Episode 101: Pilot

Remember when Jeff wore Sweat Pants?

AvatarLloydBraun

101 – Pilot

This may read as a bit defensive, only because I've far too often seen Community's pilot being written off as a lackluster start to a great series and I'm just not having any of that. The AV Club's very own Steve Heisler had this to say in his 'For Our Consideration' piece on unfunny pilots:

And as far as Community is concerned, I imagine some meeting where a network executive asked, probably while checking his Blackberry, “So what’s this show about?” It’s much easier to say, “A group of misfits are forced to get along at a community college” than it is to say, “Pop culture and paintball,” and thus the pilot focuses on the forming of the study group and Jeff’s obsession with bedding Britta. Comedy born out of plot is never going to be as rich as comedy born out of characters—-plots are disposable and characters are a constant. It’s like eating a cookie for dinner instead of a Michelle Obama-approved meal.

What else was the pilot charged with if not the "forming of the study group" and having its central character compelled to stay at Greendale? As for that last sentence, I DON'T GET IT!!

So fine, there are a few things incongruous with the rest of the series: Most importantly, Jeff Winger wears track pants; Britta is offered as his joyless love interest, teasing an ostensible will-they-won't-they that always hits TV critics square in the baby maker; the production isn't as stylish as it would eventually get; and some of the dialogue feels 'written', in the voice of Dan Harmon. It's not a fully-realized series right off the bat. Whoopee-flippin-ding. I'd make the argument that people too often define a great pilot by its homogeneity with the rest of the series and I like that Community didn't limit itself from the start but, rather, set character dynamics and themes into motion that stand to this day while also leaving plenty of room for growth and tinkering.

As I said, the pilot was charged with establishing Jeff as a moral relativist whose compulsion for self-interest is rooted in his bone marrow. Joel McHale plays Jeff with such charisma that it's impossible not to be won over by him and root for him to change, no matter the terrible things he does, and he is written with great conviction as someone who would be completely lost without his faculties in manipulation and caddish charm. We open with Jeff immediately making inroads on the hot blonde in Spanish class. What he doesn't expect is for a self-assured, pretty woman to take out his knees with a simple question, "What's your deal?" Jeff is thrown off his game and stumbles for a response before revealing more about himself than he wished to: "I would say anything to get what I want and I want you to like me."

Of all the characters, Britta's behavior clashes the most with her current self. We learn through two info dumps that she's 28, has two older brothers, dropped out of high school because she thought it would impress Radiohead, joined the Peace Corps, did some foot modeling, and got tear gased at free trade rally. This whirlwind of information about her and not the others leads me to think it was done for a reason. I think her guardedness with Jeff ("uh, don't hit on me, OK?") and babysitting as the group turns on each other is all a facade. I don't believe for a second that she values "honesty above all", but she sure as hell wants to believe that about herself. As we learn soon enough, Britta "wants everyone to be honest, but lies to herself. She's seen the world but doesn't get it. She has more fights about things that don't matter than a Youtube comments section."

Similarly, Troy, Shirley, Annie and Pierce are portrayed as distillations of the aspects of themselves they want to present to strangers, although, unlike with Britta, they operate on a more unconscious level. Troy proudly flaunts his jock and prom king credentials because he's accustomed to that status and believes it to be the pinnacle of manhood. His entitlement and chest-beating cause him to be a prick to Annie (outing her past), Jeff (calls him Seacrest), and Abed (leaves his homework for Slumdog Millionaire). Troy Barnes never had to make friends in high school, so why should he have to now? Shedding his letter jacket, to him, would be a sign of weakness. Troy will quickly befriend Abed but he will still guard his masculinity early on ("You stick to quoting movie lines. I'll stick to sports.").

Shirley is immediately on the defensive, making her identity as a single, divorced mother known and that she commands respect. It's also clear she had come to know Annie and enjoys playing mother ("Annie, sweetie,…") but Annie, who is a driven and self-reliant young woman, will not be infantilized (she'll do that herself, thank you very much) and she hits back with a cutting retort about Shirley's age being indicative of her poor decisions. Shirley suppresses her aggression; rage is such an inherent part of her that she has to physically muffle herself and burrow thoughts and emotion if she doesn't want them coming out. Jeff, seeing an opening for conflict, immediately goads her on and Shirley starts off diplomatically before letting some suspiciously specific rage slip through her defenses. This is a perfectly crafted exchange and it's an enduring conflict between the two that will get a full treatment when they play campus cops in The Science of Illusion.

Pierce crafts an image of himself as an urbane free spirit, "a prominent business leader and a highly sought dinner guest", but if he is all those things, why is he at a Community college conversing with young people when the camera cuts to him as the Dean says "old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity"? It's an self-image that exists in Pierce's mind alone. Everyone else sees a senile, lonely old man who pushes everyone who cares about him away. When Jeff flatters him as someone with wisdom to offer, Pierce starts off on a tangent about being tight with the Dalai Lama. He may yet know the Dalai Lama with all his connections and privilege, but has he made any substantive and lasting human connections?

Abed is on the periphery taking it all in. As I said a few weeks ago, what gets lost in the "Jeff's study group" labeling is that it's actually Abed who formed the group. Jeff had lied about being a tutor to pursue Britta and that's as far as he intended to go with his "study group". Earlier, Abed had met his Elizabeth Shue in Britta and sized Jeff up as a leader of men. Britta invited him to the group and he immediately saw the Breakfast Club parallel and an opportunity to study and observe human character. My theory is that he went and filled out the roster with the other personality types he wanted to observe. At this point, Abed isn't thinking 'six seasons and a movie' just yet; he's only thinking about that one day or a semester max and the irony is that his own experiment will come to transform himself just as much as the others.

Abed's arc in this episode is getting to the magnificent payoff that was the Bender quote. From "I've got a little doozy in the chamber if things get emotional" to "Oh this is getting way more like Breakfast Club now" to him biding his time for the perfect moment to step in with the quote, it was a clinic in comedic escalation. It's important to note that only two characters are presented as pop culturally literate and that is still true to this day aside from Troy's advances in that area and despite the claims of critics who think everyone is making references all the time. When Abed interjects with the reference, no one gets it (Pierce: "there's breakfast?") and Joe Russo deftly communicates that with this shot:

Annie is green!

