Episode 114: Interpretive Dance

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114 Interpretive Dance

I’m bummed that so many people don’t like this episode. It’s not the best, but there are some great scenes with the Dean and the teacup dance at the end is Britta for the win. This episode is about secrets and revelations, and also about what it means to be a real friend and a man. This recap was a lot easier to write than the last one.

Troy is taking a modern dance class. Originally, it was under his football coach’s suggestion to improve coordination, but Troy found that he loved dance and was great at it. The cruel expectations of society on men require that he keep his love a secret.  At the dance studio, he bumps into Britta, who is secretly taking tap dance.  They agree to come out together to the group and invite them to the upcoming dance recital.  However, at the critical moment, Troy chickens out and leaves Britta to bear the group’s ridicule alone.  She confronts him after the group disperses. Defensive, Troy says girls can dance without any societal repercussions, but it’s different for guys. “Girls are supposed to dance. That’s why God gave them parts that jiggle.” He doesn’t want to be seen as unmanly. “A real man doesn’t bail on his friends or himself,” Britta says.

Meanwhile, Jeff is having a secret affair with his statistics professor, Michelle Slater. Eventually, the group finds out, and it reaches the dean thanks to Pierce’s Twitter.

Shirley counsels a reluctant and distracted Britta about Jeff. She has noticed their continuing flirtations. “Chasing after you made him a better person because you always called him on his stuff.  All this time you’ve been warming him up, stirring in the sweetener and making him just right.”

Britta denies that she has any feelings for Jeff and doesn’t think he’s mature enough to sustain a relationship with Slater anyway. “Do you think he’s getting Professor Slater flowers right now? Do you think they are going to a movie and hold hands?” Britta pointedly asks, before answering her own question. “No. The only thing that was keeping them going was the thrill of the secrecy.”

The dean runs the busted couple through a formal questionnaire about their relationship, and Jeff reveals that he has very different views about their relationship than Slater.  “We’ve been sleeping together for the past three weeks. How would you describe me?” “The best friend ever.” Slater is not amused.

Later on, in Slater’s office, Jeff apologizes for his behavior, and admits that he is afraid of commitment. Slater says she doesn’t need commitment, and their physical relationship was all that wanted.  For the first time in his life, Winger is in a relationship where he is the emotionally needy one, and he isn’t in control. He begs her to take him back, and after thinking a moment, she obliges.

At the dance recital, the whole group is in the audience, including Jeff and Slater, who have become official boyfriend and girlfriend.  “They filed paperwork with the dean and everything,” says Annie to Britta backstage. “Our little Jeff’s growing up!”

Britta begins her performance strong, but freezes when she sees the happy couple holding hands in the audience.  Troy, hiding backstage, leaps out and begins dancing with her to save her from embarrassment.Afterwards, Britta thanks Troy for helping her out.  “No, thank you,” he replies. “You looked so pathetic that rescuing you was the most masculine option.”  Pierce congratulates Troy for finding a creative way to tell the world he’s gay.

Jeff meets Britta backstage and says she helped him mature enough to be with Slater. “If I can have a girl for a friend, who’s to say I’m not ready for a girlfriend?” He gives her a bouquet of flowers. She is flustered for a moment, then smiles to herself.

This episode came at a time when they were still playing with the group’s love dynamics and fleshing out certain characters.  Troy and Britta are probably the show’s most changed characters from their original conception to now, and this episode catches them in the middle of their transition. In both cases, the strength of the actors and the choices they made influenced their characters.Britta was originally supposed to be the “Diane” or “Rachel” of the group, the feisty love interest for Jeff.  There’s also some Karen Arnold from The Wonder Years in there, the righteous liberal scold.  This being the post-modern era of TV, Britta has a lot more nuance built in.  From the very start, it was obvious the show wasn’t going to make Jeff and Britta into the Great Romance of our Generation. Gillian Jacobs’ latent talent for comedy led the writers to change her slowly into the buffoon. Jacobs also said that they were changing her into Chang, but since she and I both love Chang, I don’t view it as a bad move. She is still a fascinating character.

