Episode 105: Advanced Criminal Law

Community Season One, Episode Five Review by Unregistered Guy Named Eric

AvatarUnregistered Guy Named Eric

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.

They discuss:

  • 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.

Stray Observations

  • 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?"

18 LIKES
On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-396374064 (page 43)

Discussion:

  •  
    • This episode has particular resonance to me. I'm a senior in high school now; every Friday night in the fall all through my time in high school, I would stand on the sidelines at our football games. My school's always been terrible; when we won our homecoming game, everyone stormed the field because it was the first time in 18 years that we had won it, and our five wins and five losses in 2011 constituted our best record in that span. Yet I only ever played on kickoffs and punts, because I'm not particularly good at football. It's always been fun (albeit exhausting), but I wasn't getting much out of it and it took a ton of my time (more than 20 hours a week). Repeatedly I would get asked by people all through the years why I was doing it. I never really had an answer until I saw Annie's speech to Pierce about commitment. That was really the perfect expression of all the feelings that I had never been able to articulate before. It's an intensely personal thing, of course, but it really does matter; it's possible to connect emotionally to good TV in a way that's beyond the reach of any other form of storytelling, and the emotion here is perfect. More than anything else, Community is about the human experience. In order to show what it means to be human the show needs to be peopled with characters who are humans, with all their flaws and their idiosyncrasies and their redeeming virtues.

      Also, the Cheers, M*A*S*H, Fawlty Towers line is fantastic. It's a second-long joke and there's so much to mine from it. Abed is preoccupied with TV and wants to fit in, so when he hears what he thinks is a TV reference from Jeff, he automatically joins in with another. Meanwhile, Duncan is insecure about his identity, so he feels the need to defend it by asserting the superiority of Fawlty Towers (and, by extension, British culture and British people).

    • "WE GET IT, YOU'RE YOUNG!"

    • more youtube videos anyone? 
      leonard…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTOTDN… 
      starburns….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNc166…

    • "Senior"? Come on now, Eric.

      You makes some valid points, though. Reading about the commentaries is nice, too, as a non-DVD owner.

    • Loki100

      Speaking of Toby, Chang, much like the Dean, has (at least in these early episodes) a tendency to feel up his male students. No idea why, but I always find it funny.

    • U rite goode real much. You have a better grasp on the Jeff-Britta relationship better than anyone I've seen. I hadn't even realized this until the latest re-watch, but Britta actually says "you know I have a problem with dishonesty" in the shower, five episodes after "honesty above all" in the pilot. I thought I was just making all the pieces fit in hindsight when I called her posturing a facade but it was actually intended by the writers all along. Leave it to this show to reveal new layers after double-digit viewings.

    •   Thank you, that really means a lot.

      I read "I have a problem with dishonesty" as Britta trying to explain why she wouldn't support Jeff's defense that she didn't cheat. Which somehow seemed to be working because the Dean was mesmerized by her boots.

    • I heard it that way, too: "I have a hard time being dishonest" rather than "You know I lie all the time!".

    • Hm…I still don't believe her. LOL. Suck it, Britta, you're the worst.

    • Nice review, i especially like your insights into Jeff-Britta.  One of the things that rewatching these early episodes critically has brought to the forefront is how much of the original conception of the show was based around Jeff-Britta.  We've now had 5 episodes and in each of them there has been a Jeff-Britta plot.  Meanwhile in each episode we've seen the show delve into the psychology of one character and get at a source of hurt and an honest moment about who they are and how they got here, Pilot-Jeff, Spanish-Pierce, Film-Abed, Psychology-Annie and this episode  was of course Britta where she revealed to Jeff how she sabotages herself.  What we are slowly seeing is how each one of these study group members is dysfunctional and how really this group is a group of outcasts, whether that status is self-imposed (Jeff) or not.

    •  

      I don't think Jeff-Britta was the original conception of the show but rather deliberately designed as the entry point to both the world and the characters. Dan Harmon certainly implies as much in his post-season 1 AV Club interview:

      You know, I think that the biggest change, which wasn’t accidental or surprising, was the shift from a kind of a lone wolf vs. a cabal of misfits formula into a genuine ensemble comedy. More than that, more like a family comedy. We always felt that that shift was going to happen, that it needed to happen, but that was the biggest shift.

