Episode 106: Football, Feminism and You
Due to its format, this review jumps around a lot between various parts of the episode and there's not much in the way of plot summary. If you haven't yet seen this episode, I would suggest doing so immediately, if not sooner.
I'll start off by saying that I absolutely adore this episode. When I was making my way through Community for the first time, I enjoyed all the episodes of Season 1, but this was the first one that really felt like something special. It's a turning point for the show in a lot of ways; a lot of important characterization begins with this episode. To me, this one and Introduction to Statistics (which comes next) mark a division of sorts between the good initial episodes and the Season 1 that we all came to know and love. One note: this episode was originally scheduled to air fifth, but it was switched with Advanced Criminal Law, leading to some continuity issues.
My initial thought with this review was to pick out each plot and discuss it separately, but then I saw that that couldn't really be done. You can identify three separate plots—an A-plot with Jeff, Annie and Troy, a B-plot with Shirley, Britta and Annie, and a C-plot with Pierce and the Dean—but the plots are integrated into each other to such an extent that it would be doing them a disservice to split them and deal with them one at a time. The central theme that unites the plots is the personal failings of these characters; Britta, Troy and Pierce are vain, Annie is selfish, and Jeff is both. As a result, what we get is not just conflict, but conflict whose resolution leads to development of the characters and the show. Even more than most episodes, the conflict here is character-based, and it ends with self-realization. Through the admission of their flaws, each character begins to become a better person.
As we've seen over the course of the last 2½ years, perhaps the most flawed character of all is Jeff Winger. Now that he's not interacting with Britta and doesn't have to put on an act to try and get in her pants (this is the first episode without a Jeff-Britta plot), he can begin to really show off his true colors. Jeff has two motivations in this episode. The first is his reputation, which he feels the need to defend from association with the school. Ostensibly it's because he doesn't want law firms to find out where he is, but that doesn't seem right; his disbarment couldn't have been a secret, and of course he would have to get a degree somehow. Really, the offense that he takes is a result of his own reluctance to accept his position in life. Even if he allows the study group to be graced with his presence, he still looks down on the school; after all, Jeff is very vain, and these people are well beneath him. Because they're beneath him (as is everyone else), he feels no worse about manipulating them to suit his own needs than he does about exploiting the legal system for profit, getting Troy back into football without ever considering whether it's what he needs or wants. His realization that he shouldn't be doing that is an important moment for him, since it's an admission that he does care about these people (and not just Britta) enough that he would be willing to swallow his pride in the service of their interests. We see this in a different form with Annie; I'll get to that a little bit later.
For Troy, this episode is the first real glimpse that we get into his personality. To this point, he hadn't been written as much more than a dumb jock. He certainly plays that part perfectly here, but there are also other interesting things going on with his character; Joe Russo mentions in the commentary that this is intended to be the episode in which Troy is introduced to the audience for the first time. Troy isn't used to making decisions, as Donald Glover points out in the commentary; at first, he doesn't want to play football because that's what Annie tells him, but when Jeff changes his mind later, he realizes how great it was to play football at Riverside. Through that part, we get to see for the only time the vapid jerk that he was before he came to Greendale. But Troy is more than that; for one thing, he clearly looks up to Jeff, which is a plot thread that becomes very interesting much farther down the line (especially in Mixology Certification) as he has to decide whether Jeff is really a role model whom he can look up to. At the same time, in this episode he finally begins making choices for himself, as he decides that he can have fun playing for this team without any of the expectations or pressure that had existed in high school. That choice was unexpected to me, since it's not what would logically follow from Jeff's whole storyline, but then the show isn't all about Jeff. Troy's revelation that he got hurt on purpose provides the character with depth; he's rudderless, and the only thing that motivated him was the same pressure that he hated. Still, that doesn't mean that he has to hate football, too; to be true to himself, Troy doesn't have to change everything about his life, provided that he knows who he really is. Whether Troy plays football or not, it's for himself. Greendale is accepting of that, provided that he is willing to accept Greendale; his invitation to Jeff to do the same is what provides the central question of the first half of Season 1.