But Jeff, who was raised on TV, does get it and Abed is delighted to have found someone who gets these things with him. Their shared literacy of pop culture will be revisited often throughout the series as something that puts Jeff and Abed on the sidelines observing the group through the prism of tropes and references. For instance, the ending of The Science of Illusion, and Cooperative Calligraphy where Abed insists they're in a bottle episode until Jeff finally admits it to Gwynnifer.

Community has been called alienating, overly self-referential and meta, smug and all manner of negative characterizations that can be summed up with the neutral phrase, "it's not timeless". It's certainly not that. What it is is time-ly. Here we have a sitcom that taps into our current cultural subconscious and inverts the traditional artist-audience compact where what we saw in art was mere commentary on the social mores and cultural movements of reality. This show flips the script and suggests that over the last several decades society has been marinated in the soup of pop culture to the point that we've internalized Star Wars and John Hughes movies and become a reflection of the very art we create.

Meanwhile, Jeff had spent his day going back and forth between the group and Duncan, alternatively fanning the flames and putting them out to suit his needs. The amusing thing about his big Winger Speech is that it's pretty much nonsense, albeit delivered to be inspiring and supported with the almost ironically rousing music. What does his speech about the uniquely human quality of empathy have to do with the group he paid only intermittent attention to? Not much, but it worked, and it just goes to show that Winger Speeches often ring hollow beyond their fuzzy exterior. He flatters everyone with generic praise for characteristics he gleaned by spending a few minutes with them, but Britta sees through it and Jeff shows the ease with which he can alternate between his Bill Murray and Michael Douglas sides.

It's surprising to me that people would frame the pilot and much of the early run as hotshot Jeff chasing the hot blonde when its final scene clearly outlined the driving force early on being Jeff's great humbling and needing the help of others for possibly first time in his life. His arc concludes with him learning he literally and figuratively doesn't have all the answers. It's not the most elegant construct for a pilot but it definitely wasn't about Britta either.

OK, this review has reached VanDerWerffian levels of verbosity, so I'm just going to leave it at this: I think this is one of the greatest comedy pilots ever and I haven't even mentioned the three awesome Duncan-Jeff scenes yet. Suck it, haters.

Desultory Diversions:

  • There are red, white, and black balloons behind the Dean as he addresses the crowd and the scoreboard has those colors. I assume this was Greendale's original color scheme.
  • Dean Pelton addresses the crowd over a boombox. There are several episodes that open with the Dean making PA announcements (102, 124, 201, 211) and I like the "life at Greendale" feel they engender. I also like all the extras chosen for the students. They really, really look like community college students.
  • "I do love America, I love it very much…I love chalupas."
  • Chevy Chase fumbling with hot dogs is high comedy. The guy beside him is Dan Eckman of Derrick Comedy.
  • "Oh sorry, I was raised on TV and conditioned to believe that every black woman over 50 is a cosmic mentor."/ "Were you conditioned to pay for your damn tacos Sein-field?" [This is what I mean by Harmon’s voice seeping into the script.]
  • Abed says "cool cool cool" when signing the contact sheet.
  • Abed had never gotten a text message. He's incredulous that he got one telling him he has to pee when he doesn't have to.
  • Joe Russo's tracking shots of Jeff walking around the table do a great job of establishing the study table as the show's "Cheers bar or Star Trek bridge", as Harmon refers to it.
  • Three of Pierce's off-the-cuff names that stuck: Aybed the Arab, Roy the Wonder Boy, and Princess Annie (she's really just his favorite).
  • The group talking and, in this case, shouting over one another develops into a shared trait for them. 1. It's just cute and 2. it makes for fun multiple viewings to pick out individuals lines.
  • As Jeff heads out to Duncan's car/golf cart, there's an odd piece of music that sounds exactly like a Super Mario World level theme.
  • Troy played Zelda and beat it on the first try. He proclaims himself the Barack Obama of the study room.
  • Pierce is seven times divorced.
  • As Jeff walks away at the end, Pierce tells Jeff he reminds him of himself when he was that age (Jeff: "I deserve that"), thus sowing the seeds for one of Jeff's deepest insecurities and a great character dynamic to be explored later.
  • Lots of Asperger-ish Abed here. He dies a little inside when Jeff breaks the pencil. He replies "sure" when Pierce asks if calling him Aybed the Arab is offensive. He recognizes Britta as Elisabeth Shue, possibly by her hair, as he would. At one point, he's screaming in response to all the commotion and Britta comforts him (thus setting up another character dynamic). And, of course, the brilliant "am I deaf?" joke in the last scene.

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A.V. Club Link – http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music%2C66270/#comment-388882528 (page 33)
 

Discussion:

  • I really love the tracking shots. They would seem jarring now, but they really did do a great job of establishing the setting. It's interesting to note that the pilot isn't filmed in the same place as all the other episodes; note that the library is across from Borchert Hall later on.

  • Excellent point about the group talking over each other coming out of the pilot; it's a great trademark of the show and just plain funny in addition.

    Although, I still can't pick out what some of them are saying on rewatches a lot of the time!

  • What we need is some sort of collaborative effort to pick out each person's lines in all these instances.

  • We've certainly got the time on our hands…
    *sob*

  • My favorite spin on this (ok, perhaps the only spin on this) is this season's Halloween episode where in Britta's imagination, the homicidal grouper in their midst is stalking Troy and Abed, who are simultaneously talking and it's all total nonsense.

    Strawberries!

  • To differentiate this from Stray Observations, I propose calling it "Desultory Diversions".

  • I like it and it's alliterative too. Desultory Detritus works as well.

    Sing about it?

  •  

     

    It says I don't have permission! Why won't you give me permission,tossin ?

  • Ah well, it's nothing special.

  • I totally forgot the 'Troy Crying Awesomely' running joke. No actual crying in this one, but it's fitting that Jeff's wise words about his letter jacket 'wrinkle' his brain and set a tsunami of tears in motion that will have his 'whole brain crying' for the next 50+ episodes.

  • Oh man, that comes from the pilot? I really do need to rewatch, it would seem.

    Because, really, crying Donald Glover is the best thing ever.
    His breakdown in "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism" might be one of my favorite ones yet.

  • I don't know what The Hizzler's last sentence means either.

