Friday, April 11, 2014

5x12 "Basic Story" (To Live Is To Change, To Acquire The Words Of A Story)

"Basic Story"
Original Airdate: April 10, 2014

"Listen, to live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. In perfect stillness, frankly, I've only found sorrow." - The Poisonwood Bible

There are a lot of us out there who want to settle down someday. I’m one of those people and as I roll through my 25th year of life, I’m realizing how weird it is to actually BE at the age where people start settling down and having a family all around me. They’re falling slowly, like time-lapsed dominoes, but I think the majority of us desire some sort of settling down, even if it isn’t marriage and kids. We desire a steady career or a happy existence. We desire the word that unsettled Abed in the episode: contentment. We want to buy the house and the dog and wake up in the morning to sip coffee on our front porches. So we work our crappy part-time jobs to put ourselves through school and we work through school to get a full-time job and eventually we find ourselves at the place in life we hoped we would be, even if it wasn’t where we anticipated we would be. The Greendale gang realizes in “Basic Story” that their time at the school they always presumed would be their destination in settling down was drawing to a very real, very unpreventable close. And everyone handles dealing with the loss of Greendale differently, some in more mature ways than others.

But before we get to that, let’s discuss the plot of the episode, shall we?

There’s a feeling of contentment that has settled over Study Room F as the Save Greendale Committee begins to wrap up projects and finds that they have actually – and tangibly – improved the school. It’s one thing for the study group to believe that their presence and friendship has changed Greendale for the better; it’s another to actually see their work making a difference in the space around them. The only person who is unsettled by this contentment is Abed who vocalizes the notion that nothing in Greendale can be too content for too long. He’s right, and we know that but the characters brush him off in order to enjoy their accomplishments. They’ve done something real and something worthwhile and want to revel in that feeling for a moment (or thirty minutes) longer. Because the truth is that we want to believe the study group has made a difference in Greendale and that Greendale has given them all purpose in return, but… well, what happens when that all is taken away from you?

Abed notes that their peace is the calm before the storm, to which Hickey gruffly replies: “Says the storm-generator.” And it’s true, isn’t it? Abed has the tendency to gravitate toward adventure and danger and peril because it’s exciting. He’s always constructed fake scenarios for his friends because he felt the need to dramatize the normalcy of life. In “Basic Story,” Abed tries to come to grips with the idea that there may not BE a story – that there may simply just be peace and calm; no hijinks and no drama and no eleventh hour chaos. He has a breakdown about half-way through his attempt at wrapping his mind around this concept, and I think a part of me gets that. A part of me, too, always waits for the other shoe to drop when it comes to Greendale. Nothing can be TOO serene for long at this school with paintball and Dungeons & Dragons and MeowMeowBeenz, right?

But when Dean Pelton learns from our favorite school board members that Greendale is going to be appraised, concern begins to bubble up in the study room (except for Abed who seems delighted at the prospect of adventure – perhaps he misses his adventures with Troy and this is a way of feeling like he’s with them all again), but Jeff shoots everyone down and insists that Greendale is addicted to crisis and so are they. They made the school better and there is nothing to worry about. This, however, is important to recognize both thematically and also literally: the study group added value to Greendale. Yes, in a schmoopy, “Greendale Is Where I Belong” begins to play sense, these people added something special to the school. But in a very literal sense, by committing to work together and fix its issues, the study group added monetary value to the school.

And that is exactly the problem that they find themselves faced with later on in the episode. While setting traps for roaches (as someone who lives in Florida where there are a lot of these… eww), Jeff and Annie discuss the idea of settling down, which Jeff is vehemently against. But Annie points out something quite important: he’s ALREADY settled down. He’s graduated with a teaching career that he enjoys and he’s actually fallen in love… with Greendale. Jeff has settled into contentment and familiarity and happiness and peace, too. While some people find that in romantic human relationships, Jeff has found it in his relationship with Greendale. And when the insurance appraiser arrives at Greendale, Shirley tells Jeff not to worry. Shirley knows Jeff, perhaps better than he knows himself, and she knows that over the years his fondness for Greendale has turned to love. And since she knows how much Jeff loves Greendale, she also knows how much faith he puts in it and in them as a study group. It’s his version of “settling down,” so to find a flaw or fault or have the entire institution ripped out from beneath him would be equivalent to someone taking a metaphorical sledge hammer to a marriage: it would destroy Jeff because at this point, Greendale is literally all he has left. It’s his safety net and his comfort.

