Tuesday, August 6, 2013

In Defense of Annie Edison

I am not, nor have I ever been a Carrie or a Miranda or a Samantha. I am a Charlotte, through and through. I’ve never identified with the Rachels or the free-spirited Phoebes – I’m completely and utterly Monica Geller, down to my last color-coded spreadsheet. And I’ll never be a Britta Perry or a Shirley Bennett, if we’re being honest. Though I have traits that both women possess, the fact of the matter is that I am actually an organized, driven, perfectionist, a reliable student and employee, and a romantic.

In other words, I am Annie Edison.

Annie Elizabeth (since her real middle name isn’t canon, it’s been established fanon that it is Elizabeth, so deal with it) Edison is one of my favorite female characters on television and there are a LOT of amazing female characters on television these days, for which I am thankful. But what really delights me about Annie as a young woman is that I relate to her, I admire her, and I root for her. In any television series (or movie, for that matter), there need to be characters that the audience consistently cheer on, ones that we desire to see succeed. And I desire that for Annie. She’s not without her faults, though, which is also what makes her a well-rounded character. Rather than portray the young academic woman as having her life completely and totally together, the writers and producers choose to highlight qualities and aspects of Annie’s character that make her likable, but also aren’t afraid to humanize her by making her annoy us or one of the other characters.

(As an aside, a lot of hardcore Annie fans like to hate on Britta – as do some Jeff/Annie shippers but that discussion will be saved for a little bit later – because there are qualities about the blonde that make her annoying or irritating, or because she antagonizes Annie. But what I think those people fail to remember is that ANNIE also isn’t perfect, is prone to judgment and mistakes, and though her manipulations and irritating habits may be more subtle than Britta’s or Jeff’s or Pierce’s, they’re no less frequent.)

It may seem baffling that I’m writing a post entitled “In Defense of Annie Edison” when I spent the last paragraph explaining how the character annoys and grates other characters and their nerves, but I think that, when examining a favorite character or favorite series or favorite pairing, it is necessary to not only explain what is right and good with them/it, but also examine why they are flawed. Because that’s the beauty of Annie, the beauty of Community, and the beauty of life in general: we’re all broken people in a broken world, but somehow when we’re around these weird, damaged people, we learn from them, we grow, and we make each other slightly less broken. Watching perfect people is boring – it’s dull and unexciting because there’s no way those people can ever grow or learn or change. They remain stagnantly perfect. But watching Jeff Winger grow from a selfish ex-lawyer into a humanized man who is (albeit) still broken but learning to love and feel again? Well that’s beautiful.

And watching Annie progress from an insecure, love-sick teenager into a young woman with heart and strength and determination is just as beautiful.

So here’s what I intend to accomplish with this blog post: I am not going to attempt to sway you into the belief that Annie Edison is the best character on Community. While she is certainly MY favorite character, I will not force you to subscribe to that same opinion. I WILL, however, spend some time examining: Annie’s development from the first season until the fourth season, the issues I have with the unevenness of the writing of her character, why I feel she is misunderstood and harshly judged in the fandom as a result, and why she deserves love, happiness, and the chance to be more than a stereotype. And maybe, if I’m up for it, I’ll talk about her relationship with Jeff.


“The name's Annie Edison, but people call me Psycho 'cause I had a nervous breakdown in high school. My partner's a Christian housewife. How can we help you?”

When we first meet Annie Edison, she’s fresh out of high school, vibrant and dedicated to her schoolwork, and a tad bit tightly wound. She’s susceptible and naïve (but not stupid, and that’s important to understand), but she’s a dreamer. She’s what the vast majority of all eighteen year old young woman really are, if we’re being completely honest.

But the reason that she’s always been an optimist and an overachiever is that she has always HAD to be that way. Annie spends a vast majority of the first few episodes nursing an unrequited crush on Troy Barnes. It’s clear from their interactions that he doesn’t view her as a potential romantic partner and Annie is forced to relive high school all over again by being cast aside by him. Jeff calls her out on this in one of my favorite episodes (“Football, Feminism and You”) in which he correctly guesses that she’s followed him around hoping that college would be a lot different than high school. After hurting her feelings with this remark – but not before she gets in a barb of her own – Jeff apologizes and the two make up, beginning their “milady/milord” running exchange.