  • We open with Jeff immediately making inroads on the hot blonde in Spanish class. What he doesn't expect is for a self-assured, pretty woman to take out his knees with a simple question, "What's your deal?" Jeff is thrown off his game and stumbles for a response before revealing more about himself than he wished to: "I would say anything to get what I want and I want you to like me."

    Hm, my interpretation of this scene was that Jeff was being rather manipulative and was deliberately stumbling in order to seem honest. 

  • That makes sense too, but I think Britta was supposed to be a formidable adversary, at least for this episode. She made him fix his mess and then called him out when he put on a ruse.

  • Well, I don't think it necessarily says anything about Britta.  It's just that Jeff just wanted to get into her pants and, fresh out of law, is still pretty good at it.  He fails to seal the deal with Britta because she quickly sees what he's really kind of like when he sabotages the group, so she's still formidable.  Plus she still suspects him when she asks Abed what his take is on Jeff after Jeff leaves to meet with Duncan for the first time.

  • I think she was also supposed to be a formidable adversary.  The early episodes are also marked by Britta trying to take leadership of the group away from Jeff.  This fails repeatedly but there is a conflict.  I think the early conception of Britta was actually in personality very close to Jeff which is why they clashed so much

  • Semi-bored torontonian

     

    I think both you and tossin are right, which is what makes it such a great line. He's obviously telling her what he thinks she wants to hear, but he's also being honest. As we know from Critical Film Studies, there's nothing Jeff wants more than to be liked, and he'll literally say anything to make it happen.

  • Community has been called alienating, overly self-referential and meta, smug and all manner of negative characterizations that can be summed up with the neutral phrase, "it's not timeless". It's certainly not that. What it is is time-ly. Here we have a sitcom that taps into our current cultural subconscious and inverts the traditional artist-audience compact where what we saw in art was mere commentary on the social mores and cultural movements of reality. This show flips the script and suggests that over the last several decades society has been marinated in the soup of pop culture to the point that we've internalized Star Wars and John Hughes movies and become a reflection of the very art we create.

    That's a pretty badass thesis.  I think there's a paper and literary publication in there.

    Another great hypothesis you made that never occurred to me is that Abed populated the study group with purpose.  Almost from the beginning, it seems Abed is more representative of Harmon than even Harmon suspected, since Abed is pretty close to godlike figure in the show.  Some episodes are pretty explicit about Abed's manipulation of the group, but I wonder if there are some more subtle instances throughout this season that indicates Abed's really performing a social/pop culture experiment.

    Anyway, I've never understood why people are lukewarm on the pilot.  The chemistry of the cast instantly drew me in and during that first season when I introduced it to friends, I naturally started from the very beginning, and it worked.

  • Yeah, I think that paragraph is the best summary of the show I've ever read. Way better than lots of professional writers.

  • It's fantastic. I would say it's definitely better than a large majority of television critics.

  • I guess I can understand people being initially turned off by the apparently crude archetypes and some people might not be as charmed by Joel McHale as I was, but it just gets so much better when you see 2+ seasons of growth can be traced directly back to the pilot.

  • On that note, a little tidbit I just remembered from the S1 DVD commentaries:

    On a commentary somewhere later in the season (I want to say Politics of Human Sexuality) Harmon indicates that a particular look exchanged between Jeff and Annie in the pilot was what initially motivated him to begin exploring the possibility of romantic tension between those two characters. Another great example of the pilot spawning character arcs that the show would pick up and run with.

  • One thing I do wonder often is how this will hold up in twenty years or so. Obviously a lot of the jokes will go unnoticed (Britta's saying "I'm not Juno, homeslice!" is only really funny if you're familiar with Juno, for instance), but will it seem like a spectacularly relic of the early 2010s, or will it remain resonant?

  • I think, clearly, the pop cultural referential stuff will not hold up all that well (I just saw a rerun of 30 Rock the other day that referenced a couple things from 2009 that I'd totally forgotten and would go completely over my head if I hadn't been aware of them  at the time).  But this is another way in which I think Community differentiates itself from 30 Rock, because the character work, the heart, the truth at the core of each episode will hold up well.

  • The pop culture references aren't going to hold up that well to new viewers, but they don't need to as Community rarely if ever uses them as a crutch. I've never seen a full episode of Glee in my life and yet I was still able to laugh my ass off at "Regional Holiday Movements" and appreciate the moments of heart within the episode.

    Community's parodies and references add another layer of humor but beneath them is a show built upon deep and richly layered character interaction, and that's timeless.

    To me, Community is similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this respect; let's take Buffy Season Two as a case study. It's riddled with thirteen-year-old pop culture references, many of which fly right over my head, but it's still a masterpiece of television due to its phenomenal characters.

  • For all the lazy critics who think Community is like a live action Family Guy (all references, all the time), it actually uses surprisingly few direct references. What it does is spoof/parody/pay homage to (pick your verbs) very specific pop culture structures: action movies, spy thriller, zombie movies, musicals etc. It uses the very specific beats these structures have to give rhythm and speed to the plot, but the story isn't indebted to the structures, because it remains, as always, driven by the characters (the plot of Modern Warfare is a fantastic distillation of every action movie beat in under 22 minutes, but its story grows directly from Jeff's desire to bed Britta, and from the conflict between his inherent selfishess, and the decent human being trying to claw its way from underneath it). This actually gives the show a very decent shot at "classicization" – that is, lasting beyond the few years the internet is infatuated with it. I can certainly see it becoming a classic in a few years, just like AD did before it.

    When Community does reference something very specific, it actually spells out what that reference is: My Dinner with Andre; Hearts of Darkness, Charlie Kaufmann are all mentioned in the episodes and explained. The jokes hold out very well, but anyone interested can very easily look up the inspiration and get an extra chuckle or two.

  • Excellent point! Even when Community references specific moments such as the Rambo, Predator and Terminator references in Modern Warfare, they still work very well simply as broader comments on the genre if you don't understand the specific moment.

    Jeff shooting up the Dean's office and screaming is hilarious if you've seen the ending of Rambo II, but it's still very funny just as a commentary on the trope of firing your gun in the air and screaming so common in action movies.

  • TheTuna as someone who doesn't watch many action movies (and have only seen any of the Rambo and Terminator movies when I was very young), that is very true. There are many instances where the references on Community fly over my head, but they still work for me for the reasons that you and SBT suggested.

