Tuesday, March 24, 2015

6x03 "Basic Crisis Room Decorum" (The Annie Of It All) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


"Basic Crisis Room Decorum"
Original Airdate: March 24, 2015

There are two plots happening in the blessedly tame 100th episode of Community, "Basic Crisis Room Decorum." The A-Plot is about Annie and the rest of the group trying to stop City College from running a commercial about how Greendale once gave a degree to a dog named Ruffles. The B-Plot is that the Dean has been texting a student in Japan, thinking he’s actually texting Jeff Winger. I’m going to talk way more about the former than the latter in this review.

I liked the A-plot of this episode, not only because it revolved around Annie and I love Annie, but also because I think it was a pretty good reflection of the show itself and that’s really good, since this is Community’s 100th episode and all. A hundred episodes is a huge milestone for a TV show, especially one that seems to live perpetually on the bubble of cancellation like the series has during its entire run.

Community has always been a show about hope to me. The series was birthed during a time when cynicism was the key to “good comedy” and even though this show is sharp and jagged sometimes, even though it dips briefly into moments of despair, it always seems to float back up again.

One of my favorite episodes – if not my very favorite episode – is “Mixology Certification,” which is generally considered a “dark” episode by viewers and critics because there aren’t very many jokes and wacky hijinks throughout it. It’s an episode that touches one of those aforementioned moments of despair as all our characters get drunk in a bar and realize they’re unhappy with who they are and what the world has in store for them. They yell at each other, they lie to strangers to make themselves feel better, they get drinks thrown on them and they get trapped, separated and alone, in a bar entryway. It isn’t a good day.

But at the end of the episode, when Troy is driving his friends home after what seems to be a terrible 21st birthday meant to celebrate him becoming a man, Troy smiles. Because he still loves his friends, he still has hope, and the future is brighter than one bad day.

That’s what Community is about. It’s about a world of broken people who still manage to make a loving family and find joy in each other in spite of all their faults and strangeness and bad days. For the most part, it’s a show that says, no – you don’t have to reject love in order to be cool, or funny, or smart. You don’t have to stoop to lower levels to win. You don’t have to give in to the hipster notion that liking things and loving people means you’re less than the people who don’t like things and don’t love people. Liking things, loving people – that’s how you show the world around you that you’re alive and paying attention.

I don’t know if I can say that Community has absolutely stuck with what I believe to be its core concept through all its ups and downs as a show, but Annie’s role in “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” and the resolution of its story makes me think it’s still trying. I hope it continues to try.


“Basic Crisis Room Decorum”

In the case of Annie's story, this episode looks like a rehash of the season two's episode "Basic Rocket Science," in which Annie threatens to transfer to City College because she's ashamed of Greendale and its apathetic, ridiculous students.

The difference between the two episodes is that, in "Basic Rocket Science," Annie is ashamed of how Greendale makes her look.

In "Basic Crisis Room Decorum," Annie is ashamed of how Greendale makes her feel.

In season two, Annie couldn't stand that Greendale was a place that accepted and flew a butt flag. Greendale was a joke, and she didn't want a joke of a school to be on her resumé. She had too much self-respect and pride to stick around.

By season six, Annie's moved past the idea that maybe Greendale doesn't look so great on a resumé. She's accepted the school and its quirks and still takes pride in her success, her good grades, and her ability to run the "Save Greendale" campaign in spite of how Greendale looks on paper because, up until this episode, Annie's always believed that whatever problems she might encounter can be conquered with hard work, dedication, and the help of her friends. That's why she calls them in to help her stop City College's attack ad, only to end up horrified by their methods of doing so.

A fundamental trait in Annie Edison is that she wants the people around her to be the best people they can possibly be. She likes highlighting the good in others and trying to get them to see it in themselves, because Annie always sees it. But what if she stops seeing it? What if she starts only seeing the underhanded, manipulative, defeatist parts of the people she's spent all this effort trying to lift up? What if the people she's trying to help flat-out tell her that there's no reason to try and be good and that hope is pointless?

