Ted Lasso, Rom-Coms, and Emotional Vulnerability

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

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

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

If You Like This, Watch That

Looking for a new TV series to watch? We recommend them based on your preference for musicals, ensemble shows, mysteries, and more!

Friday, October 28, 2011

3x05 "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" (Are YOU Crazy?)

"Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps"
Original Airdate: October 27, 2011

First off, welcome back from a week hiatus! Secondly, welcome to Halloween at Greendale! As any fan of the show knows, Community prides itself, truly, on its Halloween episodes. And it seems that - much like paintball - when given the task of "topping" a previous episode, this show always exceeds expectations. "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" is no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, perhaps even more than last year's Halloween episode (though it's hard to say for sure because I feel like every week I've been crowning that particular week's episode as my "favorite"). As with 3x02, the apple of my eye in this episode is Britta. I thought that she owned "Geography of Global Conflict." Friends, in comparison with this episode, she totally Britta'd 3x02. More on that in a little while, though. Let's kick off our review and delve into the world of spooky stories, shall we?

So we open this week's episode with Britta preparing a spread of snacks for the group's pre-Halloween party (which turns out to be a ruse so that Britta can psychoanalyze everyone). And this is why I love Britta Perry. I thought that Annie's snack-spread in "Asian Population Studies" (tropical Skittles, cigarettes, and mouthwash) was hilarious. Again, I was mistaken. Britta's snacks include: Lucky Charms (with hardly any marshmallows, and everyone knows that without those, life is awful), Fruit Loops, donuts (one partially eaten), some chocolate, and taco shells (...for the Dean's taco meat!). What I love about Britta is that her attempts are always noble - she always has the best intentions, going into things. And then - because she's Britta - everything fails. Usually quite epically. Like her snack spread.

The study group doesn't seem to be too keen on spending time together for a pre-party (sidenote: Troy and Abed are wearing Inspector Spacetime costumes!), because they want to go to the Halloween dance. Britta, however, is on a mission and cannot be deterred. So she summons Jeff to the side. Their conversation goes as follows:

Britta: Jeff, can I have a quick conversation with you?
Jeff: Doubtful, but I support the dream.

So, I really do love Jeff and Britta together, and episodes like this demonstrate why. Their dynamic throughout the episode is reminiscent of "Romantic Expressionism" and "The Science of Illusion." I honestly love when these two pair up as friends/cohorts. Romantically, Jeff/Britta really doesn't do anything for me - they're too similar and bring out the worst, a lot of times, in one another. But when they are attempting to plot together, they are comedic gold. Also, I really love how we can see character growth in Jeff throughout the episode. I think that one of the most significant differences - if you compare the previous two Halloween episodes - between "Introduction to Statistics" and "Seven Spooky Steps" is that Jeff now cares about this group and their feelings. In 1x07, Jeff does everything that he possibly can to avoid being with his group until it is inevitable that he has to assist them. In 2x06, Jeff slouches around as the guy who is too cool to be at some Greendale party (and yet goes anyway). In 3x05 (I just noticed that each Halloween episode is progressively earlier), Jeff still has his snark and his I-could-care-less-about-this attitude, and yet there's this moment where Britta asks him if people are using her name to mean 'make a small mistake' and where season 1 and 2 Jeff may have corrected her and said something like "Uh no, it means epic fail," season 3 Jeff looks at Britta for a moment before lying to her in order to spare her feelings. It was the smallest moment of the episode for me, but also a great significant factor to me in character growth.

But I am digressing, and you all really just want me to discuss everyone's "scary stories." First, let me note that the continuity fairy frequents this episode a lot and it's pretty much why I love Community in the first place. It's so easy for shows to gloss over what has happened in seasons past, and act like the audience has forgotten all about episodes and plots and character arcs. Community is so self-referencing that it uses Troy to call back things like the taco meat (which we, of course, know is the root of the zombie Halloween episode last season) and how Britta lived in New York. This show always, always rewards its viewers and I think that is one of the primary reasons that I love it so much. Every reference like that, no matter how small, is like a personal thank-you note for watching.

So, in our plot for the episode, Britta tells Jeff that she ran personality tests on the group last week, and that one of the tests came back with 70/75 markers for an extreme personality disorder. Britta is really quite concerned that one of their group members has the potential to be a homicidal maniac, so she enlists Jeff to help her discover which person it is. In order to determine who is the psychopath, Britta decides to tell a scary story and gauge their reactions to determine who is the crazy person.

Each of these stories plays out in the distinct voice of the character telling the story. It's quite hilarious that both Britta and Shirley (who evidently don't tell many scary stories) begin their stories with "Once upon a time..." The blonde then proceeds to roll some horror movie cliches into one story (a couple making out in a car in the woods), dripping with dry sarcasm and distinct feminism (portraying Jeff as the male jerk who ends up dying because he decides to get out of the car). Britta ends her story in a way that only Britta would, by having her character scream: "Oh my God, no! I was right!"