When the insurance appraiser notes that the school is no longer a problem for the community and is actually an asset to the local community – something that has real monetary value – everyone begins to celebrate, including the school board members. Since Greendale is now worth something, their plan to sell the school can commence. This halts the celebration and Jeff comes to the horrifying realization that by saving Greendale, they all actually doomed it and themselves. Ruh-roh.

Soon, Subway takes over the school and everything appears to be doomed. Our study group isn’t right back where they started, because that would be preferable. No, they’re without HOPE now for the future. The one constant in their lives – their future and their version of “settling down” – has been ripped out of their hands and it is permanent and irreparable. Every other time that the Greendale study group has walked down this road, they’ve always been the ones to call the shots. They’ve made the decision to walk away from the school and return. “It’s one thing,” as Robin Scherbatsky once said, “not to want something. It’s another to be told you can’t have it.” Annie is distraught and in tears over the school’s demise; Jeff isn’t helping much by shooting down her overzealousness to try one more idea or hold one more meeting. Like calling the time of death on a medical patient, Jeff calls the final meeting of the Save Greendale Committee to a close.

Meanwhile, while Annie and Abed help Dean Pelton pack up his office, they notice something that could very well save the school – directions to find treasure buried by one of the school’s former computer teachers. So perhaps in the eleventh hour, Abed will get that quest for adventure he has been yearning for and Annie and Dean Pelton will accomplish what they had been desiring: to save a school that meant so much to them. Speaking of Greendale, back in the near-empty study room, Jeff and Britta begin to discuss their plans post-Greendale (she’ll end up continuing as a bartender and he was offered a job working for Subway) and reminisce on the reason Jeff joined the group in the first place.

It’s important in this moment to realize something: Jeff has just lost the longest and most meaningful relationship he’s ever had. He’s lost the love of his life (Greendale) and now he’s despondent and lost. He’s just as lost as he was when he entered the school in the pilot episode and his next decision is what really bothered me about the episode. Jeff proposes to Britta. It’s a cop-out and it’s a shame because the reason he’s even proposing is to make some sense of his five years at Greendale; to make it feel like he’s become an adult, somehow, throughout his journey and isn’t that what adults are supposed to do, after all? They’re supposed to get married and buy a house and a dog and have a stocked kitchen pantry. That’s all well and good, but the motivation for Jeff’s proposal is anything but good. It’s rooted in the exact same selfishness and desperation that led him to try and get into Britta’s pants in season one. This time, though? This time she’s just a rebound from his recent break-up with Greendale. The most jarring thing to me about this scene was the moral it imposed on us, as viewers. The final part of Dan Harmon’s notorious story circle is that a character returns to a familiar situation “having changed.” But… where is the change in Jeff Winger, exactly?

In the moment he proposes, he’s just as desperate to cling to some sort of semblance of his former life as he was in the pilot. In the moment he proposes, he’s just as selfish as he was in the pilot (he’s proposing because HE wants to make some sense of his time at Greendale and if there is parallelism in he and Britta being alone together then that must equate to sense, right?). Jeff is just like he was in the pilot except… somehow his proposal is worse than him trying to get into Britta’s pants. Back in the pilot, Jeff didn’t really know any other life; he didn’t know much better. He hadn’t been changed and he hadn’t experienced lasting friendship and he hadn’t found his humanity. What makes Jeff’s decision in “Basic Story” so unsettling is that at this point in the journey, he SHOULD know better. He should accept and move forward from his relationship with Greendale, having changed. The problem that I’m having with this episode and season is that right when Community seems to be on the precipice of making a grand, meaningful gesture… it reveals that gesture to simply be a finger in the air at us viewers.