      I think the Jeff-focus and the Jeff-Britta arc in the early episodes is simply a sign of how well Harmon understands his craft. By focusing on a single character and a single arc, it gave the show some early direction and focus and let the ensemble grow organically.

      • i have to disagree.  First i didn't say Jeff-Britta was THE original conception of the show but rather how much of the conception was based around them. Designing your entry point around a two-character dynamic in an ensemble show is a major part of the original conception of the show.
        We also know how indebted to Cheers Harmon is and he has specifically said on commentary how he wanted to do a sped up anti-will they won't they (commentary on either 103 or 104).  We also know his conception of the Britta character evolved at some point in the first season, something he readily admits.  I'm not saying that he never intended the show to be an ensemble comedy but instead i'm saying that he probably originally thought that Jeff-Britta was going to be a big audience draw that would allow him to do other things.  Instead the reaction to early Britta was decidedly negative and i think he just accelerated into the territory he always envisioned the show evolving into.  Which isnt to say i dont like this early arc but it is very noticeable because of how different it is compared to what has come after.  I can think of only one pairing that has spent this much consecutive time together (troy-abed) and even then we havent had major a-plots focused on them for 5 episodes in a row.  I think it is very very clear that Jeff-Britta was a major part of the original conception of the show.

      • mratfink It really is a little jarring to go back to the early episodes and see so many Jeff-Britta storylines all in a row. That's a big part of why the "anti-will they won't they" was not completely successful, I think. While it afforded many really awesome glimpses into both Jeff and Britta's characters early on–and for that I appreciate it–it's hard to see the storyline as subverting the old conventions when the show seems so insistent that you be invested in these two, and so early. But Harmon and co. wised up quickly.

      • Yeah, I agree with mratfink that the show is definitely presented as largely about the romantic tension between Jeff and Britta early on. A lot of that stuff is really good in hindsight, now that the show has opened up so many other possibilities. But at the time, the "ship" got a largely negative reaction, and people were much more thrilled at their "discovery" of the more organic Jeff/Annie chemistry.

        Reading those old AV Club comment sections from S1, Annie was definitely the main attraction. Only once Britta became more of an underdog did people feel like they were finding her on their own (plus the amount of vocal female support, like, quadrupled, and they mostly seemed to be big Britta fans. I'll never forget reading the comments about the show on AfterEllen and seeing they were just as pervy as the AV Club, but about Britta instead of Annie).

      • I didn't realize AfterEllen covered this show! I loved the Spartacusand, to a lesser extent, the Torchwood reviews on AfterElton.

        feel like they were finding her on their own
        and people were much more thrilled at their "discovery" of

        Well put!

      • Thanks! Yeah, Harmon talks about that in commentary, basically agreeing with what you've been saying…after the Pilot, each character got paired up with Jeff for an episode, to develop them relative to the main character. (Although in that scenario, "Social Psychology" was the Shirley ep and "Intro to Statistics" qualifies as the Annie one. I mean, you could call "Football, Feminism and You" a Jeff/Annie ep, but that was at least meant to be Troy's and Stats is meant to be Annie's. It plays out as more of an ensemble at that point, but I think they get the the character development they wanted out of it.)

      • the key is which character gets the honest, emotion peeled back moment and in football that is troy who admits why he wants to play football with no bs at the end.  Its the moments when all the bluster is gone that we see who these people really are. And yeah Harmon started discussing this in the criminal law commentary i think  i just noticed it before hearing the commentaries and had been talking about it in other reviews so i thought id continue

      • By Stats, it feels like that concept has been all but abandoned, because it's complete. We know the whole group, and so we don't need to be introduced to them any longer.

      • My favorite thing about this entire episode is Pierce's song. 
        It references air conditioning repair, indicating to us that A/C repair is one of the most significant reasons to attend Greendale. That doesn't really pop up again for the rest of S1 or S2. 

        Now, though, we've finally met the Air Conditioning Annex. It was introduced as an important part of the Greendale world two full seasons before it would have any real relevance to the main characters.