Britta thinks that associating herself with cool things makes her cool, but as she finds out again and again, that is so wrong. She also tries very hard to pretend that she doesn’t care what people think of her, when in fact, it is all she thinks about. At heart, she is a big dork, and there is nothing she can do to change that. Britta’s journey is about letting go of her hang-ups about what people think.  In this episode, she is quite eager to shed her inhibitions about dancing in front of the group, but less ready to face the fact that Jeff has matured beyond her and might not look back.Jeff and Britta have settled down into such a nice friendly chemistry by the third season that it seems almost ridiculous that this was conceived as the Main Romance at the beginning.  There was a plot about them being secret fuckbuddies during the second season, which sheds some light on Britta’s comments during this episode about the viability of Jeff/Slater being tied to the secrecy. A bit hypocritical in retrospect, no?

The episode revolves a lot around the idea of traditional gender roles. The reason the group laughs at Britta when she reveals her dancing secret is because, as Abed explains, Britta is hard-edged and not particularly feminine. Going deeper, Britta wrestles with the traditional expectations of romance. Britta wants to pass the Bechdel test (she almost certainly has brought this up as a topic in several conversations) and not be defined by her relationship to a man. But it feels good when someone cares about you, as Britta finds out at the end of the episode. It’s a similar reaction to the recent Parks & Rec episode where Leslie gets hot when Ben punches out that jerk.

Dan Harmon points out in the commentary that Annie was one of the primary reasons that characters would feel uncomfortable coming out and being free to the group. You’d expect Shirley and Pierce to be conservative, but Annie is quite rigid about gender roles and, in general, the way things are “supposed” to be. In her world, there is a certain way to do things. For example, studying hard will be rewarded by going to a good college and eventually getting a good job. The fact that this didn’t work out for her has not changed her fundamental way of thinking.  It comes out when she chuckles about Britta dancing and shoots down her counterexamples of Baryshnikov as a powerful, masculine dancer.

Troy was conceived as a lunkhead football jock. Originally they auditioned white actors for the part, but luckily they chose Donald Glover.  Quickly, they discovered that he had the best chemistry with Danny Pudi, who played Abed.  Eventually, the show would revolve around that pair and their nerdy adventures. Donald Glover went to an arts high school (FAME!) and had years of ballet experience.  This episode was designed as a way to expand Troy’s character from the football jock so they could incorporate Glover’s multiple talents.  Glover gets to do some marvelous physical comedy with the dance stuff in this episode.

The most obvious gender role subplot is Troy’s. Society deems football manly, but dancing as feminine. His solution to this problem is to save a damsel in distress while dancing, making himself into a traditional masculine hero. I like it when our group members don’t really learn the “correct” moral lesson.

At this point in the show’s timeline, Annie still had a thing for Troy, who went to her high school but never noticed her. Shirley and Britta know about this, but the boys are blithely oblivious. (Thus, the gasp from Annie when Britta held Troy’s hand and announced that they had a secret, and later, agitation when Troy and Britta were dancing with each other.) It seems so quaint now, but Jeff-Annie had barely been hinted at until “Debate 109.” I like Shirley’s role as a counselor for both the younger women in this episode.

I’m not into either of the main relationships in this episode.  Jeff and Slater were never meant to be. Though the writers really liked the character and the actress (Harmon was upset when the stunt casting of Katharine “Smash” McPhee as a new love interest for Jeff meant that Slater had to be written out), I don’t really like when the group dates outside itself.  I didn’t like Vaughn either.  The sexy librarian? IHATEHERIHATEHERIHATEHER. The awful “Red Dragon”? Ugh. And the less said about Niko the Balkan war criminal, the better.  This show is about this “family” and their interpersonal relationships. A full, healthy relationship outside the group feels outside the scope of the show.

