, too, is that it usually always somehow linked back to fear. Jeff, for however secure he may appear externally, harbors insecurities of being left alone and without the group. Perhaps in the pilot, he never would have expected this, but the truth remains that - at this point in the series - he's beginning to need the group more and more, and in this episode they do not seem to need him at all. Therefore, when Jeff has power over the group, he keeps their respect and also keeps them around.)

I adore this episode because it showcases the brilliance of Joel McHale and Danny Pudi, the latter of whom is not usually overlooked, but rarely brought to the forefront in stories with Jeff. And indeed, when stories of significant emotional revelations occur in either of these characters, one or the other is usually present (i.e.: "Critical Film Studies"). I've always felt that there are two people in the study group that Jeff goes out of his way to protect - Annie and Abed. And I feel like there is this strange but mutual understanding between Jeff and Abed that we set up at the end of the last episode ("The Science of Illusion") - almost as if they are both outsiders and are keenly aware of this. Evidently, Abed is usually cast in stories that highlight his eccentricities, but this is a story that focuses in on how Abed can become normal (or what his definition of "normal" is). It's a very poignant episode for both characters, as they come to a mutual understanding of why the other acts the way that they do.

In case you've momentarily forgotten what "Contemporary American Poultry" was about, here's a brief refresher: at Greendale, there is only one good food in the cafeteria -- chicken fingers. And since there is only one good food, this runs out constantly. Jeff and the study group leave early for lunch and still manage to get there after the chicken finger supply has run out. They then realize the reason for this is because Starburns is the fry cook and skims chicken fingers to give to people. Jeff then hatches a scheme -- they'll knock Starburns out of the kitchen and replace him with Abed so that the study group can have power over the chicken and use it for good. Abed agrees to this and becomes the fry cook. But suddenly, rather than taking a backseat to Jeff's leadership, Abed begins to make decisions for the group (effectively knocking Jeff from power). Jeff, of course, does not take kindly to this. And Abed eventually realizes the price of power and leadership. (More on that later, though.)

I like the idea that Jeff controls the group selfishly (and out of this weird jealousy that others may take over this position or worse - not need him anymore) as evidenced in the cafeteria, and that he often stops the group's good ideas from coming to fruition in order to serve his agenda (anyone recall "Competitive Ecology
? Blaming Todd for problems was easier for Jeff than admitting the group's flaws). And that isn't - of course - to say that Jeff never has good ideas or morally sound ones. He likes to call the shots, know the outcome, and make sure that he wins. That sounds all rather plain and simple... except in this episode. And I don't think that Abed's intentions throughout the episode are malicious, because we know from the ending that Abed's struggle is to connect with people, and he admires that Jeff can do this. So he attempts to emulate it. He knows that the group needs Jeff, and wants to feel included, rather than someone who merely watches from the outside (flash forward to season 3, and we realize that the tables turn - notably in "Remedial Chaos Theory" when Jeff is the one looking in from the outside).

Jeff is also very good at justifying destroying other people in order to get what he thinks he deserves. We saw this clearly in the pilot where he turned his now-friends against one another in order to get a shot at Britta. Throughout the episodes, this ragtag group of misfits has come to love one another, but that drive - that desire - in Jeff that fuels him is still one that stems from control and power. Abed's narration explains his view of Jeff's reasoning. And again, Abed notes that when the study group decided to take control away from Starburns, they became wolves. Jeff's Winger speech in the cafeteria seemed to rub off on him (as most of the speeches do - remember, he's the one who applauds in "Asian Population Studies" and, in general, seems enthralled by Jeff's speech-delivering capabilities). However, the reality is that the study group is still a flock of sheep.

But here's what's interesting too is that initially the study group ALL condescends Abed when he announces that he made a decision for them by skimming some chicken off to Chang. Once they learn, however, that Abed is providing better things for them than Jeff ever could (a 10% bump on every Spanish test for all of them!), they start jumping ship. Because here's the deal: if Jeff isn't the leader, what is he? Everyone else kind of has their established role in the study group: Annie is the planner and note-taker, Britta is the "heart of the group," Abed is the pop culture junkie, Troy is the comedic relief, Pierce is the scapegoat, and Shirley is the nurturing one. Jeff is the leader - that's his role. Dan Harmon and the case discussed this very notion at PaleyFest last weekend, in regards to Jeff's character. And Joel admitted that there are these moments where the group realizes that they don't necessarily need Jeff as much (the end of "Remedial Chaos Theory," to be specific). But that is his role - he is the leader. And, as Harmon mentioned, it's often a thankless role, but it's necessary that someone is in it.

