Friday, September 4, 2015

Dear Dan Harmon: Annie Edison Was Not A Two-Dimensional Character (And Other Frustrations)

I have a very love/hate relationship with Community. I’ve never quite experienced this with any other television series honestly. At its best, Community is a show that focuses on amazingly nuanced and human characters who form relationships and become better because they realize what separates them is not nearly as important as what unites them. It’s a show about friends becoming family and a show about finding your place in the world. When it is good, Community is poignant, hilarious, and moving. When it’s bad, though… it’s bad. The show has been known to ignore characterization for the sake of an homage. It’s decimated relationships because it didn’t know how to write them well. Sometimes it sinks into tropes and stereotypes even though it’s better than that. So at its worst, Community can be a parody of itself – a series that would rather seek a laugh or an homage than honor its characters. It can be a show that shoehorns plots into ideas rather than organically develop either. It’s been known to be a show more about quirk and fun sometimes than substance.

Nothing in the world irks me more than seeing wasted potential. And Community wasted a lot of it over the years. Don’t get me wrong, here: this isn’t a post meant to bash the show. I owe a lot to it and I’ve loved a lot of it, too. I harp on its flaws, sometimes, because it’s easy to look at all the series could have been if it just tried a little more about substance than pop culture. But like I said above: when the show was great, it was really great. I’ve started re-watching bits and pieces of the show recently and was reminded of how stellar some of the episodes were. Take “Football, Feminism and You” for instance. This was an ambitious episode not because of the plot but because of how many storylines the episode juggled. Yet it did them all impeccably. Jeff grew – he learned to be more compassionate toward Annie and to accept where he was. Annie grew – she learned she deserved more than just pining over Troy. Troy grew – he learned to have fun and accept Greendale for what it was. Britta grew – she learned how to become a supportive female friend. Shirley grew – she stepped out of her comfort zone to stand up to Britta. Even Pierce and Dean Pelton grew – they learned how to work together on accomplishing a goal. The only person who didn’t really grow was Abed and that’s only because he was in the background the entire episode “laying low.” This episode is one of my absolute favorites in the entire series because it’s funny and poignant.

Then you look at episodes like “Remedial Chaos Theory” which was an extremely ambitious and now-iconic episode. That’s my favorite episode of all time, honestly, because the writing is so tight and well-done and because the humor, heart, and core value of friendship is evident at every roll of the die. But then there are other episodes too that perfectly embody the spirit of this series. The one I’ve watched most recently is “Digital Estate Planning.” I think this is Community in a nutshell, down to the use of “Greendale Is Where I Belong.” The episode is an homage, it’s quirky, hilarious, and fun. But it’s also deeply emotional and allows Pierce to grow as a person. This is a show that – as I said, when it is REALLY good – tugs at both your heart and your funny bone.

All that is good about Community can often be overshadowed by what is not so good. That’s why I’m about to talk about the not-so-good: the writing and development of the characters as the series progresses. Jaime and I have often talked about how the series favors episode-by-episode growth rather than seasonal growth. And sometimes it ignores growth entirely in order to fit a character into a story. Let’s take, for example, “G.I. Jeff” my second least-favorite episode of the series (falling only behind “The Art of Discourse”). In this episode, Jeff has a midlife crisis in which we learn he’s apparently lied to everyone for years and is really 40 years old. That… made no sense since there were multiple times in the show (“Intro to Political Science” and “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations”) where Jeff mentions – with ease – how old he was during a certain point in his life. And they’re specific references, too. But because of plot-related or ship-dooming (more on that and those episodes later down in the post) related reasons, Harmon and the writers decided that Jeff needed to be 40 years old and the way to do that was to have him take pills and Scotch and end up in the hospital where he dreams about being in a G.I. Joe cartoon.

Okay then. 

Had we any indication up until this point in the show’s fifth season that Jeff was desperately struggling with his age? No. In fact, he seemed to always embrace the idea that he was a generation apart from Troy and Annie and Abed – that he and Shirley fell around the same age bracket. We’d never really seen that emotional struggle. Jeff’s struggled with many things emotionally throughout the series (friendship, intimacy, accepting his fate at Greendale, etc.) but his age was never one of them. It was out of place and it was a way for the show to try and shoehorn an explanation into their – quite frankly – selfish desire to want a G.I. Joe homage. They couldn’t figure out a logical way to break the story and instead of forgoing it, they forced Jeff into a story he shouldn’t have ever been forced into.