        How awesome is that? I thought Fat Neil's introduction was the best example of long-term worldbuilding on the show, but this definitely surpasses it.

      • Another rousing ending song that reaches the perfect note of comedic sweetness. Once again, the show lets Pierce have the win while both poking fun at him and conveying the genuine sentiment of Pierce craving Annie's approval. Dan Harmon's always talking on the commentaries about how completely unredemptive Pierce is as the Cartman of the show, but these early episodes did a perfect job of showing how earnest he is even if it often comes through in offensive ways. What was that line in 115 about Vaughn's songs being stupid, but "at least they're honest"? Same thing applies with Pierce.

        "He made that up!"

      • I think Annie being Pierce's favorite partially stems from this. Annie is the first one to care about Pierce as a person, even if she doesn't express herself in the most polite way. For her, he's more than just that old guy.

      • I've always felt that he likes Annie the most because he, being a businessman, respects people who take initiative and take care of themselves. He tells Shirley how much he respects her for being a single mother in 122 (after pantsing her, because she can take it; great reasoning). The other part of it is that he probably thinks of Annie, and Britta, as daughters he never had; the ones that actually stuck around. This is why I want to see more of Britta-Pierce besides him calling her a lesbian.

      • It's stated pretty explicitly (especially in the beginning) that what Pierce is looking for is some kind of family. You look at his experience with Amber and you realize that these might be the only people who aren't out for his money. This means that they care about him as a person, but it also means that they don't have to pull any punches; they can be honest to his face, and I suspect he's never had to deal with much honesty in his life.

      • It's really been striking me recently just how often (and well) Community makes use of the characters singing.
        By my count, we've got:

        -Greendale's anthem
        -Somewhere Out There
        -Getting Rid of Britta
        -Pierce You Are A B
        -Abed's Christmas song
        -That's What Christmas Is For
        -Sing-A-Ling (Paradigms)
        -We're Gonna Finally Be Fine
        -Kiss from a Rose

        And that's not counting the outright musical episode!

        The songs are often some of the most heartwarming, sentimental moments of the entire show, too. "Somewhere Out There" is one of my favorite moments of the entire show's run; a remarkable amount of humor, depth and genuine heart is packed into every one of these songs.

      • You forgot to mention that they wanted Mark Hamill instead of Luis Guzman at first. Hamill declined in the politest way possible, but I kind of wish he didn't; I'm conjuring images of him wandering through an empty Greendale shouting "Hello! It's Mark Hamill!"

      • I don't know, I can't think of a more fitting patron pseudo-celebrity for a middling community college than Luis Guzman.

      • Hamill has more comic bombast, while Guzman is more fittingly (or pathetically) small-time.

      • Excellent review! Thank you. You mention that we now know Britta's reason for rejecting Jeff. Could you spell it out for me, please? There was a lot of stuff going on in that scene in quick succession.

        Some more Stray Observations:

        -Britta had two particularly great faces in this episode. One, when Jeff says "Pass" (to locking in "No Sex" in their friendship negotiation). Two, when Jeff wistfully reminisces about the days, a few days ago, when they used to study Spanish.

        -Chang's squint when he was mocking the reaction of the whole class to the crib sheet was hilarious.

        -"That's practically learning, for god's sake."

        -"I can neither confirm nor deny that." (This was made awesome by the context/delivery.)

        -"Let me play you out." / "I'll play myself out."

        -"Objection! I don't know what he means."

        ETA: Annie's face at Shirley's oblivious Jackée-ness in explaining how she is not Jackée-like was also very funny. So many good reactions

      •  

        "Shut your pompous vortex of overlapping fangs!"

        Still the best Chang line ever. The guy may be crazy, but he has a real way with words.

      • Duncan: Not to be all particular, but you're not a professor.
        Chang: Maybe because I don't look like Ron Weasley.
        Duncan: That's the reason, that's the qualifying factor.

      • Thank you!

        Britta's reason for rejecting Jeff is that, as much as he may like her, on the most basic honest level, he intends to sleep with her and has no plans for her beyond that. He wants to give the impression that he's working to win her over, and she wants to spar with him. But while her rejection may seem cruel, just beneath the surface she's guarding against being used, being treated like she's easy.