For the vast majority of the first season, we see Annie as an archetype: she’s the girl with all the notes, with the 4.0 GPA, who always goes to class, cannot fathom getting a grade below an A, and is intensely loyal to her friends. She gives everyone the benefit of the doubt (including Jeff, as we see in quite a few episodes). In fact, as Troy explains years later to her in “Mixology Certification”:

“You’re Annie. […] And you expect everybody to be better than who they are, and you expect yourself to be better than everyone.”

In the first season, we also get a glimpse at Annie’s home life, which did not seem ideal. It’s revealed that the reason Annie was at Greendale in the first place, rather than an Ivy League school, is because she had a nervous breakdown in high school as a result of an Adderall addiction. She voluntarily went to rehab (something I will expand on momentarily) before graduating high school and attending Greendale.

Annie’s relationship with her parents is strained – she does not appear to have a good relationship with either her mother or her father (her mother, as we hear in “Advanced Criminal Law” was detrimental to Annie’s self-esteem as a cheerleader and a young woman), which would explain why in “Basic Genealogy,” Annie is the only study group member with the exception of Britta who did not invite or think about inviting their families to Greendale’s Family Day. I’ll pause for a moment to let you reflect on this episode, because it’s one of the saddest ones of the early seasons in regards to Annie’s home life.

Everyone has someone in the episode that they spend a significant amount of time with: Britta is with Troy’s family for the day, Shirley has her sons, Abed is with his father, Pierce tags along with his ex-step-daughter and Jeff, and then… there’s Annie. We see her float about in the background of the episode quite a bit, and she serves as Jeff’s moral compass throughout the episode (even though as it is revealed later on, Jeff already KNEW what the right and wrong courses of action were; he just needed to talk to Annie because… he needed to talk to her). “Basic Genealogy” is seemingly all about what it means to be a family – respect and understanding are themes that run pretty deep in all the storylines – and the fact that Annie spends the episode ALONE is… well, it makes you really feel for her character. Even though she doesn’t appear to be unhappy throughout the episode, not having a family present still makes for a rather lonely and isolated Annie Edison. And that, dear friends pained me.

At the end of the first season (and progression-wise, the writers did a really good job in detailing Annie’s growth as a character), the young woman desires to “live in the moment.” She’s discontent with her personality, which is something that’s very intriguing to me. Just the episode prior, we saw Annie Edison fight to keep the study group together – she went about it in a rather diabolical manner, exhibiting the fact that yes, Annie CAN be deceptive and sneaky even though we sugar-coat it in the name of “friendship” – and in “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited,” we see Annie willing to move on with Vaughn. What changed, then, between “English as a Second Language” and the finale? Why did Annie feel the need to embark on a new adventure?

I feel that it all boils down to a kernel of truth that finds its way into every Annie-centric storyline: uncertainty. Annie is a planner – she and I are so alike in that regard – and change, quite honestly, scares her. “Living in the moment” (packing up her entire life into a few suitcases and driving to Delaware with a guy she hasn’t been dating all that long) is the exact opposite of what we would expect from Annie. And, of course, Annie does not follow through with her spur of the moment decision. As she meets Jeff outside the library that night, she explains that “in the moment” Greendale was where she belonged. And the fact of the matter is that Annie loves the IDEA of drastically changing – of having a romantic affair in a foreign country a la Lena in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, or going skydiving or choosing a new backpack at random – more than ACTUALLY taking the literal or metaphorical plunge.

And it would be easy to leave Annie there – alone, having returned to the comfort of Greendale Community College where she knows who she is (the top student, the overachiever, the lonely romantic). But that’s not what “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” does. Instead, it presents us with a question via Jeff and Annie’s conversation: do you try to know what you are or do you evolve? For Annie, she returned to the former option when she got out of Vaughn’s car and discarded the second. For Jeff, he is stuck between the idea of knowing who he is with Britta (because she represents where he is at, emotionally) or evolving (into a person Slater wants to be with – someone more matured, more put-together and out-of-character in domesticity).