The character of Slater was designed to be Britta’s worst nightmare, according to Harmon. She has a Ph.D., while Britta has a GED.  Britta’s secret fear, which she admits to no one, is of this smart, put-together woman. She is the Angelina to Britta’s Jennifer Aniston. But even though Slater may be the better person, we sympathize with Britta. Slater is a little too perfect, and quite callous. Britta pretends to be callous, but she’s not, and that’s why we love her.

One could write a whole feminist thesis on the “Jim Belushi” scene. A woman who likes casual sex and doesn’t want a relationship? Or maybe she does, and she’s hung up on semantics, but tries to pin it on Jeff. Again, there’s the gender politics theme popping up. Jeff has to redefine what it is to be the man in the relationship. Slater is playing “his” role of not really caring about things. Jeff is now caring about a lot of things, not just his romantic relationship, but also his friends.

As for Troy and Britta, while I enjoy looking at these two attractive human beings touching each other in erotic ways, emotionally, there hasn’t been that much there. Pierce has this to say about it: “Culturally, it’s unacceptable, but theatrically, it’s dynamite!” I think this is a case of the writers playing around with their chemistry set and trying to find a spark. There are little moments sprinkled throughout the second season, like in “Basic Rocket Science” and “Competitive Wine Tasting”, and they are pushing the relationship further in the third season, notably in “Remedial Chaos Theory” and “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking.” But at the same time, they seem to hit the reset button or ignore the Tritta for long stretches while Britta becomes fuck buddies with Jeff, dates outside men off screen, or becomes friends with a lesbian.  Also, we all know that the One True Pairing is Troy and Abed, and any woman has to be comfortable with both of them.

Commentary commentary:

  • The opening overhead rotating camera shot took “three hours” to get, according to GJ.  That was director Justin “Fast and Furious” Lin’s contribution.
  • Dan Harmon wrote the chorus for the rap that underscores Troy’s walk to the dance class. “All my boys and all my peeps/like to wear nightcaps when I go to sleep.”
  • In the scene where Jeff and Slater come out to the group, they do a little crowd murmur, and you can clearly hear Shirley muttering “pepperjack” over and over.
  • GJ’s mom’s favorite outfit is her plaid shirt in this epsiode.
  • Britta’s call sheet for the audition said do not wear makeup, and GJ was the only girl out of 60 who actually did not wear makeup.  She was actually happy to have the chance not to wear makeup.
  • When she threw her teacup hat away, GJ nailed the piano player on the side of the stage every time. And not on purpose.
  • GJ improvised “Holy schnike.”  DP took dance classes in college.  That was a Kate Nash song at the end, “Merry Happy.”

Stray observations

  • Behind Annie in the study room, there is a handwritten note on the whiteboard that says, “Please check with the front desk for the new schedules. All requests need to be received before the next add/drop day. A sign up sheet included with a list of attendees. No exceptions. Thanks & Welcome Back! Kotter.”
  • “Prelimi-wow.”
  • “Our library’s back-door conundrum.” “Sounds like a porno starring Kate Winslet.” “Abed, ew.” Annie and Abed. 
  • “Aw, the last thing I said to him was ‘Suck it.’” “Me too.”
  • “Who’s the lucky brunette?” “Last name Beeswax, first name Nunya.” “Oh, my third wife was biracial.” 
  • “Privacy Smurf, Discreet Bear, Confidentiality Spice.”
  • “The sneaking makes the sex 38% hotter.” “You do like statistics, don’t you?”
  • Let’s hear it for the Dean (Jim Rash). His two big scenes are by far the funniest. “You rank people by how hot they are?” “You got it–#2.” “Dean Pelton—“ “Yes, Professor 7, uh, Slater.”“You two be careful. Two people of your ranking in this small a room, with this type of lighting, and his upper body, and what her heels and hemline are doing to enhance what are already a few favors from God. It’s important to keep it tasteful.”Then the questionnaire form scene is priceless.
  • “I know it’s tempting to sneak a peek, but I’m gonna need you to keep your eyes up here.”
  • “I am spending a lot of money on breakaway clothing.”
  • “Nobody uses intercourse to mean anything other than sex.”
  • “Even when Jerry Rice went on Dancing With the Stars—“ “Jerry Rice? Oh, I liked him.”
  • “Hey, you don’t get to talk to me like that! You’re not Shirley! And Shirley’s not my mom!” 
  • “Can I ask, as a divorced black housewife, what is it about being a white slacker that makes you people so jaded?”  “Oooh, you people? What do you mean, you people? I cannot believe I got to say that.” “It’s the little things, ain’t it, hmm.” Shirley and Britta
  • “This is based on hearsay. In fact, worse than hearsay, Pierce’s twitter account, in which he says he’s 47 and teaches a women’s only Pilates class.”
  • There are pictures of bulldogs all over the dean’s office.  
  • “The biggest truths aren’t original. The truth is ketchup. It’s Jim Belushi. Its job isn’t to blow our minds. It’s to be within reach.” Jeff“
  • The blond in your Spanish class with the infinite supply of leather jackets” Slater, on Britta.
  • “It’s the Jim Belushi of sexual commitments. It barely means anything, and it grows on what’s there over time.” “Wow, that guy’s really taking a pounding in this conversation.” 
  • “Tea for Two? There—there are five people!” “Is she a waterpot or a tea kettle?” “Do you think the flowers are dying from the tea?” Pierce’s observations about Britta’s tap routine.
  • “She has to get a permission slip from the Dean to allow us to drive home together.” Jeff, regarding Slater.

