Friday, March 16, 2012

3x11 "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts" (Of Love and Following Dreams)

"Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts"
Original Airdate: March 15, 2012

I've only ever been in love twice - both times I ended up with my heart broken. And it's not like I'm seeking out pity when I mention this. The truth is, a lot of people have gotten their hearts broken. For what it's worth, it's grown and matured me. It's taught me, granted, to be cautious, but not to be cynical or bitter. This episode is, at its core, about love and sacrifice and the things that we learn along the way. It's an episode devoted to Shirley (in which Yvette Nicole Brown shines, by the way) but - like I have said countless times before - it's not merely about one character. We learn a lot about Britta and Jeff throughout the episode as characters as well. Both are anti-wedding, but we learn that it stems not from a fear of commitment or the desire to be "anti" everything. This belief on their part does stem from fear, but I'll pinpoint that later on. And of course, we learn a lot about Shirley throughout this episode as well. I love that the first episode back focused on her and her development as a character. Because it's Britta that reminds us of the reason Shirley came to college in the first place, and encourages her not to lose sight of her dreams and goals in life. It's wonderful, then, to see Shirley stand up for herself and grow as a character who expresses her wants and needs too.

In case you were too busy fawning over the fact that Community finally returned to the air last night and completely forgot what the plot of the episode was, never fear because that is what I am here for! We return to Greendale Community College to find that the cafeteria is being remodeled (remember that time Chang burnt part of it down?). As the group settles in, Pierce enters, hair dyed brown because he is branching out as an entrepreneur. Shirley discusses her ideas for a sandwich shop in the cafeteria, and at the end of the conversation, it seems like she and Pierce have decided to work together on making the idea come to fruition.

I've said before that I wished we had more Pierce/Shirley stories and I am so glad that the writers delivered on this one. I think the most wonderful thing about their dynamic as characters is that - while Shirley admits that Abed humbles her - Shirley really humanizes people, and she does this for Pierce. Annie and Shirley are the two characters who have really caused Pierce to be open, honest, and genuine. And I think that it may be because he respects both women for various reasons. (That's not to say that he doesn't respect Britta, though. I think they just clash more.) Shirley, in turn, occasionally needs to be challenged and Pierce provides that for her. They work surprisingly well as a team, because both have great ideas. But Shirley reins Pierce in when he is being absurd or excessive and Pierce allows Shirley to be more open and free to ideas - to step out on faith, as it were.

As soon as Shirley and Pierce agree to their sandwich idea, Andre enters the cafeteria and explains to the entire room that he fell in love with Shirley back at a Spring Fling dance. The only thing, he insists, that is missing in their relationship currently is to get re-married. Shirley - of course - agrees, much to the clear dismay of Britta. (In this scene, it's awesome to watch the background characters: Britta makes a sour face and Jeff - after looking at Annie to gauge her reaction to the proposal - makes a face at Britta for making a face.)

And I think that the whole point of this season is this kind of understood notion that everyone in the group is struggling with something internally. The first season was a base slate to work from - we met a group of people who evolved from being just a study group to becoming friends. Second season, there was a lot of external conflict (the group actually left the four walls of Greendale), but there were also internal wedges driven (the Annie/Jeff/Britta triangle, Pierce's villainy, Shirley's pregnancy/Chang storyline, etc.) but was also all about Jeff learning to fall in love with the group. Third season doesn't drastically deviate from that, but we also begin to examine each character individually and what they struggle with (Annie has already had an enemy, Pierce battled the demon of his father, Jeff is struggling with those emotions, etc.)

At any rate, the study group reconvenes later on in their room, where Britta and Jeff begin discussing how stupid marriage is. I think we were always meant to believe that Jeff is afraid of commitment, but I don't think that's the case at all (remember "Introduction to Statistics"? Jeff is not a bad boyfriend -- he's extremely committed to his relationship and, unfortunately, gets burned with Slater). Thus, Jeff is not afraid of being committed to anyone - he is afraid of being hurt, because that's what he equates marriage with. And perhaps, that's what he equates "love" with too. Wouldn't it be easier to just die alone if it meant that no one got hurt or had the potential to get hurt? And that's why Andre's speech to him later on is more significant, as is the miniature one that Annie gives him. But more on that later.

Britta's reasoning, on the other hand, for being anti-marriage is more based on the idea that she is afraid marriage means succumbing to female gender roles, and she cannot accept that idea. She wants to be against the grain and, by doing so, aligns herself anti-marriage. There's a fear in there that she will become exactly like her mother (and a lot of women feel this way) and all of the other women in her family. Like Jeff, it's easier for her to be against something because she's afraid of what being for it will mean.

