Ted Lasso, Rom-Coms, and Emotional Vulnerability

Why is it important that a show about men who play soccer did a rom-com homage?

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.

Dickinson Behind-the-Scenes: An Interview With the Artisans

Meet the artists who brought the Apple TV+ series to life!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Top 10 Sob-Worthiest Moments of "Doctor Who" (According to Me)

There are a few things that Doctor Who does really well. It is a show that is nearly flawless at simultaneously developing plot and character within the span of forty-five minutes. It also is really good at tugging at heartstrings (or, in the Moffat era specifically, ripping out your heart completely) and creating iconic sad moments. Given that "The Angels Take Manhattan" aired last night (and in fact, makes this list), I was inspired by my friend Kim's (of "Head Over Feels") response to the episode. So I decided that I would create a list of some of the saddest Doctor Who episodes that I can recall. I've cried plenty of times in this show, but these episodes are ones that have made me sob. Are you ready to find out if your favorite "sob-worthy" episode made my cut? Get those tissues out and ready, then!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Writing About Wanting to Write (But Not Being Able To)

“Writing about a writer's block is better than not writing at all.” -- Charles Bukowski

There are very few times where I actually find myself encountering writer's block.

Apparently, the entire month of September is one of those "very few times."

What's funny is that I legitimately want to write. I'd be cliché and say that it was all I ever wanted to do, but that's not entirely true. From the time I was in fourth grade until I entered seventh grade, I wanted to be a naturalist. Okay, I'll admit it -- I was kind of obsessed with Jeff Corwin and his show that was on Disney Channel at the time. Until 2001, I was convinced that I wanted to travel the world, studying plants and animals just like he did. And then, something changed.

I spent the first thirteen years of my life living in Pennsylvania. Let me clarify: I spent the first thirteen years of my life living in a small town in Pennsylvania. The middle school that I attended spanned from fourth to eighth grade, with the upper level classrooms located on the opposite end of the school from the fourth and fifth graders. In seventh grade, each student took two separate classes: English and Writing. To this day, I still don't know exactly why they were two separate classes, but I couldn't be more thankful that they were. Miss DeNicoula was my Writing teacher, and it was because of her class that I fell in love with writing.

I mean, granted, I was a kid so the work that I created was pretty terrible. But honestly, I had motivation. I had dedication to my work. And I had a passion for it. From that year forward, I knew that I wanted to become a writer someday. I wanted to practice my craft, to hone it, and to constantly get better. My parents, quite frankly, were always very supportive of me. The same can't be said for some of my other friends. The first girl who befriended me when I moved to Florida, for example, wanted to become a photographer. And she could have been very good, had she taken the proper classes in college and been trained. Her mother did not believe that photography would be a suitable career choice for her daughter, so she convinced my friend to become a speech pathologist instead, and just enjoy photography on the side.

I don't know what I would have done if my parents had felt the same way. If they had said: "Well, Jennifer, writing is great but... you'll never make a career out of it. It's good for a hobby, but you need to find something that will make you marketable. Why not study medicine instead?" And I'm sure that there are times they probably wanted to encourage me toward a more "marketable" career path. But they also saw how much I enjoyed writing and the passion I had for it.

So, while most high school students had no idea what they wanted to do with their lives, I went through my classes knowing that I wanted to major in English in college. I took Honors classes throughout high school until I could take AP English Language my junior year. That was the first class that really challenged me when it came to writing. I clearly remember our summer reading novels (The Great Gatsby and The Things They Carried), as well as going to class the first day of my junior year, eager to learn about literature -- just dying to dissect poems and stories for their deeper meaning. It was a good class, taught by an adorable elderly woman named Dr. Warner, and at the end of the year, I learned more about writing. I ended up a bit disappointed, however, when I only received a 3 on my AP Exam.

My senior year of high school was full of applying for colleges, and I was eager to take three AP classes that year -- AP Psychology (if I ever went back to school and majored in anything besides English, this is what I would consider because I am fascinated with psychology), AP Environmental Science (the teacher for the class was and is hysterical), and AP Literature. AP Literature was taught by Charlotte Roberts, a teacher that everyone in the years preceding classified as tough, but great. And truly, she was the best high school teacher I ever had. She challenged us to become better writers AND readers of literature. The year that I graduated, her passing percentage for her students on their AP exams was a 95%. Needless to say, she was fantastic at what she did, and you could tell how much she enjoyed it. In her class, I learned that happy "great" literature rarely existed, and that you could dissect most poems and short stories so that their central theme was death (cheery class, no?). I ended up returning to her class during fall break of my freshman year of college and deconstructed poems with her classes. It was great. And SHE was great. Which is why I was thrilled when I received my first and only 5 on the AP Literature exam that year.

