Episode 115: Romantic Expressionism
115 Romantic Expressionism
Pierce looks to Shirley, Shirley looks away to Jeff, who looks to Britta, who looks to Abed, who gives her the creepy eyebrows sending Britta to Annie, (smiles and gasps), Annie to Troy, Troy to Shirley (Troy seems ok with this, Annie is not) Annie looks to Pierce gets freaked out and looks to Jeff (hold for an extra beat) who looks to Abed and we end with the creepy eyebrows.
That right there is one of the most memorable scenes community has ever done; the moment when everybody in the group considers each other as a romantic partner. I could do entire review just analyzing this one scene (i actually tried it was … unwieldy and more importantly uninteresting). But I am getting ahead of myself. This episode has a fair bit of character work going on even before that final scene.
The A plot deals with Annie dating Vaughn and Britta and Jeff trying to break them up using Troy. This plot probably reveals more about Britta than about Jeff, Annie or Troy. Britta is the one who has the greatest problem with Annie potentially dating Vaughn. Even though it is Jeff who seems most gung ho about Annie and Vaughn it is Britta that is revealed to have been pushing Jeff to break them up. Britta is motivated by two competing urges, the urge to appear cool (her primary motivating factor throughout season 1) and the fact that she doesn’t like Annie dating her ex-boyfriend. This means that while she is willing to give Annie her blessing (and turn it into a snake) she is also seeking a way in which to break Annie and Vaughn up, and that way is better known as Jeff Winger.
Jeff is motivated by the desire to maintain control over the group. I don’t think there are romantic urges toward Annie at this point in the series; instead I think Jeff’s primary motivation is simply that he doesn’t like members of the group spending a lot of time with people outside the group. Jeff is already using the group as a crutch. He has created a safety bubble that he has recently embraced (look at Investigative Journalism where he comes back and is happy to see them) and I think Jeff is scared of that bubble being upset.
Annie is seeking the trappings of maturity. Annie wants a boyfriend because she has realized that she is attractive (can’t believe it took this long) and relationships are a sign of a maturity (one that even “adults” struggle with constantly as other episodes astutely point out). Troy meanwhile is motivated by Jeff’s eye-opening perspective of Annie.
Meanwhile in the B plot we see Pierce’s desire to appear younger and fit in better with the group that he too often finds himself not fitting in with. If there is one constant with Pierce it is desire to fit in, it is his prime motivating factor, the one urge that drives pretty much every group interaction. Pierce is lonely and by fitting in he doesn’t feel as lonely. It hurts even more to see Shirley, the group member he recognizes as the other outsider, to fit in with Trobed’s movie night so easily. Heck even Chang fits in. So Pierce acts out and comes up with a crazy caper and when it backfires (as all Pierce’s plans backfire) he ends up fitting in by ceasing to care about fitting in. There is a lesson here, but Pierce won’t learn it.
And it all culminates in that final scene; that magnificent scene where every group member considers the other members and the possibility of romance with them. Where Remedial Chaos Theory is a study in what an individual means to the group, this one moment tells us what these people mean to each other on an individual level. Pierce looks to Shirley because (as he says in a later episode) he respects her more than any other member of the group. Though he sees Jeff as a reflection of himself he can probably relate to Shirley the best, so he has always considered her a natural partner. Shirley of course never considers Pierce. She considers Jeff because as she constantly reminds the group she is not as old as they think and she is actually closer to Jeff’s age (plus she admires Jeff’s physique more than a few times). She desires to fit in like Jeff fits in but doesn’t know how to relate to the younger crowd as well. Jeff looks to Britta; his initial reason for starting the group. Jeff and Britta are mirrors, alike in their cynicism even if it gets channeled in different ways. At this point they have forged a fairly strong friendship. Britta looks away to Abed, because Britta has trouble confronting any feelings she may have about Jeff due to Jeff’s relationship with Slater. But Abed is not a safe place for Britta to look because Britta has trouble relating to Abed. She, more than any of the group members, seeks to change Abed and has trouble handling his “weirdness” directly. Abed’s eyebrow waggle is something that Britta doesn’t understand and when Abed does something she doesn’t understand she tends to run. So she looks to Annie. I don’t know if this moment is anything other than fan service. I personally see Annie and Britta as being the pair that is most secretly at loggerheads throughout the series. This is something that I’m sure Loki would have some very interesting feminist theory thoughts but I don’t feel that I have the understanding to tackle it from that angle. Instead from a character perspective i think this derives from the fact that in many ways they see themselves as rivals, their plots together usually turn competitive, and it is probably because personality wise they are such diametric opposites. This topic i'll throw to the comments if anyone wants to discuss because this is too long anyway.