In the study room, Shirley discusses her wedding with excitement (and insists that Troy and Abed act normal for the affair, which they spend the entire episode doing), which worries Britta since the older woman brushes off the sandwich shop business in order to prepare for the wedding. And you know what's interesting? I think that the reason that Britta approaches Shirley is because she is afraid that this is what her life will amount to someday. Shirley is the kind of woman with dreams and ideas, but who didn't follow through with them at the beginning of the episode. Britta, if you haven't noticed yet, tends to be the same way - she makes big, empty gestures about what she will do with her life (let's call back "Spanish 101" momentarily for that), and what a difference she will make. And yet... she admits that she fails to do these things. She's a passive activist. And I think that, deep down, Britta is afraid of ending up "settling" (in her mind) for the life that Shirley is going to have.

And while I do think that Britta is projecting a lot of her feelings about weddings (and her insecurities about becoming the woman she doesn't want to be), it is very nice to see the young woman take an interest in her friend, especially because it IS so easy for Shirley to become comfortable. Like I mentioned earlier, Shirley is the type of woman who doesn't take chances. It's not who she is. She's very precise. But the reason that she came to Greendale was to follow a dream that she had. And Britta is right - it would be easy for Shirley to forget about that. Because that's the thing about dreams. Dreams take guts to follow through. I've dreamt for years about publishing a novel. But I have forgone actually following through with that dream because it's scary. With the pursuit of a dream, there is always the potential for it to fail. And Shirley's dreams (of a perfect, neat marriage and family) have failed her before. She is not about to willingly take that chance again.

However, Britta manages to convince Shirley to follow through with the idea for a sandwich shop and pitch it with Pierce to Dean Pelton. Meanwhile, Britta and Annie set about preparing for Shirley's wedding. Britta, we learn, is surprisingly good at planning weddings, which slowly eats away at her throughout the episode. 

Back to our Pierce and Shirley storyline, when the two meet up to discuss the pitch to Dean Pelton, Shirley gets frustrated with Pierce's clear lack of direction and nearly  bails on him in order to focus on her wedding. But I love that Pierce actually admits to Shirley the reason that he needs this business deal to go through (Hawthorne Wipes' management, as it turns out, was just waiting for Pierce's father to die so that they could fire Pierce). We are so used to seeing Jeff and Pierce cling to their prides that it is nice to watch them relinquish that control. Pierce isn't afraid to admit when he needs help (again, a nice callback to episodes like "Mixology Certification" when he asked for her help too) when it comes to Shirley. Perhaps because he knows she'll always help or that she will do it without judging him. Either way, it makes for a great dynamic. I really and truly adored that scene between them.

Jeff, who had earlier agreed to write a toast for Shirley's wedding, is sitting in the quad with seemingly no ideas. Annie walks by (humming "Daybreak" as she does so), and Jeff asks for her help. The honest moment that occurs between them is one of my favorites and also exemplifies why I love their relationship. He's always gone to her for advice ("Pascal's Triangle Revisited," "Basic Genealogy," etc.) because he knows she'll be honest with him. She tells him to write what's in his heart and ends with: "There's something real in there. Maybe that's what scares you." And here's the epitome of Jeff as a character - it took him two years to tell the study group (just a bunch of friends) that he loved them. It takes me all of ten minutes, meanwhile, for me to tell you that. But Jeff is so guarded and jaded that he can't bring himself to be the kind of sentimental person that Annie is. Even though they have both had their hearts broken, and both have an unpleasant picture of marriage (Jeff's dad, obviously. And we assume Annie's family relationship isn't that much better), Annie didn't let that stop her from loving. It does stop Jeff though. The reason he thinks marriage is stupid is because he assumes it'll end like his parents' did, and he can't deal with that. He can't deal with the idea that if he pours his heart and time and life into someone that they'll leave him one day.

We then get glimpses into Jeff's heart which includes (from what I noticed): a car, a house, cards, his BlackBerry, some famous woman celebrity, a dog, scotch, Annie's boobs (not the monkey), and Annie herself appears quite a few times. And here's where a line that Jeff says later on is a blatant lie -- at the wedding rehearsal, he claims that he looked into his heart, and couldn't find anything. But clearly, Jeff did find something. He could have written a heartfelt speech. There were a lot of things in his heart - there was one woman in particular in there multiple times - but the idea of being honest and going for things (like with Shirley as well - nice parallel, no?) scares Jeff because there is a potential for something to fail. And Jeff would much rather maintain the status quo than take a chance on anything. So he, instead, goes to get a drink.

At the rehearsal, we realize that Britta planned a wonderful and beautiful wedding. And again, I love the idea that Britta's becoming something she never thought she would be (like Shirley becoming independent or Jeff becoming sentimental) and everyone's natural response is to run from the idea until they're forced to embrace it as a part of their character. So Jeff and Britta get pretty drunk at the rehearsal, and each admits the reason that they hate marriage. Why I love Jeff and Britta as friends is because, when they argue, you can see how competitive they are and also how alike they are. They're both so afraid of becoming something, that they try and become the opposite, instead of embracing the idea that they are NOT those people. It's easier to blame. It's harder to change.