But that’s just the beginning, really. Because we’re going to talk about Annie Edison, too. A lot. First, though, we need to talk about what exactly happened to Community in its final year.

See, Dan Harmon never wanted to be the person to cancel Community. We, the fans, helped rescue it for him. Could you imagine if he quit it or refused to do the show? What kind of backlash would he have received? I can see it now – the tweets about him being “ungrateful” for all we’ve done, etc. So what happens when you don’t want to do your show anymore and only do it out of obligation? You get a dark, cynical, and biting parody of the show you used to know. You get season six. And then you get the commentary. We’re going to focus on a bit of commentary that Dan Harmon did in the series’ finale “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television.” This, if you’ll recall, was an episode that both Deb and I surprisingly loved, despite feeling neutral about (or hating episodes, in my case) most of the season. Here’s what Dan Harmon said regarding that goodbye kiss between Jeff and Annie:

"And it’s different from a sexual kiss. It’s different from making out. It’s different. A kiss goodbye is more than that. It’s true love, the love that we saw registered on the computer at the end of season five. Jeff loves Annie. That’s different from being compatible with Annie. That’s different from understanding Annie. He loves her. With all of his heart and all of his crotch and all of his brain, he loves Annie. He’s 20 years older than her. Her life is just beginning. His life isn’t ending, but here he is at Greendale. So he has to kiss her goodbye. And she’s clearly in love with him but still searching for herself. I think she’s going from being this two-dimensional type-A personality into being a woman. Full control of her faculties and she gets it. She can make these choices. You know, that’s her owning her young adulthood. And so they’re kissing goodbye for now. And they do love each other very much."

I’m going to pause before I even talk about Annie Edison, for a moment, because I want to talk about what has happened to Dan Harmon. I recently read a piece by Vulture which discussed a new term they called the “sadcom.” They described these shows as ones where characters leave an episode in a worse state than they began it or they leave the world in a worse state. I disagree with the notion that these would be classified as “sadcoms.” The examples pointed out in the piece – most notably It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Harmon’s Rick and Morty – aren’t “sad” really; they’re cynical. They’re dark and biting – they look at the world as a thing that is mostly bad instead of mostly good and their characters reflect that view. Dan Harmon is a functioning alcoholic who has let whatever happened to him in his life taint the way he perceives the world and the way he writes characters.

Contrast him with someone like Mike Schur or Elizabeth Meriwether.

I’m not saying that dark or cynical comedy is bad, by any means. What I am saying however is that it’s a fine line between something that is a commentary about the state of humanity and something that is merely a reflection of the writer or producer’s skewed view of the world. In these comedies, there are often no optimistic characters. And if there are optimists, they’re very quickly warped or defeated. Cynicism and bitterness ARE present in life but it’s dark and rather unsettling if that is the way you see everyone you encounter – if that is the way your characters see and treat everyone. But there is something even more troublesome afoot: what happens if you once were slightly optimistic and your show was optimistic and then you became darkly cynical?

You get Community in its later years (most notably the final season). I think that Harmon has let his cynicism overrule the part of him that used to focus on things of value and things of worth. It’s almost as if, in the time between Community’s inception and its end, Harmon decidedly flipped a switch in his brain, one that filtered everything differently like some lens on Instagram. It’s as if he began to see his characters and his show through only one dark, biting, critically cynical lens. It’s as if he saw their backstories and their motivations and their arcs this way too. Now he’s invested that cynical energy into a show that is apparently genius (having never seen an episode of Rick and Morty I can’t speak to this), but unfortunately, the show that got colored in the process was a show that used to be optimistic, about good people who did bad things but who still remained rather good.

When Community ended, it was about hopeless people floundering to latch onto something good and right and true… and failing. (Just look at “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” lighting-wise: the entire episode is dark, from the bar to the study room to the airport and back. The only moments of light are in moments that don’t even really exist except inside of the characters’ heads.) Harmon not only allowed but encouraged his show to become dark. Jeff became a functioning alcoholic, much like Dan Harmon, and no one in the study group seemed to mind or care at all about this. Pierce died. Troy and Shirley left (and no, this wasn’t on Harmon because Donald Glover chose to leave, as did Yvette Nicole Brown). There was an entire episode about incest. The study group not only maliciously turned on each other but also turned on the entire school. Jeff became much more prone to rage and violence, especially against Abed.

I mean, I could go on but that’s only in the sixth season.