Once the study group begins to rely on Abed to provide for them, they really no longer need Jeff to do so and - as a consequence - Jeff loses control of them. Quite suddenly and alarmingly, Jeff realizes that he no longer has power, and it unnerves him. He had been jealous of Abed's power before, but now that control has become personal. Abed, meanwhile, in his scheming has realized that relationships aren't as complicated as he might have made them out to be (that's not, of course, true because we'll explain repercussions later. For the time being, he believes this though), and tells Jeff that everyone has a role in the group. Jeff does not care, of course, for his role being eclipsed by Abed's. And under delusion, Jeff still believes that he has ultimate power and tells Abed that he should probably put an end to the chicken finger operation. Abed though, hasn't done anything wrong - the study group is better than ever (albeit placed in more power, which gives them more self-centered behaviors), with Abed at the top. And Abed then calls Jeff out on the reason that he came to the dorm in the first place - Jeff's ego. And I think that this is part of the reason why, but there's also a duality here of ego and insecurity. The two seem mutually exclusive, but the truth is that they aren't - in Jeff's life, they aren't anyway.

(Remember, let's not deny the fact that Jeff cares about Abed and desires to protect him. When he confronts the study group about Abed's behavior, I do think that there is a genuine desire present to protect his friend. Because see, Jeff - in spite of all his hang-ups and less-than-redeemable qualities, has learned from being in his leadership position. Abed hasn't learned yet about the crippling price that power has and Jeff wants to spare him from this. Because power can do one of three things: it can build you up or it can destroy you. Or it can do both - and usually does.)

Jeff underestimates the power that Abed has, however (and I think that he only realizes it once he tells Pierce to be quiet and the elderly man, instead of remaining silent, snaps back at Jeff.) Abed though realizes the Spider-Man quote once the group starts becoming greedy and selfish - they demand more of him and take for granted all he's provided. In Abed's mind, he factored in the ideas of power and respect, but didn't leave room for the idea that (along with those things) comes responsibility and the chance for people to turn on you. Remember: power does not equal respect. And Abed realizes this. And perhaps this is a great episode because it allows Jeff and Abed to learn something fundamental about one another. 

Also, I don't sing the praises of Danny Pudi enough in this blog-review, so I apologize profusely for that, because he is one of my favorite actors to watch - to physically WATCH - act on this show. His facial expressions are always so precisely nuanced, and they are perfectly catered to Abed as a character. Additionally, even though Abed is usually supposed to be stoic and unemotional, Danny does a fabulous job with the emotions that he does express on-screen.

Abed sends the group a message about their selfishness, and the group runs back to Jeff, who - thanks to Starburns - has a key to the fryer which will be able to cut off Abed's power source. The ending of this episode is my favorite Jeff/Abed moment because it's the first time we've seen them be completely raw and honest with one another. Abed mentions that he was "close" - as in close to figuring out a fool-proof formula for getting to know people and be friends with them. To be like Jeff, essentially - the person that other people need. People underestimate Abed all the time, or gloss over him and brush him off as a person. They don't do the same to Jeff because he makes meaningful connections. And for Abed, it's not for lack of trying on his end to connect, but rather (as he says) people do not understand HIM.

There's also this misconception there that connecting to people makes everyone happy. And this is something that Abed still doesn't fully grasp, but Jeff does. He understands that when you put one person in charge, inevitably someone else is unhappy. But Jeff can handle that, because this is his job - he's the leader.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- "Your social skills aren't exactly streets ahead, if you  know what I mean." "If you have to ask, you're streets behind." I love that this has become a "thing" among Community fans.
- "If God were edible - not that I'm Catholic - but if it was cool to eat God, he'd be a chicken finger."
- Picky note: When Britta begins talking about her diabetic cat, she refers to it as a "him" and "he," but then once Shirley is the only person left in the room, says she's afraid she's "going to have to put her to sleep." (I don't get to point out many things with the continuity on the show, so this is my one moment.)
- Joel sounds pretty sick throughout this episode, and more noticeably toward the end.
- "Well, I may not eat meat, but I'm not gonna eat that injustice!"
- "To victory: it feels unfamiliar, but it tastes like chicken."
- "Why do you have a monkey?" "Uh, it's an animal that looks like a dude. Why don't I have ten of them?"
- "Please rename that thing! And this time, not with a contest on Twitter."
- It amuses me that under Jeff's function (on Abed's chart) it lists: "Talking."
- "I don't have an ego. My Facebook photo is a landscape."
- Let's be honest, everyone. Annie is right - wide-ruled paper is awful.
- "I'm sorry, you rushed over that first part. Together." "You. Were. Right."

