Episode 110: Environmental Science

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110 Environmental Science

To Chang or not to Chang? Ever since he was introduced in the second episode, that has been the question asked by Community fans about Ken Jeong’s character. Jeong is an actor who has made a career out of playing the same guy in everything: wacky Asian man prone to comic outbursts of rage. In his defense, he is also a board-certified M.D., so boo-yah (drops mic). Most feel that Jeong is way over the top, but I always felt that the character was strangely grounded from the very beginning.  In a behind-the-scenes feature, Jeong says that he based some of the character on his own life.  Why would a Chinese guy teach Spanish? Why would an Asian doctor do comedy?  I admit, as a former Asian community college teacher, the character of Chang resonates with me, and it’s part of the reason why I jumped at the chance to cover this episode. In fact, I named my personal blog El Tigre Chino (buzz marketing: it is hosted on a site that presses words. Ahem.) To me, Chang has always been about defying expectations and stereotypes, while unknowingly reinforcing and creating new ones. He’s the only character who can get away with stripping naked and crawling into a vent or pretending to eat Annie’s head. All the same, I agree that Chang is like the habanero pepper, best employed in small doses so as not to overpower the Community taco.  Episode 110, “Environmental Science,” seeks to answer the eternal question: What makes Chang so Chang-ry?  And is Chang always going to be the Chang-tagonist, or will the group eventually have a Chang of heart?  (Yes, I am going to shoehorn as many Chang puns as humanly possible.) It is the first episode to feature Chang in the main plot, and Jeong admits he was nervous about it in the commentary. He gets to smoke cigars, cry, gently rest his head on Joel McHale’s pecs, salsa dance, and kiss a beautiful woman (his first onscreen kiss).

However, even though the episode appears to be Chang-centric, it is really a story about Jeff and his now-familiar struggle with accepting his new social status at Greendale. This theme is echoed in the two subplots involving Troy and Shirley.  (Annie and Britta are mostly sidelined, but they do get a couple of classic bits—see Stray Observations.)

Senor Chang, provoked by perceived insults to his authority, assigns the Spanish class a 20-page essay as punishment. The group persuades Jeff to persuade Chang to reconsider. (Jeff never takes the mantle of leadership, he accepts it reluctantly after having it thrust upon him.)

Jeff immediately pinpoints the cause of Chang’s anger: his wife left him. From years of picking juries, Jeff has learned to read small cues. “Same shirt twice in one week, teaching us the word ‘esposa’ means liar, a picture of you with a woman with a Post-It note word balloon above her head saying, ‘Enjoy it while it lasts.’” Chang, desperate for a friend, especially a cool guy like Jeff Winger, agrees to cancel the assignment—but only for him. Jeff’s friendship with Chang leads to him getting automatic A’s while the rest of the class suffers heavily. When the study group confronts Jeff, he storms off angrily. “He’s using fake outrage to justify leaving,” Britta says.

Jeff hangs out with Chang in his office, smoking cigars and laughing at Pierce’s essay, which manages to make a double entendre about the Apple Store. “Can you believe this guy has been married seven times?” says Jeff. This sets off Chang, who starts sobbing about his ex-wife. Jeff realizes that he has to do something.

In their B-plot, Troy and Abed are having trouble with their biology lab, because Troy is afraid of rats. Abed has named their rat “Fievel” and is training him to respond to a song from An American Tail. (Duh-doy.) Troy freaks out and accidentally lets Fievel escape. But he refuses to help Abed chase down the rat, because he deems it uncool.

Shirley needs to deliver a speech to her Marketing class.  Pierce offers to help, and she accepts. “That’s how messed up things are.”  Pierce being Pierce, his tips are abrasive and nonsensical. He tells her to mix in “attention-getting words, like multiple orgasm.” But he also has truly good advice, like telling her to ditch reading off of cards and to “hand the audience a sandwich.” When it’s time to give her real presentation in class, Shirley decides to ignore his tips and bombs disastrously.