I don’t care about this Jeff/Britta moment from a shipping perspective, really. At this point in the story, I think Annie deserves much better than Jeff (and so does Britta for that matter), as he’s a person who will propose marriage to someone just because he’s afraid of the future and afraid of himself. (That’s the definition of a coward, FYI.) No, Community’s lesson in “Basic Story” seems to be this: people don’t really change. They pretend to change and they change a little bit, perhaps, from episode to episode. But big, real, powerful changes never actually occur. Man is still evil and always will be.

(I won’t even touch on the fact that Jeff and Britta denied that they needed Greendale and insisted that Abed and Annie did because they were still children. I won’t touch that topic with a ten-foot pole because it will only make me Changry.)

As we careen toward the finale, I cannot help but wonder how this will all end. Will Jeff recognize that his most important relationship cannot be replaced because he desires some sort of control over the uncontrollable chaos that occurred in the wake of his separation with Greendale? Why did Britta say yes to Jeff, anyway? Is she really THAT desperate, too? (Nothing about that scene made sense to me – I thought Britta was an independent woman, not someone who needed to be with a man in order for her life to make sense and have meaning again, even if it was meaning that was nostalgic or parallelism or whatever.) How will this all end, anyway? I’m sure it will end with Greendale being miraculously saved once Dean Pelton, Abed, and Annie discover the hidden treasure within Greendale. And heck, maybe Jeff and Britta WILL get married. Maybe I will just throw my hands up in the air and say: “Whatever you want to do, writers.”

Maybe that’s the only way to speed toward the finale, like I’m on some sort of derailed rollercoaster with no idea of what’s to come a mile ahead, let alone the next corner. Maybe that’s the real message of Community’s five years after all.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • My friend Kim made a good point – maybe Jeff is still in a coma and none of this is actually happening. In the opening scenes on the blackboard, there’s a graph of heart rate. While this would have been a good hypothesis (and I still think it’s a good hypothesis), given the fact that “Advanced Introduction to Finality” was all in Jeff’s head, I doubt the writers would do the same trope twice.
  • The Duncan/Hickey tag was the absolute best moment in the episode, hands down.
  • “I wrote a paper on those dogs.” “…”
  • Joel looks good in blue. He should always wear blue.
  • I’m so glad that we got a reference to the dean’s wedding ring from the pilot!
  • The Abed/Dean/Annie buried treasure dance was pretty perfect.
Okay folks, it is the end of the road for us next week! Join me on Friday for the review of the fifth season finale titled “Basic Sandwich.” Until then, folks. :)


  1. "Why did Britta say yes to Jeff, anyway? Is she really THAT desperate, too?"

    Quoted because thank you. Way too many reviewers are focusing on this proposal as par tof Jeff's journey, and I can actually buy that even if it feels like he's being an idiot, I get it, he's going through a midlife crisis. I just hope he comes through all this mess a better man.

    But what about Britta? Why does this make sense with anything we know about her character? She and Jeff have barely interacted this season. It just doesn't fit that she'd say yes... unless she's higher than usual, anyway. That's my current theory.

    1. Thank you for the comment! It was very out of character for Britta to be so desperate and needy and to agree to just get together with Jeff like that, no? We've seen no indications of her struggling with post-Greendale life or insecurities. It's just... very strange to have thrown that "twist" onto the end of an otherwise okay, if not a bit underwhelming, penultimate episode.

    2. Britta had her identity crisis back in episode 7, but she seemed to be feeling better. I'd imagine her switching her major randomly or running off to a foreign country or joining a commune to make herself feel like her life had meaning. If they meant Britta to be having a renewed interest in Jeff, I could buy that if it was set up, but they missed almost every opportunity. They could have been on the same team in "AAD&D," they could have done flirty snark in "VM&EP," they could have had an almost-kiss moment in "AD&C"... there's been nothing. I used to really like them as a couple, and while I've grown fonder of Jeff and Annie over the seasons (as Annie got older), and I could have been resold on it. But doing it this suddenly feels like massive character derailment for Britta.