The study group finds her story lame (because she pretty much Britta'd it), and Abed notes the reasons why. He then proceeds to tell his own story which is flawlessly Abed - perfectly snappy, witty, but direct and sharp. I think that Abed's story is one of the first instances that I realized Abed was the normal one. Or, perhaps he's just the most rational. See, every other story that the characters tell is based on emotion, or more specifically, the emotions of the characters who are telling it. While I don't think that this is a commentary specifically on how emotions are a hindrance (or how Abed's lack of emotion is necessary), I think it's just interesting to juxtapose Abed (the "crazy" one) and his story (which is the most normal and rational) with all of the others'. His is the only sane story. And here we are again - remember how I said in my "Biology 101" commentary that I think we were meant to re-think how we view Jeff as the "leader" of the study group this season? Well, I think that this episode was meant to re-think how we view Abed as the "crazy" one, when in all actuality, he's the most psychologically sane.

Anyway, we then come to Annie's story. And so at this point we are under the assumption that every story tells us something about the characters who are telling it. And that's understandable. Annie's story (initially, we'll get to the ending in a bit) begins with how I would expect an Annie-story to begin - romantic and fanciful. It seems natural. And this story is also a commentary on the Jeff/Annie/Britta triangle (or how Annie sees it). Because here's the thing - Annie's "scary story" was (at the beginning, at least) reality. Let's analyze it, because I'm in an analyzing mood (I blame this episode):
  • Jeff, in the story, is a monster but Annie is drawn to him. And he's drawn to her. Because the fact is that Annie sees the good in people all the time. She can't help it. And Abed and Annie are alike in this way - they see the world a certain way because it's better than accepting it for how it really is.
  • It's clear that real!Jeff and real!Annie have feelings there, and the complicating factor is Jeff. In Annie's story (and perhaps in real life as well), he's torn because he wants to act on those feelings, but wants to preserve the innocence of Annie (so he turns to used-up Britta to compensate). Maybe he's torn because he doesn't believe there's enough good inside of him (throwback to my "Biology 101" commentary again). Or perhaps just not ENOUGH good to deserve Annie.
  • And look, I don't mean that Britta and Jeff don't care for one another. I think they do, to an extent. I think that Jeff has always returned to what he knows - what is familiar and easy. And Britta allows herself to be that person (she also asks story!Annie to not judge her for it). She's used as a sort of in-between by him, and she's fine with it (and that's what is scary to Annie). It appalls story!Annie (and probably real!Annie)
  • And yet, at the end of that section of the tale (when Jeff gives into what he wants - albeit with Britta rather than Annie), he can't let Annie go without trying to be better.
  • I think that I would have definitely expected this of season 1 and season 2 Annie, all the way up to the post-readings scene. It's very school-girl and naive and fanciful. It's Annie, and we've come to expect her as the good-natured one who really just keeps waiting around for Jeff - who puts up with how he toys with her emotions and doesn't give her answers.
  • "You should be proud of how much I've changed you." Oh, there's a novel's worth of ideas in that statement alone. Because I think that Annie DOES kind of pride herself in that aspect of her relationship with Jeff.
  • And then... Annie's story becomes AWESOME because she turns into a werewolf and kills vampire!Jeff. I love this because it's an indicator of how this season Annie's not taking any crap. She's going to grow up, and she's GOING to demand answers and respect and not be treated a certain way anymore. And she's awesome when she's like this.
Rightfully, everyone looks terrified at this story, especially Jeff. It's hilarious. Troy's not having any of it, though. "That's enough," he says. "Stop pinning ribbons to her. Why does Annie get to be good at everything?" Troy's story, then, is perfectly Troy - he's with Abed, Pierce is the villain, and he and Abed are doing awesome things (like being fighter pilots). It's so Troy too because instead of using really big, fancy descriptions or transforming the cabin into something like Annie's story, he uses really Troy-like phrases and words. It was also a really good representation of the Pierce/Troy/Abed dynamic (which is prevalent this season).

And then we get to Pierce's story. Which...oh, Pierce. It's basically how he would like his life to be, I think, if it were a movie - the successful hero with women and brandy. Rightfully so, everyone seems disgusted by the story (Annie and Britta's reactions are priceless, as is Jeff's). 

Shirley laments that scary stories used to be about good versus evil, and therefore begins her own story utilizing a horror trope - partying teenagers in the woods who end up dying. Here's something cool to note that I didn't realize until Shirley's story - notice how the decorations in the cabin change depending on who is telling the story. Also, notice who Shirley pairs together in the story - Troy/Annie and Jeff/Britta. I like that this is a reflection of her character as well. Shirley's story is like a hell-fire and brimstone sermon, with the Dean playing the Devil (also a nice callback: Jeff summoning the Dean). At the end of the story, Yvette Nicole Brown does this fantastic "preach-it" voice.