We then launch into one of the many brilliant musical compositions on the show, and what everybody remembers most about this episode. This is where all the subplots merged and reached their “change” points (Dan Harmon circle!) in a big montage/medley/mashup.  While Abed and Troy sang “Somewhere Out There” in the hallway, the band Green Daye played a traditional Irish jig at the Enviro-dale dance.  Jeff has set up a meeting between Chang and his ex-wife. Chang regains his mojo and strikes up a dance, reigniting marital passions.  Meanwhile, Shirley overcomes her stage fright and incorporates Pierce’s advice to give an A speech. They would revisit this device with the “Kiss From A Rose/Jesus Loves Marijuana” song in season 3.

The group convenes at the dance to tell of their triumphs. Chang publicly apologizes to the Spanish class for being a horrible teacher and husband, and thanks Jeff for helping him. He cancels the homework, except that Jeff now has to write a 1-page essay titled “Taking Advantage of the Emotionally Vulnerable.” Jeff makes up with the group—his friends–and they dance the night away.

All three plots are about our heroes accepting their new situations and not spurning new friends that are right there in front of them, and also choosing the harder, but more rewarding option. At one point in the story, Troy references his prom king past. “I choose to not be around rats because they are unpopular,” Troy says. “Same goes for centipedes and lakes.” This is a joke, but it reflects the way Troy thinks about unpopular people, too. In his world, friends are there to service his needs, not vice versa. Troy was still the jock that was too cool to hang out with losers like Annie and Abed, and thinks that singing a 20 year old minor Disney song is the height of dorkiness.  Abed is the definition of a nerd, someone who has spent his whole life caring about trivial matters. They are his life.  Abed thought he had finally found a kindred spirit and friend, and Troy basically told him that he didn’t reciprocate the feeling. No wonder Abed runs off hurt. When Troy later joins Abed to sing to the rat, he is tacitly apologizing and admitting that he, too, is a nerd.  This would lead to their long beautiful friendship (and to Troy becoming a better, somewhat retconned character.)

Shirley could ignore Pierce’s advice and give a perfectly mediocre, boring “C” speech. The hard path would be to look past the fact that Pierce is often stupid, use the gift of his experience, and work hard to improve her public speaking, which she did by the end.

Jeff’s resistance is to all the other group members. He still sees himself as “better” than Greendale. To become part of the study group, even as their leader, would be giving up.  In this episode, the easy path for him would be leaving the group to their own fate and partying his way to an easy A with Chang.  Instead, he realizes that he likes these people, and he doesn’t just want them for their help in Spanish.

Jeff, Shirley, and Troy were all putting on a false front in their former lives. Their time at Greendale is the first time they have had to build relationships with people who don’t know or care what they were before.  And for whatever reason, those people like them for who they are now.  This show is all about accepting love when people offer it to you.  This is a repeated theme in Community, and Jeff learns and relearns this lesson about a dozen times.

Bringing it back to Chang, the angry persona he puts on is a front. He really is just a sad, lonely man. He tries to fill the void in his life with things (like the El Tigre stuff he has in his office) and by insulting his students. He first gets what he thought he desired in Jeff’s companionship, but what he really needed was to reconnect with his ex-wife.  (We never did see her again, did we? She was conveniently written out of his life for good in the S2 Valentine’s Day episode.)  This episode also is the beginning of Chang trying to worm his way into the group.

Fast forwarding to what we’ve seen over three seasons, I believe Chang represents the limit of the group’s acceptance. They will take a compulsive liar, a racist old man, an Asperger’s case, and Britta, but for some reason, they can’t bring themselves to accept Chang, except in limited cases, like Shirley naming her baby after him.  I’m kind of worried about Chang. It seems the Dean has taken a lot of his screentime and plotlines as the “wacky outsider who keeps finding ways to interact with our heroes.” And they already have an antagonist who they can’t stand within the group in Pierce. Credit to Jim Rash and Chevy Chase, who are hilarious and deserve the spotlight, but surely they can find some spare Chang.  Discuss what the role of Chang should be going forward in the comments!

