Friday, March 2, 2012

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

Community S1 E20: The Science of Illusion / Recap - TV Tropes

"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!


  1. Entertaining review, made me notice stuff I hadn't before (:

    I love Britta, because she reminds me of myself. I'm sure a lot of people can relate to the "I'm not very funny" insecurity too...

  2. I love Britta! She's always been my favourite personally... I feel like people who don't like her are the people who don't bother trying to understand her and that's why they only see the traits that annoy them. The more complicated a character gets the harder it seems for people to "get" them especially when their "annoying traits" are much more endearing and deep rooted then they can be perceived by the audience (Pierce gets this the most probably)- such as her just being a buzz-kill. These reviews are really good in analysing the characters and their personalities... I'm not really a J/A fan (team Community!!) and I think I actually prefer epsiodes that show how much these characters love each other as a family rather than relationship-py episodes that end up making some the audience happy and upsetting the others. I thought the ending to this episode was one of those moments that make the show really sincere and shows how different this show is from the other very main-stream and formulaic shows (e.g. TBBT- I actually like TBBT though not as much as Community but I LOATHE 2 and a half men) in that these characters aren't living in a world where they never change or reflect and there are never really any big repercussions to actions, rather it embraces how normal and flawed these people are and how despite differences, fights and hardships they love and accept each other like a family. As the seasons progress you get to see more and more of their bonding, fights and resolutions and that's what I think makes this show's dedicated fans so well... dedicated... :)

  3. @Rachael: Thank you! My goal is to always try and find something in the episode I hadn't noticed the first time around. :) I absolutely adore Britta - she has really grown on me this season!

    @Rose: Thank you for reading! Even though I do love J/A, I absolutely adore Britta (I feel like a lot of people assume those two things are mutually exclusive, but they're not). Britta is just such a complex character and she's so awesome that she doesn't get enough credit, a lot of the times. The end of this episode is fantastic, and it's sweet to see everyone come together. :) They really are like a family & no matter what hardships or complications they endure internally, they'll always be there for one another in the end. Thank you again for reading this review! I'm glad you enjoyed!