Much like Troy, Annie gets her first significant screen time in this episode. Before this episode, all we've found out about her is that she has a sense of purpose that far exceeds the other slackers. Of course, that's merely an attribute, not a character. In this episode, we begin to learn who Annie is, and the first thing we find out is that she's into Troy; there had been hints before (which Jeff picked up, of course; having picked juries, he's learned to read the little things), but nothing concrete. Her infatuation with Troy determines her actions, which can make this episode feel a bit dated, since the Troy/Annie ship sailed long ago. But what's more important than why she wants what she does is how she goes about achieving her goals. This episode introduces manipulative Annie, that facet of her that becomes so important later on. Her skills are still being honed at this point; she doesn't realize she's attractive and neither does Troy, removing one significant weapon from her arsenal, and when Jeff comes calling Troy is quickly converted. Yet she's clearly had an effect, since Troy has no real desire to play football when the Dean asks him about it. It's telling that Annie says that Troy will "flush his life down football's toilet", since the non-football-playing new Troy seems no better than the old one, except that he spends time with Annie. She has her own interests in mind; when the Dean compares her to Yoko Ono, it's not without reason. At the same time, however, she views herself as a good person, and she's unwilling to admit that she's acting out of any motive but benevolence. This provides Jeff with his other motivating factor in this episode; he wants to show Annie that she's not as great as she thinks she is. This episode marks the beginning of the highly complex relationship between Jeff and Annie; I'm not going to go into that here, since it would take days for me to cover that effectively, but an important part of it is Jeff's desire to bring Annie down a notch. Annie is selfish and manipulative like Jeff, but Jeff embraces it while Annie insists that she's doing good, and Jeff pulls no punches in telling her why she's wrong about that. He could certainly have been more diplomatic about the way he treated Annie's feelings and concerns, but he doesn't see the need to do that, since Annie doesn't have anything that he wants and he doesn't respect her emotionally. But Jeff is an adult and Annie is a child, and he isn't allowed to act that way with her; his admission at the end of the episode that he was more in the wrong is an important step on his road to acceptance of the social responsibilities that he shrugged off for so long as a rich lawyer. Jeff and Annie are the two most emotionally nuanced characters; there will be things about both of them that lie well beneath the surface, coming up only very rarely. We see that in this episode as Annie makes a remark about her resentment of her parents' bigotry; Annie's relationship with her parents is certainly far from perfect, and it's been mentioned often enough that it's clearly important, but it still has never been fully addressed. To be true to themselves, Jeff and Annie both have to find out who they really are, and for them the path to that point of self-realization may well be longer than for any of the others; over two years after this episode, neither of them has yet come close to getting there.
Prior to this episode, we had only ever seen Britta through Jeff's eyes, as attractive and desirable and inaccessible, the inaccessibility adding to her desirability. Now, without a plot with Jeff and Britta, we get to see her through a different, feminine point of view, and all of a sudden those same aspects are turned on their head. She projects an aura of being above it all, but that doesn't mean that she's better than anyone else; she's just insufferable. Perhaps she has unique experiences, but while she was getting tear-gassed at protests, everyone else was learning how to function in society. It's only when she lets down her emotional façade that she becomes sympathetic; this recurs throughout Season 1 and into Seasons 2 and 3, as Britta goes from being high and mighty to the worst. When watching this episode again, there's dramatic irony to be found in the fact that it's Britta who declares to Shirley in Mixology Certification that they like her so much more after finding out her true past. After all, it's Britta who has had the most trouble with honesty. After Britta tells Shirley about her childhood and her issues with relating to women, she recognizes the inadequacy of her emotional façade, but then her response is to put up a different one that she thinks is more acceptable; when Annie talks to her in the bathroom, her first "feminine" response is woefully inadequate. It's only when she ditches that and offers her own take, informed by her unique point of view, that she gives something of value; Britta is quite right that Troy is at this moment in time wholly unworthy of Annie's attention, and she's the only one who could possibly tell Annie that. Britta does have value, even if she doesn't realize it.
The plot with Pierce and the Dean making a new mascot for the school is short but sweet. This was meant to be the introduction of the study group to the Dean, although he ended up appearing at Jeff's trial in Advanced Criminal Law, which was made after but aired before this one. What we know about the Dean is that he's well-meaning but rather incompetent; in this episode we have added to that his absurd obsession with political correctness and with not offending anyone, which in turn ends up rather offensive. We also get the beginnings of the odd relationship between Jeff and the Dean, as Craig halfheartedly blackmails Jeff into getting Troy to play football. He gets better at that later, but not much better. The project he works on with Pierce appeals both to his sense of purpose (for the first time, some of these Greendale students aren't being called animals) and to Pierce's vanity (he's being asked for advice like the successful businessman that he is). The plot is fairly straightforward, involving little more than a few jokes and a springboard for the main football plot, but the payoff is immense; we get the Greendale Human Being out of that plot, and it hasn't yet ceased to be funny. I also want to note in this space that Jim Rash is absolutely terrific; when the Dean says, "Bros before hos, Troy", it's an inherently funny line, but it's Jim Rash's delivery that gives it that simultaneously pathetic and creepy tone that we all associate with Dean Pelton.