Can you believe it, folks? We've made it through thirteen weeks of hiatus together! Thank you to everyone who has participated in our Thursday night re-watches! And thank you especially to everyone who has read, commented, and helped promote this blog during that time. You all are seriously the best, and I wish I could physically hug each one of you. (So consider yourselves hugged right now!)

Next week, Community returns with ALL-NEW episodes! Our first one back is "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts" which contains a wedding, Troy and Abed acting normal, and some pretty heartfelt moments (according to those who have seen the episode at PaleyFest). And in case you missed the most epic trailer to ever hit the web, check out what we can expect for the rest of season 3!

As always, join me here next Friday for my review of our new episode! Have a great weekend, everyone. :)

Friday, March 2, 2012

1x20 "The Science of Illusion" (R-E-S-P-E-C-T!)


"The Science of Illusion"
Original Airdate: March 25, 2010

I'm going to spend the vast majority of this review discussing Britta Perry and how wonderful I find her as a character. Truly, she's such an intriguing female character on the show, and I don't think that she gets enough credits or compliments. As someone who has been aboard the "Annie train" in recent seasons, I have to admit that I haven't often given Britta the attention she deserves as a character on the show. She's so easily brushed off as the backward buzzkill of the group. Sometimes, she's only seen as the person who is hypocritical in her feminist belief system, or the one who goes off on completely pointless rants about nothing. She often throws herself behind causes for the sake of having causes, but I love that this episode gets back to the heart of who Britta is as a character. Let's not take our eyes off the pilot episode, because - remember - Britta (as Jeff later states) was the heart, moral compass, and leader of the group before Jeff. She's relinquished that particular control, but her desire to protect everyone around her hasn't waned, and perhaps that's WHY she is often perceived as a "buzzkill" - because she wants the group to think of the consequences of their actions. But, in our ragtag band of fun-loving misfits, she sticks out like a sore thumb and this episode is evidence of that. And I don't think that she would have ever set out to "prove" herself to the group unless they had called her out on being a buzzkill. She may have realized that Jeff thought that way, but probably brushed it off as Jeff just being Jeff. However, she realizes that everyone else - the same people she wanted to spare from Jeff's influence in the pilot - feels the same way. And that is what motivates her to action.

So, our plot for the episode revolves around April Fool's Day. Essentially, Britta intends to perform a prank on Senor Chang (by taking a frog out of the lab, sticking a sombrero with the words "Senor Chang" on it, and then placing it on Chang's desk), but it backfires terribly when she accidentally sends a cadaver flying out of the lab window and then manages to step on and kill the frog. In our B-plot (which is intermingled with the A-plot), we get a lot of Shirley/Annie bonding. The two pair up in order to participate in campus security for April Fool's Day. And I mentioned last week in our review about "Beginner Pottery" that everyone in this group wants to be perceived in a certain manner. For Jeff, he always wants to ensure that the study group sees him in the best light possible - he wants and needs to be the person THEY want and need. Shirley and Annie struggle with the concept of perception for different reasons, but both hinge on the idea of respect. Unlike Britta, these two women struggle more with earning respect from others due to their age (not personality, like Britta). Annie is constantly belittled and seen as a child. Obviously, she isn't at this point, and desires to be seen as a woman. Shirley, conversely, doesn't want to be deemed "old" - and this is something that she struggles with throughout the seasons. Paired together, both women realize that they are essentially competing for respect and recognition in spite of something. And though that's not necessarily a bad thing (a lot of people, for instance, who have disabilities want to be seen as victors in spite of them), the approach that they should be taking (and that they realize closer to the end of the episode) is respect BECAUSE of something.