As my friends packed up their lives in cardboard boxes and headed to college, I ventured to West Palm Beach my freshman year to attend Palm Beach Atlantic University. It was there that I met some amazing people, had grand adventures, and also met David Athey, who was my Introduction to Creative Writing professor. I can't express how much Professor Athey taught me during the two years that I had him. He helped me to refine my writing, to make it better, and -- moreover -- to make it ME. To make it sound like me and embody my voice. During my second year with him, I took his Advanced Writing Workshop, which consisted of a class of about ten students (I went to a small, private school). In the class, we wrote poems and short stories, and had our classmates and professor give us constructive feedback. It was my first workshop experience, which really allowed me to learn how to take criticism. Because the truth is that good friends will tell you that they love your writing. GREAT friends will tell you that they love your writing, but will also explain how you can improve it.

One of the things that Athey encouraged -- and actually expected -- was for each of us to submit two or three pieces of writing to a literary journal somewhere in the country. It was because of this that I got my first poem published in a journal called Words. It was also during this year that Professor Athey appointed me as one of the co-editors of the school's literary journal, Living Waters Review. It was my first look into the process behind making a journal, and I discovered that a lot went into it. Alongside my other two co-editors, we sorted through submissions and determined which pieces would go into the journal’s issue and which would be rejected. From that experience and the internships that would follow, I learned not to take rejections too seriously. Because, chances were, twenty-something year old interns like me were sending automated rejection e-mails en masse to people.

Being a part of Living Waters Review was one of the best experiences of my college career. Professor Athey was also probably the best professor I had ever had. But sadly, all good things came to an end when I transferred from Palm Beach Atlantic University back home to the University of Central Florida in my junior year of college. There, I declared a slightly different major. In West Palm, my college only had the option of becoming an English major, but what – like I said earlier – I was really passionate about was writing. Thus, when I enrolled at UCF, I declared an English major with a Creative Writing track (and a minor in Mass Communication which… well, apart from a few Advertising and Public Relations classes really didn’t do that much for me).

I became a part of The Cypress Dome, UCF’s student-driven literary journal, and during my senior year took an online internship with The Adirondack Review, and published my first (short) book critique with them. Throughout my two years at UCF, I had a lot of professors, but only one really memorable one – Peter Telep. Professor Telep was a screenwriter (he’d written spec scripts and an episode of "The Sopranos"), but taught Creative Writing for English Majors, which was my first introduction to a larger-scale workshop setting. Professor Telep taught us to express ourselves through our writing, but also to think outside of the box – to become a little uncomfortable and try new things. So I experimented with different styles of poetry and prose than I was used to. I guess it paid off because one of my more “experimental” poems that I wrote as an assignment for class ended up being published in The Anemone Sidecar later that year!

I stuck to poetry and fiction throughout my two years at UCF, and took workshops accordingly. As I advanced, the classes got smaller and smaller, to the point where I was in a classroom of eleven during my Advanced Poetry Workshop my senior year. It was comfortable and enjoyable and challenging – I’ll never quite get used to workshops, really. I believe strongly in editing and revising work, but (with poetry) it’s difficult for me to sit and listen to others critique words that I worked so tirelessly to weave together. Of course, this is the plight of the writer, and I know I’m not alone.

I graduated with a degree in English last year, and was fortunate enough to find a job at a small company in Orlando to work for – one where I loved the co-workers and had a great boss. But… something was amiss. I wasn’t really doing what I loved. I was (and still am) doing technical things with software and programs. I was developing online courses, and the full-time aspect of the job began to wear on me. I knew I had to find an outlet somehow.

And that’s when I decided to start the blog that you are currently reading. As an avid fan of the show "Community," I thought it would be fun to write episodic reviews, if only for my own eyes. What I really didn’t anticipate in my wildest dreams was to have Dan Harmon read and praise one of my reviews. Honestly, the thought never even crossed my mind that he would see, let alone like, my work. It feels weird to be validated by someone you’ve never met – someone who literally put the very show YOU love into existence. But weird in a good way. Like, in a small, insignificant way, it means that I matter. (And then to have Megan Ganz read a review of mine and compliment it was just the icing on a really, REALLY good tasting cake.)

Of course, as much as I really do enjoy writing about "Community," my first love will always be writing poetry and prose. And, ironically, when I began my college career, I always assumed I’d be more interested in writing short stories – in publishing a novel, someday. And while that is still a goal of mine (whenever I get the inspiration for a best-selling story), I’ve found myself drawn more and more over the years to writing poetry. I never thought of myself as a poet. But somehow, I became one.

This year, I set out on my latest and grandest adventure yet – self-publishing my first book of poetry titled Love Letter. It’s a rather short anthology, consisting of about thirty or so poems. But these are poems that I am rather proud of – ones that have meant something to me throughout the years. Some are full of hope, some rather depressing (sorry for that, guys), and some are just winsome. But all of the poems share a common theme: love. Each of the narrators learns the meaning of love, for better or for worse, throughout the poems. Sometimes, the picture they receive isn’t beautiful – sometimes it’s broken and messy and dark. But I’d like to think that, even in those dark circumstances, the absence of love in their lives brings about hope – the hope that real love exists in its purest form, and it’s a matter of waiting for or finding it.