But the complete and utter beauty of the moment Annie tentatively kisses Jeff is this: in that very instant, she bridges the gap between “knowing who you are” and “evolving.” She’s not jumping out of airplanes, but she’s not settling for being the underappreciated one, the overlooked one. She’s taking a risk. And when she pulls away from the kiss and Jeff looks at her, he SEES that – he sees that he was wrong, that he doesn’t have two options, that there is something between two extremes and that something – or someone – is ANNIE.

“After we kissed, I waited all summer to see you. But you buried me like a shameful secret. What’s the matter, Jeff? Afraid that crazy Annie would go crazy for you?”

I have a lot of issues with the way that Annie was portrayed in the second season (and the fourth season; we’ll discuss the third in a little while), especially toward the beginning and never more so than in “Anthropology 101.” And I think that people overlook how Annie Edison was written toward the end of the first season and how she was portrayed in “A Fistful of Paintballs,” and gravitate toward episodes like “Anthropology 101” and “Geography of Global Conflict” or “Conventions of Space and Time” (just… go read my blog posts because I have neither time nor patience to fully discuss those episodes), and isolate her character to those three episodes.

Yes, Annie can be immature.


I think that the problem with Annie’s immaturity (or the way that it’s written, rather), as opposed to someone like Britta or Jeff or Shirley or Troy or Pierce or Abed’s immaturity – because yes, they have ALL been immature to some extent throughout the seasons – is that people automatically dismiss Annie because she’s a young female to begin with. And therein lies my core battle with the writers: Annie is not eighteen years old. At this point in our journey, she is twenty-two. And in spite of what your preconceived notions of college students or Taylor Swift’s radio hit might lead you to presume, most young women at this age do not have “schoolgirl crushes” anymore. And to diminish Annie’s feelings for Jeff – repeatedly – by explaining it as a “schoolgirl crush” is diminishing her as a character. Utilizing that phrase is saying that her feelings are fluff: they are not important or meaningful or powerful. They’re the equivalent to the feelings a child (hence the “schoolgirl” part of that phrase) has when they like another boy on the playground and he pushes her away because she has cooties. Annie is a woman – she’s legally allowed to vote and to drink and is almost old enough to rent a car. Why, then, do all of her romantic relationships have to be devalued as nothing more than one-sided “crushes”?

And I understand that Annie will always be a hopeless romantic – so will I. If I give it enough pause and weight, I wonder what the treatment of Annie Edison’s romantic life is meant to insinuate about people like me: about hopeful, overachieving, type-A personality twentysomethings who are romantics at heart. Am I, too, to have my feelings dismissed as mere “crushes”?

But perhaps I am reading too much into the dismissal of Annie’s love life. Instead, I will take a moment to lament her lack of progressive characterization in the second season of Community (with a few notable moments of exception). More than Annie’s digression into adolescence and more than her undefined romance with Jeff in the second season, I lament the demise of the Britta/Annie friendship. Understandably, when the blonde found out that Jeff and Annie had made out mere moments after she had confessed her love to him (which, Britta also admitted, was only to “win” against Slater), she was miffed. What followed, however, in the second season was the complete and utter demise of any friendship between the two women.

I know that they had to be at odds; I knew that they would not get along. But both women were (especially in “The Psychology of Letting Go”) thrown into a downward spiral of immaturity and pettiness with no real resolution. As in “Intro to Political Science,” though the words “resolved” may have been utilized and there may have been hugs thrown into the scene, both pairings in both episodes (Britta/Annie and Jeff/Annie, respectively) never TRULY resolved their issues. It’s a sitcom staple to throw a happy ending on an episode – to wrap the story up in a nice bow by the end. My sister and I like to watch re-runs of Full House on occasion and always know when the “resolution music,” as we have deemed it, is about to play.

Just because, however, these words are used or there is a sweet glance exchanged does not mean that uneven writing, unresolved tension, and plot or character holes will be filled in and miraculously restored to “normal.”