    And, out of curiosity, where are the Terminator and Predator references?

  • Stephen77 Off the top of my head, there's the following specific references, though I'm sure there's more I missed:

    -Leonard's laser-sighted pistol is a reference to the club scene in Terminator 1 where the Terminator first attacks Sarah Connor; the Terminator has a laser-sighted pistol and flashes it at the camera in a similar manner.

    -"No paintballs, Hans?" is a Die Hard reference (not sure what exactly, haven't seen that movie, just know from DVD commentary)

    -Chang's maniacal laugh as the bomb counts down is a reference to the ending of Predator where the Predator laughs as his self-destruct ticks down; he does it in the exact same style.

    -Jeff screaming and shooting up the Dean's office is a reference to the end of Rambo 2 where Rambo returns to the Army base after being set up, walks into the officer's room and lights up the whole place for about 20 seconds with an M60 on full auto while screaming.

  • TheTuna : I can't believe you've never seen Die Hard! You're like a beautiful, rare unicorn…

    In Die Hard there is a moment when the bad guy (Hans Gruber) pretends to be a hostage and tricks Bruce Willis into handing him a gun. Gruber then tries to shoot Bruce Willis, but it turns out the the gun is empty, at which point Bruce Willis retorts: "No bullets, Hans? Do you think I'm stupid?"

    Another very clear Die Hard reference is Jeff having a gun taped to his back. Chang is dressed like Chow Yun-Fat in The Killer. There are some Warriors bits ("Study group, come out and pla-ay!"), also some Boondock Saints, and Abed's goggles look like Riddick's from Pitch Black.

    The thing is, there aren't so many overt references, as Modern Warfare is made up more of tropes than specific citations. Troy's line, "Jeff Winger! You son of a bitch!" for example looks like it hasto be from a movie, but it's not; Harmon jokes about how he asked Glover to play the line like "every black guy from every John Carpenter movie."

  • I haven't either.  Can I be a special unicorn, too?

    Movie-related: my husband was watching Batman Begins this afternoon and between Foosball, Intro to Stats, and the SNL skit with Steve Buscemi as Commissioner Gordon, I kept laughing inappropriately.

  • Then you, Stephen77 and TheTuna should get to it asap! It's a great Christmas movie (and I'm only being about 25% ironic).

    And yeah, Alison Brie may have forever ruined Christian Bale as Batman for me. I don't think I'll ever be able to take those movies seriously again.

  • I, too, have not seen Die Hard. Like I said, I don't watch many actions films.

    BTW thanks for pointing out the references, both of you. All of those went over my head.

  • The Die-Hard Trilogy (I guess there was a 4th movie too) is one of the more badass film series ever.  It'll put hair on your testicles.

  • tossin: Die Hard 4 is pretty much crap, but it does have Timothy Oliphant, and that man knows how to play seething anger better than anyone else. So that's pretty entertaining. On the minus side, it also has Kevin Smith.

  • Oh man Die Hard is my favorite Christmas and i believe the best action movie ever made.  I love love love that movie

  • Yeah, I really don't know how I haven't seen Die Hard as I genuinely enjoy 1980s action movies. I really need to get around to that, and well, 'tis the season I suppose.

    Excellent point about Troy; I could have sworn he was referencing something specific with "you son of a bitch!" the first time I watched it, but it is indeed more of a general commentary on action movie stereotypes.

    Community has forever ruined Batman for me as well; I saw the leaked The Dark Knight Rises trailer and was disappointed that it was actually Christian Bale instead of Annie or Abed doing a Christian Bale impression.

    "We shot this scene on location…"

  • I honestly can't even remember any direct references Annie, Shirley, Britta and Pierce have made. If it happens, it's something the character would say or it reveals something about them. Like when Shirley gave her interpretation of Pulp Fiction, that said a lot about how she views movies. Same goes for her layman's views of Charlie Kaufmann movies. Britta made a Jon Stewart reference with "slow new days" and it was played as her being a dolt more than a TDS reference. I can't even remember any others at the moment, but time and again, they're all shown to be confused by Abed's references. Jeff usually picks his spots and they mostly come in conversation with Abed.

  • The pop culture jokes or concepts that are significant are pretty timeless: Star Wars, Westerns, Hearts of Darkness, Dinner with Andre…these are obviously not all that modern.

  • I think Community follows the Simpsons rule of pop culture references where the references enhance jokes rather than are jokes.  The key difference is that there is still meaning without the pop culture in the community version

  • You really should consider doing something with that, Lloyd, it truly is a terrifically phrased argument. There's something really worth exploring there.

  • Well, I now appreciate the Pilot a whole lot more. You deserve a job doing this mate.

  • now i want an episode that goes back to the pilot so we can see how/why abed picked the study group.

  • Yeah, if this doesn't get at least a mention by the series finale, I'd be verysurprised.

  • We need some extended flashbacks on this show. You know, so we can stretch the story to six seasons and an ice cream chain.

  • That's a really interesting thought on Abed being the ultimate puppet master right from the pilot. To my mind, though, other than Jeff's central contrivance that got the ball rolling, any design in the group's formation seems like a happy accident. (Annie, in any case, complains that she found out about the group by accident.) It's possible that Abed could have thought these people would have been an interesting study, although his interest in characters and storytelling is still pretty primitive and inwardly-directed at this point, as we see a few episodes later in his short film. That's not to say he's not taken with the group in all its diversity, because he clearly is early on. But I read his involvement from the beginning as more this giddily excited bystander who's happy that finally, there's something happening in his life that he can relate to and predict, due to its similarities to the pop culture he's submersed himself in (i.e. 80s teen classic). Only later does he really come to take another kind of ownership of the group.

    Anyway, great review!

  • On the other hand, Abed's already trying to pin familiar identities on the people he's coming into contact with (e.g. Jeff is more like Michael Douglas in any of his films), and overall he's clearly very curious about others, at least in part, it would seem, because he's only been able to get so close to people before they lost patience with him. Like you reminded us in the review, the man's never even received a text message before. So I'm not saying it's inconceivable or anything that, now that he has this real chance to interact with people, he could have hand-plucked the study group.

    Yep, just thought I'd argue with myself a little.