Britta begins to freak out when everyone starts to leave her pre-party, and she hastily explains the reason she had called them all there in the first place. The group turns the tables on Britta, however, when they remind her that she too took the exam and could potentially be a homicidal maniac. Just as Annie tells everyone to calm down, the lights go out. Everyone panics and grabs weapons, yelling at each group member. Hilariously, these are their weapons of choice:
  • Shirley - a broken bottle
  • Abed - a folding chair
  • Troy - Wolverine-like pencil claws
  • Pierce - a fire extinguisher
  • Annie (I half-expected her to bust out her gun from 3x04) - a pair of scissors
  • Britta (she actually has a legitimate weapon) - a knife
  • Jeff - his wit and charm... oh, wait...
Jeff tells his own story to calm the group down. It seems to be a Christmas-themed story that is quick, lame, and sappy. And it ends in everyone hugging their would-be murderer (Chang) because he was in need of love. It's a Winger cop-out, as I'll explain in a minute.

Annie examines the test and her face when she realizes what Britta did (ran the scantrons through the machines upside-down) is priceless. So, after Britta runs the tests through the machines correctly, she displays the tests and the group realizes that only one test displays a normal result. The group wonders whether or not they should attempt to discover who the sane person is, and Shirley responds with "or we could hold onto the comforting notion that any one of us might be sane." 

Ironically - as someone mentioned in a comment for 3x04 - Abed gave a Winger-speech in "Remedial Chaos Theory" and Britta gave the typical end-of-episode speech in 3x05. I like this. So below, I captured a screenshot of the exams and - based on how I can read them, as red representing a correlation between something negative (like the potential for a personality disorder) - this is the proposed order of sane to insane: 
  1. Abed
  2. Annie
  3. Jeff
  4. Troy
  5. Britta
  6. Shirley
  7. Pierce

I think I quite like the order of this. I'm not sure exactly why yet, but it seems to make sense.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • The flickering lights was a nice gag.
  • Joel looked very nice this episode too. I need my own side-blog for how nice he looks every episode. I wonder how many people would subscribe...
  • "Extreme, Jeff." "Like a Dorito?" "Like a sociopathic Dorito. A Cool Ranch lunatic."
  • The radio announcer for Britta's story was hilarious.
  • When Abed insisted on humming the whole radio song in his story, I died laughing. (Also, notice that Troy is grooving along)
  • The montage of vampire!Jeff learning to read is hilarious.
  • "NO! I'm legit jealous!"
  • In Pierce's story, when Troy is the thug, there is a pacifier around his neck.
  • "Thank you for saving us, Shirley! I mean... your name's not Shirley. This is a story about strangers. Anywho..."
  • "Wow. You Britta'd Britta'd."
If I am correct, next week will be 3x06 which is an episode titled "Advanced Gay" so you just know it's about Pierce (apparently about Pierce and his father, who I thought was dead). Until then, folks! Everyone have a happy Halloween. :)

Friday, October 14, 2011

3x04 "Remedial Chaos Theory" (A Choose Your Own Adventure!)

"Remedial Chaos Theory"
Original Airdate: October 13, 2011

Last week, I began by discussing the episodes that usually made my list of not-so-favorites. This week, I thought I'd kick the review off by letting you in on a few of my favorite episodes. From first season, if I had to choose an episode, I'd probably say "Modern Warfare" was the best all-around episode of the season. (And if you have to ask why, you're obviously streets behind). From second season, I decided that my three-way tie consists of "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" (flawless performances by Joel, Alison, and Jim), "Paradigms of the Human Memory" (it was just such an innovative way to turn the clip-show trope on its head), and "A Fistful of Paintballs" (flawless, period). And last night, we introduced a new episode to the rank of my favorites - "Remedial Chaos Theory." I won't be presumptuous but... okay, I will be presumptuous! This is, hands-down, my favorite episode to date.

I called the fact that this would be my favorite episode long before it even aired. Many of you who are reading this are on Twitter, so you know what a big emphasis we all place on being tweeted or retweeted by celebrities. When I heard of the episode description, I tweeted Dan Harmon, asking if it was like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book (the best. books. ever.), and he tweeted back: "I think it has that appeal." I pretty much knew right then that I would love the episode, and it did not disappoint. It, in fact, far exceeded any expectations that I had (even in other timelines of my life). 

So, the easiest way to break this episode down and review it is probably going to be timeline-by-timeline. I'll work chronologically, and start with some pre-timeline stuff, and then end with the post-timeline stuff and the tag (which I am still laughing at, 12 hours later). Everyone in their DARSIT? Good! Let's begin our time-bending journey.