Anyway, that look drives Annie to Troy, her first crush, the closest to her in age, and in many ways the most “logical” fit. Troy feels rejected from earlier though and he never saw Annie as a partner anyway. So he looks to Shirley, and his reaction is amusing but I don’t think he is actually considering a romantic relationship here. I think Troy sees Shirley as the mother figure she is and appreciates that more than most of the group. But of course the lack of attention from Troy offends Annie because this was the same problem that she was having before this episode with Troy. So she looks to Pierce, but that is too creepy for her and then to Jeff and this look is lingered on an extra beat. This was obvious set up for the finale, Debate planted the seeds, and here they show that those seeds have roots. There is certainly an attraction between the two and their mismatched personas might fit well together (opposites attract and all that) but the main impediment to their relationship is Jeff’s feelings of guilt. So driven by guilt Jeff looks away and we end once again with Abed, our eyes into the group, the filmmaker. The person that is both the creator of the group in many ways and also the greatest outsider in his constant role as an observer. See where Pierce feels he doesn’t fit in, Abed knows he is different, but Abed doesn’t care and because he doesn’t care he can navigate romantic entanglements without the fear that keeps the rest of the group apart. Hence the eyebrow waggle, the move made by a man who is happy with who he is and doesn’t care about the reaction he gets. The rest of the group is scared by what they see when looking around the table but Abed embraces the possibility of connection.
And at the end it is their fear of each other that motivates them to let Annie go. They know they have a good thing and they don’t want to mess it up. So Annie can date Vaughn (he may be dumb but he is honest) and Pierce doesn’t have a shot with any of them.
- “You have a gold star on your fly” “its nice to have a girlfriend who has a sense of humor and recognizes good work”
- “He never has a shirt, he never has shoes, why hasn’t he died from lack of service” (this comes back later when he notes that it took him a long time to get ice cream because he had to find a shirt)
- “I’m younger than the three of you put together”
- Vaughn’s feet freak Jeff out
- I can’t tell whether Annie is actually impressed by Britta turning it into the snake or not
- Once again Jeff and Britta see themselves as the parents of the group. (but Annie’s mom would never wear boots that go up that high)
- Vaughn is a gateway douchebag, that path leads to Starburns.
- And of course Starburns also thinks Jeff is a douchebag
- I like that Senor Chang is in formal white tie dress. Where the hell could he have been planning to go?
- Abed doesn’t get the group signals that they don’t want to invite pierce.
- “Lets not confine ourselves to your wheelhouse, this probably won’t respond to tapdancing or casual revelations that you spent time in New York”
- Britta is terrible at being subtle. Either that or she actually finds chemistry sexy.
- The best part of Jeff’s secret description of Annie and Troy’s reaction is “and she’s jewish?” I have no idea what could’ve inspired that.
- Buzz keeps going to the hair products well.
- Troy refers to Abed as his other half. Lot of Trobed romantic subtext here. Especially with them going to film the kickpuncher sex scene at the end…
- Troy watches the classic Duchovny show Red Shoe Diaries, and is into butt stuff.
- “I did eat all the macaroni, it’s messed up that he knows”
- “Tom Selleck just stood there and watched him die”
- Pierce says he doesn’t need validation but of course the story is all about him needing validation.
- Britta admits she isn’t that cool she isn’t juno.
- Also Troy apparently got specific about Britta…interesting.
- “They’re just jealous”
- Unsurprisingly Pierce has sex without kissing.
- Vaughn calls Pierce “Old Man River”
- “His songs are dumber than he is”
- When Annie says that Vaughn wants to show her a cloud that looks like a pumpkin, Abed looks to the sky.
Notes from the Commentary
- Apparently the boat episode ran over filming and they shot this episode in 4 days (a compressed schedule) and they regard it as among the best of the first episode.
- As mentioned above this was the intermediate step in sexing up Annie between Debate and the finale.
- The guy who played Kickpuncher is the newest Jason Voorhees.
- Dan Harmon totally quoted Archer in the commentary “Just the tip!”
- Apparently Joel was actually telling Glover some really dirty stuff when he was whispering.
- The famous weirdest boner line was adlibbed. Glover has to be the best improviser in the cast.
- Glover was really sick during this episode.
- Russo likes hippy annie, Harmon schoolgirl annie. I feel we are learning too much of their uh predilections.
- Chevy takes his pratfalls very seriously.
- The Pierce plotline was based on a true story of a professional comic coming prepared.
- This is their example of subtle, family episodes. They spend the end talking about how they wanted to embrace an older post-cynical movement and call back to a more emotional feel good time in sitcoms.
On the A. V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-427135936 (page 78)