        The thing is, she's right. She makes Jeff commit here to wanting more than just sex from her. It's always seemed like Jeff has that decency in him, but if he never says it, maybe he just bones her and vanishes. If she doesn't force it out of him, he never has to be aware of what he's doing, or of her as more than just a mark. He has to realise, through some rough negotiating, that he's interested in her as a person, and then she can see it, too.

        Does all that make sense? To me, it's like a seesaw. Guys are at their happiest when there's a minimum of compromise, so if they don't get knocked down a notch, that's as far as they'll ever go. Girls are constantly prodding guys to prove everything they say, or else it's not real.

      • Thanks so much for the response! It makes perfect sense; you really do have a great grasp of the dynamic between those two, which, now that I see it described, strikes me as pretty universal.

      • That's an excellent look at what's going on. Britta does need that validation and that commitment from Jeff; this ties later on into the issues that we see he has with commitment.

      • I do think this is the first instance of the Troy/Abed handshake. You also mentioned the Dean's entrance. Is this also the first time the Dean actually talks to one of the study group? We had seen him in an "intro tag" (I just made that up) and we of course hear him all the time.

      • Correct, although they aren't introduced to him until the next episode (105 and 106 were switched around).

      • First instance of the handshake and I like the detail of them being more deliberate in the movement to make sure they don't whiff as opposed to the breezy nonchalance of it now.

      • After Troy, is Jeff the one that most gets Abed? That brief scene on the bench at the end was so cool (observing Pierce's accidental and monumental plagiarism).

      • in a weird way i think Jeff gets Abed better than Troy does.  Jeff is incredibly accepting of Abed's quirks but he also doesnt seek to make Abed into something else.  There is something incredibly mature about the way Jeff deals with Abed which is weird because mature and Jeff are two words which dont typically go together.

      • Jeff and Abed were both raised on TV; they share that bond that none of the rest have. Jeff respects Abed more than any of the rest; when they're all trying to change him so that Jenny will like him, Jeff's the only one who refrains. He thinks that Abed is fine the way he is.

      • i agree. it seems like troy is along for the ride with abed. he likes him a lot. they're best friends. and he probably understands abed a bit more than others, but troy's experiences growing up are so far off from abed's that there are certain ways he can't quite relate. 

        as Janine Restrepo points out, abed and jeff share a relatively similar upbringing, and jeff shows he understands and respects abed from the very beginning ("i see your value now" is a pretty mean show of respect, but it was still genuine). 

        the jeff/abed interactions are some of the best in the first season, i think. especially the end of the chicken ep.

      • Loki100

        I think Jeff loves Abed, unconditionally and unreservedly. In fact, I'd say Jeff thinks Abed is far more perfect than even Troy does.

        Jeff knows that Abed would do anything for him and not for any reason other than that they're friends. Jeff also knows that Abed wants what is best for him, even if it isn't best for Abed. Abed is possibly the first person who truly treats Jeff with selfless love in Jeff's entire life. The ending in Home Economics between them is one of the most heartwarming moments the series has ever done.

        Jeff is also quite lonely. His superficial charm has allowed him to skate through life making zero connections other than the ones that will get him ahead, such as his friend in Accounting for Lawyers. Abed is also quite lonely, and they have a mutual bond through that loneliness. Jeff can connect with people, but only knows how to treat them like tools to be used and discarded. Abed can't connect with people, but never fails to generous, loving and giving to everyone in his life. Recognizing the complementary nature of their problems is what bonds them in Chicken Fingers.

        Jeff also knows that he doesn't have to be cool around Abed. Jeff's deep seated insecurities force him to put on a veneer of coolness, something he even does with the group still. However he knows that Abed accepts every aspect of his being, without judgement. In three seasons worth of episodes, the only person Jeff has truly, truly let his guard down around is Abed. That's why Jeff was able to tell him so many embarrassing stories during the My Dinner with Abed episode.