So we open the episode with a joke that Megan Ganz gives credit to Gillian Jacobs for: "Didn't they say 304?" Britta asks Annie. "303. I wrote it down twice." Brilliant inside joke over the fact that this was supposed to air as 3x03. So we enter into Troy and Abed's new apartment and learn that Shirley arrived first, at 3pm, and has been baking ever since. Slowly, the group trickles in, and they all decide to play Yahtzee. They never actually get around to playing the game, because - hello - this is Community, after all, and when was the last time they played a real game together? (Don't answer that: It was Dungeons & Dragons). The pizza guy buzzes to be let in and Annie freaks out (something from the real timeline which will bleed into other timelines later on). So the group plays "nose goes," to determine who will go down and get the pizza. I love this because 1) it's a callback from "Aerodynamics of Gender" where they all play and Jeff asks "When did we start doing that?" and 2) this is how we decided things at work. When it's 10pm and you don't want to go walk something back to the produce department, you play nose goes. By the way, it has official rules. Just an FYI for everyone.

Back on track: Jeff proposes a plan to see who will go and get the pizza - he'll roll the die, and starting on his left, whichever number he rolls, that person will get the pizza. Abed informs him that by doing this, he's creating six different timelines. So let's pause momentarily and discuss what each character looks like pre-timeline, because these characteristics manifest themselves in every timeline, as well as post-timeline (in what we assume is reality):
  • Shirley: insistent on being the "perfect hostess"/baker
  • Annie: seems to be on edge slightly (this is the apartment catalyst later on)
  • Jeff and Pierce: pretend to not care (Jeff about the party, and Pierce about Troy moving in with Abed)
  • Troy and Abed: insistent as being seen as normal adults
  • Britta: wants others to see her as fun
So these subsequent timelines build on each other in the way that they expand the character developments that each timeline preceding it establishes. And it's ironic because these timelines never actually occur, and these things in them never happen, but traits of these characters bleed through the imagined and into the reality. It's like dreaming, right? There are fundamental things in your dreams that don't ever make sense (you can magically jump from one place and time to another), but there's still grains of truth that occur in your dreams that are realities in your life. Okay, so I'm going to discuss the general awesome things about each timeline, what they all have in common, why I loved them, and what each timeline reveals about the characters in them.

Annie's Timeline:
The repeated elements throughout the timelines are especially important to note because these represent consistency among the group, regardless of what point in time - real or fantastic - we are in. Thus, the most hilarious "running joke," is Gillian Jacobs' "ROOOOOOXA-" and Jeff's "Nope." So in this timeline, we learn that Annie carries a gun, and this bit of information gets built upon in Pierce's timeline. We already know that the "canon" is that Annie lives in a bad neighborhood. This information comes to a head in reality, too, when Abed asks Annie to move in with them. So, basically Annie's timeline sets up some character stuff - in particular for her - which will bleed back in later on in the episode.

Shirley's Timeline:
We learn in this timeline that there is a group vs. Shirley dynamic (that, again, resurfaces in later timelines). They claim that Shirley has a baking problem and they are enabling her if they eat the stuff she bakes. Jeff chastises her: "You're not allowed to have baking things as an identity." And identity is an important running theme in this show - and episode - so this line should be carefully noted. This timeline establishes Torg, the troll doll, as Pierce presents it to Troy. This is the tiny catalyst for Jeff/Troy dynamics later on in timelines - we see that Jeff still treats Troy like a child (sniggering at his fear of the troll). And in Shirley's timeline, we establish a little glimpse as to why Shirley bakes - she feels outside of the group because she's married and everyone else is flirty (nice subtle "Romantic Expressionism" vibe). The important nugget of truth in this timeline regarding Pierce, also, is that he still feels outside of the group.

Pierce's Timeline:
So we build even further on Shirley's timeline, because at the table, Jeff and Annie actually are making eyes at one another (while Shirley groans in disgust). This timeline is ironic because with Pierce out of the room, all of the "younger" characters get to develop. I like how Annie notes that Troy is becoming more mature - which incites Jeff to snidely note the bunkbeds that he and Abed have. In the previous timeline, we got a very subtle nod to Jeff tearing Troy down, but this one is more fully developed. It's the first real glimpse we get of a Troy/Jeff alpha male rivalry (solidified by Britta/Troy later on). Let's remember something for a moment: Jeff is selfish. Jeff wants the group's love and attention - their FULL love and attention, no matter how small the issue. So when Annie praises Troy, Jeff's reflex is to cut him down. This is followed by Annie giggling at Jeff's joke and Troy storming out of the room. 

