Friday, February 10, 2012

1x15 "Romantic Expressionism" (The One With All the Relationships)

"Romantic Expressionism"
Original Airdate: February 4, 2010

The best thing about ensemble shows that feature a cast of six (or more) is that there are more pairings to play around with, both platonically and romantically. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that not every pairing gets an equal amount of screentime. In Friends, for instance, can you name five Chandler/Rachel storylines that occurred throughout the seasons? Ones that were exclusively theirs? I can only tink of two (the cheesecake episode and the one where Chandler dates Rachel's boss). Now, if I asked you to think of Joey/Chandler or Rachel/Monica storylines, you would have a much easier time thinking of these. Since Community is an ensemble-centric show, the same principle holds true. We rarely see Pierce/Shirley stories or Troy/Shirley ones (have we even HAD one of those yet?), but see much more of Jeff/Annie, Jeff/Britta, or Troy/Abed ones. It's not that one pairing is less legitimate than the other though. It simply means that - with an ensemble that large - some pairings inevitably get left in the dust. One of my favorite things about "Romantic Expressionism" is the Jeff/Britta plot. Like I have mentioned numerous times before, I am nowhere near against Jeff and Britta as friends or cohorts. In fact, I think they deserve more of that. I do not, of course, prefer them together romantically. However, "Romantic Expressionism" is my all-time favorite Jeff/Britta episode because of simply how perfect they are when they plot together (and fail together).

The plot for this week's episode is centered around the fact that Annie has begun to hang out with Vaughn (who we all remember is Britta's ex-boyfriend). Initially, things start out casually between the two, but it becomes evident that Annie has begun to like him and asks for Britta's blessing (which the blonde gives, but we'll get to that in a bit). Britta then ropes Jeff into helping her break up Annie and Vaughn, and Jeff (whose motives are murky at first) agrees to this wholeheartedly. Meanwhile, in their own subplot, Troy, Abed, Shirley, Chang, and Pierce watch "Kickpuncher" in Abed's dorm and make fun of the movie for being so terrible. Pierce, however, can't seem to make a joke that will cause any laughter whatsoever. 

We open the episode with Britta making fun of Jeff, which she legitimately enjoys doing. (I blocked out the fact that Jeff is still technically dating Slater in this episode, because... well, we all know how I feel about her) Britta, interestingly, doesn't seem to be jealous of Slater, and it's a shame because I think she and Britta would have made fabulous friends, if Slater hadn't been so high-and-mighty during "Introduction to Statistics." Britta is genuinely bemused, as is Jeff because he begins laughing and joking. However, Jeff grows very serious very quickly when he sees Vaughn with Annie. Seriously, let's digress: I miss Vaughn. Unlike Slater, he was endearing and adorable when he was with Annie. And it's not like he wasn't cute with Britta, but I think that when his character came back and formed a relationship with Annie, he was given another layer and that made him sweeter. He was never a jerk to her during their relationship, which was nice to see. If I didn't like Jeff and Annie together so much, I'd be okay with her and Vaughn.

(It's also funny that every guy Annie has dated has had an effect on Jeff. And by funny, I mean not a coincidence. Sorry.)

What's great about "Romantic Expressionism" is that it reveals a lot about relationships. And I think that this show has a ton of great aspects to it (that's kind of why this blog has still been going, even during hiatus), and one of the strongest is that the relationships between the characters are very palpable and real. There's nothing inherently cheesy about the way they're portrayed. And that's why episodes like this one are so special - they take us back to those building block basics, so to speak. We're forced to ask ourselves: what connects one character to another? How are all of these seven characters intertwined with one another? There's the obvious answer: they're a study group. But what connects Annie to Britta and Britta to Abed and Abed to Troy, etc.?

That being said, I do love the idea of Pierce/Troy/Abed/Shirley/Chang in this episode. Sadly, not every character gets a chance to shine, so in the end this was mainly a Jeff/Britta/Annie story. Still, the idea of watching bad movies and making fun of them is awesome. I love that Troy and Abed want to hang out with Shirley. It's nice to know this because I feel like later on in the season, they often forget about her. Of course, no one still wants to hang out with Pierce.

