Episode 116: Communication Studies

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Episode 116 – Communication Studies

I’ll come right away and say it: this was a much harder review to write than anticipated. While I love Communication Studies very much (with one exception which I’ll discuss below), it turned out that, to my surprise, I couldn’t find that much to talk about. That worried me a little.

Thanks to Stephen77’s awesome list-making skills though, I gained an unexpected reprieve, while the discussions that took place over the last couple of days helped me understand a few things about the episode’s somewhat slippery nature.

It’s fairly obvious that there are people here who strongly believe that S1 was superior to S2, just as there are others who think the opposite. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that they consider one season objectively worse than the other; it’s more a matter of choosing what they think is more representative of the show as a whole: the largely observational, more subdued and naturalistic style of S1, or the go-for-broke, experimental, let’s-blow-people’s-minds tone of S2. I’m Team S2 all the way – if Community is going to be remembered for anything, it will be for the ease with which it jumped from format to format and from style to style from one episode to another, for its extraordinary formal audacity and for its remarkable self-assurance. I predict in fact that very soon (perhaps as soon as next season), and largely because to the increased awareness of the show, due to NBC’s shitty handling of the hiatus, we are going to see other sitcoms attempting their own “concept episodes.” HIMYM already did a RCT-type episode, and by the time Modern Family’s version of Epidemiology rolls around, it will win every Emmy in existence. And it will suck.

And I’ll tell you why:

THAT WATER IS A LIE!!!!

…Sorry, I got heated….

But seriously: the reason why Community can afford to do something as insanely complex as Paradigms of Human Memory in S2 and not have it appear as a cheap gimmick, is because it spent most of S1 putting out hilarious, yet largely subdued observational episodes like Communication Studies, episodes which built seven complex, multifaceted, nuanced characters that stay true to themselves, and evolve, and change even as they turn into claymation figurines or build a giant pillow fort. The thing I like best about S1 is just how patiently it approached character development, how, despite the occasional Tex Avery moment, it devoted most of its time to exploring the group, how often it contented itself to just let them be and bounce off each other, so that, by the time Modern Warfare came about, every insane moment rang true because we knew these seven people so well, and we understood so much about what makes them tick.

Harmon talks somewhere about how he meant the course that the group takes together each season to be largely symbolic of an overarching theme. S3 is biology – evolution and change. S2 was anthropology, and the group got divided into “tribes” and cliques which were sometimes at odds with one another. S1 was Spanish – learning a foreign language, learning in other words, how to communicate and understand each other. Harmon further talks about how he wanted to do lots of character permutations, to see which combinations work and which don’t. This is what Communication Studies is all about. Not much new or groundbreaking happens here, but we do find out many intriguing tidbits which will pay off massively down the road (one, famously, all the way into S3).

Communication Studies is all about subtext – about the difference between what we say and what we mean. And since this is the first Valentine’s Day episode, it’s only fitting that the group is divided into pairs (and one triangle). I’ll just take them one by one.

 Jeff/Britta/Slater. Jeff has by now settled into his relationship with Slater, apparently founded largely on sex and a sense of comfortable indifference. He considers Britta a friend. But where his conversations with Slater appear largely conventional (picking up ice cream for Law and Order night, appropriate “boyfriend” behavior on Valentine’s Day), his exchanges with Britta are lively and clever.

And sex is most definitely in the subtext of the Jeff/Britta story – in the form of a heavily BCI-ed drunken message Britta leaves Jeff in the wake of an massive bender with one of her anarchist girlfriends. Jeff is initially glad to ride the high horse for once, as well as take pleasure in Britta’s misfortune (is there a word for that?). But he quickly comes to realize, thanks to Abed’s pop-culture derived wisdom, that the power dynamic has shifted too far in his favor. So, with Abed’s extensive assistance, he gets epically drunk and makes not one, but two phone calls, none of which he actually remembers: one to Britta and one to Slater. This allows Britta to play a joke on Jeff by dressing up for the Valentine’s Day dance and pretending he had asked her there, and also to save Jeff’s relationship by revealing that his drunken phone call was in fact all about how much he enjoys being with Slater. But, in a final twist she reveals that Jeff’s message was in fact 40 minutes long and “very informative.”

As I have said before, none of this is particularly groundbreaking. Britta’s unacknowledged attraction to Jeff has been hinted at before, most notably in Interpretive Dance, and Jeff’s interest in Britta is similarly well-documented. Communication Studies’ new approach is to allow them to play this subtext of desire off each other. It’s the classic screwball comedy dynamic – the channeling of sexual attraction into wit and farce, “a sex comedy without the sex.” Abed is worried that Britta’s drunk dial may have upset the balance between her and Jeff, when in fact it made that balance even more obvious. It’s there when both Jeff and Britta point out how dangerous it is to give the Greendale Human Being arrows, or when Jeff compares drunken Britta to Courtney Love, and Britta compares drunken Jeff to Kurt Cobain. Jeff’s relation with Slater on the other hand is superficial and asymmetrical: Jeff is largely content to be dominated and play the standard boyfriend role, for the sake of sex and a chance to keep himself continuously guarded. It’s all fairly conventional fare, but Community handles it in a refreshingly pragmatic way, by suggesting that Jeff and Britta’s attraction for each other is not the result of some sort of “soul mate” insight, “we’re made for each other” romantic comedy bullshit, but is simply based on physical attraction and the ability to play off each other’s smugness. I always thought that the characters in some classic screwball comedies like His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story, weren’t really meant to be seen as a viable couple. Such films present a love triangle where one character has one stable, but conventional relationship, while being attracted to another, more off-beat character, to whom they feel more suited. But the attraction is based in a state of playful antagonism, of constant riffing and mutual deprecation that is unsustainable in the long run. That’s Jeff and Britta in a nutshell.