  • I do like Lloyd's theory about the study group actually being Abed's quite a lot as Abed's recruitment skills have become a recurring point of the character. Plus, it really forces us to challenge our normal assumptions about the show, namely that Jeff is the leader and the primary force behind the group.

    Excellent point about Abed's potential perception of the group, though; as someone who certainly would not have had many (if any) friends in high school, the opportunity to examine a group of individuals interacting through a relatable lens would no doubt appeal greatly to him.

    Also, I had forgotten that Annie wasn't invited, though. It's definitely time for a rewatch of the pilot, I haven't seen that in quite some time.

  • Yea, technically Annie wasn't invited but I think that was done because they needed to introduce her as "driven". I'm going to assume that she found out about the group when she saw Abed inviting Shirley and then Abed invited her too. It doesn't necessarily mean she forced her way into the study group. For all intents and purposes, I think Abed invited the other four.

  • Yeah, it's definitely much more than Jeff's group and it's really interesting how the seeds of that have been there from the beginning. Whether or not Abed planned the group as such, he's certainly kept it on the rails, made them more of a family (or even afamily) and driven a significant amount of their action, more and more all the time. And of course Troy's a contender too, what with his becoming a man, stepping up to the plate to save the day in at least two episodes and the suggestion that his absence is most destructive to the group in Chaos.

  • Additionally, as I pointed out the last time I brought this up, there's a line in Interpretive Dance about Abed being "great at inviting people". He didn't even have a plot in that episode, yet the show went out of its way to confirm this skill he has, which I think it meant to reinforce the idea that he formed the group in the pilot.

  • Yup, and we even saw that a riff on that idea as well as that line in "Regional Holiday Music" as well. It's definitely a subtle yet recurring theme for the character. He's great at inviting/recruiting people because he's a study of character; he may not always be able to directly relate to people's emotions and problems but he certainly can figure out how to appeal to people as basic "types", all that's needed to invite and recruit strangers, thanks to his extensive study of pop culture.

  • Loki100

    One of the questions I've had rethinking the pilot is how exactly did Abed recruit Shirley, Annie, Pierce and Troy? He couldn't have their phone numbers, and Jeff was only gone long enough to meet Duncan on the football field, so he couldn't really have emailed them. I guess they all just happened to be in the library at the time.

  • They were all in Spanish class together.

  • Loki100

    Well yes, but here's what I am specifically referring to:

    1. Jeff tells Britta he is a Spanish tutor at lunch and invites her to his (fake) study group.
    2. Britta and Jeff meet up at 4, Jeff remarks that the rest of the group is running late.
    3. Abed shows up, because sometime between 1 and 2 Britta invited him to join them.
    4. Jeff makes an excuse and leaves to meet Duncan, saying he will be back "in five minutes."
    5. Jeff returns and the entire study group is there.
    6. Abed says he invited more people from Spanish to join.

    Now the most likely scenario is that Abed invited Shirley, Pierce, Troy and Annie during the five minutes Jeff was gone, which means they were all probably just scattered about the library.

    But it could be that Abed invited Shirley, Pierce, and Troy after Britta invites him, but before they show up, and all three were running a minute or two late. Annie could have seen them sitting there, recognized them from class and asked what they were doing, joining them. That could be why she was so surly.

    There's a bit of a mystery to the timeline and some ambiguity about Abed's motivations.

  • I always assumed that the latter was true, and that he had invited them earlier.

  • http://inception.davepedu.com/

    Hm, I didn't think about the timeline. It's possible Jeff took more than the 5 minutes he said he'd be and/or Abed picked from the first few classmates he could find while Britta went out for a quick smoke.

  • I find myself of a similar school of thought as Janine Restrepo on this one; I always assumed that Abed had invited them after Britta invited him and he just showed up first.

  • Well, it's about time.

    I jest, I jest!

    Fantastic writeup overall, I agree with pretty much everything you've said here.

    What I find the most fascinating about the earlier episodes is examining how different Britta is as an individual. It's really quite amusing to see her as a self-assured, confident, even somewhat calculating character in instances. However, as you note I don't find this to be OOC at all. None of the group members really know each other that well in the first few episodes, and while Britta's always worn her heart on her sleeve I do think she is putting up a front here.

    Britta's always cared deeply about what others think of her; it's why she gets into protests but is reluctant to involve others, something we see as early as "Spanish 101". It's very important to Britta to be seen as "cool" and "progressive", which is why I think her remarkable competence in the early part of S1 is easily incorporated into her overall character arc.

    For the early part of S1 the group were still mostly strangers and new acquaintances; as such, socially-conscious Britta would want to act and appear as in-control and "cool"as possible. Once she gets to know the group better this need for social validation regresses somewhat as she becomes more accustomed to being with people who like spending time with her even if she isn't fighting to save the children of Africa.

    This wouldn't have been the case with her old friends, who were all activists, anarchists, and the like; Britta spits defiance and outrage because that's what everyone in those circles did, and if you weren't "needlessly defiant" you couldn't participate.

    Once she gets to a group of people who are much more relaxed and don't need to see her as this completely in-control and dedicated activist in order to value her, she can let the facade drop somewhat, and so we end up with bag-el eating, frog-squishing, pizza-dancing, heart's song singing Britta. Hip activist Britta is still there too but can now take a backseat some of the time.

    As an aside, I also find it very interesting how Britta's behaviors tend to be motivated by what others think of her while Jeff's are typically motivated by how he perceives himself, but that's a discussion for a later episode.

  • Although, in practicality, it's probably more a function of coming to know the characters better as the show goes on–because of having more time and stories to flesh them out–I really like your theory (and think to some degree it may be the case) that some of these changes in the characters can be attributed to the difference between the front that people put up when they first meet others and who they really are.

    Also, excellent review, Lloyd Braun (although it just confirms my reasons for being too much of a wuss to write one of these :) )

  • I'd agree that the change is mostly caused by the fact that the writers decided to take Britta in a bit of a different direction rather than them planning that at the start. However, the way I see it, as long as that different direction can be retroactively explained in a manner consistent with later development it really doesn't matter whether the writers had that particular point in mind at the time.

    Jeff/Annie is the perfect example of this; Harmon cites several points from S1 that weren't written with the intention of setting up Jeff/Annie, but they nonetheless serve as a foundation for that particular relationship once placed in the context of later episodes after the writers decided to run with that plot point.