This is a fundamentally interesting episode for Annie/Britta (friendship-wise) as well. Up until this point, we've seen the girls grow together, though they have never been extremely close. Britta and Shirley tend to stick together for certain episodes, while Annie and Shirley cling to each other in other episodes. But here, it's clear that Annie has this growing form of respect for Britta. She admires her in the way that a young woman admires her older sister - Annie knows that Britta is flawed and definitely not perfect, but she admires her steadfastness in spite of everything. She admires how nothing seems to ever phase Britta - not drastically, at least. She's the "cool" one in the group: she wears leather jackets and has been to New York. She's not afraid to be who she is. And the irony is that Britta displays at the end of the episode that she is just as insecure as Annie is... she's just better at masking it. Britta is not a stereotypical "girly" girl, but let's not forget that she IS a woman and has feelings. There is a theme of masking, because Jeff does a lot of that throughout the episode as well. And kind of a theme of transference, I think. Britta and Jeff both throw themselves into "helping" Annie under the guise that they are her Greendale parents because they're both actually jealous.

And Britta could have easily put an end to the entire episode by admitting that it bothered her that Annie liked or would consider dating Vaughn. But do you recall what one of Jeff's biggest vices is? Pride. Like Jeff, Britta does not want to admit weakness. And like Jeff, she wants the study group to see her in a certain light - she doesn't want to rock the status quo. It takes a while for her to open up to people because she is afraid of getting hurt. Emotions are fickle and tricky things, as she'll learn (and all of the characters, really). But the point is that she doesn't put an end to the episode by admitting her feelings. Another growing theme in this episode (and others in general) is that characters go to great lengths in order to try not to be the people they think they are capable of becoming in the first place. Britta's remark strikes me in this vein, because she tells Annie: "I would have to be a villain to tell you who to date... which I am not!" The shot after Annie walks away and Britta realizes what she's done is heartbreaking because her face just completely falls.

Britta is smart, so she realizes that when you want scheming done, you turn to Jeff. And she actually manages to manipulate Jeff. Recall what says Jeff later: manipulation is making people realize what they want without telling them that they want it. And Britta - smart, conniving Britta - does just this. And I think that initially the reason that Britta approaches Jeff is because she knows how much Vaughn, as a person, irks him. But I think that she must also know that he's a teensy bit jealous. Because - if we learned anything from last week - Jeff doesn't voluntarily do anything unless there is something in it for him. So Britta goes into the conversation very slyly, wanting him to intervene without TELLING him to. It's a great move on Britta's part. I think that there's a shift, though, when Britta finally realizes that it's not entirely about how irritating Jeff finds Vaughn. Britta begins to eye Jeff right after he says the line about being Annie's "Greendale parents" - it's a look that recognizes that there is something up, and the motives may be more jealousy than anything else from this point forward.

The next day, Jeff and Britta are walking through the courtyard, laughing and enjoying their conversation. As soon as Jeff sees Vaughn with Annie, however, he freaks out. Britta, in spite of her jealousy, manages to remain more level-headed (and also highly amused at how crazy Jeff is - he pulls her into a bush after all!) Note that even though Britta may have wanted Jeff to subconsciously step in and do something, SHE never brings this up. It's Jeff, instead, who insists that they intervene (Britta only concedes after Starburns makes a remark about how hot Annie is, and I genuinely believe she stepped in to try and help Annie out). So Jeff and Britta decide that they need to convince Troy to go after Annie so that she'll break up with Vaughn. They decide to do this by manipulating Troy. In order to convince Troy that Annie is hot (because the young athlete doesn't see her that way), Jeff whispers things to Troy. And he seems to know a lot about Annie's body, given the brief kiss they shared in "Debate 109," no? Unless... but that would mean... no... you don't think? At the end of the scene, Troy is convinced by them to pursue Annie. And thus, as cohorts, Jeff and Britta are undeniably hilarious. And perfect. And all other kinds of adjectives.