I’ve accumulated a lot of poems over the years, to be honest, and not all of them are wonderful. In my first year of college, I tried my hand at poetry. And I mean, I really tried. What I discovered was that I tried too hard. The words that spilled out onto the page weren’t mine – they were contrived and sometimes cliché and forced, rather than natural and sometimes-messy. But there are two poems that I’m quite proud of and – because you all are such faithful readers of this blog – I’ll post a poem that (when reading aloud in my workshop) nearly made me cry. The poem is in Love Letter (which you can purchase on Amazon, by the way!), and is titled “Mason Jar.”


She hadn’t packed yet, just wouldn’t, stamped a foot, flat-
out refused. Her fingers wound around blades of grass,
                     and she tugged, ripping them from the ground.
                     She’d take them with her, in a jar, so that the fireflies,
they’d have some food on the trip down south.
And as she crossed state lines, she shook the jam jar, and the
                     golden rim rattled along with the gravel roads.

But before she reached North Carolina, they were dead,
                    little fallen comrades, “I Spy” companions, and night-
lights. Now there was a Ramada, and a Hilton, and a scratchy blanket.
And she kicked it off and sat upright in bed and
                                          dripped with sweat, because it was July.
                                          The air conditioner rattled, spat out must, and Mama snored.

During the day, the suitcases opened their mouths, swallowed new belongings,
                     an alligator t-shirt for her,
                     a neon yellow sundress for Mama,
                     socks and flip-flops and toothbrushes and underwear to replace
what was left behind in their hurried packing.

Mama didn’t cry herself to sleep anymore.
                     She just drove and drove, and her eyes stayed dry,
                     and her arms weren’t black and purple,
because there was no more screaming, and no more sirens–
just singing.

“It’ll be all right, baby.”
“It’ll be all right.”

Even though they were dead, the fireflies sang from the hotel balconies,
                     and the greasy fast-food chains,
                     and the new apartment in Florida where Daddy could never go.

So maybe I’ll never be a poet laureate, and maybe I won’t even be a best-selling author. But I’ll always, in my heart, be a writer. And now that you all know where I’ve been, I hope you stick around for the remainder of the journey! ;)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2x12 "Asian Population Studies" (Everyone Has a Twin)

"Asian Population Studies"
Original Airdate: January 20, 2011

I’ve heard it said that everyone has a twin somewhere in the world. If that’s true, then there are two hopeless romantic, music-loving, 23-year old female poets out there (and one of them is writing this blog-review). I think it’s an intriguing theory, don’t you? To know that there is a person somewhere in the world that has every trait that you do – or who looks nearly identical to you. And that’s kind of what this episode focuses on, in a way. There’s this question throughout “Asian Population Studies” that resonates clearly: who IS Rich and WHY does he bother Jeff so much? I’ll make a statement that may intrigue some of you regarding the two characters. I believe the reason that Rich bothers Jeff so much is because the doctor is essentially Jeff’s twin. Rich is everything that Jeff is – charming, handsome, has an electric personality, successful – and it frustrates Jeff to no end because he feels like the one looking in a carnival mirror. Rich is everything that Jeff is with the exception of his flaws. Rich isn’t egotistic or insecure or vain. He possesses none of Jeff’s negative qualities and all of his admirable ones. And THAT is why Rich bothers Jeff so much. At the end of the episode (which we will get to, eventually!) Jeff insists that Rich is “perfect” but that he is not. And I definitely believe that Jeff expresses this belief with the full knowledge of who Rich is and who he is not. Additionally, this is an intriguing episode for Jeff/Annie as a dynamic. The audience learns that Annie is attracted to Rich, a man who is very similar to Jeff in – once again – positive traits and age. Jeff, for jealousy regarding Rich solely or jealousy of Annie being interested in him (or both) cannot seem to handle this new relationship. And, throughout the episode, this parallelism builds between relationships: the relationship between Shirley and Andre, and the one between Jeff and Annie. It leaves viewers wondering exactly what makes the foundation for a good relationship. Is it communication? Is it a mistake-free track record? Is it age?  Honesty? Or is it something more? Perhaps it’s the acknowledgement that caring about people around you is scary because it leaves you vulnerable, but that it’s worth it, in the end. The idea that it doesn’t matter how many wrong turns you take, so long as you come back home in the end. And the episode, like each episode and like each moment in life, provides characters with a choice that defines them. Andre chooses to be defined one way, while Jeff… well, we’ll get to him.