Again: this is all a precursor, really, to our discussion about the characters, Jeff/Annie, and Annie herself. But it’s important to know the kind of state of mind that Dan Harmon was in – and is in – as he says these things. This is a jaded, bitter, Dan Harmon. Deb told me to not pay much attention to his words because he was probably drunk in the commentary but, well, even if that’s true, there are always kernels of truth in everything he says and does. I’m going to break down my disappointment with Dan Harmon’s commentary into a few different parts. I’ve transitioned from being irrationally angry to angry and sad, so hopefully that translates well to analyzing and discussion. We’ll see!

"It’s different from making out. It’s different. A kiss goodbye is more than that. It’s true love, the love that we saw registered on the computer at the end of season five ..."

Qualm #1: Dan Harmon never actually made this bit canon. Now, you can argue with me all you’d like but he intentionally left this scene up to interpretation in the fifth season's finale. It was only during the COMMENTARY that he noted Jeff’s love for Annie is what opened the door. And, lest anyone forget, this is how the actual quote went:

“He loves Annie. […] No, it is not just because he looked at everybody. I think you know it’s Annie. I’ll be direct about that. He looked at her, and his heart opened the door. What a comedy.”

It’s easy to overlook the last and most important bit of that quote because it’s exemplary of all of the bitterness and cynicism Harmon has toward this pairing and romance in his sitcom. He didn’t want there to be unexpected things in Community. I’m going to surmise right now that Dan Harmon wanted to always be in control of his show – in control of what was written, what he could say, what he could do, etc. So he wanted to be in control of the story. And then it got away from him. The Jeff/Britta plan fell through because of the insane chemistry that Joel McHale and Alison Brie ended up having. That wasn’t planned. And rather than embrace it, Harmon fought it tooth and nail for the entirety of the series. Oh, sure, he would acknowledge the relationship but every time he did, there were always caveats attached to it. “Jeff and Annie have chemistry and sizzle… she has a schoolgirl crush on him” or “It’s creepy” or “he’s 20 years older than she is” (which we’ll, again, get to momentarily).

And so even when Dan Harmon said that Jeff loved Annie, he HAD to add “what a comedy” at the end because he believes that love has no true place in a good sitcom. Or, at the very least, he’s extremely unwilling to explore that romance because he believes it is the thing that ruins a show’s humor. For the record: love doesn’t ruin television; bad writing ruins television.

Harmon’s treatment of Jeff and Annie’s resolution is like… a child begrudgingly giving someone else their toy and, right before handing it over, coughing all over it with a smirk on their face. Harmon gave shippers the very thing that they wanted to hear most, and yet he STILL emerged with the upper hand in the scenario by patronizing them. He wins. Shippers will never win. But Harmon was smart, right? Because he knew that he needed Jeff/Annie shippers for ratings, he would give us those patronizing interviews and those hopeful quotes and we would hang on, like the eager little things we are, and hope that maybe SOMEDAY he would treat that relationship with respect, that he would treat the characters with respect.

Alas, that never happened.

" ... Jeff loves Annie. That’s different from being compatible with Annie. That’s different from understanding Annie. He loves her. With all of his heart and all of his crotch and all of his brain, he loves Annie."

Qualm #2: Jeff IS compatible with Annie. They’re like a perfect duet or great se—HEY PROFESSOR WHITMAN. There have literally been entire episodes (“Debate 109,” “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design,” “Intro to Political Science,” “Basic Lupine Urology,” “Basic Intergluteal Nuministics,” etc.) that have proven how well Jeff and Annie work together not just as a romantic team but as a platonic one. They’re ALWAYS better together because she challenges him to have morals and he encourages her to become less tightly wound; she provides him the hope he needs to counter the part of him that wants to be jaded. She’s his light. He’s her encouragement. They just function THAT well together.

Now, I do agree with part of this statement. Jeff doesn’t understand what Annie wants. He daydreams about a life with her and dream!Annie asks if he even knows what she wants for her future. Jeff assumes she wants a house and a kid. But he doesn’t KNOW that for sure. Because he never asked. He may love her, but he doesn’t know her in a lot of ways.

My problem forever with Community and Jeff/Annie is that Dan Harmon constantly approaches topics like these as if they were unavoidable problems – as if he had no control in how Jeff/Annie wound up, as a pairing. As if somehow it was beyond his control. And that irritates me in the same way it irritated me when Ryan Murphy said that he broke Sam and Quinn on Glee up because they “bored him.”