  • It's also about Gillian Jacobs too and writing to her strengths.  The original Britta may have projected more confidence, but she was relatively subdued and kind of boring.  She basically started out as the sitcom wife in a non-family sitcom.  Luckily, they quickly subverted that incarnation (particularly when she cheated in 105) and the current iteration of Britta pretty much allows Gillian to roam free.

  • Loki100

    This is an excellent summation of the pilot, and I agree with all of it. Rewatching it, the character dynamics are quite different than how they became. Troy is an idiot and jerk, not the naïve enthusiastic child he'd become, Britta is edgy, cool and confidant not the babbling dork who people love to hate, Jeff is shamelessly amoral not the lazy but with a good heart guy, Shirley is filled with anger not cloying Christianity, Pierce is socially inept but with a bit of wisdom not the buffoon, Annie is mean, hostile and confrontational not sweetness and ambition, and Abed is more clearly autistic.

    One of the genius elements of the show was that as the characters settled into their roles, they've gone back and integrated those elements that seemed out of place. Annie, for example, in the Science of Illusion shows every bit the mean, hostile, confrontational personality that she was in the pilot. Season three's Annie still is struggling to get the group to recognize her as an adult.

    Abed, in my opinion, is more clearly autistic now than he was around mid-season 1. At that point he just really enjoyed pop culture. At this point he can spend two hours discussing the Saw movie franchise and not notice that the person he is discussing it with is not interested.

    The most obviously changed character was Shirley. The first few episodes make her role to be perfectly clear: she is the sassy black woman. This is a character that Yvette Nicole Brown has made her career playing. One of the reasons I love this show and I love that character in particular is that Shirley is the least sassy character on it. The show has developed a rather rich backstory for her, more rich than any character other than Jeff (and even possibly more rich than his). Almost right before this episode aired, Shirley's husband had cheated on her, their marriage had dissolved, and she had spent considerable time drunk in a dive bar. Why she was so defensive and angry in this episode becomes quite obvious, she's very much guarding herself from getting hurt. This actually seems to have become her season three narrative as both Competitive Ecology and Remedial Chaos Theory feature the group ostracism Shirley, and Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps features her feelings about that ostracism. She's always desperately needed the study group and always felt like her connection to them was tenuous at best.

  • Also Lloyd, once these reviews are completed you should definitely get a blog, assuming your life permits. I'm sure many of us would follow the shit out of it.

    I would love to see you do reviews of all, or a majority, of the episodes after everyone else gets their reviews done.

  • Allow me to enthusiastically endorse this suggestion.

  • I don't want to participate in driving Lloyd to work himself to death. I would, however, be amenable to minor brain damage.

  • But minor brain damage may hurt his ability to write insightful entries about Community!

    CONUNDRUM

  • Christmas time is a time to drive your friends to Embolism, that's what Christmas is for.

  • Loki100

    Because I have even more to say, let's talk Britta. There really is only one element of what Britta would become in the pilot. Here she is just Jeff's cop, there just to ruin his fun, which by the end of the season would be her character's relationship to the entire group. They semi-touch on her straw liberalism, but that would get more air in the next episode, of course eventually they abandon straw-liberalism and make her an anarchist which delightfully fits the character. Pierce is actually the one who sets Britta on the course that her character would eventually take, when he starts making disparaging remarks about her attractiveness. Britta in the pilot existed to be hot, and he's the one who starts commenting about her like she's bridge troll. Eventually every aspect of her looks and personality would be commented upon similarly. But that's what's so great about her as a character, she's Charlie Brown. The world just rains on her and her alone, even though she's so achingly sincere. The character in the pilot is a stock character that appears in dozens of movies and TV shows, the character by mid-season 1 is, along with Abed and Shirley, completely and utterly unique.

    There really isn't much to say about Jeff in this episode as compared to series as a whole. He has the most linier narrative arch the first season, and one that was obviously pre-planned. He starts he exactly where he needs to be to learn the true meaning of friendship by Christmas. While all the other characters add and subtract elements of their personality throughout the first half of the season, he just gradually goes in one, inevitable direction.

    Pierce was presented in the pilot as a man who had terrible social skills, but was a smart, world weary man. Pierce's intelligence and life experience are two things the show seems to forget. In particular, it should always be noted that Pierce is a great businessman.

    Troy is really just a jerk, but then at this point he has yet to embrace his inner nerd. This plot would come to a head in the zombie episode which really settled combining Troy of the pilot with Troy of the series.

    The pilot was a great episode, but quite weak in many areas. I think episode 2 featured a substantial step up, once it was freed from establishing the entire series.

  • Great write-up, LB. Two things:

    1)  There's a version of the script at http://www.zen134237.zen.co.uk… that I assume is pre-shooting. It has a few changes, such as Abed's Breakfast Cluboutburst being replaced by a less funny story about his DVDs getting  ruined in the sun being his "trauma". Also, there's more callbacks for the lady from the cafeteria.

    But it has Britta telling Jeff semi-jokingly "Buy me dinner, don't lie to me, and we'll be in bed before midnight." Which (besides being a clunky line) makes it seem like she was initially less resistant to Jeff and less set in her sense of superiority. Which could have saved some confusion down the line as that certainty of self got pulled down brick-by-brick throughout the first 2 seasons.

    2) For me, it's hard to think of the Pilot without remembering the overwhelming influence of the commercials. Probably the only timeCommunity was ever well-advertised was with endless ads for a month or so before it premiered. They made me very weary of the show coming in (I knew I'd check it out cause it was paired with all my favorite shows on Thursday night), and it took a lot to overcome this first impression.

    The ads focused almost entirely on Jeff and Britta's first meeting ("Yeah, don't hit on me, OK?") and a quick inset of Pierce saying Jeff reminded him of himself and Jeff responding "I deserve that," probably included just to show Chevy would be on the show.

    I definitely remember thinking the actual episode was better than the commercials had suggested it would be. They had played it like the show was about Jeff rather than an ensemble, and it was really a process of about 7 weeks transitioning it into a show about an environment or a community rather than about one anti-hero. On the one hand, Jeff got very few outright victories. On the other, he was the only one who really got punchlines, which is why it took me more like 15 or 20 eps to appreciate Pierce and Troy…they rarely, if ever, got the last word, at least in S1.