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Discussion:

  • Things from this episode that get mentioned again in the finale:

    1. The nightcap rap
    2. Macaroni with pepper jack

  • What I want to know is how Dan Harmon is still alive after referring to Gillian as "Weathered Elizabeth Shue"

     


  • Agreed the scene in the Dean's office is hilarious. "I'll get the breakup form." Plus, Pierce trying to crack jokes and annoying everyone even tho they're clever, and then responding with the sarcastic "Shush"es. So funny and well thought out and real.

  • So many great lines in this one…Pierce's old man commentary, especially the theatrical dynamite line, the single white slacker exchange (which was one of the first moments I truly loved Britta the first time through).  Slater also gained some respect in my book for "Whoopee flippin' ding, Winger!" in response to that whole "I don't want to say we're dating because then we might one day have to break up" BS.  I wouldn't have wanted her to stick around forever, but I liked that she never let him have any excuses.

  • This may very well be Pierce's single funniest episode.  He got the theatrical dynamite line, the jerry rice oh i liked him line, etc.  Chevy was really on a roll in this episode

  • Another good review, Murray.

    I personally really like this episode, probably top 5 or 6 of the season. There's just so many fully realized back-and-forth comic bits. Like all the stuff with Jeff and Slater you singled out. It was only rewatching that I realized almost everything good between those two came from this episode, the only S1 ep where one of Jeff's love interests actually fit in with the group and the overall story.

    Like you said, outside-the-group romantic interests aren't very convincing, but they can be really funny. Especially when they overtake the focus on the main characters and kind of comment on how silly they seem from an outsider's perspective.

    Anyways, the set-up of them talking about using the back entrance at the beginning, subliminally planting a seed for the part where they all catch Jeff and Slater kissing is super clever and the prime example of why I'm so impressed with "Dance". There's a lot going on all the time, little set-ups and payoffs. Especially in the dance recital scene, all the characters have some contribution and it's uplifting but in a way that isn't too cliche and is actually cool.

  • Loki100

    Mild continuity issue: how was it that Pierce was so funny in his play commentary here, but couldn't do it during his movie commentary in the very next episode?

  • DavetheDouchebag

    I think he was just forcing himself to make jokes in the next episode, and here they were more organic.

  • Uthted

    Like that time he banged Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom.

  •  

    Now every time I buy organic, I think of Eartha Kitt. Thanks, Community!

  • Pierce was just being himself at the dance. He is at his funniest when he doesn't realize he is being funny. He sees it as normal conversation, while everybody else sees it as amusingly inappropriate. Once he starts actively trying to be funny, he loses it. The best Pierce moments are where he is being earnest, and yet unwittingly hysterical. 

