Episode 107: Introduction to Statistics
S01E07 – Introduction to Statistics
“Introduction to Statistics” is the first of Community’s “holiday” episodes, episodes which have since become known for often bringing with them a not-inconsiderable dose of silliness and rather unconventional “concept" stories. “Intro to Statistics” sets this tone for future Halloween episodes admirably by taking several rather off-the-wall premises, namely the idea of Abed as Batman and Pierce having a bad trip while dressed as the Beastmaster, and using these concepts as a means by which to delve into the psyches of members of the study group and examine how they see themselves and those around them.
Jeff is arguably the central character in “Intro to Statistics”. This is reflective of the general trend of early S1, where Jeff occupied the role of “main character” and the other group members orbited about him. Jeff plays a key part in all the main plots of the episode; Annie’s party, Slater’s effect on Shirley, and Pierce’s bad trip all either stem from Jeff, are resolved by him, or both.
As Jeff stumbles through a series of increasingly bizarre scenarios, we learn a good deal more about him as a character. First off, and perhaps most importantly, this episode marks the end of Jeff’s overt romantic pursuit of Britta for the majority of the season. There may be the odd meaningful glance here or there, but for the most part Jeff abandons his quest for Britta in favor of Professor Slater, thus defusing the traditional “will they/won’t they” which had been set up repeatedly in earlier episodes. This serves to show us that, as Jeff notes in “Advanced Criminal Law”, it really is possible for him to be just friends with a woman without actively trying to sleep with her; a major step for his character.
Jeff’s sense of self-image is a key theme of “Intro to Statistics”. He doesn’t want to go to Annie’s party because it’s “lame” and he falsely claims to be averse to costume wearing because he doesn’t want to seem like he’s buying into Annie’s “uncool” social event. When he grows frustrated with himself because despite his best, smoothest moves he can’t get Slater to agree to date him, we see him express his insecurities regarding his image to Chang, an unlikely confidant; the specific words he chooses are “It’s this campus, it feeds on my coolness”. Jeff’s constructed all kinds of emotional barriers as a result of his emotionally deficient early life, and his carefully crafted image of the aloof, sarcastic snarker who just doesn’t care is integral to the maintenance of these emotional barriers. If he allows himself to admit that spending time out of class with the group at Annie’s cheesy party might be fun, or let on to Slater that he actually does view the group as friends, his painstakingly constructed barriers which exist to ensure that he can never be emotionally wounded ever again will be worn down ever so slightly. That’s something which Jeff at this stage in his life just can’t comprehend; the possibility that he may no longer need his defensive mechanisms because he’s with a group of people who actually care for him is still utterly alien, and thus he puts down or disappoints the other group members to reassure himself that he’s still the cool, distant adult he needs to be to survive.
However, by the end of the episode, Jeff swallows his pride and puts his image aside, realizing that the group as a whole has become something which is important to him. I would argue that “Introduction to Statistics” represents the first episode where Jeff really embraces the group in its entirety. We’ve seen him extend a kind gesture or two to Pierce, gossip with Shirley, make some overtures of friendship to Annie and become genuinely closer with Britta, but always separately in a one-on-one context. When he returns to Annie’s party, he does so on behalf of the group, apologizing or making amends for his earlier actions towards Abed, Pierce, Annie, and the rest. Putting aside the prospect of sex, Jeff drops his barriers ever so slightly to help the rest of the group, and that’s a trend which has continued for the rest of the show.
It’s also interesting to note that, when he returns at the end of the episode, Jeff knows exactly what he needs to do to repair the damage he’s caused. Jeff may be rather callous and brutal in his treatment of others’ feelings from time to time, but he remains a very intelligent individual who is quite accomplished at reading people; it’s why he was such an accomplished lawyer, after all. This is a double-edged sword for Jeff, as it enables him to wound others just as easily as it enables him to build them up; given his natural proclivity for snark and fear of intimacy, this is a talent which Jeff has most often used to the detriment of others. Being drawn into the group orbit has caused him to hurt them with this tendency, but it’s also given him a chance to use his remarkably astute “people sense” in a positive context with the now-loved “Winger speech”, and that's given him great opportunity to grow as a character. We see that talent for good in action here, where he’s able to give Abed gratification by calling him “Batman” and make amends with Annie by dancing with her.