Stray observations:

  • There is a runner about Pierce puzzling out the secret of Jeff’s natural leadership over the group. Pierce will make a joke and only attract bemused stares, while Jeff makes the exact same joke two minutes later to uproarious laughter. At one point, Pierce sits in Jeff’s chair and starts acting like him, texting and tossing out Winger zingers. Everyone is confused until Abed explains it.
  • “If Senor Chang gets any crazier, he’s gonna win one of those Grammy awards.”
  • Donald Glover screaming and crying will never not be funny. He does so three times in this episode, once in the lab, again when recovering the rat, and finally in the tag at the end.
  • Chang’s office decorations: big velvet painting of himself dressed as a matador standing beside a bull on the wall that says “EL TIGRE” along the bottom (this painting later finds its way into Jeff’s apartment when Chang moves in during S2). Three tiger figurines on his desk. What looks like a ceramic candleholder and a plate, of possible Mexican and/or Chinese design.  In the opposite corner near the door, a big tiger statue, other paintings, figurines, carvings, a black sombrero.
  • “Pickled bull testicle?” “You offering or collecting?” Chang and Jeff
  • “This is Spanish 101. I know how to say ‘hello’ and ‘tomorrow’ and that tables are female. That’s all the Spanish you taught us.” -Shirley
  • “Well, guess what, handsome hobo? Your gravy train’s leaving the station.” –Annie. The GIF that launched a thousand boners.
  • Garrett sings “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a very threatening way to his rat.
  • Chang’s lesson is in the difference between “usted” and “tu.” “Pepe, usted es viejo. You are old. Alberto, usted es feo. You are ugly. Shakira. Shakira, y Tupaco (West Side!), ustedes estan sucios. You are dirty. Still formal, but plural. Because while both are dirty, neither are my friends.”
  • Annie: “You devious clump of overpriced fabric and hair product.”
  • Shirley: “Speaking as one of the meek, as soon as I inherit the earth, you a dead man.”
  • Troy: “You got a weird forehead.”
  • Britta: “We’re all very disappointed.”
  • Pierce: “All right, dial it back a little, Britta.”
  • Another Britta moment: When Troy and Abed explain that Fievel has gone missing for a while, Britta puts on a patronizing tone and says maybe their rat is finding other rats and is very happy with them. “Join the rest of us in reality, Britta,” says Abed.
  • Chang and Jeff laugh about “Cherry Daiquiri”, which was Gillian Jacobs’ character in Choke.
  • “It’s all right, I’ve been divorced seven times. Don’t answer your phone and bury all your money in the backyard.” – Pierce, after Jeff announces he’s done with the group.
  • Jeff is still taking accounting with Professor Whitman.
  • Another Pierce tip for Shirley: take one of Jack Nicholson’s lines and adapt it to your product: “You can’t handle that moist towelette!”
  • At the Greene Daye concert, Dean Pelton introduces the band, hurriedly confessing that they are not the real Green Day. “Thought we would rip off that band-aid quickly.”

Commentary notes:

  • This episode coincided with NBC’s “Green Week” theme, a legacy from the Ben Silverman reign. Hence the cold open with Dean Pelton rolling out the same initiative for Greendale, changing the name of the college to Envirodale. Starburns points out that they are already named Greendale. The dean turns to his assistant and tells her to redo the posters. “Print 5,000 more. I’m trying to save the earth.”  Pierce: “What? First we give a month to black history, now we’re blowing seven days on the Irish.”
  • Jeong notes a subtle bit of acting as he fingers his wedding ring in the opening scene.  “We call Ken the master of subtlety,” Dan Harmon cracks.  The character has no irony, even in his wardrobe. Only flea market shirts for Chang.
  • Joel McHale got nauseated smoking the cigar.  Chang’s tears were makeup.  Alison Brie is a pro at crying on command.
  • The public speaking teacher was cast to play Dean Pelton, but was recast because Ben Silverman wanted a person of color. Jim Rash was a last-minute casting choice.  Gillian was also cast very late, at the table read (and she started crying.)
  • Gillian jumped up and down at the dance because she didn’t know they were shooting from that angle.
  • The Dean’s Dalmatian fetish makes its first appearance here, as he’s viewing a video of a furry on his computer. “This better not awaken anything in me,” he mutters.  Harmon received a note from the network specifically saying they didn’t like this, and that only encouraged him to make it a bigger part of the show.

