Episode 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- “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.