Let's start first by recapping the plot of this episode. It's the beginning of a new semester of Anthropology, and the study group returns from winter break and meets in their usual spot -- the study room -- to catch up before class. Troy discusses how he checked Pierce's wardrobes for secret portals to magical worlds, Jeff informs everyone that he discovered a new back muscle to work out, and Annie talks about the campus volunteer group she was a part of. When she can't stop smiling as she talks about dredging a river, Troy -- interestingly enough -- is the first person to notice that Annie is using her "I love butterflies" voice. Britta and the rest of the group tease her, the blonde insisting that her young friend must have met a cute boy. And here’s something that is interesting to note: until Annie admits that she actually does like someone, Jeff happily teases along with the rest of the group, ‘ooh’-ing at her embarrassment, until he realizes that Annie actually HAS found someone that she’s interested in. His face goes from teasing to suspicious in less time than it took me to write this sentence. Now, theoretically, Jeff has absolutely no reason to be jealous of Annie’s potential blossoming relationship. Nor does he have any reason to be jealous of the fact that she's interested in his nemesis. (Remember, at this point he is not aware that the young woman is interested in Rich.) His growing suspicion of her dating life (and insistence that the group change the subject later on when they continue to pester her to discover who the mystery guy is) is even more intriguing in light of the events of “Paradigms of the Human Memory” – if Jeff and Britta had been secretly sleeping together for the entire year on and off, why would it possibly bug Jeff if Annie was interested in someone else unless there were feelings involved on his end?

Nevertheless, the group tries to change the subject which leads to the discovery that Chang has been atop the bookshelf the entire time (likely noticing Jeff's growing jealousy since he brings it up later in the episode), waiting for the study group to let him join, as they promised in "Anthropology 101." Instead, the group dismisses Chang from the room and promptly returns to attempting to discover the identity of Annie's crush. Shirley then announces that there is someone special in her life -- her ex-husband turned boyfriend, Andre. There is a dynamic within this episode that gets a lot of focus, but not a lot of screentime and that’s the relationship between Shirley and Britta. I believe it was in my “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” review that I expressed my love for Shirley/Britta storylines and also why I felt that Britta reacted as strongly as she did to Shirley’s decision to get married in that episode. There is something strong about the bond between these two women because they are seemingly polar opposites, but are rather internally similar. They’re strong, independent-minded women and both value trust and respect. Britta has been burned in her life, often by men, and that caused her to become a bit hard, cynical, and jaded toward relationships (much like a former lawyer the audience knows). But unlike Britta (and more like Annie), Shirley hasn’t let the disappointments and pitfalls in life define her as a person. She has only let them make her a stronger, more stable woman. And while Shirley may have hang-ups of her own, she is more apt to forgive and to love again than Britta, whose automatic reflex is to erect walls and guards to shut others out (see: “Cooperative Calligraphy”). The instinct, then, for Britta is to protect Shirley from ever potentially incurring the bitterness and resentment that she has.

There’s this issue of forgiveness that returns time and time again with the Shirley/Britta dynamic (re: “Studies in Modern Movement”), mainly because of their religious backgrounds. But, as I said earlier, I feel like most of the differences between Britta and Shirley derive not from spiritual preferences, but rather, how each woman views the world in light of the experiences that have happened to her. BECAUSE of Britta’s past, she finds it hard to forgive. IN SPITE of Shirley’s, she forgives. There’s a definite contrast between the two, and the women often clash because of their particular views.

In Anthropology class, the study group is broken off into pairs (Jeff/Annie, Britta/Shirley, and Troy/Pierce), each discussing something prior to Duncan's entrance. In the corner of the room, Troy accidentally lets it slip that he is relieved Shirley's getting back together with Andre and not Chang. He additionally informs his elderly roommate that Chang and Shirley slept together during the Halloween that no one can remember. Pierce, rightly appalled and befuddled, agrees not to share the information... though he does almost tweet it. Meanwhile, Annie apologizes to Jeff for the discussion of her having a crush getting dragged through the study group. Jeff insists that he doesn’t care (which is indicative of his detached too-cool-to-care attitude), and Annie seems to drop the subject of him having any sort of feelings for her. She genuinely does not mention it for the rest of the episode until AFTER Jeff brings it up later on.

Duncan enters the room, explaining that he is now sober and -- consequently -- Anthropology will be getting a lot harder and more focused. As he implements his new chang(es), Rich enters the room, apologizing for his tardiness by explaining that he was at a graduation for the seeing eye dogs he trains. Jeff groans at the man's presence, while Annie excitedly waves in his direction. Jeff puts two and two together, and is not pleased by the fact that Rich is Annie's new crush. Rich aggravates Jeff, I think, because he’s so loved by everyone automatically. And this is the flaw that Jeff seems to have when it comes to people – it takes Rich mere moments to cause a room (and the study group, subsequently) to fall in love with him. It took much longer for the group to completely warm up to Jeff and longer still until they loved him and accepted him. And, even though they do deeply care for him, there are attributes of his character that they still are turned off to. Not so with Doctor Rich, who can pretty much say or do whatever and people STILL are in awe of him. (Also, I love that even Duncan and Britta adore him.)

In the cafeteria, Annie continues to discuss Rich with excitement, since (allegedly) Jeff has no problems or jealousies whatsoever. Annie polls the group: since Rich joined Anthropology class, that means he must like her, right? Britta replies with: "And why wouldn't he, Annie? He is so sweet." This line never really struck me until I read @TweetingKerry’s picspams. And then, I was intrigued because this isn’t a compliment to Annie, who asked the original question, but a compliment to Rich’s personality. Normal people say: “Why wouldn’t he? You’re so sweet” or “You’re so nice” or “You’re so pretty.” But it’s interesting that, instead of that, Britta compliments Rich (a person she barely knows) instead of her friend of two years. Once again, I think it’s a fairly insignificant and easy-to-miss line that exhibits the tension and divide between Britta and Annie during season 2.