I'm sure that Annie is sick and tired of being the optimist in a sea of pessimism. After all: what's the point? Her friends apparently haven't grown in the six years she's known them, and even the new people in the group seem eternally fatalistic.

Annie thought she had an ally in Frankie, had another person with an A-Type personality and go-getter attitude to help inspire the people around her and bring Greendale out of whatever new darkness it might find itself in. Then she hears Frankie's declaration that she gave up hope a long time ago and was better for it, and Annie realizes that even Frankie is just the same as everyone else, just as pessimistic and just as content with her apathy and cynicism. If Frankie, a woman I'm sure Annie saw a lot of herself in, couldn't even keep herself from nose-diving into hopelessness, what chance does Annie have? If she's in a school full of people who have no drive, no ambition, and don't feel like they need to change anything – how long will it take before Annie is just like them?

So Annie wants out. She claims she wants to go to a place where her grades matter (and I'm sure that's a part of it), but the real motivation in her decision to bail on Greendale is watching her friends use dirty political tactics to fudge the truth instead of owning up to that truth and being better than it. She doesn't like seeing proof that her belief in the people around her was ill-founded and pointless, that maybe the goodness she saw in all of them was just an illusion brought about by the pointless trait of "hope." She cleans out her locker and thinks that, just maybe, things will be different at City College.

But then Abed brings Annie the new campaign commercial for Greendale, where a happy Dean Pelton is sitting with Ruffles the dog and promoting Greendale not as a place so terrible it give degrees to dogs, but as a place so full of hope and the possibility for improvement that it gives degrees to dogs. Annie is overjoyed; even when Jeff tells her the commercial was just a good tactical move. She doesn't care, because it finally looks like hope wins. Her belief in the people around her didn't let her down in the end, which means that she can keep on believing in people. She can keep being an optimist in that sea of pessimism and, just maybe, she might be able to make a difference.

She hopes.

Other stuff:

  • I was pretty happy with Chang in the previous two episodes, but he really fell flat in this one. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that works and doesn’t work about his character anymore.
  • The Dean/Jeff plot fell flat, too, and I think too much time was dedicated to it. It might have been better as a one-time joke, but they kept revisiting it and it wore reeeeally thin.
  • I think I felt more for Britta during the brief moment where she tells Elroy about how everyone treats her like a joke than I did during the entire previous episode. Because, let’s face it, the previous episode… treated her like a joke.
  • “Could you guys be bigger nerds?” “No, most of us have achieved our maximum potential.”
  • I’m so glad that they don’t seem to be trying to do Annie vs. Frankie in any real way. I just wanted to say that, because there was a lot of buzz about Annie vs. Frankie pre-season six and it made me really nervous.
  • "I assume Chang thinks I sound like distant explosions and crying babies."
  • We get a slow, sad reprise of "If I Die Before You" as Annie's packing up her stuff to leave. Because "Greendale Is Where I Belong" wouldn't really fit, would it?
  • Hello there, confirmed birthday for Annie! 12/19/1990. I can't believe I'm older than Annie. [Jenn's note: Geez, I can't believe I'm older than Annie, too]
  • “Yes, Jeff, don’t worry. I promise I’ll never mistake you for having a heart.” Oh, please, Annie, you know very well that Jeff has a heart. YOU’RE IN IT.
What did you all think of "Basic Crisis Room Decorum"? Did you enjoy the A-plot? Also, be sure to hit up the comments below and welcome Deb as my weekly co-reviewer this season for Community! (Also welcome her because she'll be sticking around to review Sleepy Hollow next season. I basically hold my writers captive, is what I'm saying.)
Until then, folks! :)

16 comments:

  1. I actually liked the B story. It helps explain the Dean's weirdness in a way I didn't think was possible, and it provided for the silly tag at the end. I would have preferred more Britta. I thought they started something in episode 2 to re-ground her, and as God as my witness, I hope this means less caricature of personalities we loved in the first half of this series and more of the beautifully flawed characters we loved.