“Introduction to Statistics” is also very much so an Annie episode, and provides more valuable insight into the workings of her mind following on the heels of that provided by “Football, Feminism and You.” Annie was clearly envisioned as one of the “C-tier” group members in the first two or three episodes; she has a minor role and we learn little of her until “Football, Feminism and You”. Perhaps in light of this, “Introduction to Statistics” provides a wealth of information about the character and outlines the path which she will take in the future. In her overflowing enthusiasm for the rather silly and inconsequential party, Annie reveals a good deal about herself. Annie seems genuinely to dislike the girl she was in high school, or at the very least the way that girl’s personality affected others’ perception of her; to Annie, the party is a chance to reinvent herself socially and loose yet another reminder of her past failure which stubbornly refuses to shake itself free. However, her avid desire for an image facelift also reveals another inherent and deeply-entrenched aspect to Annie’s personality; namely, her naiveté. Annie seems convinced that one cheesy afterschool extra-credit Spanish party can completely change the way others perceive her and grant her status as “hip, cool, laid back!” despite the fact that, as her own actions indicate, she is eminently none of those things. Annie longs to be something she is not and likely can never be; this is a recurring theme for her character that is expressed most strongly in “Mixology Certification”. Although she is acutely aware of her own previous unpopularity, Annie does not possess a strong grasp over the finer workings of social interaction, something which can quite possibly be attributed to her ostracism in high school and her eventual breakdown. Annie spent most of her time in high school being ostracized and moved on directly into rehab, so she never got a chance to analyze the dynamics of human social circles.
Despite her relative innocence when it comes to human behavior, however, “Introduction to Statistics” indicates that Annie, ever the consummate learner, is adapting to her new circumstances. In their conversation early in the episode, Annie more or less bullies Jeff into coming to her party, yanking on all the right emotional strings in a fit of hysterics until he finally agrees to attend, at which point she instantly recovers her composure and flounces off. This Annie isn’t yet the skilled puppet master of later seasons, but “Introduction to Statistics” takes the seed of Annie’s manipulative skills planted in “Social Psychology” and develops them further by having her deploy them against the group’s most socially savvy member. Annie is now aware of the new charms and talents she possesses, and she’s beginning to use them.
As observed by our own @LloydBraun, the Annie-Jeff conversation following Spanish is also rather wonderful in that it perfectly encapsulates S1 Annie as a character. She’s prone to hysterics yet also able to use her own powerful emotions to manipulate others, she cares far too much about things which matter very little, she’s deeply insecure and harbors severe past traumas which she has yet to overcome fully, and she places Jeff on a pedestal high enough to push Vicki off to her death from. Some of these things will change over time, and some will stay the same, but “Introduction to Statistics” establishes Annie’s overall character flaws and arc right in that one conversation.
Pierce must contend with a rather persistent and crippling character flaw throughout “Introduction to Statistics”; namely, his fear of his own irrelevance. This fear of irrelevance stems directly from his age. For all its diversity in member ages, the study group might as well be a bunch of high schoolers as far as Pierce is concerned; he’s got 30+ years on the next oldest member, Shirley, while the rest of the group is all roughly within a decade and a half of each other. This results in Pierce being the odd man out a lot of the time, as his cultural and social background differs completely from those of the younger folk. Pierce knows this, and it scares him. Thus, we see him act out to the degree he does. He longs to fit in with the other, younger members of the study group, and yet his every effort to do so is prevented by the very obstacle he seeks to overcome; the impact his age has on his ability to relate to others. He tries to wear a “hip” costume to fit in, but ends up wearing something out of a hokey 80s action movie which most of the group doesn’t even recognize. Despite his moans of “I’m dying”, I’m of the opinion that Pierce doesn’t fear his age itself, but rather the social obstacles his age naturally creates. This episode is the first time we see Pierce properly express this fear, and it’s a theme which will likely remain with his character for the rest of the series; indeed, Pierce’s story in the most recent Halloween episode echoes this exact fear of irrelevance.
Pierce isn’t the only one who gets to wear a costume and act bizarrely, however. Abed plays a character for the first time in this episode as he slips into the raiment of the Dark Knight. Just as it establishes core character traits for Pierce and Annie, “Introduction to Statistics” sets up Abed’s roleplaying, something which has since become one of the most noted and humorous aspects of the character. Funny as it may be, however, Abed’s costume isn’t the only remarkable thing he does in this episode. When Annie is losing control of the party, Abed seeks out Jeff because he wants to help her; this is a nice moment which is reflective of their newfound friendship in “Social Psychology”. Most importantly, Abed actually refers to Jeff as a “jerk” after Jeff tells Abed “you’re not Batman” and refuses to return to the party. As a very emotionally distant character, Abed is not often bothered by the various insults which come his way; however, Jeff’s actions evidently hurt Abed enough that Abed felt the need to retaliate. Whether this is due to Jeff’s treatment of Abed himself or Abed’s disappointment that Jeff will not help Annie is difficult to say, yet both paths necessitate that Abed display a genuine emotional reaction, and that is quite atypical for him.