  2. I think Britta ending up with Jeff would be amazing. They are such a great fit for each other, and the whole Jeff/Annie is disturbing because of the age difference. Plus, Annie is soooo different from Jeff. Jeff can't even be himself without Annie scolding him. Britta and Jeff hate each other as much as they can't stand being away from each other. It doesn't matter why Jeff decided to propose to Britta, because either way, I'm sure he loves her. Maybe the timing was wrong, but they should still end up together at the end.

    1. I'll let Dan Harmon take this one for me:

      "You stand Jeff next to Annie, you feel the energy crackle off the screen. In other ways than I thought, there is a distinct, chemical lack of chemistry between Jeff and Britta. There's a beautiful kind of ex-girlfriend/sibling, familiar bond between them. I really like to see them go on funny missions together, and I like to see Jeff and Annie go on more idealistic adventures, and I like to address the fact that "We're all gorgeous, and we're all single. I'm a man, you're a woman, and that makes things difficult. I have feelings.” And we do go there within the 13 episodes in a relatively large way. Obviously I can't really go into more detail than that." (

    2. " It doesn't matter why Jeff decided to propose to Britta, because either way, I'm sure he loves her."

      Yes, yes it DOES matter why. If a guy proposed to you because he just wants to make himself feel better, you don't say yes. Because if you really love someone, you don't USE them. Which is what he's doing right now. If you buy that it makes sense for Britta to say yes, then she's just using him right back. That's not romance, that codependency.

      Jeff shouldn't have proposed to Britta. He shouldn't have proposed to ANYONE, because he doesn't really want to get married, he just can't handle Greendale (which, as Annie noted, is what he already WAS"settling down" with) closing. He's not in the right state of mind to be making these decisions.

      "Maybe the timing was wrong, but they should still end up together at the end."

      If there's a sixth season, we'll see about it. Right now, I ship Jeff/therapy.

  3. You (and the other commenter) wonder why Britta says ‘yes’ - if you paid attention to the Beta Male episode, it’s clear as to why she agrees. Britta’s always characterized an aversion to ‘selling out’, yet when she runs into her anarchist friends, she’s surprised by the fact that they’ve all endorsed their lives over to the status quo. This makes her realize that she can’t go on forever Banksy’ing shit, taking on whatever hot, topical cause and railing against it, and the ilk. She’s 33. There’s a part of her that has probably always known that she can’t live forever in the past, and for you, specifically, it’s time to understand that, despite these people being sitcom characters, they still must evolve. I notice a lot of you JA shippers tend to box Britta in because it's convenient for you to REMAIN boxed in. I mean, you mention that she’s an “independent woman” with no need to define herself through a man – dude, I know what you’re TRYING to say, but you sound like some generic "feminist" tripe straight out of some grrl ‘zine who THINK they know what feminism looks like. On top of that, Dan’s never painted her as a woman that was truly convicted to that type of aggro-feminism - that is, while she’s raging against the machine of a patriarchal society, there have always been glimpses of her wanting the stock traditional shit of being a wife and a mother. The show has referenced that at least 5 times over the course of the series, and yet, you think she’s someone still doesn’t need/want a man because…WHY? Because she complains about men? Because she wears leather jackets and is weird/odd/traditionally un-feminine like Annie? Because women can’t rail against the horrors of misogyny AND want to don the apron and heels and make a man feel good? Or is it because you need Britta to remain as two-dimensional as possible, enough to express disbelief because she wants to settle down? When she agrees to marry Jeff, it’s not OOC no matter how many leather jackets she owns. Also, I’m pretty sure the writers have a better idea of who Britta is than you. No offense, but how about cutting them some slack here, instead of viewing pivotal moments like the proposal as simply a wrench into your shipping proclivities, because I’m pretty sure if Annie was the recipient of the proposal, you’d be singing a very different tune here.

    Besides, you’re doing it wrong. You’re looking at these characters within their confined tropes, within the prism of them fulfilling their sitcom roles – how about looking at why Britta says yes in terms of what a real person in her position would do? She’s just like everyone else – she wants meaning in her life, validation that she’s done some right, contributed in a way that she’s able to look back and say that she accomplished something. Those are Basic Human Desires 101, and a lot of that can't happen without having a relationship of some type of others. Instead, you pin her to a stupid “she’s a feminist, feminists don’t need men!” parochial ideal that really does nothing to help your "review".

