Episode 105: Advanced Criminal Law
Advanced Criminal Law
I was eager to take this episode because of how it made me rethink the characters early in Community's run. Specifically, it felt like a hard left turn for Britta. She stopped being a ray of (unobtainable) light in Jeff's dark, soulless world and instead became the kind of girl I knew fairly regularly in my own life. It was also a step up in quick-witted exchanges between a number of characters, and a particularly funny use of Greendale's low budget wannabe environment, one of the show's most fun and relatable comic ideas.
These three elements come together in an absurd little symphony in the improptu tribunal-by-the-swimming-pool scenes, where Jeff, Britta, Chang, Duncan and the Dean all bounce off each other and delve into Britta's uncharacteristically (for TV) fragile psyche with surprising, touching precision. But even before that, there's a series of good table setting scenes that involve the whole group: two in Spanish class and one around the study table (this ep is an early example of how many miles S1 got out of the campus and funny, escalating conversations with all 7 central characters). In the tradition of The Simpsons, the first act seems to be telling it's own different story before a quick gut punch where the character we'd least expect to cheat on her test, Britta, confesses to it.
The generic trial she's subjected to (The Dean recruits Chang and Duncan on the grounds that there's "Two biases, one on each side. And I go both ways.") manages to mix serious and funny to a surprising degree. Jeff tries to turn the other two judges against Chang, who feels like the real villain anyways for threatening to fail the entire class. But his passionate plea to throw out the case is interrupted when an older woman in a bathing suit walks by. He's all but home free when Britta decides to 360 and confess again (Jeff:"Objection!").
When a diver's splash threatens to electrocute all of them (and sends the judges scrambling onto the table), they get a brief recess in the showers. The way Jeff and Britta's dialogue in this scene evolves both characters rapidly is really impressive, and how they grapple for position while actually bonding at the same time is very real. Since Britta's now managed to sabotage her sense of superiority over Jeff in one deft stroke, she has to (more honestly) accuse him of only wanting to sleep with her. So we (and Jeff) understand for the first time why she has reason to reject him, and he has to show some honest vulnerability as well, saying he'd be psyched to be her friend. He keeps the upper hand of having superior logic in his own mind while finally demonstrating what he actually has to offer someone like her. Britta then sinks further into a morass of mixed, uncertain motivations that portrays overthinking-as-emotional-paralysis as sympathetically as I've ever seen it done on TV, partly because it takes the rare step of showing a woman articulating her abstract and somewhat out of control thought process. ("I just have more experience being worthless. I think I left that crib sheet on the floor because I wanted to get caught with it. I'm so used to screwing everything up, I just wanted to get it over with.")
This inspires Jeff to take up a very makeshift insanity defense. In a spectacular Winger Speech, he manages to be smugly sarcastic to everyone present, convey the idea that he's "figured Britta out" while also winning her over, and appeal to all 3 judges wounded feelings of pride and solidarity about their school, before being hilariously interrupted by the first appearance of Leonard. What's great is that Jeff already addresses him by name ("Come on, Leonard. If you're gonna argue with me, put on a bathing suit") and how quickly Leonard capitulates ("Ha-ha-ha, busted!"), having had no real reason for interjecting himself in the first place. Britta eventually escapes with some weekly therapy sessions that Duncan clearly intends to be psuedo-dates. They never go anywhere, though, because he has "the savoir-faire of a hyena."
The B plot between Troy and Abed seems to be the reason the ep got it's infamous C grade. It's phony and sitcom-y and, in hindsight, weirdly out of character (Troy never smiles, Abed grins and fake-laughs constantly, if only as part of a series of tricks). But it also fits nicely into the fairly organic and linear story of their growing friendship. It's them visibly overcoming the last bits of resistance keeping a jock and a weirdo apart, and the two never fit those stereotypes more than in this episode. Once Troy abandons the idea of hazing Abed the way he would expect to be hazed under different circumstances (and Abed's seemingly obnoxious persistence in trying to get him back seems to actually pay dividends in neutralizing Troy's first instincts), it clears the path for them to see how much they have in common (basically starting in 107 and never looking back).