Jeff, interestingly enough, is the one to bring up the age difference between Annie and Rich (the same, arguably, age difference that exists between him and Annie). I think he’s doing this to test the group’s loyalty which, surprisingly, lies with Rich. The group nearly massacred Jeff in “Anthropology 101” when they discovered that he had shared a kiss with Annie outside of the Tranny Dance the year prior. Instead of finding the similar age gap between Annie and Rich disgusting, the group seems to agree unanimously that they have no real issues with it.  Keep this conversation in mind because I will return to it more in depth toward the end of the review. (Also, Britta’s suspicious glare at Jeff says it all in this scene.) Jeff’s jealousy is also pretty evident to the rest of the group (the bewildered glances that Shirley and Abed throw, as well as Britta, are priceless).

Annie wants to invite Rich to join the study group, but Jeff insists that this decision isn't fair to everyone else who may want to join. They need to have a process, and that will take time (arguably, enough time for Annie's crush to wane. Just throwing that out there.) What’s really wonderful, though, is that Annie begins to catch on to what Jeff is attempting to do. She may have brought up the topic of jealousy and feelings earlier in the episode, but she let the whole subject fall by the wayside. It is JEFF who pursues the subject, and he is also the one to ACT on the nonexistent jealous feelings that he has. Instead of sitting back and taking it, however, Annie decides to challenge Jeff at his own game (which is why I adore her).

As the group agrees that they should hold a mixer and invite people they want to consider to join the group, Shirley's ex-husband turned boyfriend, Andre, sidles up to the table. I think I’ve mentioned this before (but if I haven’t… just go with it), but I can never fully accept that MJW plays the same character who abandoned Shirley and her family in the first season. The way that he is described (Shirley’s ex-husband) is consistently negative and the face of Malcom Jamal Warner (and the personality that he brings to the character – this warmth, really) sort of negates that. Perhaps it’s just a disconnect between character and actor, though. Nevertheless, Shirley introduces the (more than hesitant and skeptical) group to Andre, and the man attempts to win the group over by offering to buy soft serve ice cream for everyone. Once he departs, Britta tells Shirley that she needs to be careful about getting back together with her ex-husband. The mother snaps that she can make her own decision and then drops a bombshell: she's pregnant.

I do believe it was the lovely @TweetingKerry who also pointed out that when Shirley announces she’s pregnant, the study group each reacts accordingly and, though Jeff and Annie are supposed to be upset with each other, both automatically turn and share reactions. (Also, notice that Abed looks at Shirley’s stomach under the table when she announces her pregnancy. It’s hilarious.) Shirley announces that she is eight weeks along, and Troy and Pierce count on their hands, terrified at their realization -- eight weeks prior was Halloween. Dun DUN.

Later that night, the group (or, more likely, Annie) organizes a mixer that a handful of students in the study room to potentially induct them into their study group, and Troy takes the opportunity to attempt to figure out if Andre and Shirley slept together near or after Halloween. Troy and Pierce, when placed together in an episode, usually is a pairing that is utilized to highlight their mutual adolescence. Though the two are arguably an immature combination together, they do have moments in which they occasionally do consider the best interests of Shirley throughout "Asian Population Studies." Pierce suggests that they tell Shirley that she slept with Chang on Halloween to be honest with her (his last redeeming act in the episode), while Troy wants to preserve the woman’s dignity (and perhaps sanity) by refraining from disclosing the information. So while both are looking out for her interests, one of them forgoes that later on in order to serve his own interests. Jeff enters the study room with a blonde young woman in tow. This is the first introduction of Quendra (also known as Marcy McCusker – go follow her on Twitter at @MarcyMcCusker, why don’t you?), and I hope we see more of her because she’s a gem, initially introduced as a ditzy character, but someone who becomes progressively more awesome in “For a Few More.”

Nevertheless, Jeff tries to shamelessly lobby for Quendra, but his attempt fails in light of Rich entering the room with bags of homemade kettle corn. Obviously, Jeff gets progressively more and more desperate as the episode wears on. In the cafeteria, he attempted to reason with the study group into not letting Rich join them. When that tactic failed, he brought in Quendra in order to attempt to make Annie jealous (and to pay the petite brunette back for trying to bring Rich back into their lives). The tactic only works briefly until Rich enters the room with kettle corn for everyone. Jeff is finally SO desperate that he is willing to let Chang into the group in order to keep Rich out. And, since at the beginning of the episode he wanted nothing to do with Chang and letting him in, we KNOW he was desperate.