Similarly, Dan Harmon, if you WANTED to write a better love story – if you wanted to be able to say that Jeff and Annie understood one another – maybe the simple solution would have been to write it. When I texted Jaime this week about the Dan Harmon commentary for that Jeff/Annie kiss, she replied with the statement that sums up everything about Dan Harmon’s treatment of the pairing: Convenient how he decides this right when the show ends... They can be in love the second he doesn't actually have to write them in love. Oh, perfect, such good timing.

Good job, Harmon. You patronized and placated us by telling us Jeff loved Annie and OH HOW CONVENIENT THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO ACTUALLY DO ANY OF THE WORK IN WRITING THEIR RELATIONSHIP. FUNNY.

Ugh, moving on.

"... He’s 20 years older than her. Her life is just beginning. His life isn’t ending, but here he is at Greendale. So he has to kiss her goodbye."

Qualm #3: The show aged Jeff in order to make it less plausible that Jeff/Annie would happen. Just like the show decided to regress Troy (he’s not “ready” for a relationship with Britta even though he’s arguably the leader of the group and oh, SEASON THREE’S FINAL EPISODES PROVED HE’S A SELF-SACRIFICIAL MAN), regress Shirley (who apparently lost her husband again and a family), and regress Britta (that’s a WHOLE other post), so it decided to regress Jeff/Annie. The easiest way to make it so that Dan Harmon didn’t have to write the romance? Increase the age gap more.

Here’s the thing: with each passing year, it got harder and harder for Dan Harmon to justify NOT writing Jeff/Annie because of the age difference. Sure, when the show began and Annie was eighteen years old, fresh out of high school, there was a gap between her and Jeff. But by the time season six rolled around, Annie is twenty-three years old, right? We pretty much all assume that. Okay, now let’s talk about how old Jeff was before “G.I. Jeff”:

In “Intro to Political Science” Annie tells the crowd that Jeff’s audition tape is for 1997’s The Real World, and Jeff then exclaims: “I was like, nineteen!” That places Jeff’s date of birth in the year of 1978 which would make him 37 when we hit “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television.” Age gap: 14 years.

In “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations,” Jeff shows his father a scar that he got and mentions the boxes of cards he got when he was in seventh grade. He then says: “… and I still keep them under my bed, twenty-two years later.” Seventh-graders are typically 12 years old. So if that’s true, then at the time Jeff gave the speech to his father, he was 34 years old. Since that took place in season four, two years later in the finale (given a birthday) he would – indeed – have been 37 years old. Age gap: 14 years.

Instead, this is what Dan Harmon decided to do: Despite the fact that there are TWO VERY SPECIFIC pieces of canon evidence that Jeff gives for how old he is, in season five’s “G.I. Jeff,” Harmon and company decided that the truth is Jeff has been lying to everyone about his age. He’s actually 40 in that season, placing him at 41 during “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television.” Age gap: 18 years.

The show literally aged Jeff by four years to excuse Dan Harmon from writing Jeff/Annie because of the age difference. Excuse me while I go punch a wall.

"... And she’s clearly in love with him but still searching for herself. I think she’s going from being this two-dimensional type-A personality into being a woman. Full control of her faculties and she gets it. She can make these choices. You know, that’s her owning her young adulthood."

Qualm #4, my biggest qualm ever: THE WRITING OF ANNIE EDISON.

Excuse me, Dan Harmon, but since WHEN has Annie Edison been a “two-dimensional type-A” character? And are you really implying that KISSING JEFF GOODBYE is what broke her from being that way?

This is the thing that miffs me – this character has one of the absolute richest backstories of any character, so much potential for growth and development, and all of it was squandered by a guy who constantly saw her as a “schoolgirl.” The patronizing of Annie Edison is a crime. I could talk about the writing of the three women in the series over the years, but since this quote was about Annie, we’re going to stick with her alone. (Make no mistake, though, I dislike Britta’s dumbing-down and Shirley’s sidelined character as much as everyone else.)