The C plot is Pierce's oft-quoted Greendale anthem/Bruce Hornsby ripoff (for the dedication of the Luis Guzman statue). He tricks Annie into giving him free reign, then immediately has second thoughts and wants to quit (the same way Britta seems to be feeling about her classes and new friends). But Annie gets formidable with Pierce, which provides him with the "inspiration", I guess, to finish this masterpiece:
Standing in the bookstore line
Waiting for the bell to chime
So you can go to class
Dancing in your underwear
Taking air conditioner repair
So you can get a job
Greendale's the way it goes
Some things are still the same
Slop pails and panty hose
Ohhh, Annie believes in me
The underwear/air conditioner repair couplet may be the bluntest juxtaposition of the idealism and reality of College (or the way it's portrayed in movies and TV) ever. But the last line is honestly moving, especially paired with Jeff telling Britta "I'm just glad you're here."
The whole song is very appropriate for the show's sense of community college and the reluctant bonds formed there. It's something that seems stupid to them now, but they'll probably look back on fondly later.
This episode has a great commentary with Harmon and writer Andrew Guest going into detail about putting the ep together, while Gillian is very funny and Joel is…tired, it sounds like.
- There's an earlier version of the Pierce/Annie scenes, available on the DVD, where Pierce is more of a dick and Annie's retort is harsher. That was to please Chevy, who didn't want to play the pushover he's written as. But, NBC didn't like the darker scenes, and I basically agree with them.
- Another whole plot point was excised, about a paper Duncan had written titled "Born to Leave" on why women always leave men. It would be a thinly-veiled commentary on his own troubles with the ladies.
- In general, this ep was a big fight, with everyone involved having their own ideas about the early direction of the show. Harmon and Guest rewrote a number of scenes on their laptops while sitting on the bleachers by the pool. There was a lot of shifting the act breaks around, which explains why Jeff's climactic speech comes right after a commercial break.
- One of the more interesting struggles (that Harmon conceded) was with Joe Russo over how fast to pace the joke where the whole class throws stuff at Britta. Dan originally wanted it to be quicker and more abrupt, but Russo insisted on making it slower, like we see, which seems to give it a more deliberate and realistic extra beat, IMO. This is kinda fascinating because the Russos have so much influence on modern sitcoms, and that honest awkwardness is probably a big part of why.
- Hilary Winston is credited with Britta's arc in this episode, and coming up with it early on, pretty much on her own.
- Originally, Troy was going to believe Abed was an alien.
- They discuss Richard Erdman, who plays Leonard. He starred in and directed for a number of classic shows (Gunsmoke is the example given) and was at one point Marlon Brando's roommate!
- There's a head shot of Guzman on the filing cabinet behind the Dean in the opening scene, and a poster of the Human Being in a swimsuit by the pool.
- As mentioned above, this is Leonard's first ep. I'm pretty sure it's also Starburns' first line ("My name is Alex", of course), the Dean's first use of the word Dean as a verb ("Dean you later!") and I want to say it's the first time we see the Troy/Abed handshake, but I'm not 100%.
- "Cheers." "MASH." "Fawlty Towers." One of the nicest, simplest, cleverest indications that the characters in this show are aware of TV and pop culture, to the degree that the slightly smug but often noted idea that classic British sitcoms are superior to their American counterparts feels like a nice little easter egg for anyone who's been in one of those debates.
- "Well, we're not going to buy you an ice cream. Hi, Dean Pelton. Quite an entrance I got to make there."
- "The only difference between Senor Chang and Stalin is that I know who Senor Chang is."
- "Smooth move, Metamucil."
- "Your face? It's bad."
- Pierce: "Are you a musician?" Annie: "Eeeew. No." She's really from her own little world.
- Chang hates the whole class "Except you, Toby" as he strokes the guy in the front row's face. Poor Toby.
- "Abed, have you been racist this whole time I've been telling everyone in my Church group what a sweet little caramel angel you are?"
On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-396374064 (page 43)