There are two characters whose flaws don't feature prominently in this episode. One is Abed; he mentions that they leaned pretty hard on him last week (referring to Introduction to Film, the episode filmed before this one), and so he lays low for an episode. It's important that he does that; since the show is at this point still about Jeff and Britta, he needs to step aside so that the other supporting characters can get time to shine. Moreover, this episode is about self-realization, but Abed more than anyone else knows who he is. He wouldn't fit well here. Shirley, on the other hand, has a prominent role, but she too isn't the cause of any of the conflict in this episode. Shirley's the character portrayed most positively in the episode; she's a strong woman of the sort that are too rare on television, and she is all of the things that Britta thinks that she is without having to couch it in the mannerisms of rebellion like Britta does. This is one of the best Shirley episodes, thanks to the way that she is portrayed. Perhaps she is just a cosmic mentor, but she plays the role well here; she certainly isn't the judgmental woman in the group this time. I'd like to get back to this portrayal of Shirley more often.
To finish, I'd like to take a look at that last scene with the pep rally in the gym. Community certainly knows how to end episodes, and it's immeasurably better for it. In the end we have closure to the main plots of the episode and acceptance on the part of the characters of their fate; they're at Greendale, and they might as well make the most of it. Troy delivers some foreshadowing when he suggests that Jeff take a pottery class, and the shippers get their moment when Annie jumps into Jeff's reach at the sight of the Human Being, which has placed itself firmly in the uncanny valley. Like so many other times, what brings the scene together is the music; Please Do Not Go by Violent Femmes isn't really a song that I particularly like, but the refrain works perfectly here. Maybe these people didn't need each other at the beginning of the year, but now they have each other, and they'll all be better off if they stick together. It's a message that is repeated over and over during the course of the show, but it never gets tired.
That ended up a little bit longer than I had expected it to. Sorry about the length and about the number of semicolons I used; it's a habit that I have.
On this commentary, we have the surprisingly common combo of McHale, Glover and Brie, along with Dan Harmon (of course) and Joe Russo. Joel McHale is to be expected, since he's in 18 of 25 commentaries, but Donald Glover and Alison Brie are only in eight and six respectively and yet they have four together. Dan Harmon's in all of them, of course; Joe Russo is in eight.
The commentary begins with lots of hair talk. The characters really did change a lot over the course of the year. Then we get an interesting and really telling story about Britta's evolution as a character; after the pilot, writer Hilary Winston (who is in this episode as a woman brushing her hair in the bathroom as Shirley and Britta go together for the first time) noted that she wouldn't like to be around Britta because Britta would be constantly judgmental. That's an important step in the transition from the high-and-mighty Britta of the pilot to the buzzkill that had developed by the end of the season, and it's what allows that development to happen so organically; rather than being a new thing added on to humanize the character, it's merely an outgrowth of what's already there. That aspect of Britta's personality is certainly important in this episode. Joe Russo mentions how this episode was especially good because it allowed them to judge the character interactions and create self-contained stories within episodes. I love the way that this episode comes together at the end; it's the precursor to a lot of great future episodes that do the same in linking the various plots and resolving them all. There's some fascinating stuff later on about the evolution of Troy; in the beginning, he was written as dumb and not very interesting, but that changed as Donald Glover made the role into himself. Also, we find out that it took 39 takes for Troy to hit the football player in the head with the ball. Later, we're told that a lot was cut out of the scene with Britta talking to Shirley; she used to be called Brooba and Brititta, among other things. The fight raps were Dan Harmon's writing, and that whole scene was filmed in twenty minutes. Then everyone starts making reference to specific fan videos made by shippers; apparently Alison Brie watches all the ones that get sent to her on Twitter. From there, it launches into a discussion of how good she is at crying on command. At the end, we learn that the last scene was shot several weeks later because there was trouble with finding a cromulent end to the episode. You wouldn't be able to tell by looking at it, though.
– "You know who's really good in this shot right here? The sinks. The sinks are really amazing. So porcelain!"—Donald Glover
– "My dad's Danny Glover and he's friends with Joe Montaña, so he used to, like…" "Joe Montaña?" "Joe Montaña. No, not—did you think I said Joe Montana?"—Donald Glover, Dan Harmon, Donald Glover
– "I'd hate to have you as a daughter or a girlfriend."—Donald Glover to Alison Brie
– "It's become fairly obvious that they spend their money in the wrong places at this school."—Donald Glover
I've written plenty already, so I'll let you folk have at it here; maybe I'll add some of my own later. For now, I'll point out that Annie has excellent posture:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…