Shriley and Pierce successfully deliver their pitch to Dean Pelton regarding the sandwich stop. However, in her excitement, Shirley forgets all about her rehearsal and shows up two hours late. Andre is not pleased with this and expresses that he thought their re-marriage would end with returning to motherhood and forgoing the sandwich shop ideas. Shirley stands up for herself and - when she and Andre remedy the drunk Jeff and Britta situation - expresses to Andre that things have changed in their relationship. Andre, softening, realizes this and recognizes that he's had the reins of their relationship for a while and now needs to relinquish that control over to Shirley. The two end up remarrying on the spot, and everyone is happy.

(As a final sidenote, I love that Andre gave the advice to Jeff because it reflects Jeff's fears from earlier - the fact that loving people or being emotional is a risk. But it's a risk you take with a person you want to be with. So it's not painful - it's worth it.)

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- I love the entire cast, but Yvette, Joel, and Gillian shone this week.
- Also, the Troy and Abed storyline was awesome, but I didn't recap it only because... well, it was basically an episode about them acting normal until the end. 
- "If the good Lord wanted you to have a penny, you'd have one."
- "I have loved you ever since there was a Soviet Union and only one Damon Wayans."
- "She's just pro-anti."
- "It's like a thought with another thought's hat on." If I ever teach, THIS is what I am making my English students memorize as the definition of "analogy."
- "Our church has certain policies regarding things like second weddings, tight jeans... and calico cats."
- Annie's wedding book is bigger than MONICA GELLAR'S.
- The "literally two minutes later" gag had me in stitches.
- "Color me lavender. Lavender means impressed."
- "That's me! Where'd I get all the money I'm holding?" (And this is when Jim Rash stole all of the scenes)
- "Shut up, Leonard! Those teenage girls you play ping-pong with are doing it ironically!" So... they're hipsters?

Since our show is finally back on the air, next week we get an all-new episode! This one is titled "Contemporary Impressionists" and from what I gather, it features the group impersonating celebrities at a Bar Mitzvah. 

Thank you sincerely to EVERYONE who was with this blog during hiatus! I'm so glad to be back, and I know you all are as well. :)


  1. As much as I enjoyed the re-watches and your blog reviews during the hiatus, I am really glad to have live shows and reviews back! It really makes my Friday morning to get to relive the episode through your reviews!
    I could list everything I agree with your on (literally everything), but what I think I appreciate most about your reviews is how you immediately cut to the emotional heart of the matter, and you're very open and honest with us too. It makes your reviews so much more enjoyable than say, the AV Club (which I also like), because you don't just recap the jokes, you take us through the emotional journey of these characters. I think that is what makes Community so unique: yes, it's a very conceptual and funny so, but at its heart it has REAL HEART. Each of the characters have real emotions and problems, and I love reading your analysis of that. Well done, as always!

  2. Your insight into the characters never ceases to amaze spot on. I knew you would have a field day with the episode. I love that our beloved characters are so realistically damaged and are dealing with that damage in a true way. I mean, OF COURSE Jeff would react that way. Cause you are right, I do think he's more afraid of someone leaving him than committing to someone. Poor guy seems to have been nothing BUT left. How else would someone with that kind of damage react? It's all so perfect.

    YAY for new episode reviews! know we're gonna have to go back to recapping old episodes over the Summer Break, right? :-)

  3. "I love that Andre gave the advice to Jeff because it reflects Jeff's fears from earlier - the fact that loving people or being emotional is a risk. But it's a risk you take with a person you want to be with. So it's not painful - it's worth it."

    It's like you can see right into my SOUL. This episode was just fantastic. And I'm not going to pretend that I don't want to talk about Jeff and Annie -let's get real. SHE'S JUST SO REAL AND BULLSHIT-FREE WITH HIM. AND HE LOVES IT. Their interaction felt sooooo Season 1 this week! In a really good way. Their friendship is one of my favourite things about the show, and this episode highlighted that dynamic perfectly.

    And Annie's sad Disney Face when Jeff said that marriage was a lie, ugh. DON'T CRY, BB! He doesn't mean that, he's just scared and scarred.

    /Rant over.

  4. Also, i can't stop to realize how annie look at jeff when he is giving his toast, there's a lot of feelings in her face when jeff admit that no one commits (to weddings) anymore, there's sadness and a bit of understanding, also the rolling eyes when britta storm into scene is yet, another reminder of the fissure between her and britta's friendship, the fact that annie doesn't take seriouslly what britta thinks about marriage, dissmising it entirelly.