Friday, May 11, 2012

3x19 "Curriculum Unavailable" (We're All Crazy Town Banana Pants)

"Curriculum Unavailable"
Original Airdate: May 10, 2012

What makes someone crazy? I mean, genuinely, what can drive someone to become crazy? There was a segment on my local radio morning show last week about this -- about how women, if they have a relationship with a man and are suddenly blatantly ignored or slighted by them, often turn into crazy people. People, in fact, that they never knew actually existed. It was almost as if there was an entire other side of them buried deep down, just lying in wait. But we don't think of ourselves as crazy. Not really. We don't enjoy labeling people with that word. We say that we are "passionately excited" or "enthusiastic" or just "eager" (all of which are synonyms for "crazy," by the way). But we have all been crazy at some point in time. And craziness isn't necessarily a bad thing. When, however, you're someone like Abed - who has been labeled as crazy his entire life - you begin to wonder if people will ever look at you differently. And that's not to say that Abed believes he is actually crazy -- he doesn't. And we, as the audience members, are really forced to question our own sanity as the episode wears on, as well as the sanity of the study group. I hold fast to the belief that Abed may, indeed, be the most sane out of the seven group members. This isn't because he is the most logical or most experienced. It's because he knows who he is. He knows that he's not like everyone else and he's accepted that. He also, in spite of his sometimes-controlling personality, knows what he wants to do and how to get it. So if sanity is defined by how mentally self-aware you are, then no one is more sane than Abed. And even though he is aware of these facets of his character and how the world should work, what causes Abed to become confused and incite cracks in his character (and subsequent sanity) are when things cannot be controlled. We've seen clear evidence of this throughout this season, especially. Abed knows who HE is, but he doesn't quite understand - whether by choice or  by circumstance - everyone ELSE. And this is, by and large, the world's definition of sanity -- the ability to both understand yourself AND everyone around you and react accordingly. So by this definition, Abed would be insane and the six other group members would be deemed mentally stable. But I'm digressing. Let's move on with our review!

In case your brain was muddled with thoughts of Community being renewed for a shortened fourth season and couldn't focus on the plot for last night's episode, never fear because I am here to help. As we saw at the end of "Course Listing Unavailable," the Greendale Seven were kicked out of their beloved community college. Chang, the audience discovered, was behind this as he kidnapped the dean and sent not!Moby in to replace him. When we pick up in "Curriculum Unavailable," we learn that it has been two months since the study group has been expelled and everyone is handling the new change rather poorly, but no one more so than Abed. Our favorite lesson-teaching cop from "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" shows up at the apartment with the film student (dressed as Inspector Spacetime) in tow, noting that he was rifling through the dumpsters outside of the Administration building. The cop notes that he'll be pressing charges unless Abed agrees to go to a psychiatrist, which the dean will fully pay for. And this is how the entire study group winds up in Dr. Heidi's office, discussing their collective sanity with him.

Abed insists that he doesn't need therapy. And, ironically, many viewers might find this upsetting. They may look at Abed the way that we are so tempted to -- as someone who is insane and in desperate need of help. But doesn't Abed insisting that he needs no help confirm the notion that he is just as human as the rest of the group (and us)? Someone who is prideful and stubborn is not a robot, but a human being with feelings and emotions. And perhaps that's why people were frustrated with "Contemporary Impressionists" -- they are so used to thinking of Abed as the outcast, the exception to the rule. But he isn't. There is something, though, to be said about the way the rest of the study group treats him. Troy is the only character who verges on coddling the film student and that's because when you are as close to someone as Troy is to Abed, it is difficult to step away and see their flaws for what they really are. It's easy to call out areas of concern in friends who we think are emotionally stable. But what happens when you have a friend you presume to be crazy? How do you treat them?

For the study group, this season - more than any other - has been about the desperate need to stay together. From the moment Jeff confessed his love for them all in "Early 21st Century Romanticism," I think he realized his need and want to do more than just co-exist with these people. He needed to protect them, somehow (even if it was just from himself). And - as I've theorized before - the two people he goes to extensive lengths to do this with are Annie and Abed. The rest of the group cannot bear the thought of anyone hurting Abed, either... even if the outside people are - theoretically - right. The group views Abed as fragile and I think that is one of the dangers of the group, as a whole. They treat Abed like he will break. What they don't realize is that Abed's "abnormalities" are fundamentally similar to their own -- his need for control, acceptance, and the ability to understand the "why" behind events is a human condition.