    I actually think this extra time has helped the show finish jokes and hold shots they just could do last year when they were trying to get so much into every episode. This isn't a top 10 episode for me, but it still had a lot of funny moments and it setup future episodes the way the storyline worked in seasons 1 and 2.

    Good review!!!

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  2. This episode felt overstuffed, with about four different plotlines (the anti-puppy campaign, Chang's oddness, drunk Britta, and the texting fiasco), but it was hilarious nonetheless, and managed to get some good character stuff in its A-plot as you note here. I have to disagree about the texting subplot, as I found it the funniest of all of them. Admittedly having lived in Japan probably played a part in that, but still...

    Also, since I have a potential audience to ask here, is anyone else just having a horrible time watching video on Yahoo Screen? I can't get it to buffer past about a minute, at which point it quits, then I have to rewind and start the process all over. I finally caved and downloaded illegally for this episode, but I'd like to avoid that so I can support the show.

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    1. I wouldn't say the episode felt overstuffed to me, because I don't feel like we were cycling from plot to plot. I think personally it just felt like the B/C stories were extremely weak and the time could have been better utilized for the A-story. I actually didn't find the sub-plots funny, but then again, I haven't also laughed a lot this season yet. (Not to say the show isn't good but... yeah, I just haven't laughed a lot.)

      As for your question: YES. I had an absolutely terrible time watching Yahoo Screen on my laptop. I tried watching the first two episodes that way and my computer literally crashed because it was just buffering and throwing errors.

      BUT. If you have a smart phone and can download the Yahoo Screen app, that's how I watched 6.03. It's a BILLION times better, in higher quality, and the best part? NO ADVERTISEMENTS. I was able to get through an entire episode without having anything crash on me.

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    2. Oh, NO ADS? That's really good to know. Thanks!

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    3. Oh, NO ADS? That's really good to know. Thanks!

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    4. Unfortunately I do not have a smart phone (can't afford one), so I'm stuck for the moment. :( But I'm glad to know it's the site, not me.

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    5. Bethany: NO ADS. I don't know if it was a fluke or if the app actually doesn't have them but it made my viewing experience 10000% better.

      Commenting: Awww, boo. But yes, you are totally not alone in having issues. It seems problematic for a lot of us.

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  3. “Annie is overjoyed; even when Jeff tells her the commercial was just a good tactical move. She doesn't care, because it finally looks like hope wins. Her belief in the people around her didn't let her down in the end, which means that she can keep on believing in people.”

    Here’s the thing – I don’t think it was Annie’s belief in them that saved the day, if anything her anger and despair was fully justified. I think what saved the day was their belief in her – when she storms out vowing to transfer to City College, the camera cuts from Jeff to the Dean to Abed and their expressions tell a story, they clearly realise they’ve gone too far if they’ve managed to break Annie’s idealism. And this is where the Ruffles advert comes from, they’ll do anything, even publicly embrace the craziness of Greendale with all the risks that implies, if it that’s what it takes to show Annie that her idealism is not misplaced. It’s often been said that the study group are not friends they’re a family, and this is a really good example of it. For the difference between friends and family is that with family you don’t have a choice whether or not you love them, even when they’re driving you crazy, even when you feel you hate them more than anything else, you still try to find a way back. And that’s what the study group does this episode with Annie, they turn up at 2:30AM in response to her alarm call about a lame advert (that is going to be aired at 7AM, doubtless a local community channel and seen by maybe dozens of people...), spend the entire night rowing and then cave in completely to her point of view by making the Ruffles ad rather than risk losing her.

    “Then she hears Frankie's declaration that she gave up hope a long time ago and was better for it, and Annie realizes that even Frankie is just the same as everyone else, just as pessimistic and just as content with her apathy and cynicism. If Frankie, a woman I'm sure Annie saw a lot of herself in, couldn't even keep herself from nose-diving into hopelessness, what chance does Annie have?”

    Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you? We must do without hope. At least we may yet be avenged. Let us gird ourselves and weep no more! Come! We have a long road, and much to do.