  • It's pretty clear that Pierce is incredibly self-conscious about everything (see Kitt, Eartha), which results in his trying way too hard.

  •  

    But he wasn't really being funny, was he? I mean his line about the flowers dying from the tea was hilarious, but everyone in the audience was shushing him.

  • Besides being really funny, I love this episode for its warmth and I guess you'd call it a twee sensibility, but that has a negative connotation. I've never seen a minute of Glee, but I imagine what draws people to it is things like Britta's 'Tea For Two' recital. Britta's expressions were so cute and then Troy jumps in to fulfill his arc for the episode. Jeff and Slater hold hands. Shirley offers Goobers while they're still gooby. Annie is still hot for Troy an episode before she falls for Vaughn. Pierce is unwittingly hilarious. But the best aspect is the production. I'll spare you guys the 50 fishsticks, but just check out how the crew creates such an aesthetically pleasing and intimate atmosphere for the stories to play out in. I think maybe it's that I love the color black on anything and the lighting is perfectly done to accentuate it. Abed's dance to "Merry Happy" put a nice little bow on the episode. How does Abed suddenly know how to tap dance? Who cares. Pudi tap dances so Abed can for this episode too. Or maybe it's done to show how Abed metabolizes culture: he observes it playing out in the wild and then takes a crack at it himself, mimicking the way 'real people' do it.

  • There's something cute about Annie being into Troy. It's a lingering remnant of a bygone time; she casts it away as she grows up over the course of the year.

  • i just flashed to the evil timeline where Alison Brie was on Glee and whats her face was on Community

  • Never has a faced that already looks like it was punched repeatedly, make me want to punch it some more so badly.

    What I'm saying is she is the worst.

  • That's funny. Had to be deliberate, right?

  • Woah, that's wrinkling my brain.

  • SpongyandBruised

    Who's mocking whom?

  • Go crazy with the fishsticks!

    Also, I always felt Abed dancing at the end was a little like Kenneth from 30 Rock hosting his pretend late night talk show for an audience of no one.

  • i saw Abed dancing as a continuation of the fact that he is secretly great at everything.  Like he is better at sports than Troy and can tap!

  • Your comment about the Bechdel test makes me wonder how many Community episodes fail it; I think a surprising number do (perhaps even a majority), although it's certainly not a sexist show. Part of that is because of the closeness of each member the group, but part is also because Shirley isn't written in an interesting way and Annie-Britta stories are rare for whatever reason.

    I actually wrote a bit about Annie's conservatism and how it related to her religious views while I was sitting in English class last week; I'll see if I can find it somewhere. It's certainly an interesting topic to discuss.

    I enjoyed that the characters would see other people from time to time, since it kept the group from being too myopic. Annie and Vaughn didn't really work because Vaughn was the worst and it was only brought up when they got together and again when they broke up, but in theory it wasn't terrible. I would hate to see any two members of the group being anything more than fuck-buddies, because it would mess up the dynamics of the group in a big way for two of them to be that close.

    Troy and Britta are friends, which is nice, but to me there's never been anything more there like there has been with Jeff and Annie. Part of that is because Donald Glover and Gillian Jacobs have merely good chemistry together and not great chemistry, but what matters more is the difference in maturity level; you can't constantly show Troy in the childlike and asexual world of the Apartment of Perpetual Virginity and then expect me to believe that he would have something with Britta, who is certainly (despite whatever else she may be) sexually mature. Troy is still a boy; Britta is a woman.

  • DavetheDouchebag

    I'd like to see what you wrote about Annie, because I wasn't sold on the idea that she was conservative last time we discussed it, and her religious beliefs haven't been analyzed much compared to Shirley's.

  • I'll see if I can find it. If not, I can probably write something up sometime.

  • I thought we agreed that she's not a conservative, but rather exhibits the best qualities of conservatism.

  • plus she bought a cone bra

  • Annie is a shining city on a hill.