    Oh, and #3: Just for this episode, watching for the first time, John Oliver so completely outclassed the rest of the cast, both in comic timing and in seeming like a real, three dimensional person.

    "A six year old girl could talk to you that way!."
    "Yes, because that would be adorable!"

    In hindsight, I'm really glad the show was on when it was and I stuck with it.

  • I agree about the influence of the ads (I'm always hesitant when people wish NBC would advertise Community more, because I didn't watch the first half season specifically because the ads made it look so dumb).  I wonder if whoever was making those ads didn't understand the show at all (even the pilot is a vastly different show than advertised…and of course it only diverged more from there) or was just playing up the parts they thought would sell.

  • Honestly, all they have to do to advertise is put Alison Brie in a commercial doing pretty much anything. That, or Donald Glover having a breakdown.People will watch.

    I should be an NBC advertising exec, Community would be pulling 3.5s on a weekly basis.

  • But it does pull in 3.5's on a weekly basis!

    Oh, you mean demo ratings, and not millions of people…*sigh*

  • *cries softly*

  • Eric, that's a good point about the promotion's impact on the perception. I vaguely remember some 10 second teasers but I didn't actually start watching the show until late in the first season because my mode of TV watching used to be binging on whole seasons at a time. I actually avoid trailers and promos for movies and TV in general. This is one of the first shows I started watching week to week. So because I flew through the season and wasn't exposed to all the promotion, some of the awkwardness in the pilot didn't affect me as much.

    And to reiterate, my review is looking back on the pilot with the knowledge of everything that came after. I didn't mean to imply that it's not about Jeff-Britta at all, just that there was more to it and any romance angle was quickly dispensed with.

  • Oooh, we're starting. I'm going to go and write mine.
    Also, well done. You're the best.

  • excellent review LB, you have set the bar extremely high.  One small thing i want to say.  Some of you may have seen me pine for the days of the season 1 musical interlude song.  The song i mean is used over the credits in the pilot.  I freaking love that music and think it is just perfect for the show.  It is omnipresent in season 1 appearing in most episodes.  And yet since season 1 it appears only rarely.  I just wonder what happened to it.

  • I imagine they might have wanted to switch up the music due to a desire to set a different tone for the season.

    However, Season 3 has been bringing back a lot of the great S1 music cues, which I really appreciate. S1's music hits just the right note of heartwarmingly cheesy sentimentality.

  • It's part of Ludwig Goransson's "Community medley" which basically serves as the season's score. It's totally delightful. I'm not a fan of the scoring since season 1, however.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

  • Maybe that's why the 2nd season soundtrack isn't out.

  • I'm still waiting on that for "Greendale Is Where I Belong" and "That's What Christmas Is For".

  • Yeah, S2's music just was not very memorable, which is why I'm glad to see S1's music returning; it's charming, memorable, heartwarming, and vastly superior all around.

  • yeah i too am not much of a fan of season two's music.  and i love the season 1 music so i found the disconnect very odd.

  • Season 2 and beyond has used more genre-specific scores for all those kinds of episodes so we haven't had that tonally consistent music. Still, even the regular music cues since season 2 are so generic that I'm a little disappointed.

  • Generally, Season 2 tends to repeat a lot of the music from Season 1, so there's less original music. Season 1 also had a ton of music that wasn't original (it feels like every other episode ends with some song), and that's largely lacking in Season 2.

  • Fantastic review, LloydBraun , and a great start to the alterna-AV Club!

    I'm going to play contrarian however (and I'll have to do it fast, because I'm still trying to dig my way out of a pile of exams), and say that while the Community pilot is good and funny, it's also pretty unremarkable. Before I got the S1 DVDs, there were in fact only two things I remembered from it: Abed's Bender speech and the rather surprising discovery that Joel McHale could act.

    And it's not Harmon's or anyone's fault, really. Network pilots are very fickle things: they are shot months before the rest of the show is shot (if ever), often by a very different crew, and they have to act both as an introduction to the series and as a way to wow the network execs. Often these two things are at odds. For example, the Firefly pilot is a great piece of television: it's epic, sprawling, and it does a fantastic job of setting up the characters and establishing their backgrounds in very subtle ways. Yet the network axed it in favor of a by-the-numbers-episode which they found more actiony and exciting.

    On network TV, pilots are often bland and opaque – the shows that come out of them can turn out fantastic or average, but the truth is that pilots (unless truly awful) don't really offer much insight into what lies ahead. And I think the Community pilot is a perfectly serviceable piece of television, but, taken on its own, in no way hints at what the show would turn into as soon as episode 2 rolled around.

    When I look at the study group from the pilot, I'm in fact struck of how little of the stuff we know and love about them is actually there. Jeff is the only one who's more or less fully formed, but everyone else could literally go either way – even behind Abed, who is by far the strangest, lies the shadow of a potential tic collection like Sheldon. In fact the show immediately rebooted most characters (with the exceptions of Jeff and Britta), and it's to Harmon's immense credit that they did it gradually, instead of just pretending the pilot never happened. Troy is an excellent example – the writers eased him out of his jock phase over many episodes, and they actually used his ambivalence towards athletics as a plot point in Football, Feminism and You.

    The pilot truly shines in the writing, and not even there all that often. As you note, some parts feel forced; but others are marvelous, like every one of the Jeff/Duncan scenes (McHale noticeably loosens up every time he acts off John Oliver; just look at his barely suppressed rage in Duncan's tiny car). Then there are the tiny details, like Abed's weird bird face at the end of his Bender speech (I will never get bored watching how fast Pudi's expression changes!)

    I don't even know if an objective assessment of the pilot is possible any more: we had 50+ episodes to watch the characters evolve, and we are all a little nuts with our Community love over here. But, if I force myself really hard to forget what comes after, I'll say that the pilot is an intriguing, often brilliant, but also often run-of-the-mill piece of television that in no way hints at the groundbreaking series that will soon grow out of it. It piqued my interest enough to watch the next week, but I wasn't entirely sure I was going to be following the show on a regular basis.

    Episode 2: that's different. That's as fully formed an episode of Community as you can get.