        Conversly, as Janine Restrepo pointed out, Jeff was raised by TV. He understands how Abed views the world. He can speak Abed's language as it were. And because they are so close, Jeff is willing to play along with Abed in a way that he simply wouldn't for anyone else. Most noticeably when Jeff was editor of the school newspaper he started taking on the MASH persona, even though he had never seen MASH, simply because Abed wanted him to.

      • Jeff definitely likes Abed early on, more unconditionally than the others. Abed seems like he could be impressionable or needy in the Pilot, but really he fits into Jeff's "go with the flow" mode pretty well. He's a non-threatening sidekick for Winger to take on.

      • What makes their relationship so smooth is that neither of them needs anything from the other. There are no sources of conflict between them. While that would be awful if this relationship had to drive the show, it works very well in the background.

      • Maybe my favorite thing of the episode was the accusing collective stares of the table. Who cheated? Everyone looks at Jeff. He says something that makes everyone look at Annie. She says "dumb" and everyone looks at Troy. He does not even blink and points out that there are equally dumb people who are, on top of it, unaware of their stupidity. Everyone looks at Pierce. (Ha!) And then (of course) he tries to massage the game in a self-serving direction ("Britta" "lesbian" "lips" are all the words needed to communicate that).

      • And this is just the fifth episode. Already we know that Jeff is lazy and self-serving, Annie is naive but hard-working, Troy is dumb but honest, and Pierce is also kind of dumb but hilariously self-absorbed.

      • I only really noticed it when taking notes for the review, but I love that they had a whole plot-driven study table scene where everyone interacted with each other, and it wasn't even necessary for any of the 3 plots. It just makes the ep feel so much fuller than if they'd started off by splintering into 3 groups.

      •  

        Fantastic review, Eric! I agree with everybody who says you have the best grasp of the Jeff/ Britta relationship; I've rarely seen it laid out better or more concisely.

        Speaking of Jeff and Britta, the C that Todd gave this episode has always baffled me. The A, B and C stories are well laid out and brought to a satisfying end. It's neither better, nor worse than Social Psychology, for example, and I just don't see where the C is coming from. The Jeff/ Britta conversation in the locker room is one of my favorites of the whole show – you can see how hard it is for both of them to just be honest with each other and their feelings. And, outside of Accounting for Lawyers, this is imo still the best glimpse we have into Jeff's style as a lawyer. I especially liked how he goes straight for that September 11 line which he had apparently used successfully to get Duncan out after he tried to order chalupas from a highway call box.

        Another thing that this episode does particularly well is foreshadowing. The Dean going both ways, Duncan calling Chang "teacher Chang" and insisting he's not a real professor, Troy and Abed's budding buddies, Annie being Pierce's favorite – they are all nicely woven into the background in fairly unobtrusive ways, which only makes them funnier once you discover them upon rewatch.

        But my favorite part of the episode (other than the Jeff/Britta exchange) is the little conversation between Chang and Duncan in the shower room. The way they dress down that poor fat bastard taking a shower is a thing of wonder: Duncan (enunciating every word in disbelief): "I'll say one thing: you're very confident." Chang (gives him a dismissive look over): "But you shouldn't be."

      • Thank you! Yeah, the Dean jokes seem to have come pretty fully-formed from the start, I just didn't start appreciating them until S2. "I go both ways" and "can we strike that from the record?" I remember laughing at on the first viewing, though.

        I love the bittersweet tone of this one, but I have to admit "Social Psychology" feels more packed with jokes and plot. They're both, like you said, surprisingly tight and well organized. The commentary seemed to suggest that they'd wanted to intersect the 3 plots a little more, but it got filtered out in rewrites. Anyways, I'm glad people are rediscovering "Criminal Law". One of the great "Oh…this show is more than I thought it would be" moments, for me.

      • Loki100

        How great was Donald Glover's delivery of "You are not believable in your face?"

      • "Your face?" [gestures] "It's bad."

      • Annie's shirt had the exact same colour as her eyes.

        ("AT THE PICNIC!")

      • I meant the dark green/blueish shirt. In my version there was zero difference in colour there.