 

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On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-412729833 (page 62)

 

Discussion:

  • NewlyRegisteredRandom

    Annie's handsome hobo dance (which according to commentary was awesomely ad-libbed) is a top-10 Annie moment.

  • Agreed, it's so great.

  • Confession time: I never got the "y Tupaco" joke until just now, seeing it in writing.  I always thought it was "y tu, Paco."  I almost got there last time I watched it because I thought, wait, he used "tu" not "usted" so that part isn't formal (just learning Spanish, damn high school that told me to take Latin).  But I didn't quite complete the thought. Well done.

    You've already covered so many of the great one-liners in this one.  Shirley inheriting the earth, "Dial it back, Britta."  The other one I really liked was Pierce's "Whatever, Valley Girl."  Shirley and Pierce need to interact more.


  • Line of the commentary: Gillian, indignantly, viewing Annie's gravy-train bit: 
    "There's not that much jiggle!"

    Runner-up 
    Donald: "Indian kids are the new black kid" 
    Gillian: "NBC clearly agrees with you"

    oOOOooh, Outsourced, ya bit!

  • Gillian's the coolest.

  •  

    Jim Rash's simultaneously bored and intrigued delivery of "This better not awaken anything in me" is one of the highlights of S1!

  • SOOOOOOOMEWHEERRRRRREEE OUT THEEERRRREEEE!
    seriously that ending montage is fantastic and oddly my favorite part of it is Chang.  I think this episode is the best episode to use Chang this much and it reminds me of how much more i liked his character in season 1 in his authoritarian role.  The fact is Chang still has a place on this show even outside that role because this episode shows how funny he can be when given the right material.   Maybe he just needs to dance with tall leggy women more often?

  • DISQUS error, sorry.

  • Excellent review! If I might add a few thoughts of my own:

    The "Somewhere Out There" ending montage remains, in my humble opinion, one of the most emotionally resonant scenes the show has ever done, and is perhaps the standout example of Community's great use of music. It just works. I drive around singing along to the MP3 from the S1 soundtrack often.

    I find the group's different responses to the same joke when delivered by Jeff and Pierce very interesting, as it says a lot about the difference between the two characters. Handsome, cool Jeff, who exudes charisma, is naturally able to elicit a more favorable response from the group in everything he does. Pierce may have an idea of equal merit or a joke that is just as funny on paper, but he isn't able to sell his point nearly as well because he's old and semi-oblivious; people don't take him seriously or respect what he has to offer as a result. This is one of the underpinning traits for his character, and the aforementioned gag highlights it quite nicely.

    Annie's made-up "insults" are always hilarious as they're almost as much compliment as they are put-down, but she still feels the need to apologize. I mean, "handsome hobo" is not exactly going to pin back anyone's ears. "Crafty jackrabbit" is another great example, and I think there's one from 110 or 111 that is also funny, though I can't recall it. As others have noted, the train bit is a hilarious bit of improv from Brie.

    Jeff has an interesting line in this episode: "What kind of a group threatens to kick somebody out if they don't help them?" While at first Jeff sounds like he's in the right here, (at least, he did to me) if you think about it, Jeff's actually evidently the one who is in the wrong. He's counting on the study group to be there to help him pass, but has no desire to put in any work to help them in return, which is the entire point of a study group. Accepting that membership in a community requires giving as well as receiving is something that Jeff often struggles with throughout the series, but moments such as this episode start to wear him down as time passes.

    Troy has a similar problem to overcome in this episode, with his definition to Abed of what "friendship" with him entails. Troy's accustomed to people flocking to him and prostrating themselves before him because of his social status; I'd wager that he never really had a true friendship which required him to be there for others just as much as they were there for him. However, unlike Jeff, by the end of the episode Troy takes the notion that friendship is a two-way street firmly to heart; Jeff will struggle with this in the future, but Troy is a loyal and dedicated friend to Abed for pretty much the entire run to date.

    The group dance at the end is nice in that it continues the theme of "group moments"  begun by the party in "Introduction to Statistics"; we see them starting to grow closer together as a quasi-family, a theme which will be articulated for the first time in "Comparative Religion".

    Also, I find it very funny that Jeff actually starts dancing with the group at the end, as I didn't notice that he joins in until I watched the Jeff Winger appreciation fanvid that somebody posted a day or two ago.