(Also, even though he is in the background for the majority of the episode, I love that Abed is still the one who has the most control over people and events. Traditionally, you'd assume that this role would go to Jeff (and normally, this would be accurate). But, as we will discover in next week's re-watch of "Contemporary American Poultry," Abed wields a more subtle, but just as effective, power).

There's also a Pierce/Troy/Jeff storyline that focuses on this concept of taking advantage of people. The entire theme of the episode hinges on this idea of trying to prove yourself to others, and Pierce is no exception. He waltzes into the study room discussing the fact that he is now a level six laser lotus in his Buddhist colony (which Britta recognizes as a cult). And we have discussed Pierce's character before, but I'll reiterate again for all of the newbies or those who just love hearing it - Pierce craves attention from the study group. And he craves admiration. In "Environmental Science,"  he wanted to be like Jeff and assumed that sitting in his chair would afford him the same admiration as the study group leader. The reason, often times, that Pierce ends up as the villain isn't because he intentionally seeks to be villainous (again, exceptions to this occur), but because he tries so hard NOT to be the villain that he ends up becoming the one thing he didn't want to be in the first place. Pierce is an intriguing and complex character whose fear of abandonment and desire to be needed eerily mimic Jeff's. We are left, then, to contemplate how the two are fundamentally similar.

While Jeff and Troy spend the episode mocking Pierce by making him wear robes that resemble those of the Cookie Crisp wizard, and Shirley and Annie attempt to prove themselves to everyone, Britta decides to pull her prank. Britta explains her prank to Jeff (who isn't very amused by it). But see, Britta not being able to come up with a joke that other people find hilarious doesn't necessarily mean that she's a buzzkill - it simply means that she has an off-color sense of humor. Britta is insanely adorable throughout the scene where she tells Jeff that she will be taking the frog from the lab because she is so entertained by her own prank. And I think that this is what a lot of people forget about Britta too (or perhaps they just fail to acknowledge it) - a sense of humor isn't dependent on how many people you  make laugh. Britta found the joke funny, and her desire was to amuse herself (which she did). It's endearing.

When Jeff fails to find the joke funny, Britta brings up an interesting point - Jeff DOES like to joke at other peoples' expenses, especially in this episode. Like I mentioned before, he is all about the study group's admiration and respect, and this comes into play when he makes fun of Pierce throughout the episode. It's good to note though that Jeff's jokes at others' expenses DO have consequences, and he DOES feel slight twinges of guilt because of them, especially when he and Troy are in the cafeteria. 

Britta sneaks into the lab and puts the sombrero on the frog, much to her amusement. It should be noted that Britta never intends to ruin things. She never purposefully wants events or plans to fail, and she comes to terms with the idea that she causes them to in this episode. It's unsettling for her, as the person who wants to bring everyone and everything together to watch it just fall apart. While Britta is in the lab, she accidentally knocks a cadaver through the window, and then proceeds to step on - and kill - the frog. (Also, I assume that Britta had no knowledge of Chang's fear of frogs. Because if she had, the irony of creating an unintended mean-spirited joke at someone's expense would have been too much.)

The following day, Annie and Shirley investigate the cadaver incident, intending to discover who did it. Dean Pelton informs the Spanish class of the incident, and encourages whoever did it to come forward. Jeff - seeing the tiny sombrero in the evidence bag - glares at Britta, who refuses to confess. As punishment until a confession is made, the Dean insists that for every day that passes without a confession, the class will have to listen to a relative of the cadaver speak. Jeff Winger, for as much as he does try and help people out, mostly does have his interests ahead of the groups. Therefore, the reason that he finally threatens to "out" Britta's prank-gone-awry unless she does so first is because the consequences of it are inconveniencing him. The focus for Britta, however, is still on the study group's perception of her, so she concocts a plan to frame Jeff for the incident instead.

Shirley and Annie are in their little campus security cart, and I like the idea that Annie's motivation for acting the way that she does in this episode is because she wants to be in charge of how she is defined as a person. And really, Shirley feels the exact same way - she doesn't want other people to label her and stuff her into a category. Obviously, the irony is that they both want traits that the other has, but realize later on that being respected doesn't mean changing who you are fundamentally as a person, nor does it mean having to constantly prove yourself to anyone. It's  how you act that gains respect.