And the need to justify and to excuse is one of the group's favorite pastimes, remember. Take, for example, their inability to own up to their mistakes in "Competitive Ecology." The group would much rather blame their problems collectively on someone else than own up to the fact that they each bring baggage into the group that can cause rifts. It is easier to blame than to admit, is it not? And while the group's intentions are relatively harmless, that doesn't mean that the results will be.

So the group continues to discuss, with Dr. Heidi, moments in their year where Abed had been a bit crazy, pre-expulsion. What's ironic is that Annie highlights a few stories in which Abed's behavior isn't necessarily "crazy," but is abnormal... to her (and the study group). Jeff taking an axe to the study room table, Annie freaking out over losing pens, Shirley trying to throw Chang in jail, Pierce developing into a villain, etc. could all be considered abnormal behavior, as well, to those outside of the group (and even, perhaps, to those within). If Abed's behavior, then, is crazy, the entire study group is crazy (a point we will get to momentarily in the episode).

Britta makes some great points throughout her scenes as she attempts to rationalize the behavior of her study group. And the question she poses aloud is: who gets to define sick? And there's inherent irony in the fact that, well, someday SHE will get to define sick. For as much as she Britta's things sometimes, Britta has a heart and genuinely wants people to be the best that they can be. And perhaps the issue that she will run into, should she become a therapist, is that she would never want to TELL anyone that they are sick. Because the bottom line is that when you are told you are sick, you begin to act like you are sick (whether you are or not is irrelevant by this point). The ironic thing - again - is that in last year's clip show episode, it was Britta who was defending Abed's mental breakdown, calling it "adorable." This time around, the group collectively leaps to Abed's defense when Dr. Heidi begins to question the film major's sanity.

Once again, however, all of the events that the group discuss in therapy solidify the theory that they are quick to pinpoint Abed as the craziest one out of the study group when... well, Jeff can't let Annie borrow his jacket and Troy thinks "all-terrain" vehicles are okay to drive through the library. So what makes those actions "saner" than Abed's? Wouldn't they actually be classified as insane because - with the group's reasoning - Abed doesn't know any better? Yet, Britta excuses the group's behavior, in general, by explaining that their actions are not insanity but solidarity. And perhaps that's why the group feels so at home, having antics together. Perhaps because the rest of the world would label them as crazy. And instead of acknowledging their behavior as abnormal, like the outside world would, they hide behind Greendale's walls where their antics are never questioned. Because if you are never questioned, you never have to question yourself and you never have to change. You can be exactly where you are, no questions asked.

Now, in spite of the fact that Dr. Heidi isn't actually real... he does make a valid point. In order to help one another out, in order to get better, you need a support system. But what the group does, a lot of the times, is attempt to maintain the status quo without actually changing. They love each other so much that they can't bear - after all they've gone through - to let something else tear them apart. So what they do instead of breaching the gaps of difference and the obstacles is merely bury them. Jeff, interestingly, has come the furthest in the sphere of actually caring about people. In the pilot episode, his anger toward Abed manifests itself by him spitting out that Abed has Asperger's. In "Curriculum Unavailable," however, he is doing his best to tip-toe around defining Abed as crazy or abnormal. And that works... until Dr. Heidi insists that Abed needs to be committed.

The gang, rightfully so, is stunned and they begin to discuss Greendale and how they are "survivors" of the institution. But what, exactly, is it that they have survived FROM? Remember what Jeff called Greendale last week -- a prison. And yet recall how - at the very end of the episode and throughout this one - the study group laments not being at the college. Greendale provides safety from a world that is terrifying and uncertain. There's an odd sense of familiarity and comfort in knowing that - at a place with classes merely called "Ladders," YOU are the sane one. The reason that the group ended up at Greendale Community College is, in fact, because life wasn't so great outside of those walls. But they've spent so much of their time harping on the flaws of the school and dean that they haven't realized how much they really needed Greendale in the first place.

And here's the interesting thing -- perhaps the group's sense of entitlement and pride comes from the subtle conditioning of Dean Pelton. At the same time that they're being conditioned by him as "favorites," they don't realize how much other people care about them at the school. In "Course Listing Unavailable," they berated the dean for doing a terrible job of running the school. They cursed Greendale for taking away their lives and summers. But what if (stick with me on this one) Greendale's purpose wasn't to take but to give: love, acceptance, life lessons, a place to start over, etc.? My argument is that its purpose is just that.