Let me explain to you who Annie Edison is, Harmon, since you don’t seem to have a grasp on the character you’ve spent six years of your life with:

  • Annie Edison used and abused Adderall when she was in high school and lost all of her chances to attend an Ivy League school like she deserved/could have done. (“Pilot”)
  • Annie Edison voluntarily checked herself into rehab for her addiction and, as a result, was cut off by her parents. (“Celebrity Pharmacology”)
  • It’s clear that Annie doesn’t have a good relationship with her mother (“Advanced Criminal Law”) who was never supportive of her, and her relationship with her brother isn’t great either (“VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”). In fact, Annie really doesn’t seem to have any family who choose to support her (“Basic Genealogy”) and her decisions – with the exception of at least one grandmother (“Regional Holiday Music”) whom she sees. 
  • Annie Edison begins the series as an idealistic young woman in spite of the fact that she has faced a dark road of addiction and she continues to be optimistic throughout the series (“Basic Crisis Room Decorum”) believing the best in everyone and believing in hope even when others don’t. And in spite of the way Jeff treats her repeatedly (“Anthropology 101”), she still doesn’t hold that against him and – while understandably upset – believes him to be a good guy with a good heart (“Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts”).
  • In fact, it’s this very optimism and goodness that draw people to Annie. She’s the one who in, many ways, has anchored the group over the years (“English as a Second Language”) – without her, the study group not only would have failed classes but they would have failed to be vulnerable and emotional with each other. She’s also the one who manages to keep Troy, Abed, and Britta all in check – SHE is the responsible one in the relationships she has with others (“Laws of Robotics and Party Rights”). And she is the one that profoundly understands Abed (“Virtual Systems Analysis”), who supports and cares about Troy even when he is no longer her romantic interest (“Geothermal Escapism”), and who loves the group and protects the group at all costs, constantly wanting them to be better (“Intro to Knots”). In turn, the group protects Annie and loves her.
  • While Shirley and Britta often see the darkness in life and romance, Annie constantly believes in light and goodness (“Origins of Vampire Mythology”). She’s protective of the people that she cares about (“Accounting for Lawyers”) and proves over and over again that though others constantly underestimate her ability to be strong, she truly IS tougher than she lets on (“A Fistful of Paintballs”). In fact, she is the ONLY one to defend Pierce and she was the one to be right about his potential (“For A Few More”). Had the group listened to the Ace of Hearts to begin with, who knows what might have happened.
  • That doesn’t mean Annie Edison is perfect, of course. She’s made lots of mistakes before. Sometimes her optimism and hope are misplaced (“Alternative History of the German Invasion”) and sometimes her competitiveness drives her to the edge of her morality (“Intro to Political Science,” “Intro to Felt Surrogacy,” “Basic Lupine Urology”). The thing about Annie is that she never stops fighting for what she believes to be true, even if everyone else dismisses her. She treats other people with respect even if they don’t deserve it and she – in turn – learns what she deserves from others; she learns that she cannot be treated like a pawn or a plaything (“Conspiracy Theories in Interior Design”) and that is so important. She may have begun the series as an idealist and she may have ended it as such, but idealism is not equated with naiveté. Don’t think that for a moment love is weakness when it comes to Annie. No, love is strength.
  • And we haven’t even gotten to her relationship with Jeff yet. Annie doesn’t take any of Jeff’s crap (“Competitive Ecology,” “Pillows and Blankets,” “Conventions of Space and Time”) and – though she cares about him and loves him deeply – has learned over the years that she deserves better than the ways he’s treated her (“Paradigms of the Human Memory”). She’s become a stronger character. Long are the days of Annie giggling and handing him her Spanish notes (“Spanish 101”). No, she sasses him (“Intro to Political Science”) and stands up to him (“Cooperative Calligraphy”) and she lets him make his own choices, even if they’re detrimental (“Basic Story”) because she’s GROWN in her knowledge of the world, grown in the way she sees him.


Please, Harmon, do not insult my favorite female character by reducing her to a “two-dimensional, type-A” character. Annie freaking Edison is so much more than that – more than the boxes you put her into, more than the labels you slap on her incorrectly, and she’s managed to thrive in spite of the fact that you don’t care to write her better.

So if Annie Edison is a two-dimensional character in your head, it’s only because you’ve confined her to that space – you’ve chained her to the wall just like Abed did (“Virtual Systems Analysis”) and you’ve insulted not just the character but also Alison Brie who has worked tirelessly for six years to give the audience amazing gems and moments and episodes, in spite of the erratic writing. So don’t call Annie Edison a “two-dimensional” character. You’re basically spitting in the face of feminism and your OWN SHOW by doing so.

"... And so they’re kissing goodbye for now. And they do love each other very much."

I believe that Jeff Winger is in love with Annie Edison.

I believe he’s loved her before he even knew what was happening. If you ask Jeff/Annie fans when that happened, we all might tell you something a little bit different. Me? I think Jeff finally knew that he loved Annie – or at least he was starting to – after “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design.” The way Joel McHale played the scene where Annie confesses the truth about how she felt that summer, you can see the pain and confusion and regret flash across his face. He was falling for her. … And that made everything complex, because he had this intensely emotional relationship with Annie while he was getting a physical relationship with Britta. He had what he wanted but with two different people. I don’t know Jeff ever wanted to try a physical relationship with Annie because he felt it would compromise their emotional one if something inevitably happened and their romance dissolved.