Another running gag is Jeff hitting his head on the fan. So in this timeline, we kick off some more Jeff/Annie moments, as Jeff tells her: "You'd make a great nurse." So this is a nice glimpse into Annie as a character (built upon more by the time we reach Britta's timeline) and Jeff and Annie as a pairing. We also get further exploration into Troy's insecurities with a lovely Troy/Britta bathroom conversation. And this is a prime example of the realities of each character bleeding through the timelines and also into reality. I love this conversation because: 1) It's so honest. These two have a great dynamic together. 2) It's setting us up for the future. Britta is going to back Troy up this semester because she believes in him. She tells him: "You're a threat now [to Jeff]." And it's true - Troy is older, more mature, and is now a threat to Jeff's authority. This will bleed back into the real timeline at the end, and I'll explain that later. (Also, take note of this: "His whole personality is based around guarding himself." This will come back around later on too).

Britta's Timeline:
Can I say something? I love Britta Perry. Because first off, without Britta in the room, the entire group lapses into weirdly awkward silence. I like this because throughout the whole episodes, Britta is belting (and annoying Jeff) and trying so hard to be the "cool one," yet in the one timeline she's not there, it's weird. She's cool and she doesn't even know it. Anyway, now onto Pierce: throughout the timelines (and the pre-timeline), Pierce shows that he cares what the group thinks and doesn't like being left out. This timeline expands on that by having him visibly react to Troy and Abed's discussion at the table about being roommates. It's nice to see that Abed's face falls a little when Troy gets a gift from Pierce - competition for the better housemate begins (despite it really being one-sided on Pierce's part).

We jump into Jeff/Annie stuff again, as the line "You'd make a good nurse" resurfaces. This time, however, it's built into a conversation, with Jeff telling Annie that she needs to get out of the apartment (which builds upon Annie's timeline and foreshadows the real timeline at the end). I love that Jeff and Annie also make reference to their conversation a few weeks prior (about him not treating her like a kid, because - take note - this resurfaces in the Abed timeline). We get an added: "I can't help but worry about you, Annie. You're important to me." (Further evidence of building on the timelines). We start off Annie's timeline with the faintest hint of flirtation and by Abed's - well, we'll get to that. In this timeline, we establish more feelings and the two nearly kiss. (Yay for Jeff being the one to lean in)

We end this particular timeline with Pierce terrorizing Troy because he's jealous of the Troy/Abed dynamic. He then calls Abed "lonely and crazy," which - of course - is more of a commentary about Pierce's life than a dig at Abed. Britta ends up with the pizza guy at the end of the timeline and it's hilarious.

Troy's Timeline:
This one is what I'd like to call "the timeline to end all timelines." By the end of each of the previous timelines (anyone else starting to think the word 'timeline' sounds weird?), chaos develops in some way, shape, or form. It's a subtle form of chaos, usually finding one or two victims, but not the entire group. So we keep building in this one upon every timeline and pre-timeline concept: Pierce's jokes, Shirley's baking, and the never-ending question: will Britta EVER get to finish "Roxanne"?! This timeline, however, feels a bit more disjointed, perhaps because it LITERALLY dissolves into chaos, rather than fully build upon character stories.

So, here's what happens: Annie falls; alcohol breaks on the floor; Annie's purse goes flying (with the gun from her timeline); Pierce gets shot in the leg; Britta's cigarette falls and catches the alcohol on fire; Troy re-enters with pizza, sees the troll doll, and freaks out. Cha-os

This one is interesting to play with because when Troy leaves the room, the group dissolves into full-blown chaos (unlike the other group timelines, or the internal chaos of Abed's, or the lack of chaos in Jeff's/reality).

Abed's Timeline:
Building on our other timelines, no one is listening to Pierce's story, so he makes it more blunt so people will pay attention to him. This timeline is where every other timeline really converges, which would make sense because it's Abed. It also makes me wonder slightly if this was the real timeline. I mean, for Abed to call it out is, and was, completely meta of him. But wouldn't it make sense for this one to be real, in a way? 

Shirley's character circle comes to a close when she finally admits that the reason she bakes is because she feels like that's all she's good for in the group. Britta finally re-enters as "fun" (albeit high). Troy confesses that he's grateful to Pierce and is ready to be a man and make it on his own just like Pierce, while Pierce realizes that people do pay attention to him when he's not being a jerk.

Alright, Jeff/Annie shippers, I love you all. You are the wind beneath my wings, the song in my heart, etc. etc. But here's the thing about shippers (in general, not just you guys) - we read into things. And here's the thing about reading into things: it's fine, and we do it all the time. And we have two extremes: 1) taking things out of context that weren't necessarily meant to be in context (but they make us feel good, so we do it), 2) taking things personally (lines that weren't meant to be a certain way, but we take them that way). So, Jeff and Annie build upon their moments from the previous timelines. Jeff throws in his "I worry about you, Annie" and then adds "You're very important to me" (we add to the timeline). So maybe we're coming to a greater, more complete realization of the characters as the timelines progress. Maybe we're going from shallow knowledge and theories to foundations that are more reflective of the real timeline. That's my theory.