The group then comes to this realization, and Britta says: "Maybe we've been so concerned with moving past Greendale, we've been living in denial." I think she summed up perfectly the notion that they've been trying so hard to get rid of Greendale - to escape its insanity. And as Jeff asserts, Greendale hasn't made them crazy. They NEED to be at the school. As messed up as the school sometimes is and as absurd and random as the people in it can be, it is the only place where they feel safe enough to be who they are without outside judgement. While I once thought that this was unquestionably a good thing, this episode also helps us remember that all good things are not perfect things when used as a crutch, or a means to stunt growth.

As the group leaves the therapy session, intent on returning to Greendale, Dr. Heidi makes a startling announcement -- there is no Greendale Community College. The group spent three years together, but it was at a mental institution, and together they developed a collective fabrication of the school. The group nearly starts to believe the lie, until they realize how insane it actually is. They confront Dr. Heidi who admits that Chang hired him to throw everyone off the scent of his plan. But the study group has realized through their flashbacks and discussions that it's their job to help out the school and save the dean.

And in the end, there is something to say about the group using therapy to realize that Greendale isn't all about them. Perhaps that's why it had been such a tough place to be. Sure, the college was meant to facilitate growth and development, but the study group is usually so focused on themselves that perhaps a step back -- a step back into reality, no less -- has helped them gain perspective and realize that after all their bemoaning, there are people at Greendale who love them and who need their help. Maybe it wasn't about them fighting to get out of Greendale. Maybe it was all about Greendale fighting to get inside of their hearts -- to change them.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- “Hello? Rich people? Troy’s joining you! Yes, I’ll hold.”
-  Both Annie and Britta’s hair looks very good in the cafeteria scene.
-  “We’re all kind of crazytown banana pants.”
- On the chalkboard, there’s a joke written in the background (Danny’s head blocks some of it), but at the bottom is written: “Ask not what your ‘Community’ can do for you.’”
- Jeff giving his jacket to Annie and then taking it back is adorable and hilarious and completely in-character. And they’re at a “Wigging Out” dance. HOW MANY DANCES IS THIS SCHOOL GOING TO HAVE? 
-  “Do you have a better idea, Britta?” “Yes! Thousands of them!”
- “Darcy, you’ve got a cold. You’re sick. GO. HOME.”
- Clearly we missed a gangster-themed paintball war and I’m not sure how to react to this.
- “Doesn’t the average community college end after two years?” “Everyone keeps saying that!”
- “I’m LITERALLY carrying a Greendale backpack.”
- “Stop letting him make you realize stuff.”
- “May your dreams be sweet and your nightmares be spooky monster-scary and not Grandma-died scary.”

Some important housekeeping notes!
As many of you know (or likely all of you at this point), next week is a THREE-episode finale night on NBC for Community, which is amazing. "Digital Estate Planning" will be airing from 8-8:30. Then, after 30 Rock, our favorite show will be back from 9-9:30 with "The First Chang Dynasty" and then 9:30-10 with the season finale "Introduction to Finality." As such, this means that our blog-review schedule will be a bit different. Nearly all of you suggested I do three separate reviews for the finale episodes, so here is the schedule -- the review for 3x20 will be posted at its usual time (around 9-9:30 AM EST Friday, May 18th). I will be planning to post my 3x21 review sometime Friday evening (likely between 9 and 10 EST on that same day). 3x22's review will probably be late Friday/early Saturday morning. If not, it will definitely be posted by Saturday night on May 19th.

The second order of business is that, since next week is the finale, summer hiatus starts again! For those of you who were around here or on Twitter during the winter hiatus, you know that I went back to the pilot episode after "Regional Holiday Music" and re-watched episodes and reviewed them. I will be doing the same thing this summer! We'll be picking up where we left off in the last hiatus, which just so happens to be "Modern Warfare"! So on Thursday night, May 24th, hop onto Twitter and follow me (@notajenny) if you aren't already and join us at 8PM EST (normal Community viewing time) for those re-watches and live-tweets. Our hashtag for that night will be #paintball2010.

It's been a pleasure reviewing season three with you all, and I can't wait for the last few episodes. Until next week, folks! :)


  1. I really like your blogs, Jennifer. U really do provide insight into these episodes I didn't realize before. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I'm glad you've enjoyed. :)