Episode 113: Investigative Journalism
I chose to write the review of “Investigative Journalism” because, in my mind, this was the most important early episode in determining what the future of Community would be like (also I wanted an excuse to watch that scene where Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs fall into the pool of bubbles a few more times). Others may argue that “Intro to Statistics” is where Community really hit its stride, or that “Debate 109” is the best early episode, but regardless of whether “Investigative Journalism" makes your top ten or even your top thirty once the series is over, I believe that it paved the way for the show to become what it is today.
The plot of the episode is simple enough; Buddy, played by Jack Black, tries to join the study group, and Jeff , the new editor of the Greendale Gazette Journal Mirror, is trying to be more relaxed. The group has to decide what their policy is on admitting new members, and Jeff has to come to terms with his role as “leader” of the group. Since we’ve all seen the episode I’m going to focus on the impact this episode had on Community as a series.
At this point the group had finished their first semester, and were coming back from winter break. The audience too was coming back from the show’s Christmas break, and the show had to make an important decision. A major plotline of the season so far had been Jeff slowly going from begrudgingly hanging out with the group because he wanted to bang Britta, to Jeff actually caring about these people. However, Jeff was falling in love with the group too fast (in the commentary Dan Harmon admitted that this had happened quicker than they had intended).
They had already rallied to beat up the school bully and win a debate against their rival. Jeff already cared about these people. Coming back from the break the show could have done one of two things: they could embrace the fact that Jeff already cared about these people, or they could behave like “Two and a Half Men” or “How I Met Your Mother” and hit a reset button. Jeff could go back to being snarky and uncaring, and they could stretch the “Jeff really DOES love the group” story over the rest of the season. Luckily for us, they chose the first route. They committed to treating these characters’ relationships like those of actual human beings, and chose to keep the show moving forward instead of stagnant. It was at this point that I realized that “Community” really was different from any CBS sitcom. They were here to treat the audience with respect, instead of just drawing out a tired storyline for as long as they possibly could (coughcough “How I Met Your Mother” coughcough).
Another important long-term effect of this episode was that it introduced the idea that this group might not be as cool as we think they are. At the end of the episode Buddy leaves to join the “Cool group” populated by Owen Wilson, an Asian Girl, and Starburns. When we watch the show all we see is the group winning debates, beating up the school bully, and dealing with the obnoxious Spanish teacher. We naturally begin to think of the group as the “heroes” relegating everyone else at Greendale to “the background characters”. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, it’s what most shows do, but by suggesting that the group might just be a little narcissistic, and that their self-perception is different from the way they are perceived by the rest of the school, the show opens up its universe, suggesting that anyone in the school could be the protagonist. Maybe we’re just focused on the wrong people. Maybe Starburns is actually the protagonist. You begin to feel like there are probably 50 different shows, all focused on characters at Greendale. Obviously one of those shows follows “The Cool Group”, one might follow the Dean and focus on what he does when he’s not with the study group (shudder), even Vaughan might be the star of his own show. By suggesting that the main characters aren’t the only ones leading full lives the show allows itself to start taking on the Simpsons-esque feel that it has perfected now, where there are a whole host of background characters (some who are better people than the main characters) that the show can bring in without the audience getting annoyed and wondering why we’re focusing on the tertiary, unimportant characters. It also allows for jokes down the line like Fat Neal and Vicki suggesting that the whole school enjoyed it when the group left for their St. Patrick’s Day rafting trip. All this began because Jack Black wanted to hang out with Owen Wilson instead of Jeff Winger.
The final important long-term decision this show made was that it was the first episode that really committed to the idea that Britta isn’t actually “The Cool One Who Serves As Jeff’s Moral Compass”, but is instead “The One Who Thinks She’s Cool, But Is Actually The Worst”. Specifically I’m thinking of the moment where Britta asks Jeff “What if I decide hanging out and cracking wise is my job?” and the whole group breaks out in hysterical laughter, and the moment where Pierce says “Britta, don’t be mad that I didn’t choose you (to distract Buddy) because your breasts are so old”. In the early part of season 1 Britta’s character was problematic. She was fairly one-dimensional, not particularly funny, and basically just existed to tell Jeff what to do (except for the episode where she dressed as a squirrel; that was awesome). When the show started treating her as a punching bag, she became hilarious. She went from being my least favorite character to my favorite. The deconstruction of Britta’s character is another example of how good this show is at adapting. “Britta’s not funny? Well Gillian Jacobs is hilarious at being awkward, let’s move towards that.” This is why I’m not at all worried about the show getting stale or worn out. Dan Harmon and these writers are so good at adjusting and tweaking the show to make it hilarious I feel like he would have no trouble keeping it going even after a fourth season where all the characters graduate.
Finally, his episode is wildly funny. Here are my favorite parts in no particular order:
- The group murmur. I love it when they group falls into a consenting drone with everyone talking over one another. Somehow that’s hilarious every time.
- The background gag of Chevy’s “ironic” t-shirts that stretches throughout the episode
- The continuation of the Dean’s dalmation fetish
- Shirley’s boring friend, Gary
- The cold open where Buddy interrupts the group’s natural…..rhythm. One of the best cold opens ever.
- Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie fell into a pool of bubbles while wearing cheerleader outfits. Explain to me again how this show gets such low ratings?
- "Yo, I need my genitals”
- “When I refer to you in my article would you prefer imbecile or incompetent?” “Well, I’d prefer incompetent, but…”
- “My best friend when I was six years old was a black man”
On the A. V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-421816501 (page 70)