    No, Frankie isn’t Aragorn :-) But she does have a point about how freeing it can be not to depend on hope. But if Frankie isn’t Aragorn, Annie may be Samwise, the only one who never loses hope and faith and saves the day as a result of it. And given how bizarre this analogy is getting (I swear it made more sense when I mapped it out in my head) I’d better let it rest there...

    One thing that does worry me about Frankie though (and going back to something Jen said at the end of the last comments thread – ta for the welcome, BTW), yes she is a lot like Annie. An older, wiser (or at least more beaten down by reality) Annie. She’s also about the same age as Jeff, and given the writers’ known views I worry she may be a torpedo aimed at the good ship Jeff’n’Annie. If Jeff and Frankie are dating by the end of the series, you heard it here first! Don’t get me wrong, I really like Frankie as a character I’m just worried about what they’re going to do with her.

    (To be continued)

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  4. (continued, apologies for the two part post, but I ran up against a blogger character limit)

    “Hello there, confirmed birthday for Annie! 12/19/1990. I can't believe I'm older than Annie. [Jenn's note: Geez, I can't believe I'm older than Annie, too]”

    That fits – the first episode aired September 2009, and it was always stated Annie was 18 back then. The more interesting continuity blooper though is we’ve had several Christmas specials without a single one of them mentioning the fact that in all the chaos was also Annie’s birthday at that time. Given the usual emphasis on family and togetherness versus loneliness and despair it’s odd it never came up.

    One final thought – sorry, but I thought the B-plot with the Dean and the Tokyo schoolboys was hilarious, especially the ending where it’s revealed that the Dean inadvertently set the kid on the road to becoming head of the Yakuza.

    “Tokyo is a machine, caked with blood, running on flesh!"

    (As for the problem with Yahoo! screen, one advantage of being British is that I may be seeing it a day after you guys but at least it's on an actual TV channel! The show's sponsor is "elitesingles.co.uk" BTW, and it struck me as amusingly ironic that a show that routinely portrays relationships as either tedious or disastrous or simply nonexistent is sponsored by a dating website.)

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    1. I just posted a whole reply that got erased upon preview. Bleh. This is why I've never commented before! (That's a lie. I've never commented because I'm very shy.)

      I do agree that it was the group's love and respect for Annie that got them to change their minds about the commercial, but the thing is that I don't think Annie would have seen it that way. She would have seen it as the group living up to what she believes is their potential for good, and would have tallied that as a point for having hope and faith in the people around her.

      The group did it for Annie, but Annie would not see herself as their motivating factor. She wouldn't have thought, "They did it out of guilt because I left and they wanted me back," she would have thought, "They did it because they're good people, and I should keep hoping and keep having faith in their goodness."

      As for Frankie: I don't think that the writers would ever replace Annie with her in terms of Jeff's romantic interests. That would be such a display of Not Getting It that it'd be hard to believe it wasn't an outright attack on Jeff/Annie fans in general. The fans don't like Jeff/Annie because they've made a bullet-point list of "traits that make a perfect romantic pairing," they like them because of their particular chemistry and the idea of their story, which starts with them being friends who genuinely care about and respect each other and ends with them finding out they're in love. Making Jeff get together with Frankie just because Frankie and Annie are somewhat similar would be phenomenally stupid, and I hope I'm not being naive when I say that the writers couldn't be that stupid (or that cruel).

      Annie's birthday: I am forever disappointed that we've never gotten on-screen evidence of the group celebrating Annie's birthday, but I'm also not that surprised. I've always had a theory that the writers don't want to think about Annie aging, because it's always been easier to write her as an inexperience, innocent teenager. I'm not sure if it was Dan Harmon or another writer, but I remember someone saying in an interview that Annie was a teenager at a time in the show's run where she'd be in her early twenties, which just goes to show that they're not paying attention. So of course they haven't celebrated her birthday. You can't have a birthday for a character you refuse to allow to grow up.