Quendra leaves the room in a huff after Pierce makes an offensive comment to her (while Jeff is distracted by watching Annie and Rich), and Jeff trots out of the study room in an attempt to retrieve her, to no avail. Annie follows, and confronts the former lawyer, insisting that since everyone else left, it's obvious that Rich is the best candidate for the study group. Jeff agrees with a large, fake smile, but once Annie flits away, groans to himself. I find it interesting (I use that word a lot in these reviews, don’t I?) that Chang calls Jeff out on being jealous of Rich because Annie is interested in him romantically (“unless you want a front row seat to Annie-loves-Richie, it’s time to Chang your point of view”). What’s even MORE interesting is the fact that this is the catalyst for Jeff acting the way that he does. He hastily agrees, not even having a game plan prepared. And this is not like Jeff Winger, really. Jeff Winger is always prepared to deliver a speech or to win an argument. But his desperation to beat Rich or to get Annie to stop fawning over him or both drives him to action.

The Winger speech that Jeff delivers is my second favorite of the season, falling only behind the one that he gives in “Introduction to Finality.” What’s great about the speech that Jeff delivers is that, even though it is hastily spun together, it demonstrates how brilliant Jeff Winger truly is as a public speaker. And it really exemplifies how well he tailors his speeches for a particular audience. Just like earlier in the cafeteria, when attempting to appeal to each group members’ beliefs, Jeff caters to Britta’s skepticism and distrust of others (a nice parallel to her storyline with Shirley in this episode, might I add), to Abed’s ability to relate to culture (comparing Rich to infamous figures in the media, thereby drawing in the filmmaker’s rapt attention), and to the group’s general tendency to believe whatever he says. (At the beginning of the speech, you can see Britta already begin to eye Rich with suspicion.) He attempts to sway the group's allegiances in favor of Chang, rather than Rich because -- as he explains -- they KNOW who Chang is, in spite of the fact that they don't like him. But they don't really KNOW who Rich is at all.

If you watch the progression of Jeff’s speeches throughout the series, you’ll notice that they sort of hit a snag in season two – what I mean is that the group, prior to their sophomore year, tended to absorb everything that Jeff said without suspicion, comment, or complaint. Not so with the second season Winger speeches. The group slowly finds their voice, and not everyone agrees 100% of the time with what the self-appointed leader says. Moreover, in the third season, the group actually expresses that Jeff’s “speech” in “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps” is sub-par and lame. Perhaps the former lawyer is losing his touch, eh?

Jeff concludes his speech with wondering exactly who Rich is.“Who is this kettle corn-popping phantom? This human question mark? This number eight scoop of  vanilla tapioca with a PhD in ‘Being Swell’ and a Master’s in ‘Everybody Loves Me?’ Who is it?” This may be one of my all-time favorite things Jeff has ever said to another person, not only because it’s cute in its backhanded snarkiness and hilarious but also because it’s evidence of how Jeff actually views Rich as a person – he’s baffled by who exactly this doctor is and why everyone loves HIM so much. Because the truth is that Jeff is a selfish character. I know, I know. I’ve said this half a dozen times before and will continue to say it because it is true. Jeff wants HIS study group to view HIM as their leader – he wants them all to idolize him, and he needs them to NEED him. But the truth is that when Rich enters the picture, the group doesn’t need him as much anymore. If they elected the doctor, Jeff would be second-best. And if there is one thing that Jeff does not do, it’s settle to be second place to anyone.

At the end of the speech, everyone apart from Annie applauds (I never noticed that even Rich claps at the end of Jeff’s speech. What a nice guy!). After it’s all said and done, even though Troy applauds Jeff’s speech, he ends up voting for Rich instead (I think he and Pierce were swayed by the homemade kettle corn). So the group then takes a vote. Jeff, Britta, and Abed vote to induct Chang into the group, while Pierce, Annie, and Troy raise their hands for Chang. Andre isn't in the group so he doesn't have a say, but Shirley refrains from raising her hand and making a decision. Pierce growls and insists that Shirley needs to vote for Rich or else he'll "shatter her world." The woman, in defiance, votes for Chang, much to the delight of Jeff. This may be the beginning of Pierce’s villainy for the semester. Later on in the episodes (and really, throughout the remainder of the season), he serves as the intra-group villain, and I think it may begin when he crosses Shirley because she disagreed with him. So he blurts out that Chang and Shirley slept together during Halloween. No one can remember that night, but everyone is -- rightfully -- appalled. Troy confirms that it's true, as does Chang. Shirley slowly spirals into crisis, with Andre left baffled and hurt.

Very quickly, relationships in the group begin to fracture: Shirley/Andre slowly begins to crumble, which is the catalyst for Britta to take action and protect her friend. And I’ll digress for a moment and explain why this makes Britta a good friend – she doesn’t always know WHY she does the things that she does, and she doesn’t always agree with the person she’s sacrificing FOR, but she helps. She sets aside her opinions of Andre in order to help Shirley, because the truth is that her love for her friend comes before her agreement with her friend’s decisions. As friendship should be, to be honest. Jeff/Annie, Annie/Rich, and Jeff/study group similarly begin to fracture throughout this scene as well. Jeff has become so self-involved that he cannot do what Britta does – recognize that a friend is hurting and set aside his personal bias in order to help her. Jeff is, as we have said, an inherently selfish and competitive character. And he has just won, so he’s blindsided by his victory (which is, of course, his downfall).