Jeff and Annie kiss and it's a really good kiss, and then Annie ruins it. Okay, not so much ruins it as just messes it up. Ironically, this doesn't deter Jeff or her. She says that the fact that Jeff says "I worry about you, Annie" reminds her of something her dad said. Let's stop there, guys. She did not stop kissing him and say "You remind me of my dad." Someone on Twitter said this (I think it's you, Stephanie): this is just Annie acknowledging that this is probably the first time someone else besides her dad really has expressed worry over her well-being.

Jeff doesn't seem deterred but does say "You could lay off the bubblegum lipgloss." And see, this is a trip back to Britta's timeline where Jeff says he's not treating Annie like a kid, and we realize that Jeff may have just accidentally called Annie a kid without meaning to. And that causes her to be a bit miffed.

So now we end up with a more controlled form of chaos, if you will. And it makes sense, right? Abed would want a controlled, episodic form of chaos, while Troy's timeline would lead to an insane, crazy, shenanigans-style mess.

Post-timeline/Jeff's timeline/reality:
Abed's speech holds the truth of the episode - that, no matter how great all of the timelines were in forms of development - the group was never together. Therefore, chaos always took its hold in some way, shape, or form and destroyed at least one member of the group as it did so (usually everyone but the person getting the pizza). I like the idea that the end is reality, and that none of the other timelines actually did occur, though they did hold dream-like truths. 

What is great is that we wrap up the best things about the characters at the end, and ironically see growth that we only notice because we have seen the other timelines: Britta belts out "Roxanne," Pierce decides to not attempt the joke or give Troy his present, Jeff agrees to get the pizza, Shirley forgoes baking to be with the people she loves, and Troy and Abed let loose.

"You see what happens when I leave you alone, huh?"

What is so great and sad about the episode is that this is the only timeline where no chaos occurs. And Jeff is the one who is absent. Jeff, the person we have been conditioned to believe is the leader of the study group. And I honestly did question at the end of the episode - is Jeff really the leader? Or is he merely the controller? Is there a difference? I think Jeff slightly realizes this too, at the end. We're left to wonder if he is the one who causes the chaos to occur. He's the constant, after all. And then there's Troy, who is inside of the dance circle (Jeff is standing outside on one end of the room, and Piece is outside of the dance circle on the other side), with the people he loves and who love him, taking that role away from Jeff little by little. Because Jeff is selfish and this episode may be the slight hinge on which the Troy vs. Jeff alpha male competition takes place. And I am honestly excited to see how this plays out.

Other de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- Sorry, I laughed the entire way through the tag. Stomach-clenching, rolling on the bed with laughter. True story.
- "You're a pie-pusher! You push pies to get love!"
- "Jeff! You crafty jackrabbit."
- I said it last week, but Joel looked really good this episode too.
- "Time flies when I'm baking!" "No, it doesn't."
- "Super cool. And sexy. Super sexy cool..." "Overselling it."

So next week is a re-run of "Biology 101." In celebration, you should go and read that review after watching the episode. ;) Until the Halloween episode, folks! As always, leave your thoughts below.

Friday, October 7, 2011

3x03 "Competitive Ecology" (The Mean Clique)

"Competitive Ecology"
Original Airdate: October 6, 2011

Let me preface this review by first saying that the third episodes of Community have always remained far down on my personal list of "favorites." For 1x03, "Introduction to Film," I felt that the episode was good, but forgettable. I did love that it introduced us to the character of Professor Whitman - who is eccentric and hilarious - but apart from that, the episode didn't quite... do anything for me, I suppose. It didn't stand out as an episode that I would re-watch over and over again (like episodes later on in the season). 2x03, "The Psychology of Letting Go," was one of my least favorite episodes of the second season (forming a three-way tie with "The Aerodynamics of Gender" and "Competitive Wine Tasting"). Again, I felt that the A and B-plots weren't as funny or memorable as they could have been. The storyline with Pierce's mother was good, and there were certainly some decent scenes in the episode and some real laughs, but again - the episode in and of itself was nothing spectacular for me. Why is this important for you to know? Because, as a viewer, this was my mind-set going into the third episode of season 3. Now, I know that I shouldn't let my expectations of an episode precede the actual viewing, but this is an intriguing case because the episode that aired last night as 3x03, was actually supposed to be 3x04. So really, I suppose I should save my "third episode judgement" for next week. ;)

Right. Well, now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's move onto the episode itself. I've read some reviews about last night's episode, and most of them are pretty harsh in regards to the characters of the study group and also the B-plot of Security Guard Chang. So I'm going to take a different approach - highlight what I feel worked in the episode, while undercutting it with why I feel like others did not care for the episode. I took a plethora of notes last night, so be prepared for some of those as well.