  • As I re-watched this episode, I expected Pierce and Jeff to stand off to the side as everyone else danced (à la Chaos), but I was a little surprised at first to see Jeff jump into it after a moment or two. Of course, that's not so so odd, given that Jeff just needs some encouragement to lose himself in such moments. Buried deep down is a krumper, a pop-and-locker, a Christmas Troy-decker, and who knows what else.

  • "Chang represents the limit of the group's acceptance."  I miss drunk-on-power, less pitiful Chang, but that is really interesting perspective and makes what he's become much more interesting.

    Of the three "couples" showcased during the final song (I think I remember the first time I watched this wondering if they were shipping Pierce-Shirley), I think it's funny that Troy-Abed is the only one to have made it.  It's interesting to contrast (sneak preview of  my sure-to be awesome 21st Century Romanticism review!) Troy's attitude towards friendship with Abed in this episode to how devoted he becomes to Abed later, specifically when Mariah the Librarian says "I would love to be his friend' and Troy replies "I know you would.  It's incredible."

    I also really loved that little character moment where Abed just shuts down Britta's mom mode.  One line, lots said about the interpersonal dynamic.

    Also, for a show which we have all multiple times praised for its rich sound, I have to say there was some terrible ADR in this episode, unless Joel McHale learned to throw his voice to the other side of the room when he says "gigante" and same for Abed when he starts singing 'Somewhere Out There" in the study room in the next scene.  Or is my DVD just funky?

    Highlights of your review (met-ta, no?)
    -The Community Taco–I need to find circumstances under which to use this repeatedly
    -A compulsive liar, a racist old man, Britta.   Perfect.

  • Yeah, the taco analogy and the use of "Britta" really cracked me up.

    Re: "Britta's mom mode"-
    This episode is also notable in that it continues Britta's slide toward "the worst"-ness, and just being the ashtray of the group in general. Her expression after Abed tells her "Try to join the rest of us in reality, Britta"-coming from Abed, no less-is just great. That's the Britta I know and love.

  • Loki100

    That Britta mention had me in hysterics.

  •  

    Great review! You felt nervous following me, and now I feel kind of inadequate preceding you…

    Reading it has made me think in more detail of the Jeff/Chang relationship. I think it all starts here: Chang turns out to have sort of a possessive, stalkerish obsession with Jeff ("Let me rest gently on your pecs!") which would only grow in S2 and S3 (he sees himself as the usurper of Jeff's place as the group leader in Anthropology 101; then tries to move in with him in 21st Century Romanticism; then sabotages his reconciliation with the group in Biology 101). By all accounts Chang is a weird, disturbed, and somewhat repugnant character, whom other people should avoid, yet Jeff of all the people in the group is the most understanding of him, and tries to help the most: he brings his wife back here, he lets him stay in his apartment; he even hugs serial killer Chang in Horror Fiction. Whatever tenuous relation Chang seems to have with the group, I'd argue it's there only because of Jeff (he does after all say "We'll let him in eventually" at the end of 201).

    I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with that, I just thought I'd put it out here.

    At any rate, I don't dislike Chang as a character (although I'm not always happy with the way he's used in specific episodes), and I've come to respect what Jeong does with him a hell of a lot more upon rewatch.

  • I feel like the Jeff-Chang relationship is rooted in one of Jeff's defining personality traits-he's a fixer. He tries to hide behind the veneer of "too cool for  all this" (at least to a certain point in the show), but he consistently makes an effort to reach out and help the weird, disturbed misfits he finds at Greendale. There are obvious examples within the study group, but he also reaches out to Fat Neil, the Dean, and Chang, among others. Chang stands out because he is probably the most disturbed of the lot, thus he requires recurring amounts of help. 

    If I wanted to go deeper, I could try to pinpoint the reasons why Jeff acts like this. Based on what we know now, I would say the "too cool" attitude comes from him being burned by the combination of an absentee father and a certain traumatic foosball incident. If his speech to Abed in Critical Film Studies is any indication, I would say there were other instances of bullying and neglect in his childhood as well. The fixing aspect is another offshoot of those same childhood traumas. He went through all that and wants to help save others from the same fate. It's an interesting dichotomy, how the same root factors define two opposing aspects of who Jeff Winger is, but that is a tribute to the writers and Joel McHale (or to me for reading way too deeply into this).