“Introduction to Statistics” also contains a nice reminder that Jeff is often the character who understands Abed the most. Throughout the entire episode, Jeff is the only character to ever refer to Abed as “Batman”. Even Troy indirectly calls Abed a “fake Batman”, but Abed is nothing of the sort; he’s playing the role of Batman and has thus become the character. Jeff recognizes this and validates Abed’s goal in creating the character; while Jeff is certainly motivated simply by a desire to retract his earlier insult, it’s nonetheless telling that he does so in a manner which acknowledges the fact that Abed has taken on a role and a personality, not just a costume.
Abed’s role as the “hero” who rescues Jeff and Pierce at the end is also rather fitting. Abed is often the character who recognizes the need for direct action and takes it while the rest of the group squabbles, caught up in their own emotions. Indeed, we see this in the very next episode, “Home Economics”; Abed’s the one who realizes what Jeff needs and takes action to ensure that Jeff snaps out of his stupor. As such, I find it very appropriate that “Introduction to Statistics” ends with Abed perched out in the night, watching, while the rest of the group parties inside; he can’t be a part of that display of emotion, not yet, but he can still watch over the group from his place on the exterior.
Shirley is a secondary character in “Introduction to Statistics”, yet still receives a valuable amount of character development. Most notably, this episode addresses Shirley’s previously mentioned rage issues in much greater detail. Andre asking for his ring back causes Shirley to snap, and when she does her highly polished sugar & spice veneer of Christianity collapses. Without this restraining influence, Shirley’s rage takes full control, and we see why she throws herself so fervently into religion to suppress it; she’s willing to vent her anger on whomever presents themselves as a convenient target with no consideration as to whether or not the individual in question merits her rage.
The idea that Shirley considers her past to be wasted to a degree, as presented in “Introduction to Film”, is subtly expounded upon here as well. We learn that Shirley wants to live the “college experience” because she was deprived of it before. Andre’s seemingly final rejection of Shirley has led her to try to fill the voids in her life; ultimately, however, her attempts to fulfill these desires loop back around to the deep problems in her family life. Unlike Pierce or Annie, Shirley is able to fully acknowledge her real fears and motivations in this episode and moves past them to a degree; the status of her marital life will not become a serious issue for the character again until her successful reunion with Andre in “Asian Population Studies”. Shirley ceases bottling up her true feelings and unleashes them into the open, thus enabling Britta to cut to the core of Shirley’s problems and provide moral support in exactly the right manner.
Britta plays an ancillary role in “Introduction to Statistics”, serving mostly as “Jeff police” and moral support to Shirley. Still, we glean some knowledge about her. In keeping with her professed beliefs in “Football, Feminism and You”, we learn that she takes a rather dim view of women sexing themselves up for the sake of Halloween. Britta also seems to harbor a genuine dislike for Professor Slater, something which could easily be attributed to potential jealousy. However, Slater also appears to anger Britta on a personal level; her introduction of “Michelle Slater, PhD” and her impressive array of trophies drive home the fact that she is a successful, intelligent woman, and Britta is not. Thus, we get a nice bit of hypocrisy from Britta which serves to continue her development from the no-fun Jeff Police of the pilot to a much more flawed and interesting character; she puts on airs of moral superiority and generosity for the benefit of other group members, yet acts somewhat violently and angrily when in private. She’s not fully ready to show the group that side of her yet, but it’s starting to express itself on a more regular basis. I won’t really talk about Britta’s role as Jeff Police in this episode because, well, it’s been a theme for a few of the earlier episodes and not much has changed here. She still views it as her responsibility to protect the rest of the group from Jeff.
Troy is another character who really does not have much to do in “Introduction to Statistics”, as he does not have an active role in any of the episode’s plots. However, there is still one significant bit for the character. When Troy, Britta and Abed leave the teacher party to return to the study room, Britta and Abed both leave Jeff with parting insults in disapproval of his behavior. All Troy offers, though, is “She’s pretty hot”; no criticism or disparagement whatsoever. This serves to reinforce the idea that Troy more or less idolizes Jeff throughout most of S1; despite the fact that Jeff insults Abed and blows off Annie, Troy still looks up to Jeff far too much to actually become angry with him at all. Instead, he only compliments Jeff’s taste in women and then scuttles off; like Annie, Troy at this stage in his life does not have the confidence to challenge Jeff.