We open this episode with Chang's storyline, but I'm going to choose to place this on the back burner for now, and instead discuss the A-plot of the episode: the study group. We meet up with the group as they sit in Professor Kane's Biology class. Kane tangents the discussion about their terrarium project by asking about what happened to Legos while he was in prison. (I can tell you what happened - we built a theme park revolving around them!) The study group then finds out that they are going to be partnered with complete and total strangers for the remainder of the semester, and gosh darnit, that just can't happen. Let me take a step back and discuss why I loved this element (apart from Donald's delivery of "Who are these people?") of the episode and subsequently everything that follows. As viewers of any television show that focuses on a group of individuals in an established setting, we come to obviously consider that group the focal point. In our own suspension of disbelief, we forget that other people exist besides those that we watch from week to week. It's like watching Friends or How I Met Your Mother - we forget that other people frequent Central Perk and MacLaren's. And other characters who we, the viewers, are unfamiliar with, would never dare to sit in the couches or the booth that these characters sit in. Why? Because we're conditioned to narrow in on that particular group of individuals, and only them. The thing about Community is that - unlike those other shows - it is very meta. It takes time to acknowledge the fact that the study group is the focus of everything (see: Vicki, Neil, and Starburns' discussion in "Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts" or Annie's mention of the group being "that study group" in "Asian Population Studies"). Community knows that the focus is always on these seven individuals. But like I mentioned in my first post about "Biology 101," this year it seems that the group is being forced to deal with the fact that they are not the only people in the school, and therefore not the center of attention (and this concept seems to unsettle them). And maybe the disconnect in why people didn't like the episode - or chastised the group for being too mean to Todd - is because we, the viewers, have not actually accepted these "outside" characters yet either.

But I digress. The study group approaches Professor Kane after class and asks that they be paired up among themselves, rather than with complete and total "strangers" (you know, the other people who actually attend Greendale). The excuse that they give is that "[they're] like a family; [they] love each other." (And we will return to that concept later on in the review). The following scene is of each study group member "breaking up" with their current lab partner (Troy's Breaking Bad excuse is my favorite). Pierce is in the process of breaking up with a guy named Todd when we see that everyone within the study group has already paired off - Jeff and Annie, Troy and Abed, and Shirley and Britta. I like the pairings because to me, it represents the first feature of the group: familiarity. Each person pairs off with the person who they feel the most comfortable with, the person who would be the most natural choice (and naturally, Pierce ends up outside of the group paired off with Todd). Jeff and Annie have always been very familiar with one another, while Troy and Abed are obviously the best of friends. Shirley has always gravitated toward Britta rather than Annie out of the girls in the group, so it would make sense that the two of them would be paired together. It's ironic too that the people they feel the most comfortable with, the ones who are the most natural to be with, are also the ones who they are going to get sick of the most because of that. This leads to a funny scene in which the group members attempt to inconspicuously swap partners (Britta/Troy, Shirley/Jeff, Annie/Abed - which, to be honest, would be my choice for pairings in the class). This leads to Pierce indignantly wanting to swap out Todd (no offense Todd), who has pretty much become the Gary of season 3.

The following scene is of the group in the study room with "this outsider, this non-grouper" Todd attempting to discover the best - and fairest way - to pair off for the project. The first thing to note is that Jeff is still insecure. To me, this is going to be a running theme and I am glad that it has carried over into this episode as well. When the group decides to pair off using Abed's system, this leaves Jeff paired up with Todd. And this unsettles him because he has a fear of being apart from the group. And really, aren't we all that way too, to an extent? When paired up for group projects, we're always afraid that if our best friends are in another group that we won't understand their new inside jokes or that they'll become better friends with other people apart from us. Jeff protests and asks how Abed came about his system (which we discover is on a system of ranking of popularity. Annie, we discover, is the most popular in the group because she will do all of the work, while Shirley is the least popular - and honestly I was surprised that Pierce beat her out. Pierce, the guy who destroyed the group last year, basically), and then the entire group dissolves into chaos which is reminiscent of "Cooperative Calligraphy."

Here is a note that I had made last night after a second viewing of the episode: "The study group threatens to break down over everything and always blames their problems on everyone else. It's amazing that they're forced out of their personal comfort bubble this semester, don't want to be, realize that they can't stand being together, accept that they are toxic and need to be with others, and then revert back to blaming their problems on everyone else." Essentially, this is the core of the study group. Todd was completely right about the group - their love for each other is toxic, and weird and it DOES destroy everything it touches. And the group, in and of its core really IS selfish.