But my belief is that he was falling in love with her back in season two and because of that, I expected the show to do more than it did – I expected the writers and Dan Harmon to treat the Jeff/Annie romance with some semblance of respect.

I didn’t want them to date, necessarily.

I didn’t need to see them hold hands or cuddle.

I didn’t want Annie to draw little hearts on her notebook (because hey, character regression, nice of you to show up again a la “Anthropology 101”). In fact, if anyone loved MORE in this pairing, it was Jeff. Jeff was the one who daydreamed about Annie (“Biology 101”). Jeff was the one who knew that Annie was in his heart (“Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts”). Jeff was the one who planned a ski trip with Annie (“Conventions of Space and Time”) and who planned a couple’s costume with her (“Paranormal Parentage”). Jeff’s the one who said “if we were married, you wouldn’t find me flirting with another woman at a hotel bar.” (“Conventions of Space and Time”) Jeff is the one who daydreamed about a married life with Annie (“Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television”).

So no, if anyone loved more in this relationship, it was definitely JEFF. Jeff loved Annie, I have no doubt about that.

I only wish these revelations had been addressed in-show. Not commentary. Not deleted scenes. Not an after-the-fact, haphazard paragraph thrown together which served to simultaneously delight and enrage shippers.

If Dan Harmon had truly desired to grow Jeff and Annie – if he cared enough about them and respected their journeys enough – he would have addressed the relationship. There would have been a scene of discussion. They would have talked about their feelings. But see, addressing romance is impossible for Harmon to do until after the show has ended, right? Because NOW he doesn’t have to follow through with anything he said. It’s in the past. It’s done. If he had any respect for the characters, he would have realized that what they deserved and what would make them better would be to address their relationship. From there, he could have tried his hand at writing romance (but ewwww, icky apparently) or moved on from the pairing entirely (I would have accepted this, too).

Instead of resolution and instead of growth, we got stagnation and patronization. How is THAT benefiting characters? How is THAT enhancing a story or an arc? (It’s not.)

So Dan Harmon, I’m sorry but I can’t let this go. I now have How I Met Your Mother Syndrome. So I’m sorry but while I love parts and seasons of your show, I’ll never be able to actually look at it on the whole or the characters in the same way again – not now that I know how you really feel about them. Not now that I know this was all some way for you to prove that love may exist, but cynicism will always win in the end anyway.

Thanks for that one, dude.

I think I’ll hang out in Pawnee instead.


  1. Our minds were running in the same track today, apparently. I wrote some very similar things on tumblr. I just...ANNIE EDISON? TWO-DIMENSIONAL? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, DAN HARMON?

    A great big YES to all of this. All of it. Well-said.

  2. I think that the most frustrating thing about Harmon's opinion regarding the show's cynicism vs. love/hope message is that he used to be very consistent about it. He used to say outright that, yes, the show is supposed to oppose the cynical themes in other comedies, and that the core message of the show is the goodness of people and how broken people can come together to make each other better:

    "The religion of Community is that People are Good and Systems are Bad. […] If there's an episode of Community that doesn't hammer that home, it's an accident. […] TV, as a medium, works pretty hard day and night to dehumanize and separate us, so the message that 'your neighbor ain't so bad' is like a drop of chlorine in a septic tank. It might not help, but it ain't gonna hurt."

    So what happened? Who am I supposed to listen to, the Dan Harmon who said on commentaries and in interviews and online that Community is supposed to be the anti-cynical comedy, or the Dan Harmon who can't cope with the idea of romance happening in his show, so he has to underline the idea that Jeff Winger is too broken to know what to do with his feelings? And Annie Edison is too immature to understand who she is until romance is no longer a factor? The Dan Harmon who tries his hardest to stick a button on the positivity (albeit bittersweet positivity) of the finale by saying, "No, no, these two love each other but they're wrong. It wouldn't end well and they wouldn't work."

    Both of these versions of Dan are Dan saying things outside of the narrative, giving footnote explanations that we can ignore or hold up as evidence of our own opinions depending on what we're looking for him to say. Making it even more muddled and confusing is what we actually see on screen in later seasons: do we trust the group hugs, or the underhanded sniping within the group? Which episodes should we take as representative of the friendships within the show - episodes where Jeff says that he loves his friends, or episodes where Jeff does terrible things to the people he claims to love?