      • -One of the many apt summations of Britta: "The blonde with the pouty, strident Cate Blanchett sexuality and the ridiculous name"
        -Chang's names for Annie, Pierce, Shirley, and Abed: Marianne, Grandpa, Jackee and Kumar.
        http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
        http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
        -"I may be a genius but I'm not a lesbian"
        -Annie's 'ew' at the idea of being a musician is really funny to me. I've seen here respond the same to other things she considers childish or unproductive.
        -Lines I regularly inject into conversation:
        "Smooth move, Metamucil"
        "You really don't know much about genius, do you."
        http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
        -"Thanks for coming. Bye bye." http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
        -"You are inside a throbbing cosmic womb of creativity and when this baby starts kicking I can not be responsible for your sanity!" Harmon notes that Pierce's behavior here is very much a reflection of his own crankiness during the creative process. It's another one of those lines that have Harmon's voice all over them.
        -"The world wasn't the only thing that changed on September 11th". The way everyone reacts gives the impression that Jeff uses that argument all the time.
        -As I've said before in one of the 40 prior pages, Abed doesn't process humor the same as others, if at all. So this plot that Todd had such a problem with is intended to show that Abed thinks humor is about detail and degree rather than its intangible components. All due respect, I think Todd just missed the point based on his review.
        http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
        -Your pained Britta expression of the episode:
        http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
        http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…. Here's a little Easter egg for y'all: in 302, there's a montage with Abed speaking his alien language from this episode.
        -More info spilling out about Annie: "You listen up, Pierce. I'm gonna tell you what my mother told me when I wanted to quit cheerleading. You're not very pretty, you have no boobs, and you can't do a basket toss to save your life, but you made a commitment. So pick up your pompoms, Pierce, stuff your bra, and get ready for the team bus to forget you at a Taco Bell, because life is tough. But we soldier on, and that's just the way it goes"
        -Pierce's ongoing dismissing of Billy Joel continues: "I'm no more of a songwriter than you or Billy Joel"
        http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

        -Fashion corner:
        I want Jeff's army jacket (http://www.fishsticktheatre.co… ) and Abed's purple and black cardigan (http://www.fishsticktheatre.co… )

        More from the commentary:
        -There was a longer angry exchange between Chang and Starburns after "my name's Alex dude" but network hated it. I've seen it somewhere and it has Jeong doing an Andrew Dice Clay impression and Starburns saying 'quit fixiating on my sideburns'.
        -Gillian: "Yea, I'm a skanky cheating ho."
        -I think I'm on Joe Russo's side regarding the "turn on her!" gag, which is odd because he's an AD guy and you'd think he'd be the one that would push for the broad joke while Harmon would shoot for realism.
        -Pudi insisted they draw his eyebrows in for more of an alien look. It worked.

      • Surprised to see no mention of Annie's scream yet:
        http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

        Love it.

      • The slightly-out-of-focus BrittaFace in the background kills me.

      • OccamsBlazer

        LloydBraun, with regard to Abed processing humor and Todd's review: 

        "Todd is a genius. If he isn’t, I've given almost three seasons of my life to an idiot." (Not really. We love you TVDW!)

        "Are you by any chance familiar with Stockholm Syndrome?"

        "Is it something that Todd created? Because if not, I don’t care."

        Sadly, if I attempted to look like crazy Annie, I might get arrested.

      • Good stuff. I think the Starburns vs. Chang face-off was mixed into one of the Outtakes montages. Logically, it should be S1 Disc1, but I haven't gone back and checked.

      • Pierce's seemingly random ragging on Billy Joel never ceases to crack me up. The way he so casually and seemingly without any malice dismisses him is just too funny.

        That's my favorite Pierce humor, I think, when he's blatantly wrong in his insults towards someone but doesn't even really grasp what he's saying.

      • My high school German teacher looked exactly like Billy Joel.

      • Time to update our Community shitlist.

        Ben Affleck; Ryan Seacrest; Dane Cook; Billy Joel.

        ? > ? > ? > ?

      • Billy Joel (because he's responsible for the awesome song below) > Ben Affleck > Ryan Seacrest > Dane Cook

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

      • Not since West Side Story has cool been achieved through so much uncool finger-snapping.