But I digress, because Annie Edison did have some outstanding moments throughout the second and third seasons: she told Jeff off in one of my absolute favorite scenes from “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design.” Under the guise of a ruse in a game with no real stakes, Annie let her pent-up bitterness, her anger, and her frustrations out on Jeff. And Jeff – poor, unsuspecting Jeff who had just told Annie to improvise something, ANYTHING – had no idea that he was about to be hit with an emotional bullet. Annie is strong, capable, and determined. She lived in a crappy apartment, supporting herself, because she refused to take money from anyone. Her parents disapproved of her entering rehab, you see, and she left the comfort (however loosely that word can be used, since we know she didn’t have the best home life) of her family’s home and embarked on her own.

Ten points for Annie Edison.

Annie made the small, insignificant apartment her home: she was proud of it, because it might not have been much and it might have been broken, but it was HERS (New Girl reference intentional). But she wanted, desperately, to still have a family. So she trusted Pierce and took money from him because he treated her like the grandfather she always wanted and needed. He’s ALWAYS been that for her: the one person Pierce cares about in the study group more than anyone else is Annie. She’s his favorite. And when she found out that Pierce was using his gift to her as blackmail, she refused to play along with his games and continued to try and make her life work, no matter how difficult it would be on her own.

Ten more points for Annie Edison.

In spite of having her heart broken by him, Annie confronted Jeff during night school about how badly she had hurt him. She reminded him that people aren’t playthings – that what he did to her by dismissing her, by blowing her off, by casting her aside had REAL and lasting consequences. She wasn’t just some girl he blew off: she thought they were friends; she thought he cared. And you can see in Jeff’s face, as he listens to her words, that those barbs are stinging more than he probably ever thought they would. And then Annie gets to do something cathartic and “shoot” the man who broke her heart.

Ten more points for Annie Edison.

Later in the season, Annie holds her own against everyone else in the school in paintball. She proves her goodness by trying to reason with Jeff over Pierce’s necessity in the group. She’s the holdout, the red card, the Ace of Hearts. And truly, she’s the one person who cares about everyone else. The other five members of the study group have a least favorite member, Pierce, and are all ready to vote him out of the study group. But not Annie. Because here’s the truth about Annie that we learned in “A Fistful of Paintballs”: she is fiercely loyal because people haven’t always been loyal to her. She’s caring because she was taunted and teased in high school. She’s inviting to everyone because people have excluded her. Her faults exist, but in spite of them all, she’s ALWAYS reliable and always driven and always giving. And she’s wounded when she is betrayed, like she is when Pierce betrays her in this episode.

And when Annie Edison gets mad… clear the area. Her confrontation with Pierce, to me, was one of the best Annie Edison moments of the second season. Here’s the kicker, though: Pierce never meant to hurt Annie and Annie doesn’t WANT to hurt Pierce. She is the elderly man’s favorite – he merely wanted to teach Jeff and the others a lesson, but she was caught in the friendly fire. The problem, however, lies in the fact that Pierce crossed Annie, personally. That is why she is hurt: because she defended him, protected him, and he betrayed her, no matter what his reasoning was.

And notice, interestingly enough, that when Pierce and Annie square off, Troy, Abed, and Britta move to the side but Jeff stands between the two study group members. In that moment, he’s trying to protect the group by protecting Pierce, but he’s also trying to protect Annie.

Ten more points for Annie Edison, please. And ten for Jeff Winger, as well.

“Okay, uh that made me sound creepy. But, but here’s the thing…”

The Jeff/Annie dynamic has gone from a “will-they-might-they” to something resembling a dog owner throwing his pack of puppies bones just to keep them quiet for a while. “Geography of Global Conflict” was a great episode, all-around. I wrote about it, in fact, and the Jeff/Annie storyline. But ever since that episode, the motif for this pairing moving forward has been “Jeff is creeped out by his feelings for Annie.”

Okay, let’s take a step back here for a second because this isn’t a Jeff/Annie analysis, but rather a post defending Annie Edison.

Annie Edison is twenty-one by the time the third season rolls around, and Jeff is thirty-four. Yes, there is an age difference. There will always BE an age difference. And that seems to be the carousel that the writers choose to ride on more frequently than any of the others. In doing so, they (as I stated earlier) diminish Annie’s feelings to the level of a child who has a crush on a boy at the playground, while also making any feelings Jeff has (and he does have feelings but we’ll save those for another post) try to appear grosser than that recent episode of Game of Thrones you saw.