  • fixers like to be needed and i think that is very true for Jeff.  He feels most comfortable when the group needs him to fix everything or save the day.  It is in the needing that they are validated to have value if people don't need them they see themselves as worthless or useless. (or so i figure)

  • mratfink That reminds me of "If you guys just let me get to the can opener, I can feed you." He can mock them for being like little kittens pawing at his feet but he truly enjoys it.

  • LloydBraun i knew i could count on you for textual support. 

  • there might also be something to say for jeff's history as a lawyer influencing him here. as a defense lawyer, he had to defend all manner of people, guilty or innocent. he's had to learn how to accept some pretty awful people in his time. on top of that, he's also probably seen way worse than chang, even.

  • I don't like Chang but there's definitely merit to the idea of Jeff letting Chang ride along with them from afar because he, knowingly or not, empathizes with him.

  • "… as a former Asian community college teacher…"
    …You had a race change?

    Also, are you being serious? Are you actually an Asian guy who used to teach at a community college? If so, let me love you.

  • Yes, I am a mixture of the Dean and Chang.  Please tell me I'm a good dean.

    Edit: Disqus has messed up my formatting permanently on this thread, I think.

  •  

    You are a good Dean!

    /*reluctant hug*/

    OK, not reluctant ;-)

  • nice blog, I liked your post on ADWD. Interesting stuff on Dany, I take it you aren't a big fan of President Obama?  Dany was indeed very frustrating in this last book.

  • Actually, I am a fan of him and Dany. But both of them are locked in this no-win scenario where they have to please both sides, and they end up pleasing no one.  And you can make the argument that things have gotten even worse in Amer-een since they came in promising hope and change.  Then you've got the meta debate, where fans are bored with this storyline and just want to see dragons invading Westeros.

    And that has been Politics/Game of Thrones Talk!

  • i pretty much agree with everything you said. good stuff

  • I also liked the introduction of the Iron Bank just as in real life the Wall Street/Banking class has become more of a 'villian' 

  • This is by far the best Chang story. His interaction with Jeff is legitimately endearing even despite Jeong's shortcomings as an actor. Actually, those shortcomings turn out to be an advantage in this episode because his histrionics as an actor are a match for his arc in this episode. They have lots of hilarious moments like when he tries to guard himself with arrogance before instantly breaking down when Jeff cuts right through it. Love all the little things like how he grabs Jeff's pecs in class. What is it with short people and Jeff Winger's torso?

    -"All three plots are about our heroes accepting their new situations and
    not spurning new friends that are right there in front of them, and also
    choosing the harder, but more rewarding option."

    Nice!

    -Jeff using fake anger to justify leaving turned into a minor character trait when he did the same thing in 215. "This is a fight! We are fighting!"

    -The kiss Pierce blows to Shirley after her presentation gets a standing ovation (which it pretty funny in itself now that I think about it) was soooooo sweet.http://www.fishsticktheatre.co… These type of moments are the why I adore season 1 so much. Parks and Rec does this kind of stuff but it's done so often and presented so prominently that it grates sometimes. This was just a little passing moment shared by two people who rarely interact and have plenty of quarrels but it effectively communicates the underlying respect they have for each other.

    Another Sweet Pierce moment I want to mention that wasn't discussed in the 107 review is when he said, "Well, I have made a young African American friend" in the chair fort. It's ostensibly another Racist Old Man Is Racist line from Pierce but the context and Chase's delivery imbue real pathos into it, conveying his earnest desperation for friendship and relevance without throwing the character under the bus as an oblivious bigot.

  • Ha, I just watched Chevy Chase blowing a kiss to Betty White on this "Betty White is Old" special.

  •  

    Good Lord, what is this? I…I don't even…

    I guess NBC has officially given up.