      And finally, I will admit that the Tokyo side of the Jeff/Dean plot was interesting and funny. But the arc of the dean and that Japanese kid had more development and pathos than the flat line that is "The Dean Thinks Jeff is Hot," which has been exactly the same since it started up in season 2 (or season 1? though it was more subtle, if you can count that).

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    2. (I've lost replies that way myself, so you have my sympathies. Because of that I always draft my replies in Word or somesuch these days and cut and paste it in the comment box so that I don't lose everything if blogger goes temperamental...)

      “I do agree that it was the group's love and respect for Annie that got them to change their minds about the commercial, but the thing is that I don't think Annie would have seen it that way. She would have seen it as the group living up to what she believes is their potential for good, and would have tallied that as a point for having hope and faith in the people around her.”

      Absolutely. I doubt this is an original observation, but I strongly suspect that a large part of Annie’s self-image is stuck at the level of the overweight high school girl with acne and greasy hair fighting a drug addiction in a rehab clinic. She sees herself as worthless, and so it doesn’t occur to her that others see worth in her, she will think people did good because of themselves because it won’t occur to her they could do it because of her. It probably doesn’t help that the people who do love her and value her never seem to actually say so because of their own issues. (Yes Jeff Winger we get it – you’re conflicted. Tough. Man up and say something that’s both right and important and centred on somebody else for once in your life.)

      On Frankie – I really hope you’re right. On Annie’s birthday I really hope you’re wrong (but I suspect not, your theory makes far too much sense).

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  5. I really liked this review and I am all for more stories for Annie and Britta this season.

    I do have a question for Deborah or Jenn. I haven't really liked Chang much this season.(It's not Ken Jeong's fault as he is a great comedy actor. No, I blame the writers more) None of his storylines so far have made me laugh. Not like in seasons 1 and 2 (and a little of 3)

    My question is : If you were writing , what would you do to fix Chang?

    Thank you for letting me post on here and great review!

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    1. Jenn here! I can't speak for Deb, but I'll try to determine what I like about Chang and what would make for a great story: something along the lines of season two's "Asian Population Studies." I think that was some of the best Chang stuff we had gotten. He was still inherently HIM but he interacted well with Jeff and the rest of the group. My problem with Chang is that they dumbed him so far down over the years (a qualm I also have with Britta) that he's essentially a caricature of what he used to be. I mean, remember Chang who faked his own death? Who almost took over the school?

      Chang was always at his best when he was trying to get into the study group and was antagonizing them. I want that back again. And I also need him less.... punchline, more substance? That's just me, I think. But I really just think he's annoying and misplaced because he has NO purpose.

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    2. I liked Chang when he was a maniacally pitiable authority figure in season 1. That was the best Chang, in my opinion.

      I didn't actually like when Chang took over the school because I could see the ridiculousness of his character seeping in. He was a cartoon villain, way more weird than season 1 Chang ever was or ever could be.

      Jenn's got it right: they've made him into a caricature, a punchline machine with no human reality left in him. In the first episode of this season, he was more in character than he's been in a long time when he started mocking the lack of diversity in the "new" group at the study table. That was oldschool Chang, reminiscent of when he taught offensive descriptors in Spanish during season 1, though it didn't really last.

      In Crisis Room Decorum, Chang's just crazy joke after crazy joke and there's nothing else to him. That's what they keep falling back into with Chang in recent seasons.

      Like, Chang used to have a wife and a family - can you imagine the Chang we see right now talking to his brother during another Family Day at Greendale? How bizarre would that be?

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    3. Deb, I think Chang in season one was the most consistently hilarious and also well-developed. I mean, remember "Environmental Science"? But I also liked the entire plot of Chang trying to get into the group in season two. That really is the last season I liked Chang consistently. He fit in well (especially in episodes like APS or the Halloween episode) because the characters were annoyed by him so it was okay if we were too. (Plus I really do love Early 21st Century Romanticism with the Duncan/Jeff/Chang plot.)

      There was clearly no recovering from season three Chang and I'm going to pretend season four never happened as far as Chang goes.

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