In the cafeteria, Annie is minding her own business when Troy attempts to hit on her (fresh from his conversation with Jeff and Britta). Vaughn re-enters with ice cream for himself and Annie, only to find Troy making a move. The truth then comes out about Annie liking Troy in high school, but the young woman insists that her feelings are over. Troy then lets it slip that Jeff and Britta gave him the idea, to which Vaughn is rightfully stunned. And I love that Vaughn is technically the second person to convey a hatred of the study group. Last week, we saw the first person: Buddy. Vaughn explains that the study group is evil. And then Todd reaffirms this in season 3. I love that the audience thinks the study group is awesome, when in reality, most people outside of the study group hate them.

There's a scene, then, with Jeff and Britta in the library celebrating their "victory" of getting Annie un-hooked from Vaughn and onto Troy. And I do think that the Jeff/Britta library scene is cute. Like I said, when they're scheming buddies, they're adorable together. And I think that the reason I love them so much then is because they're so similar - they think on the same wavelength, which is both good and bad. Their personalities clash the most, however, out of the group (well, maybe apart from Pierce/Jeff). It's funny too that Britta changes the subject randomly to children, and Jeff deflects her answer. Also: she WAS wearing something nice... it was a cute outfit!

Back in the Pierce/Abed/Troy/Shirley/Chang storyline, since Pierce's first movie night was a failure, he learns that the group is planning to watch "Kickpuncher 2" soon, and wants to prepare his jokes ahead of time. He consults with the community college sketch comedy troupe to assist him with writing jokes. And thus, at the night of the movie-watching extravaganza, Pierce is firing more one-liners than Jeff Winger. The rest of the group notices and calls him out on this. When confronted, Pierce Changs the subject (see what I did there?) and accuses the group of tearing down other peoples' work because they are jealous. Abed then brings up the theme for both stories: deflection. He accuses Pierce of deflecting the conversation because he couldn't get a real laugh from the group (which is true). Then, just as all hope seems lost, Pierce DOES manage to get a laugh... by tripping and falling, which he seems prone to in this season.

Presumably the next day, Jeff and Britta attempt to deflect their way out of a confrontation with Annie about their true intentions by calling themselves her "Greendale parents." However, Annie brings up the word "respect," which sets something off within Britta. Britta is obviously conscious of the fact that Annie looks up to her, and - as such - is going to finally explain to the brunette what she should have at the beginning of the episode. Instead of rationally explaining that she has feelings, though, Britta snaps. Annie, to her credit, genuinely didn't think anything of dating Vaughn. Britta DID after all give a blessing. And that's where Britta is on a slippery slope that she created for herself by not being upfront in the first place - Britta wants to be the "cool" one, but sometimes at the cost of masking her true feelings (which then resurface, and usually in the worst possible ways). Jeff, meanwhile, looks genuinely confused by the revelation that Britta was jealous of Annie - I think that he was under the assumption that Britta's motives were pure, especially because HE was the one who dragged HER into the manipulating in the first place.

And then, defensiveness kicks in for everyone. The best part about the accusation that Britta pulls with Jeff being jealous? He doesn't deny it. The only visible reaction he has is when someone (Annie) bruises his ego. So it's revealed by Britta to Annie that she was jealous that the young woman was dating her ex-boyfriend. And it was brought to everyone's attention via Britta that Jeff was jealous of Vaughn being with Annie. And Abed - the keen observer of everything - seems genuinely intrigued and/or a bit shocked to discover this Jeff/Annie revelation. The best part about when people get defensive is that they start to try and pin something (anything!) on those around them, as to deflect the conversation (there's that word again!). So when Jeff gets uncomfortable with the conversation about his jealousy, he passes the heat to Troy. That heat is taken away by Shirley. But when Annie hits on something that Shirley does, the woman deflects to Troy/Abed.