The problems that I have with the people who dislike Annie as a character, who dismiss her as irritating or naïve or childish, directly seem to stem from how she is portrayed at any given point in the series. It’s a constant see-saw with Annie as a character from season to season, episode to episode. She’s the Ace of Hearts in “A Fistful of Paintballs,” but then portrayed as a giggly, daydreaming girl in “Intro to Knots.” She’s a teenager with a crush in “Anthropology 101,” but a woman who calls Jeff out on his treatment of her in “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” and “Pillows and Blankets.”

I, once again, understand that Annie is still growing and maturing as a character. She will ALWAYS have elements of her characterization that are “young” (because she IS a young character, of course). But why are maturity and romanticism mutually exclusive? Can’t Annie be a dreamer, but also intelligent? Does she have to either live in a fantasy world or be cynical to romance? Britta and Shirley and Annie are three entirely different degrees of women.

Shirley has seen a lot of the world, has let it break her, and she has become stronger for it. She’s a bit hardened, a lot determined, but always giving because she knows what it feels like to lose. Britta is a woman who has also seen a lot of the world, but she’s let it jade her. She’s cynical and tougher because she knows what happens if she isn’t that way. And she’s been broken and has built up walls to close others out because of it. Annie has seen some of the world, and has been hurt by the little bit that she HAS seen. She’s never let it color her view of humanity, though. She still always sees the good in people, she constantly gives, and is always trying to be optimistic because she knows how easy it would be to NOT be that way. And she can’t bear to let the world (her parents, the people who tormented her, and her past) win.

(A hundred points to Shirley, Britta, and Annie alike.)

Community has three very different types of women, and I feel that the archetype that suffers most is that of Annie Edison. The writers do a wonderful job with a LOT of aspects of her personality, don’t get me wrong. I love and adore Community as a show and its talented team of actors, writers, producers, etc.

But – and here comes the kicker – perhaps they need to take a step back from the characters they have spent four years invested in and realize that those people are not the same people who entered Greendale. I think Joel and Alison get it; I truly think they understand Jeff and Annie, or at least are beginning to as the show moves forward. Seeing Joel portray Jeff Winger is quite wonderful, but it’s slightly jarring when we, as viewers, are told that Jeff feels shame regarding his feelings for Annie. Similarly, we’re baffled when a character or a writer calls Annie a “schoolgirl.”

Do they not see what we see? In my post about Nick/Jess vs. Jeff/Annie I touched on this dichotomy – that when what the writers want to tell us directly conflicts with how the actors are portraying that information, the audience is left befuddled at best and downright frustrated at worst. During an affectionately named period of time called “Bobrowgate,” Andy Bobrow concluded a long Twitter post by saying that: “Jeff Winger sabotages his relationships, and that Jeff Winger, deep down, doesn’t think he deserves happiness. Do you guys not buy that?

No, Bobrow, I do not. Because I believe that while there are aspects of Jeff’s character that believe he isn’t good enough for a relationship, good enough to be with Annie, or just good enough to have friends, period, I don’t believe that what JOEL is portraying always aligns with this belief. Jeff Winger is healing because of the love of the study group, but I feel like sometimes the writers try to re-open wounds and character flaws that were already being healed. And they display them to us, saying: “Remember that Jeff is selfish? Remember that Annie romanticized her life? Remember that Troy and Abed are childish? Remember that Pierce is offensive? That Shirley is judgmental? That Britta is calloused?”

The problem, of course, is that those are mere shards of who these characters were when they entered Greendale. They’re shades and shadows of their former selves. And to say that this is all they will ever be in the end… well, that’s just saddening to me.

I don’t anticipate Jeff ever being a romantic, sweeping women off their feet by writing them sonnets or love songs. I don’t want Annie to become calloused, because being cynical and bitter isn’t what “growing up” looks like for everyone. If, then, I am able to understand that Annie is more than a driven, type-A romantic and that Jeff is more than a self-absorbed ex-lawyer and that four years with these characters has managed to teach me all of this… why can’t the writers?

“You’re Annie. You like puzzles, and little monsters on your pencil, and some guy named Mark Ruffalo. You’re a fierce competitor and a sore loser. And you expect everybody to be better than who they are, and you expect yourself to be better than everyone. Which is cool.”