So Annie and Shirley confront Jeff, who is wearing a backpack (since when did he acquire one of those?) full of little amphibious outfits that Britta planted. When confronted, he attempts to explain that Britta framed him, but the women don't  believe that. So instead, Jeff flees by leaping over bushes and running away. And I have always wondered exactly WHY he ran away in the first place. It's not exactly like he was being taken in by actual law enforcement, so why did he sprint off? (Feel free to discuss any theories you may have.) In spite of their high-speed pursuit, Jeff gets away from Annie and Shirley, which causes the duo to blame each other for the incident. I feel bad though because Shirley's comment about Annie not having any friends was quite a low blow. Up until then, they had merely been trading age-related insults. But Shirley's hit home, quite frankly, and serves as a nice catalyst for the events in "English as a Second Language," which focuses solely on that insecurity in Annie.

Shirley and Annie get reprimanded by Dean Pelton (and Abed-as-a-police-chief-character). And what's really sweet is that Shirley doesn't react when Abed calls her a housewife, but reprimands him for labeling Annie as a Girl Scout. I think it's nice momentary progress, showing that Shirley is beginning to think of Annie as an adult. And seriously, Annie and Shirley need more stories together where they team up. The pair agree to nail Jeff for the "crime" by working together this time around.

In the study room, Jeff confronts Britta about her framing of him, but Britta doesn't crack. Shirley and Annie enter, and I adore that the women both stick up for each other throughout the scene. However, Britta, wracked with guilt over the ordeal (of Annie slamming Jeff's head into the table), confesses. And here's my request: please watch this scene twice: once with the focus on the study group, and once with your focus only on Jeff in the background. Joel goes all-out (in the best way) with his facial expressions throughout the scene.

Britta confesses that the reason she attempted the prank in the first place was so that she would be accepted by the group and thought of as more fun and light-hearted. This is the first time Annie uses an excuse to Britta (related to Jeff) that is formatted: "I only ___ because I ___." (The second time, of course, is in "The Psychology of Letting Go" where she explains their Tranny Dance kiss). The entire group then dissolves into tears - Shirley explains that she just wants to be thought of as younger, Pierce admits that he's not magical, and Troy confesses that he didn't really understand the Cookie Crisp wizard reference, and just pretended he did so that Jeff would think that he was smart.

Britta is upset over the fact that she has - in her mind - managed to kill the buzz of the group. Jeff softens and explains to her that she's the heart of the group. And perhaps the best way to describe Britta (in my mind, and feel free to disagree with this) is the emotional knot on their rope of friendship (yes, go with this for a moment). The only time that the group actually confronts what they've been doing throughout the episode, and more importantly WHY they've been doing it is when Britta prompts them to, unintentionally. Something that she sees as "bad" (because she's not bringing light-hearted humor to the group) is actually something that the group needs MORE than any kind of one-liner or running gag on the show. She does bring the heart, but she brings the emotion too. She makes the characters confront their actions and motives. And perhaps that's why I am under the assumption that - exterior aloofness and goofiness aside - Britta will actually make a decent therapist. She doesn't mean for the group to discover more about themselves, but she does this more aptly than Jeff does.

And that, my friends, is why I love Britta Perry.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- "You're more of a fun vampire because you don't suck blood... you just suck."
- "And why are you here?" "Short answer? My cable went out."
- "My prank is gonna cause a sea of laughter and I am gonna watch you drown in it!"
- "Don't worry, your school's reputation is much worse than this."
- I adore the fact that Shirley still carries her large purse over her shoulder at the crime scene.
- "At Greendale, April 1st is officially March 32nd forever."
- Little FYI: So the picture on the poster in the background here is actually from a clip-art website. How do I know this? Because I have used that same picture in a nursing course that we built at work!
- The pat-down outtake is hilarious, if only for Joel's face.
- Annie's pepper spray scene is always ALWAYS funny.
- "I just got off the phone with the - what? The mayor? Stop doing that!"
- "OH! Colonial burn!"
- "You're like the dark cloud that unites us... or the anti-Winger. You're the heart of this group."
- "Let's never let Jeff divide us again!" This is sadly short-lived, Pierce. Just wait for "Anthropology 101."
- "Troy and Abed in the moooooorning!"

Next week is our LAST week of season 1 re-watches, because on March 15th all-new episodes of Community will return to the air! Since we are going out for a while, let's go out with a bang - we'll be watching and reviewing "Contemporary American Poultry" (aka The Chicken Fingers Episode). :) Until then, folks!