You're probably thinking: "Woah, back up, Jenn. I thought you loved this show. I thought you loved this group." And before you all jump down my throat for bad-mouthing our favorite characters, let's just remember what I said at the beginning of the review: we're conditioned to love these characters, to defend these characters, and to support these characters. We're conditioned by television throughout our entire lives to consider people who are not Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Monica, or Joey to be "outsiders." And we, much like them, don't really like the outsiders. Until we come to the realization that these "non-groupers" are really the majority. Until we realize that our group is not perfect, that it is flawed, and that it is a minority in a school that has many more than 7 people in it. The group is flawed. They call other people "outsiders" and "non-groupers." Maybe the study group DOES need to be brought down to earth. No one in this show is ever presented to be perfect, and that's awesome because no one is, in real life. Here is what I decided last night: Todd is the scapegoat for the group's problems. Britta and Shirley have the right answers at the end of the episode - they want to acknowledge that they were wrong and that ranking people over one another caused the group to dissolve into dysfunction. They don't want to address their problems though. Addressing problems can usually lead to further problems - a la "Paradigms of the Human Memory." And really, how much has the group managed to resolve between themselves? How much have they swept under the rug and ignored?

Jeff was the one who - instead of acknowledging that the group has a problem and attempting to solve it - pinned their issues on poor, unsuspecting Todd. So was this just sleep deprivation and a cop-out of giving a Winger speech? Or, can we accept what I stated above? That the group, at its core, does not want to address its own problems. That every character relies on a crutch and if last week was about getting rid of certain crutches, than maybe this week is a lesson in the need to acknowledge certain crutches' existences? I suppose that will be answered throughout the season. I don't find the group's  behavior excusable, because they treated Todd poorly. But what else do we expect the group to do at this point, if we are being honest?

Now that we have addressed the major focal point of the episode, I'll discuss Chang's storyline. Here is my thought progression: Chang storyline by itself? Meh. I wasn't super impressed and if the A-plot hadn't been super-involved and intriguing to dissect, this episode probably would have fallen back to where I usually keep the "third episode rank." It's not that Ken Jeong is not talented, because he is. It's not because he isn't hilarious, because - let's be honest - Chang is fantastic. It's not even necessarily the writing of the storyline, because it had potential. But... maybe it is just that my interest in Chang is piqued more when he interacts with characters who are intriguing (sorry, other security guard guy). I find his dynamic with the study group to be the best. That's why season 1 and 2 Chang was so hilarious. It's not that I feel that he cannot carry a story by himself, but I just don't find it as pertinent to the overarching story of Greendale. Now, the Dean and Chang together have potential, and I wish that their dynamic would have been explored more throughout the episode.   If we are going to see him delve into more of the crazy, power-hungry man that I know he is, I'd like to see how this affects the people around him. And yes, perhaps this will solidify my theory regarding "non-groupers" (so take note, those of you who didn't care for the storyline either) but I wanted to see him interact with "our" group and people who I have developed an interest in. Perhaps that's the bottom line: we didn't care as much because Chang interacted with those who "didn't matter" to us. And yet, isn't it ironic that many were so quick to defend Todd? What makes us care about one "outsider" and not the others?

I don't think that this episode was terrible, by any means. There were quite a few fantastic lines and scenes delivered by the actors. My theory is that this episode caused too many of us to question the morality and essential goodness of the study group and we didn't like that. We don't like "our" group being cast in a negative light. We want to see them for the lovable band of misfits that they usually are. And yes, we know that they are occasionally mean-spirited, but they would never be that way on purpose, right? (Don't we all make excuses like this on a daily basis with those around us?) So when a professor calls the study group the "mean clique," we Annie-gasp at the injustice of it all. But is it true? And if it is, can we deal with that? I suppose that's a question we will all have to answer.

Additional de-lovely aspects about last night's episode:
- Fandom's suggestion, Mr. Harmon, is that an anti-study group exists with: Todd, Rich, Asian Annie, Vicki, Magnitude, and Fat Neil. Thoughts?
 "You're just a good grade and a tight sweater." "Well, you're just a BAD grade and a tight sweater."
"This is why you're the stupidest!" "If loving worms is stupid, I don't wanna be smart!" "It IS. And you CAN'T be!"
"Arizona backwards is still Arizona. It's a Palomino." (I love palindromes - my e-mail references one! - so this KILLED me)
- Shallow note: Joel looked very good last night. Blue shirts and belts, wardrobe department. Keep it up! :)
"When did you even have time to do that? You're pathological." "It's too late for flattery."

Next week, "Remedial Chaos Theory" will air, which was supposed to air last night, but NBC swapped it out. Apparently this episode deals with Troy and Abed's apartment-warming party, and how one night can go in different directions. I tweeted Dan Harmon a while ago about this, asking if it resembled a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, and he said that it had that sort of appeal. So I am ecstatic, obviously. Until then, friends!

P.S. This review is dedicated to Jaime, who is currently sitting on a ten-hour train ride from Pittsburgh back to New York. Hopefully this helped pass the time! :)