Now, we come to everyone's favorite part of the episode: the study table glances. Let's run down the ships that are presented here, shall we?
  • Pierce/Shirley
  • Shirley/Jeff
  • Jeff/Britta
  • Britta/Abed (I will always love Danny Pudi's eyebrow waggle)
  • Britta/Annie (Their reactions are hilarious)
  • Annie/Troy
  • Troy/Shirley (The outtake of this one is pretty funny)
  • Annie/Pierce (...ew)
  • Jeff/Annie
  • Jeff/Abed
And, okay, let me just take a moment to pause and say how much I absolutely love "the look" between Jeff and Annie. I think that the reason is two-fold. 1) Jeff was looking at Annie before she looked over at him. 2) It is the most sincere look I have ever seen Joel produce on the show. It was perfect because Annie is still a bit miffed with Jeff at this point, and when he looks at her with the little smile that is so genuine, she immediately begins to soften. And he smiles again at her before they both probably realize it's a bit awkward to be staring as long as they have.

I think that both Jeff and Britta realize, then, when Annie bursts out about how Vaughn likes her for who she is, that they were "helping" for their own selfish reasons, and neither were thinking about Annie's actual best interests, only their own. The study group then perks up and notices that there is music coming from outside of the library. (Sidenote: Abed has an uneaten banana on the study room table before they leave. When they get outside, however, he only has a banana peel in his hand)

Vaughn then performs a song for Annie. And "Annie's Song" is the most adorable thing ever and anyone who says differently is a robot incapable of love. Shirley, adorably, is bobbing along to the song in the background. As it turns out, Vaughn apologizes for being rude (which is really sweet) and asks Annie to see a cloud with him that's shaped like a pumpkin (when Annie mentions this, Abed looks into the sky and is STILL looking as the episode ends). One of the interesting quotes from the very end of the episode is a dialogue between Jeff and Pierce. The elderly man scoffs: "His songs are dumber than he is" to which Jeff replies: "Yeah, but they're honest." And I think that, deep down, both Britta and Jeff know that they weren't upfront and honest in this episode. The ironic thing is that Britta eventually admits the reason for her gung-ho attitude about breaking Vaughn and Annie up, but Jeff never technically does. And I think maybe there's some part of him that wishes he had been upfront with Annie. But the timing just wasn't right, and won't be for a while.

Additional de-lovely aspects:
- When the episode ends with Vaughn picking Annie up and spinning her around, he says: "You smell like boysenberries." HOW have I missed that?
- "You know what I don't get? He never wears a shirt, he never wears shoes... why has he not died from lack of service?"
- "I'm younger than the three of you put together!" I love that Troy, Abed, and Pierce have to sit and think about that for a moment.
- "Look, this isn't about you, you groovy hipster."
- The fact that Joel is too tall to fit into a booth... or a desk... or anything other than the study room table chair makes me giggle.
- "Hatching schemes isn't really my wheelhouse." "Let's not confine ourselves to your wheelhouse. This problem won't respond to tap-dancing or casual revelations that you spent time in New York."
- "Troy, I want you to clear your head." "Done."
- I remember in the commentary that they said the "ice cream" was really mashed potatoes. I can't watch without thinking this anymore. Thanks, Hermione!
- "I did eat all the macaroni. It's messed up that he knows."
- "I'm not that cool. I'm not Juno, okay homeslice?"
- "I took that kiss for the team." "...what?!" "Yeah, that kiss wasn't for pleasure. It was strategic and joyless." "What?! ...yeahhh." (Britta's not buying any of your crap, Jeff and Annie. She's onto you guys!)

Next week we're taking a journey into "Basic Genealogy" which features a pre-"Smash" Katharine McPhee, some fun Shirley/Abed bonding, and a hilarious and yet slightly awkward Troy/Britta storyline. Until then, folks! :)

1 comment:

  1. a.) Your blog posts are like having lessons on Community. And they're brilliant. After you're done with all the eps, I'm probably going to have a book written called Still Indeed: A Student Analysis of The Quiet Conscience That Reviewed Community.
    :D Butchered THAT reference, didn't I?
    b.) I always thought that in the cafeteria, when Britta goes to Jeff, she goes with the aim of getting someone to make her feel better or back her decision to give Annie her blessing. And THEN suspects that Jeff's got an entirely different reason for everything he's saying and decides to go with the option we're familiar with - break up Annie and Vaughn.