Rich, Andre, Chang, Annie, and Pierce all leave the room for various reasons as the elderly man insists that Jeff has finally found a way to hurt the group in a way that it'll never heal. Later, in the men's bathroom, Annie approaches Jeff and the two have a serious conversation. So the scene in the bathroom between Jeff and Annie is really integral to their relationship for a few reasons. In my other blog (which I have sadly neglected since focusing on this one!), I said the following in regards to the scene: “I’d say that they’re at this sort of impasse, where both have to grow before they can actually have a functional relationship. Jeff is still afraid of screwing the group up and himself up. He’s back at Greendale because of the latter, and he doesn’t want to mess up the – arguably – best six relationships he has. That’s why addressing things like in “Asian Population Studies” was so difficult. To him, relationships are always complex. To Annie, it’s just the opposite – to her, relationships have to be black and white. You either want me or you don’t. What’s it gonna be? And in this instance, I think that Annie asked Rich out to prove her point – decisions don’t have to always have drawn out discussions preceding them. Sometimes, if you like someone, you should just go for it (which of course, for her, actually backfired). And in this situation, I’d like to think that neither was completely right. Sure, things are “complicated” for Jeff, but that doesn’t mean he can’t know how he feels about her. And yes, relationships can be simple, but Annie should also realize that sometimes you can’t just be put on the spot about your feelings.”

There are a few things that I really love about this moment in terms of Annie and Jeff’s character development. For starters, Annie is brash and bold enough to enter the men’s room in order to confront Jeff. She chastised him in the study room, but this is a woman on a mission – she needs, as we will learn in a few moments, answers. Jeff attempts to act cute in order to deflect her anger, and when she questions him about Rich, it is JEFF who mentions the idea of jealousy. It would be easy, given the beginning of the episode, for Annie to act like she did in “Anthropology 101” – to twirl her hair around her finger and insist that he liked her and pester him about why he acts the way he does around her. But to have Jeff Winger, the man we are conditioned to believe does not address relationships, be the one to breach the topic is unexpected and also refreshing. The whole scene demonstrates the differences and similarities between the two regarding relationships. And Jeff’s “relationships are complicated” is even MORE loaded in light of the fact that he was sleeping with Britta throughout the semester. Relationships, to Jeff, are so complicated that they cannot be aptly summed up in a men’s bathroom or anywhere else. He’s jaded by them and would much rather lead Annie on forever than approach the topic openly (though, once again, HE is the one to mention the word “jealous,” not Annie). And he certainly would never be able to explain to Annie why he’s sleeping with Britta if he has feelings for her. To Annie, relationships are relatively simple – if you like someone, you tell them and if they like you back, you date. There is no baggage involved. There are no complications or confusions. It’s cut and dry, really. So she gives him a not-really ultimatum, because essentially, she sought him out in that moment to get some sort of answer as to why he acted like a jerk the entire day. And she didn’t expect, necessarily, any sort of confession. But if that’s the way the conversation was headed, then she came armed with a plan: if Jeff confessed any feelings, she would have most likely agreed to discuss them rationally. But, since Jeff skirted the issue, she essentially explained that he blew his chance with her.

And really, even though neither of them are entirely correct (you can't boil relationships down into cut-and-dry things like Annie wants, nor can you refrain from telling someone how you feel like Jeff does), Annie has a point – it doesn’t take much to tell someone you have feelings for them… unless you’re Jeff Winger. It takes him TWO years to tell the study group that he loves them. I’ve said it before, but it takes all of ten minutes for me to tell you that. So perhaps this is a lesson for Jeff – knowledge of the fact that Annie will not wait around forever and that when she walks out of the door, he may have lost his chance for good.

As Annie leaves, insisting that she's going to ask Rich out to prove that telling someone how you feel isn't complicated, Jeff watches her leave and pouts. That pout. That pout that Joel gives is fantastic and brilliant and nuanced. Joel does not get nearly enough credit for his subtle acting. So this is me, giving him credit. After Annie leaves, Britta walks through the door, looking for Jeff (who muses that he must have walked into the wrong bathroom). It’s endearing that Jeff seems to have softened from the earlier study room debacle and agrees to help Britta out (albeit a bit begrudgingly because it IS Jeff). Slowly but surely, with each conversation, the man realizes that his actions have consequences that don’t just impact him but also deeply affect the people around him. The blonde requests that he find Andre and talk to him, because Shirley is devastated. Jeff agrees and exits the room to find the man.