    Favorite moment: "Busted!" Jeff thinks Britta caught him weaseling away from the study group, but in fact it's he that caught her smoking. The way he starts looking for an excuse and smoothly bounces back when he realizes it's Britta who feels guilty is just some fantastic acting by McHale: "Yeah, but they're filtered…"

    But seriously, great job with the review! I feel a little intimidated right now.

  • Let's talk about Annie. In the DVD commentary, Harmon notes that she's the antagonist of this episode as much as anyone. She comes uninvited, of course, and then she's most resistant to Jeff's charms.

    I was going to go somewhere with this, but then I lost my train of thought. So, uh, fill this in with your comments.

  • Annie absolutely does play the role of the "bad guy" in the episode. Pardon my French, but she more or less looks like she has a stick up her rear the entire time, she instigates most of the major group fights, she lashes out at Shirley and Troy pretty viciously, and so forth. She's essentially your basic Type-A "no fun" unlikeable overachiever "study police" here to Britta's more hip and laid back "moral police".

    We see some hints of her future depth at the same time, though. There's a nice bit of background acting by Brie in which she seems about to leap to Troy's defense when Pierce is criticizing him. There's also a couple flashes in her interactions with Troy and the miming at the episode's end of the naive, sensitive side she would soon develop in subsequent episodes; we also get the look that Harmon claims was his initial inspiration for exploring romantic tension between Jeff and Annie.

    It's quite interesting to note that Jeff's speech in the first episode is the exact moment where Troy's initial hero worship of him stems from. Jeff gives the "you are all better than you think you are" speech, and immediately afterwards Troy comes out to seek his advice.

    Lloyd's review promoted me to rewatch the pilot, something I haven't done in a while, and it really is fascinating to note how you can trace seasons-long character arcs back to individual moments in this very first episode.

  • Annie was initially written as a Tracey Flick type (fun fact: she was also supposed to be Latina), so the pilot sets her up as a potential antagonist: stuck up and kind of shrill. I think of all the characters she changed the most between the pilot and the second episode. As early as the episode 2 opening scene she's making her Disney eyes at Jeff and giving him her Spanish notes. Pilot Annie would have never done that.

  • Yeah, I had heard that she was supposed to be Latino, but I'm glad we got Ms. Brie instead; the loss of additional group diversity in exchange for the absolutely phenomenal job she has done with the character was well worth it.

    Also agreed that Annie changes the most over the first few episodes. Out of the three characters who change the most from the pilot (Annie, Troy, Britta) Annie goes from her scowling, aggressively insecure demeanor in the pilot to a much happier "base" demeanor right away in "Spanish 101", as you note. By contrast, Britta's calm, confident facade doesn't show its first cracks until "Introduction to Film" and Troy takes until "Social Psychology" to start crying and yelling about "butt stuff".

    Although Annie makes a fairly rapid about-face, there seems to be some precedent for it as she gives us a glimpse of her empathic side at the end of the pilot. I'm inclined to think she came into the group in one of her trademark aggressive moods because she thought she was being excluded, and quickly reverted to her happier default state once the combination of Troy's presence and Jeff's charm won her over.

    While everyone else started out in either their normal personas (Pierce, Abed, Jeff) or the emotional facade they put on for the benefit of others (Shirley, Britta, Troy) Annie joined the group in one of her passive-aggressive mood peaks, which would explain why she changes so rapidly; she wasn't in her original "normal" emotional state at the time of the pilot.

  • The Tracey Flick persona would have made Annie not just ambitious, but also very calculated and mean, which would have clashed with the overall tone of kindness and acceptance that the show has projected since the pilot. So the writers let her be ambitious and overachieving, but tempered that by making her childish and occasionally silly. She aims high, but often her ambition outstrips her experience (that's why her sexy Santa dance was funny rather than exploitative). And Alison Brie deserves every possible praise for the way she navigates this very, very fine line.

  • Well, I hear Troy was going to be a white dude before Donald Glover auditioned, so Community pretty much broke even on the diversity thing.

  • Brutalitops Ah, that is true; guess it's a wash, then.

  • In the commentary they talk about conceiving her as a Elizabeth Hasselbeck type–conservatism and sexuality in one. That's where I derive my image of her as a conservative from. But she's not some asshole Fox News conservative. She's conservative in the sense that she values self-reliance and maturity.

  • Her sensibilities do seem rather conservative, perhaps more than any other character save Shirley. And of course there's the way she dresses, too, which projects a very clear message about the sort of person she is.

    On the other hand, it's unlikely that she would be politicallyconservative; among other things, she refers to the Riverside fight rap as "shamefully outdated".

  • sll03

    I found it really interesting that Annie is the only character you do not meet until the study group's first encounter. Troy, Britta, Shirley, and Pierce all appear throughout the Dean's welcoming speech and Jeff and Abed are introduced having a conversation directly afterwards, but Annie doesn't show up until the episode is half-way through.  It probably doesn't mean much of anything, but I figured I'd do my part and fill in comments.

  • Ooh, nice catch. I suppose it's a result of "pill-addicted overachiever" not being stereotypical in the same way as the rest of them. She's certainly the most distant of the characters in the pilot; she doesn't soften until the next episode.

  • sll03

    Yeah, that description doesn't really flow, does it?  I agree about her drastic change in demeanour: in the Pilot, she does come off as very guarded and mildly confrontational, but like it was pointed out previously in this thread, I think we can chalk that up to her frustration at 'not being invited'.  I feel like this change was a combination of figuring out what to do with the character and the idea that her persona is very layered.

  • This is brilliant. Not only is it a well-crafted, articulate and passionate defense of the show, it also reflects a lot of the big themes in a way that I find beautiful. If Disqus had some sort of, like, comment save function I'd use that, but I'm going to start saving these to my laptop instead.

    Awesome stuff.

  • Have you considered writing for the AV Club?

    (I am not kidding.)

  • sll03

    Wow. I have nothing to add: you've touched down on so many facets of the episode that I'm pretty sure there isn't anything else to say. I really must commend you: this review is infinite streets ahead.

  • Never thought about the beginnings of the study group being an experiment for Abed's mind, I like it.

  • No disrespect to anyone else doing upcoming reviews, because it's a great idea for superfans to execute, but if Lloyd wants to separately review every episode ever and put them all up on a blog I wouldn't be against it.