    This is why the show, for me, lost its real charm after season 3. There are a few episodes in the first three seasons where the study group seems to be selfish and chaotic when turned against the outside world ("Competitive Ecology" stands out) but the show generally stuck with the premise of a bunch of "broken people" coming together to love each other and help each other feel less broken. Season 3 ended with Jeff giving a Winger speech about the potential goodness of people, completely without cynicism, and it was basically the perfect way to wrap the idea of Community (as a show, and as a concept) up and then sign off.

  3. I made a lot of these points on an M&M post. Six years of teasing never paid off and potential never realized. For those that binged watched the show the finale was fine, for those that had to suffer through the turbulent six years in real time not so much. When you add in that the scene had to be further clarified in commentaries it makes it much worse.

  4. Hello; came across this post by Googling "that's different than being compatible" because I really enjoyed that phrase. I haven't read other posts on the site so I lack a lot of understanding of your approach to the show.

    This post is proof that Dan's comment that we shouldn't spend more time writing about shows we don't like than we do watching them is incorrect. This was a pleasure to read and — I imagine — cathartic to write. Furthermore, as Dan noted while commenting on Jason Mantzoukas in the Karate Kid episode (sorry; I'm horrible with titles) How Did This Get Made is a great question [/podcast].

    But, as much as Dan explicitly exhibits disdain for shippers, I don't think he is cynical about love. As he notes in the commentary for the incest/wedding episode, he very much loves his wife (who provided the suggestion for the ending).

    [Or, rather, he is not _especially_ cynical about love? He has a general mistrust of institutions, after all.]

    As someone that really like Troy/Britta, I was sad to see them break up. But I also loved that [non-Harmon-supervised] Freaky Friday episode [I suppose, really, I'm a Troy/Abed shipper because that episode is about how close _they_ are. But I just love anything Gambino-related. Sidebar].

    So where am I going with this? ^___^

    For all the self-hate and defensiveness, from all I've ever heard of Dan he wanted fans to be happy. He didn't care about ratings or pleasing production companies -- his post-Community CBS and FOX pilots didn't go anywher because he was too busy breaking even on a nationwide tour to meet his fans (also his wife's idea). He thought Nielsen was stupid (and it is, not just because supposedly Yahoo statistics showed may more people watched it than Nielsen thought) as the end of episode VO showed.

    I don't think he was bored of writing, I think he just didn't feel good enough. Not good enough for the writers, or the actors, or the fans. So what you're hearing is a weary boss (I've heard/seen him drunk a LOT and thought *probably* wasn't recorded as such). And your disappointment proves he did disappoint, even thought he episode is "critically" beloved.


    I feel I could have just written "You have every right to be disappointed, but it shouldn't be because you feel he gave up or manipulated you, it should be that he tried really hard and failed," but I'm writing on an iPad and it's hard to edit. p_^

    1. Also, if you listened to the 1st episode's commentary you know Dan would agree that Parks & Rec is above Community, both literally & figuratively. ~_'

  5. First off: great writing. I am really jealous and wish I could write such long and detailed and well structered walls of text^^

    And I agree with a lot of it, but I think you misinterpreted what Dan meant when he said "[...]Jeff loves Annie. That’s different from being compatible with Annie. That’s different from understanding Annie."
    It's not that he said that Jeff is not compatible with Annie or does not understand her. He simply wanted to say (or at least that's what I got from that sentence), that Jeff's loves is ABOVE a simple compatibility and/or understanding that it's BIGGER than that. It's different is meant in a positive way as compatibility =/= love. Sure it can be a part of love but it is not a guarantee for love, the same goes for understanding.

    So I don't see that commentary as negative as you and hope you understand my viewpoint and maybe get a bit more positive again^^

  6. I started reading this, then I started writing, and found myself produce one of my usual multi-page monstrosities (seriously, I was north of 2,000 words by the time I was barely halfway through), so threw it away and started again. Nobody needs that many words to say Jenn produced a splendidly written denunciation that I wholeheartedly agree with anyway…

    Anyway, a few brief thoughts:

    Qualm 1: probably the only one I have real disagreements with. It may just be a consequence of the way I encountered community (I first discovered it in February of this year and only finished watching S5 literally a day or two before S6 started) but to me at least “Milord/Milady” was the only explanation that made sense for the doors opening, it just seemed that obvious. YMMV I suppose.