Ultimately, Annie Edison is flawed and human. She’s imperfect and she will sometimes be immature and sometimes make mistakes and occasionally she will hurt people’s feelings and say things she regrets. But she’s always there to pick up the pieces. She and Britta re-connect. She’s trying to be closer to Shirley. She’s ready to mend whatever it is that needs mending with Jeff.

I don’t expect you all to fall in love with Annie. Maybe you cannot simply relate to her, and that’s okay. Like I said when I began this post, my intention was not to make Annie Edison your favorite character. I hope, however, that I was able to illuminate the reasons why she is my favorite character on Community. And maybe, by reading this, you’ll appreciate her just a bit more.

She is my spirit animal. And so, my darling Annie Edison, you will always be loved and appreciated at this blog. You’re bright, you’re talented, and you’ll go places, kid.

Just you wait and see.


  1. This is one of the most heartfelt and honest interpretations of Annie Edison that I have ever seen. Your affections for her really show, as well as your deep understand of her character; I think that anyone who watches Community, including Annie stans, should read this because Annie's development doesn't get nearly the attention that it should.

  2. I have been kicking around my own idea for an Annie Edison essay; you've covered much of the material I've been planning on taking on.

    "I feel that it all boils down to a kernel of truth that finds its way into every Annie-centric storyline: uncertainty."

    "But why are maturity and romanticism mutually exclusive? Can’t Annie be a dreamer, but also intelligent?"

    These points really cut to the heart of the matter. Even some Community fans who aren't so dismissive of Annie that they would refer to her romantic feelings as "schoolgirl crushes" see her romanticism as unbecoming. But her hopeless romanticism is an integral part of who she is, just as much as her ambition. It is not going away, nor should it.

    And let me take something a bit further. "Schoolgirl crush" can be offensive, but what about "hopeless" romantic? Like you, and Annie Edison, I too am a romantic, unapologetically so. And what is hopeless about that? I think believing so firmly in love is actually quite hopeful. (Though, I suppose, "hopeless" in the term "hopeless romantic" doesn't necessarily refer to the romantic him- or herself but the situation, i.e., it is hopeless to think that that person will ever stop being romantic.)

  3. I came across this beautiful blog post and it made my day. I have been a Jeff Annie shipper since the kiss at the debate and can never really let go - even now when Community is well and truly over. This post captures Annie's spirit so well and I love how you have paid homage to one of the few TV characters that I truly relate to, someone who tells me its okay to be 26 and be a "hopeless romantic" and maturity and romanticism are not mutually exclusive! Thanks for this. :)

  4. I don't understand why anyone feels the need to come to the "defense" of a character that most viewers of the show unanimously seem to like. Personally, I am more of a Britta fan, if only for her as an individual character. That being said, I actually feel that the Britta/Jeff pairing is exclusively physical. As for Annie/Jeff, well that's just a pair that for some reason I simply can't get on the popularity bandwagon for! I find Annie's character vain, petty, and two-dimensional. The comedy feels forced every time she is on screen. I honestly feel like I am watching a slightly older iCarly or some other girl that teens and tweens look up to on Nickelodeon or the Disney channel. If it were not for my love of the story and the enjoyment I get out of every other character on the show besides her, then I would have already given up watching it. Unfortunately, it seems as the series progresses that Annie has become a focal point to the story, as well as the stunted relationship that she and Jeff have developed at a sickeningly slow rate. It's become less like "Community" and more like "Unity". Of two, that is. Not the show I started watching, that's for sure.

    1. I'm sorry, anon, I'm just really confused as to why you thought you might find a post about Britta Perry or Jeff/Britta by clicking on, reading, and commenting on a post literally titled "In Defense of Annie Edison." Clearly if you still feel that Annie is "vain, petty, and two-dimensional," you either a) didn't read the post or b) still disagree. As I said above, my goal is to never try and convince you that Annie should be your favorite character, just to... well, appreciate her. But I can see you already went into the post NOT liking her anyway.

      I don't understand why anyone feels the need to come to the "defense" of a character that most viewers of the show unanimously seem to like.

      ......... I think your entire comment just proved WHY people who are fans of Annie need to defend her and why this post was written. So thank you for that!