  • -This is the rapid turn I was referring to:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co… —> http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    -Chang becomes the matador from his office wall hanging:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    -This shot never made sense to me: http://www.fishsticktheatre.co… It looks so overtly and unnecessarily cinematic. Is it a reference to Requiem for a Dream?
    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    -Most recurring extra, Long Haired Guy, in the background:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co… –> http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

  • God, I love Jacobs' reaction to Brie's "gravy train" ad lib. She's clearly caught off guard by it and seems to be thinking, "what the hell is she doing?" It's great.

  • Tonally, Season 1 of Community feels a lot like Season 3 of Parks and Recreation. It's kind of weird how similar they are.

  • That montage—one of the most emotionally satisfying moments of the series to date and a response to anyone who is crazy enough to think that Community is a wacky joke marathon with no heart. (It still surprises me to encounter that criticism. The show wears its heart on its sleeve on a regular basis, more or less from the beginning.)

    Pierce storyline: It’s funny how he bounces off just about every one of the other cast members early in the series’ run in much the same way Jeff does (Troy and his sneezes, the Dean with the Human Being, Annie with the school song, Britta with hypnotherapy). Unlike Jeff who, depending on his level of interest, will actively try to disengage from others until absolutely forced to interact in overly personal ways, Pierce seeks out these opportunities to dazzle the others with his varied experience in everything from Y2K preparedness to manly sneezes. And he’s actually successful in all of these endeavors, though not typically in the way he intends. And the group knows this; they all have their individual moment of gratitude when Pierce helps them, but it never really changes their baseline opinion of Pierce as a doddering old fool. That’s partly understandable because, well, that’s who Pierce is . But he’s also much more, and he exhibits many of the same positive qualities and behaviors as Jeff, but Jeff is the only one who really gets recognized for them. That’s why the Pierce-trying-to-be-Jeff storyline really works for me, even as it’s explored in a broad and humorous ways. Pierce recognizes this imbalance, and it’s a real bone of contention that's important for his character.  

    Anyway, his story with Shirley here is really nice too. Of all the aforementioned Pierce-reaching-out moments, this is my favorite. It allows us to see Pierce’s genuine and helpful side without him seeming unbelievable or too neutered (he’s still being brash with his interruptions and “Multiple orgasms!”). And it’s incredibly sweet, given this already contentious pairing (Shirley, of course, has been fairly open since the pilot about her dislike of Pierce).  

    Some other favorite moments in this episode:
    -Starburns’ general apathy towards Green Day (which doesn’t stop him from showing up at the concert)
    -“Yeah, go tongue Chang.”
    -“Is there a rat in here?”
    -“You know what happens when you lock your knees? You die.”
    -“Boo-yah” is apparently the unofficial rallying cry of the universe trying to teach Jeff a lesson (e.g. don’t cheat, don’t take advantage of the emotionally vulnerable)
    -Troy never really does look back after this with his friendship with Abed, does he? (Except for his nerd-backlash in Epidemiology)
    -“Pepper water!”

  • Nice point about Pierce.  I hadn't noticed that parallel before, but it's totally there.
    (And yeah, that wacky jokes machine/no heart criticism always makes me blind with rage…just because they don't always telegraph it from a mile away…)

  • I think the heart just passes some people over, possibly because it's counterracted by the cynicism of characters like Jeff, or a character like the dean who may seem to exist solely to prompt ridicule. For me, the healthy doses of snark, or whatever you want to call it, balance out the heart and actually make it meaningful. A lot of what is explicitly stated in this show is cynical, but I think the tone itself is relentlessly hopeful, because we're pretty much always being shown that a lot of the jokey facades are just that, and that everyone on here is redeemable. (Except probably S2+ Chang.)

    That said, if you just don't buy the emotional stuff, that's totally cool, but don't tell me the show isn't trying. Don't tell me the chicken fingers episode is just a mafia parody or as God is my witness, I will come at you with everything I've got.

  • I asked Starburns to go to the Green Day concert
    He said he'd never heard of them
    How cool is that?
    So I went to his room and read his diary.

    (Pierce is actually the wisest character, once he gets past his constant frustration with being ignored.)