    1. 'There’s a part of her that has probably always known that she can’t live forever in the past, and for you, specifically, it’s time to understand that, despite these people being sitcom characters, they still must evolve.'

      Agreed but here's the kicker -- wasn't the entire conversation about Jeff and Britta pre-proposal negating what you JUST said above? The reason Britta said yes (and why Jeff asked) was seemingly BECAUSE of their desire to live in the past. They reminisced on the reason Jeff joined the group; Jeff had just lost Greendale, the most emotional and longest relationship he has ever had. And Britta didn't seem to jump into the marriage because she wanted to evolve -- she agreed (halfheartedly might I add) because of her fear of moving forward, not her desire to. Right? Isn't that the near-exact words of that scene? So, if that is what Harmon meant to convey, then how am I supposed to read Britta as a character?

      I don't think that by expressing distaste for this scene that I'm boxing Britta in. I, in fact, would argue that I'm doing the opposite. Doesn't Britta deserve to be with someone who wants to be with her for real? As the first choice and not out of some desperation? And doesn't she -- as someone who has been in relationships before -- deserve to say yes to someone not out of that same desperation and fear? How is agreeing to marry Jeff because she's afraid of the future in any way progressing her as character? Or Jeff? It's saying that Jeff is as desperate and as selfish as he was in the pilot and that Britta is worse; in the pilot she had standards and wouldn't sleep with Jeff because she had been jaded by men like him. In 5x12, she... what? Suddenly decides "what the hell, might as well do this because I don't know if there's anything else out there"? Britta deserves a LOT better than that and that's where I just don't understand. And if this was the other foot -- if this was Annie and not Britta -- I'd be just as disappointed and disgusted, believe you me. Annie doesn't deserve to be someone's rebound and neither does Britta. And no one deserves to be proposed to out of fear and desperation. Not a very solid foundation of a marriage, eh?

      'Besides, you’re doing it wrong. You’re looking at these characters within their confined tropes, within the prism of them fulfilling their sitcom roles – how about looking at why Britta says yes in terms of what a real person in her position would do? She’s just like everyone else – she wants meaning in her life, validation that she’s done some right, contributed in a way that she’s able to look back and say that she accomplished something.'

      The point I'm making is this: Britta may be scared and Jeff may be scared but after five years of Greendale -- five years of realizing that the outside world is scary but that they've been CHANGED because of it and are not the same terrified, selfish people they entered as -- these people SHOULD be acting differently. Jeff shouldn't be just as selfish, nor Britta just as jaded. And yet my feeling this season is that the message is that people don't really change at all. Or that what we've seen over five years is just a grand, crafted illusion. And if that is true, then I don't know what to make of a comedy seemingly about optimism that turns into pessimism.

      Oh, and I don't know if I'm "doing it wrong," but I AM doing it differently than you. And those two things, friend, are not synonymous.

    2. The most interesting spin I've seen put on this (and I still don't think it defends Britta's desperation as well as it needs to) comes from Vulture:
      "Jeff’s early infatuation with Britta was the catalyst for the study group coming together in the first place, and the creation of the study group was totally in line with Harmon’s Story Circle concept (step three, the protagonist’s “unfamiliar situation”). But the thing is, Jeff has been around the circle a couple of times now (Annie recognizes it, thus her eye-rolling at Jeff’s “I love Scotch, and myself" assertion; she knows there’s more to the guy at this point). Britta’s not really what he wants anymore; she’s just there, and Jeff is trying to preemptively put her in the impending void that Greendale’s closure will create. Britta’s doing the same thing by agreeing. This should bear itself out next week. There’s no way they’re going to get married, but don’t hold your breath for a Jeff and Annie coupling, either; it would just be more of the same, but with a larger age gap."

      Again, at this stage I ship Jeff/therapy. I mean, in the last six months (in show time) his business has gone under, he's started a new career at a much lower salary, one of his friends died, another left the country, he nearly died himself (at his own hand), and now his school/job/first real home is closing. Now is not a good time to be making any romantic decisions.