  • I don't mean it in terms of politics. I wouldn't argue that she's politically conservative; at the time I gave some reasons that she wouldn't be, as I recall. But her worldview is a fairly conservative one.

  • SpongyandBruised

    If nothing else, Vaughn brought us Annie's Song, which is making me cry as I type this. It's seriously the sweetest thing ever.

  • It's an awful song, but it really is sweet.

  • He's dumb but he is honest

  • Joel McHale nearly ruined the song for me with his awful rendition on the commentary.

  • I have a theory about why there are so few Annie Britta stories, and that theory is that they don't get along in a one on one capacity.  I think they are feel threatened by each other, and it comes out in plotlines where they interact heavily (think the oil spill and next episode is about how Britta doesnt want Annie dating Vaughn).  They also have very different philosophies, Annie cares too much about things and Britta not enough. 

  • I agree…we'll talk about this more next episode, but I think the upcoming ep is really the one in which we see their relationship change decisively from older sister-younger sister to competitors.  I can't see them hanging out one-on-one at all now.

  • Walking NPR and guess who is lucky enough to be reviewing next episode!  (honestly though i might try and leave that discussion to the comments, there is a lot to unpack in the next episode)

  • Apparently, we're getting an upcoming episode where Britta has boyfriend issues and receives guidance from Annie, or something along those lines. I look forward to it.

  • The oil spill story was fantastic, though (even if Dan Harmon didn't like it). It's fun to see them play off each other.

  • The show does seem to make a point about Troy becoming his own man outside of Jeff's shadow, but the same could be said about Annie and Britta.  Then again, while Troy looks up to Jeff, Annie doesn't seem to respect Britta very much (ref:  Competitive Ecology and Horror Fiction).  But I wonder if there's a subtext of insecurity and envy there, since she seems to be sloppy seconds to Britta's sloppy firsts.

  • First Beetlejuice mention!

  • I still only remember bits and pieces from this episode but now that some of it has come back to me I realize it definitely doesn't deserve to be in my bottom 5. Not one of my absolute favourites but it's a good one nonetheless.

  • while i love the bechdel test, i also feel the need to point out that a work can fail it and still be feminist (it's entirely possible, if i recall correctly, that the scum manifesto fails it in a non-character-based  sort of way).

    that said, there's a lot of episodes that pass it, especially with shirley and annie. the whole guatemala thing was in the second episode.

    i also really liked professor slater. i was very disappointed with how they broke up, and how she never came back in the second season. i love the scene where the dean objectifies jeff and her at the same time. his evident interest in anything that moves is played for laughs, but i very rarely feel like they're making fun of his sexuality so much as his personality. it's not funny that he's pansexual. it's funny that he has absolutely no filter (especially considering his concern over things like race). 

    it's right on the mark that troy came away with the wrong lesson. i feel like sometimes, we dig into character a lot more than the writers do. the show has a lot of character driven humor, but some situations are just there because it's funnier that way. i think abed's lying about or hiding his dance skills is entirely that. he exhibits and mentions that he has great self-esteem, so he'd have no reason to hide it. it's just funnier if he suddenly starts dancing at the end.

    i feel like there should be a flowchart for episodes like this and 111 to indicate all of the sexual and gender politics going on.

  •  

     I'm very late to the party, so I'll keep it short…

    Great review! Describing each character in such detail has really put how far they have evolved in a new light. The change happened so gradually and naturally (except with Annie, but that's another story), that it's barely noticeable, and it's really great revisit Troy or Britta in their original iterations.

    But, hey: I like Vaughn! He was consistently funny, and he struck just the right balance between smug douche and sincere puppy-dog. He's always been my second favorite recurring character, after Duncan, of course. I liked it when the group was having a social life separate from each other: it gave form, so to speak, to Britta's skankiness, Annie's innocence, Jeff's womanizing. Now, you have to admit, it's sort of weird that it appears that the group only socializes with each other: it's certainly a point the show is trying to make (hence Annie asking Jeff who the hell is he texting all the time), but it only works because the group was having so many social interactions in S1.