  • Glad you agree about Pierce's redemptive qualities early in the series. The group more or less knew that Pierce was senile and full of it, but they humored him out of respect, either for his actual accomplishments or the elderly in general. These stories really set the foundation for why they reluctantly stuck with him through his super-magnified antisocial issues in s2. Like Pierce says, "I say things others won't; that has value."

    -“Is there a rat in here?”

    Just realized there's a parallel to this Derrick sketch:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

    -“Who uses peppa watah!”

    I love Donald's, almost affected, Southern accent. I've been living in GA myself for the last 12 years and I've found myself developing a very slight accent. I call it post-Southern. It's not the hick kind, but the bourgeois kind that is almost cool to carry around.

  • Having grown up in the South myself, I'm always noting when and for what Donald trots out his Southern accent–seems mostly to be when he's donaldglovercrying or really selling a punchline (or representing Georgia, the country). I never had much of an accent, either, but I've realized I do subconsciously trot one out whenever I'm trying to be extra obsequious to get something from someone, so I always find it interesting to see him choose to use his for comedic purposes in the context of a character who's not from the South.

  • While "Debate 109" is my favorite episode of the first semester, the song sequence at the end of this episode was when it truly struck me that I was watching, as Luis Guzman might put it, a special show.

    (And for the record, "Modern Warfare" was when I officially decided that I preferred Community to The Office and 30 Rock not just at the time, but compared to the peaks of their runs. It wasn't until just a week or two ago that I began struggling with the question of whether or not I might actually prefer Community to Arrested Development, and I still haven't settled on a clear answer.)

  • I'm starting to struggle with the Arrested Development question as well. The two hit me in different ways. Arrested Development makes me laugh harder and more often than just about anything I can imagine. Community is close, but it's got that underlying heart and sweetness that AD gleefully ignored. I'm a softy at heart and Community plays right in to that. AD makes me laugh more, but Community makes me genuinely happier. I don't know which one counts for more just yet. 

    Comparisons aside, I do know that I'm pretty much shocked that another TV show came along that actually made this a valid discussion.  

  • Yeah, every time I watch AD it's a little frustrating how little I like Michael and Lindsay by S2, or more to the point that I care less and less what happens to them. You've gotta get the audience involved a little in the characters in addition to the great jokes.

    It's a little subjective and I think it's a problem with long seasons. They seemed to do a little better with that in S3. Anyways, in contrast Jeff just seems to be easier and easier to empathize with as the show goes.

  • sll03

    Great job on the review!  In keeping with my new-found tradition of scoring episodes, I give this one 10 Jack Nicholson movie quotes out of 10.

    As per your instructions, I just wanted to say that I think season 1 Chang was truly the best version of Chang we've seen thus far.  When he was in a position of authority, his crazy antics were exceedingly entertaining.  Whether it was via senseless monologues, full-on hissy fits, shameless insults or mad paintball skills, Chang had most of his best moments when he was a member of the Greendale faculty.

    Unfortunately, after losing that coveted teaching position, I feel like he's slowly becoming this ghost of his former self.  While he is just as (if not even more) insane, there is sort of pathetic undertone to his behaviour as opposed to a cringe-worthy yet hilarious one. 

    That's not to say I think his character has been horrible for the past two seasons, because I absolutely do not.  I actually really enjoyed seeing the drastic transformation of Powerful Chang to Powerless Chang in season 2: I found it to be very revealing about the kind of person he is.  I also thought every interaction he had with Duncan, his elfish portrayal in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the way he infiltrated Jeff's apartment in 21st Century Romanticism, and blatant back-stabbing conduct during A Fistful of Paintballs to be really, really funny. 

    At the beginning of season 3, however, I grew tired of Chang very quickly.  Surprisingly, the new status of security guard did not return him to his former state of manic domination, but somehow made him more pitiable in my eyes (particularly in Competitive Ecology).  In this way, I have to admit that I'm kind of glad he's been used a bit sparingly over the past few episodes. 

    I do believe the show would seem incomplete without Chang at all, so I am quite happy to have him show up for some witty one-liners (i.e. Advanced Gay) or as a minor player in an episode that uses a lot of characters from the Community universe (i.e. Documentary Filmmaking: Redux).

    Basically, every now and then, we all need a little Chang.  Plus, Ken Jeong seems like such a sweet guy.