      • I'm finally caught up!  I know y'all were holding your breath on that one…

        Excellent review (and thanks to the writers of the reviews for 1-4, too.  They greatly enhanced my viewing enjoyment as I shotgunned the first 4.  It was such a chore watching so much Community the past few nights….).

        The only thing I have to add was that it seemed to me that this episode was the first hint of Troy's interest in all things supernatural/fantasy/dreamatorium-y.  As stated above, he doesn't end up believing that Abed is an alien, but especially in the scene by the hedge when he catches Abed "transmitting" he looks for just a moment like he's wavering and wants it to be true, much in the same way he does when he tries to run into the cartoon tunnel in Season 2.  I hadn't realized they planted the seeds for "Power of Imagination" Troy quite so early on.

      • Just a couple comments about the B and C stories:

        Pierce/Annie: One thing I noticed on rewatch is how Pierce appears temporarily thrown for a loop when Annie approaches him in the cafeteria to accept his offer to write the song. In the first place, he's probably thinking "oh shit" because his bluff has effectively been called (he knows his songwriting skills are limited to lifting whole melodies and fitting them with silly lyrics); but second, and more importantly, I think he's surprised that someone is taking him seriously. He's used to self-promotion but not to receiving anything more than a perfunctory acknowledgement of his worth (Pierce: "You know, the Dalai Lama and I–"/Jeff (interrupting): "We should listen to him sometime!") Later, Annie's believing in Pierce is all the more important to him because it's so rare.

        Troy/Abed: Yeah, this one is sitcomy in a lot of ways. Both guys seem a little "off," but as has been discussed, that's not completely unbelievable given that they don't know one another well and their personalities are still in a state of flux (well, mostly Troy's) given a very new situation for both. In hindsight, though, the Abed we see here makes a little more sense to me. The fake laughs and mannerisms don't seem as much like aberrations but affectations for a role he's playing. He's a guy pretending to have a secret, after all, and he's all but made a movie out of his effort to connect with Troy (complete with a green screen, extra, elaborate props and make-up, and an overextended budget). He's an overzealous novice filmmaker and a novice friend to boot, and the former is exerting a big effect on the latter because it's his biggest point of reference to this point in his life. In that respect, his behavior is kind of like the zanier, not-as-deep precursor to how he tries to relate to Jeff in Critical Film Studies.

        Also, I love Abed's effort at being coy when Troy asks him what he's writing. "…Probably Arabic."

      • Excellent points, all.  The Pierce-Annie story seems like such a little throwaway, Chevy Chase-singing-a-goofy-song thing, but wow there really is a lot to mine there…

        Loved the "Probably Arabic" line…think I'll have to start randomly answering questions with that.

      • OH, and Toby? Apparently felt bad about being caressed in the first class we saw and skipped the second. Or at the very least he switched seats, and his old chair is noticeably empty, a visible reminder to all that the front seat is vulnerable to El Tigre's fondling.

      • Wow.  Good eye!

      • sll03

        Great review, Unregistered Guy Named Eric!  I'm sorry I'm so late and missed all the discussion, but I just wanted to speak up on behalf of the lurkers out there and say 'thank you' for a job well done!

      • Scrawler

        This is a really nice review. I'm a big fan of this episode and sometimes feel like I'm its only defender (along with  Braun, I think) so it's good to hear so many of its great parts discussed so thoroughly and intelligently.

        It's the first one that I saw live, which is probably part of the appeal for me. But as you said so well, it actually moves the characters forward in a really compelling way–pushing the will-they-or-won't-they aspects of Jeff and Britta well to the background and utilizing Duncan, Chang, the Dean and the campus itself so hilariously and almost sweetly in some cases.

        As for the much-maligned Troy/Abed plot. I really don't see what's to hate. As you said so well, it does serve a purpose in terms of sanding out some of the rough edges in their friendship. Also, I think it establishes that Abed really commits to pranks, costumes and similar hijinks. I mean is it really that different from his college checklist from The Art of Discourse or his painting the cartoon tunnel on the wall in Accounting for Lawyers?

        Really fantastic job! Sorry for the late reply. I'm playing catchup for all the reviews I missed while on vacation.