    Also, on the “what a comedy” thing, in fairness to Dan (as he’s going to get dumped on a lot) but it may be worth remembering that the original meaning of “comedy” is any drama that has a happy ending (this is the sense it’s being used in in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, not a work otherwise famous for it’s belly laughs), using it to refer specifically to humorous situations is a relatively recent innovation (as in the last century or two). I don’t know if Dan is sufficiently up to speed with tropes that predate the electronic age for this to be a plausible explanation of what he meant, but benefit of the doubt and all that.

    Qualm 2: Heck, yes. Tell it how it is…

    Qualm 3: your maths is off. Annie’s birthday is December 19 1990 (confirmed in 6x03), which means, yes she was 23 when S6 started (assuming it covers a full academic year), but 24 by the time “emotional consequences” comes round. If Jeff was born in 1978 that means he’s 12 (and a bit) years older than Annie, not 14 - which only makes your larger point about the age gap no longer being creepy stronger, of course.

    I agree BTW that the only reason for Dan aging Jeff by 4 years is to “keep it weird” - in fact, in retrospect, GI Joe was pretty much the point I resigned myself to accepting Dan was unlikely to give us a positive J/A resolution.

    Incidentally, there’s one other reason for arguing in favour of a 12 year age difference - Joel was born in November 1971 and Alison in December 1982, so this is essentially the age difference between the actors. It just seems sensible for all sorts of reasons for the characters to have a similar age difference.

    Qualm 4:

    And are you really implying that KISSING JEFF GOODBYE is what broke her from being that way?

    To be fair to Dan once more, but I read that the other way around - that breaking away from that pattern is what enabled her to kiss him goodbye. Otherwise, yeah. As for -

    This is the thing that miffs me – this character has one of the absolute richest backstories of any character

    Oh, yes. I suspect though that Dan and the rest of the writing team don’t see it that way - I get the distinct impression that Annie wasn’t created with a backstory beyond Adderall/rehab (to explain why such an obvious high achiever was in a toilet like Greendale) and that all the other stuff you mention were basically one liners created when they wanted to make a joke about poor Annie’s horrible life and then promptly forgotten about. No attempt was made to fit all of this into a coherent backstory by anybody except the fans, so it was only the fans who appreciated that it would take a truly extraordinary person to go through all that and emerge as the fundamentally positive and inspirational figure Annie was. To the show runners she was merely the butt of a series of jokes.


    1. (continued)

      I believe that Jeff Winger is in love with Annie Edison.

      So do I. What I did not believe as of 6x13 was that Annie still loved Jeff. The way Alison played that heartbreaking scene in the study room was that Annie was still someone who cared for Jeff, wanted him to be okay, and had fond memories of loving him, but who no longer still loved him. The kiss was an honouring of the memory of a past love, not a declaration of present or future love. And furthermore, I got the impression Jeff knew and respected that. For which kudos to Joel - I stand by the view that Alison and Joel have a far deeper and more sympathetic understanding of their characters than the writing staff do, and continue to find ways of expressing that through their acting even if they are not given the words to do so. Dan’s words, while nice to hear, really didn’t fit with what I saw on the screen.

      As to the way Jeff treated Annie, I’m tempted to revisit points that both Matt and I made in the S6 reviews (I’m also tempted to say listen to the jaded older guys tell you what’s probably going through the jaded older guy’s mind…) - yes Jeff loves Annie. He loves her so much he will sacrifice almost anything to protect her from anything that could hurt her, and top of the list of things that could hurt her is Jeff Winger, so Jeff keeps the intimacy as platonic as possible (he is human after all and this sort of selflessness is new to him), pushes her away when things get to close and tries to walk a balance between retaining her friendship and discouraging intimacy. “Origins of Vampire Mythology” is interesting in this context, as one of the subtexts of that episode is that Annie is clearly worried that Jeff is her Blade, the one who’s bad for her that she can’t shake loose - the difference between Jeff and Blade however is that Jeff is also worried about this and isn’t prepared to allow it to happen. Blade would happily have taken everything Annie and discarded her when he got bored, Jeff cared too much to risk that.

      Their story was a fundamentally tragic one, and you are right - it was not treated with enough respect on the show. It was and is the biggest failing of an otherwise extraordinary show. And sadly I think much of the blame of this lies with Dan harmon, for reasons best known to himself he was not prepared to give them a happy resolution. Ironically it failed as comedy in the original sense of the word.

      Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to talk about Community again BTW and believe it or not, this was the short form version!