Overall, "Introduction to Statistics" serves as a great baseline for Community's often off-the-wall holiday episodes while also granting a great deal of insight into many of the characters, establishing long-term arcs and recurring character flaws which are still with us to this day. I'd consider this episode easily the strongest of the initial 7, both in terms of character work and sheer humor value.
Because, really, nothing beats Abed Batman.
Stray Observations/Favorite Moments
- This is the first time Abed’s beloved chapstick makes an appearance! It’ll pop up again in “Contemporary American Poultry” as a written reference on Abed’s wipeboard, as well as being used in “Biology 101” to try to revive him.
- Pierce calls the falcon “Abed” while tripping.
- Annie’s face when Pierce begins massaging her shoulders is nothing short of hilarious.
- According to Harmon, Annie & Jeff dancing at the end of the episode was one of the primary early impetuses which convinced him they could work as a “ship”.
- Abed’s Batman monologue may be one of the funniest things this show has ever done.
- Brie just generally nails the hysterical side of Annie phenomenally well this episode. My favorite lines include “Hip…cool…LAID BACK!“, “I was so unpopular the high school crossing guard used to lure me into traffic!” and “News!” Her wounded indignation is really quite great.
- Anyone know who or what Troy is dressed as? Because I sure don't.
- The idea that Pierce intimidated the entire party to the extent that they fled the library while he constructed a highly elaborate desk fort to crush himself with.
- Also, this is somewhat embarrassing, but I still can’t decipher what Shirley is saying here: “To teach that long-necked [incomprehensible] that she can’t steal another woman’s man, that’s why!” Help me out, guys!
"RETURN OF THE COMPUBOTS"
This week’s Inspector Spacetime episode represents a return to form in many ways for the series, as the Inspector and Constable Reggie find themselves faced with an old foe; the relentless, inhuman Compubots. This race of humanoid robots have been a regular foe of the Inspector since the early days of the show, and some fans might argue that they have been rather overused in the most recent seasons of the show. However, I find that the Compubots are used so often because they remain effective, compelling villains. Unlike the Blorgons, there is nothing personal in the actions of the Compubots; they are not living organisms with emotions, with hate and anger, but rather cold, unfeeling machines. This makes their attack on the peaceful world of Centauri 7 all the more horrifying, for they cannot be reasoned with, bought off, or provoked into making a mistake; the Inspector cannot simply spout off a witty retort and drive his enemies into conceiving the means of their own destruction.
As the viewer soon learns, there is a greater motivation behind this attack. The Eleventh Inspector has encountered more and more of his old enemies over the past several seasons, and the return of the Compubots suggests that there may well be a greater force at work here; that of the Anti-Inspector. We haven’t seen him since his last “death” at the hands of the Tenth Inspector’s companion. There doesn’t seem to be any logical reason for the Compubots to attack Centauri 7, though, as the Centauri population, intelligent squid-like creatures, cannot be used to create more Compubots. In the past, the Compubots have always targeted humanoid populations, particularly that of Earth in various timelines, in order to increase their ranks; an attack on a non-humanoid world by Compubots is virtually unheard of within the Inspector Spacetime canon. This suggests a greater agenda that the Inspector has not yet discovered, and the only known individual with the power to outmaneuver the Inspector to such a degree is the Anti-Inspector himself.
Unfortunately, the Inspector and Constable Reggie are not left free to ponder the greater implications of the attack, as they are swept up in the brutal storm of conflict on Centauri 7. The Inspector’s plan to wipe out the Compubots entirely is rather shocking, as he normally prefers less direct methods of intervention in a world’s affairs; detonating a gravionic pulse device in the upper atmosphere is a move more in line with the sensibilities of the Ninth Inspector, who placed greater priority on the defeat of the enemy for the greater good than the protection of as many individuals as possible at the potential expense of the bigger picture.
It’s a shame that the episode leaves off on such a cliffhanger, with the Inspector and the Compubot Centurion about to engage in a lethal game of space checkers while the Constable hacks the Compubot mainframe; however, if the conclusion is anywhere near the quality of this season’s episodes so far, it should be quite a satisfying one. Let’s hope that the Compubots haven’t evolved too much for the Inspector to handle!
On the A. V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-399420822 (page 50)