Jeff discovers Andre outside, standing beneath an overhang and watching the rain. As Jeff appears ready to delves into a Winger speech, Andre cuts him off and makes a speech himself. It's a brilliant turn of tables, hearing someone give JEFF advice for once. The Jeff/Andre conversation is great because it’s loaded, as well. Andre asks the former lawyer if he ever had something and didn't realize the importance of it until it was gone. Though Jeff expresses regret that he no longer has an important facial scrub, it’s difficult to deny that he might just be reflecting on the conversation that he had with Annie in the bathroom, even briefly. And Andre? Andre is older, and a little wiser. And in spite of all of his mistakes, he’s learned from them. Moreover, he’s GROWN from them. And moreover than THAT? He’s learned not to make the same mistakes again. I think it’s a nice scene that provides a parallel – the idea that Jeff COULD be the kind of person Andre is, if he allowed himself to be, instead of being caught up by the mistakes he’s made and letting them define the decisions he continues to make. Because Jeff Winger is an astounding human being who can do and say the right things when he chooses to. The fact is, of course, that he often chooses NOT to. And therein lies the problem. But I think it’s refreshing for Jeff to have that conversation with Andre, because he knows that he CAN change, if he makes the effort.

Andre insists that he isn't going to leave Shirley, and that the old version of him would have been long gone by now in cowardice. But he insists that he'll be around for the long haul because the "love of a good woman" can make any person change. And he's willing to raise Shirley's child, whether or not it's actually his own, which is quite endearing and wonderful. As the man leaves Jeff to ponder outside, Abed approaches, phone in his hand, announcing that Annie texted him and said that she asked Rich out. What I love most about the text that Annie sends to Abed is that: 1) she sends it to Abed, not Britta or Shirley (well, Shirley WAS going through her own crisis so I suppose that’s understandable), and 2) Abed reads the text to Jeff. And perhaps, in her mind, this was a way for Annie to still see if Jeff actually cared about her. She shared her heartbreak with the one person who knows more about pop culture and romantic chick flicks than anyone else. Maybe a part of Annie hoped that Jeff would run to her apartment in the rain and confess his feelings after he realized Rich had broken her heart. Perhaps that’s the hopeless romantic in her. It’s obvious that Jeff DOES care, even before he hears what Rich’s response was when he flatly says: “Cool.” But Abed informs the former lawyer that Rich denied Annie, and this causes Jeff to perk up and -- finally -- run out into the rain. Were this a chick flick, he would be running toward Annie's apartment. But Community is no chick flick.

As "Running Through Raining" plays (a brilliant score, by the way), Andre returns to the study room and to Shirley, with a smile, exemplifying his commitment to her and the child. Pierce, Britta, and Troy are all relieved (as a sidenote completely unrelated to anything, but because I haven’t discussed him much this episode, Donald Glover’s smile is just precious in the study room moment).

A lot of people have analyzed the scene at Rich’s door to death, so here’s my not-so fresh take on it. After letting it ferment for months and months, I now realize that the speech was not really about Annie at all. At the time, I think a lot of people wondered what the writers were doing - if they were blatantly saying that Jeff wished he could be like Rich and forget about Annie, or – in the very least – say “no” to his attraction to her. But now I don't think that's at all what they were aiming for at all. The whole moment before Jeff ran in the rain was about Annie, in a sense, but more so about Rich. Let's think about it: here is a guy who the group BARELY knows, who Annie BARELY knows, but who has stolen everyone's affection (and attention) away from Jeff in a very short amount of time. Jeff realizes how good of a person Rich is - how Annie fawns over him, and the group nearly accepted someone they essentially JUST met - and he wants that. I mean, not REALLY, but he wants the complete and utter adoration of the group. And he wants to have those qualities of Rich – the selflessness, the magnetic energy, the attracting qualities that seem to draw every single person toward the doctor (not The Doctor… that’s another kind of magnetism), and why? He wants to have these powers so that he can abuse them. He wants to have the magnetism so that he can attract people he WANTS to attract. And he wants the selfless nature so that people can and will pay attention to him. And he wants the complete adoration, not so that he can better himself but so that he can get away with doing what he wants without consequence.

Let’s return momentarily to the cafeteria scene, shall we? Annie mentioned Rich’s age. The group fawned over Rich and cooed about him, explaining how sweet and wonderful and perfect he was. So Annie dating Rich, who is around the same age as Jeff? Not a problem. But the thought of Annie and Jeff together repulsed the group. Jeff wants to use the perfection inherited via Rich to abuse by not really CHANGING at all and just – as he explains – “fake being good in order to get away with doing bad things.”

So maybe Jeff won't really change, or if he does, it definitely won't be overnight. But perhaps there's something within him... some momentary acknowledgement that there ARE precious things and people in his life that he is unwilling to lose.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
- I love how excited Britta gets to see Pierce and Troy. And how she actually gives Pierce a hug! I wish we had more stories between the two of them.
- “Why are you using your ‘I love butterflies’ voice?”
- “It makes me so Changry. … oh God, it’s happening to me!”
- “Also, there’s going to be more than one diorama.”
- “He has a landline and uses the word ‘album.’”
- “Kettle corn! That’s a fun time snack!”
- Abed’s “it’s a mixer” trick was flawless.
- “Oh, I’m serious, baby.”
- “Nice sweater.” “My dad gave it to me.”

Thanks to everyone who is participating in #CommunityRewatch FRIDAYS, now! This week will be a hiatus from them (as I'll be out at a bachelorette party!), but we will resume at 8:30PM EST on Friday, September 14th with "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" so join me then! :)