Finally, I have to mention just how wonderful Britta is in this episode. Britta started the show as a figure of rather boring self-righteousness, the “prize” that was supposed to set Jeff straight. She later evolved into a “mirror” Jeff – similarly shallow and self-absorbed, and then turned into the goofy, sing-your-heart’s-song, earnestly sincere Britta of today. Communication Studies catches her on the cusp of this transition: she’s still cool enough to one-up Jeff in the end, but that drunk dial (“JEFF WINGER! I…am…calling you. You’re probably…. Whatever…. WAAAAZZZUUUPPP?!?”) is pure Britta “the worst.” I miss this Britta, especially since she wasn’t around for very long. She showed up again in Modern Warfare, and peeked up a little in Mixology Certification, but that’s pretty much it.

Jeff/Abed. Britta may be the one who drunk dialed Jeff, but the episode’s plot is largely set in motion by Abed, who quickly points out to Jeff that, according to sitcom scripture, the balance of power has shifted too far in his favor and needs redressing. After Britta runs away in shame when he clumsily tries to share a embarrassing story from his past (a drunken fight with animatronic Ben Franklin), Jeff returns to Abed for help. This leads to the episode’s centerpiece: a lengthy and hilarious scene in which Abed gets drunk with Jeff, in an attempt to create the perfect conditions for a believable drunk-dial.

It’s been pointed out numerous times that the study group is not Jeff’s as much as it is Abed’s, since it was Abed who put everyone but Jeff and Britta together. In this context, it’s easy to see Abed’s actions in this episodes as an attempt to keep “his” study group intact. I have another theory: Abed is very fascinated with Jeff, and he uses Britta’s drunk dial as an opportunity to study him up close.

The Abed/Jeff relationship is probably my favorite in the entire show, even if it’s relatively rarely central to an episode’s narrative. Britta sees Abed largely as a victim – someone to help and heal. Troy sees Abed as a really cool toy – the Hobbes to his Calvin – a play partner which opens up a world of games and infinite possibilities. Jeff sees Abed as an interesting adult – the only person in the group with whom he feels enough at ease to actually open up, and whose advice he seeks unconditionally. Abed may base his observations on Friends and Who’s the Boss, but Jeff takes him seriously. When Britta runs away in shame, Jeff returns to Abed immediately.

Speaking of balance and symmetry, Jeff sees a lot of himself in Abed, just like Abed sees a lot of himself in Jeff. They each possess a quality that the other desires. Like Jeff, Abed is the product of divorce, raised on TV and projecting a certain sense of cool and detachment from the world. But Jeff has to fight for his cool; he sees it largely as a competition – a fragile advantage that needs to be constantly reinforced and validated. Abed, on the other hand, while having none of Jeff’s physical advantages, goes through life with an almost Zen attitude. So, Jeff calls Abed a “shaman” in the pilot, and wonders how can he be so satisfied all time in Home Economics. Since Jeff is by definition insecure and self-loathing, he craves Abed’s self-assurance.

Abed on the other hand, craves Jeff’s ability to fit in. Abed sees that Jeff, like him, goes through life wearing a mask (something which this episode nicely underscores, by having Jeff wake up from his bender, wearing not one, but two masks). Abed’s social interactions are based on his ability to slip into whatever role he feels others need him to play. And he’s very good at it: he may not understand what others feel, but he understands what they need perfectly. But Abed has not yet mastered the art of reciprocation; of making himself feel needed, and making others feel like they need him. Jeff has, and this is what draws Abed to him: his effortless ability to make himself the centre of others’ world.

From this perspective, Abed directing Jeff into achieving the perfect plastered state in which to drunk dial Britta, is not as much for Britta’s benefit, or even Jeff’s, but Abed’s. Earlier in the episode, Abed had been staging a reenactment of one of Chang’s freakouts from Spanish class. Abed’s understanding of the world is based in reproduction and replication. He’s very much like Uncle Toby from Tristram Shandy in his belief that feelings are dictated by events and therefore the perfect replication of an event would result in the perfect replication of the attendant emotional state. Getting Jeff drunk therefore is an experiment, a way of testing this hypothesis. It’s why he joins Jeff for a drink, by saying “Scorsese drank with DeNiro.”

I really love that he says that. Scorsese and DeNiro were (still are, I guess) famously very good friends, and their friendship was rooted in their functions as actor and director. By saying that, Abed not only acknowledges Jeff as his friend, but very strongly hints at his conviction that emotional authenticity can only be achieved through playing a part, through filtering your personality through a mask. I’m probably wrong, but I like to think that this is where the seeds of Critical Film Studies – the episode where both Jeff and Abed were as open and emotionally vulnerable as we’ve ever seen them on the show – were first planted.

Troy/Pierce and Shirley/Annie. The less said about this subplot, the better. Chang mocks Troy and Pierce for pretending to have girlfriends, and Shirley and Annie decide to play a prank on Chang, by sending him a fake job offer from Princeton. Chang doesn’t fall for it, but blames Troy and Pierce, and threatens to fail them from Spanish if they don’t show up at the dance wearing women’s pant suits. They do, and hilarity ensues.

Actually it doesn’t. Shirley and Annie offer to confess, but Troy and Pierce decide it’s their duty to prove they are men by taking the fall. The whole story feels undercooked and kind of cheap, going for the lowest form of slapstick. The only thing I found interesting is that after Chang threatens Troy and Pierce, Annie tries to confess, but Shirley shuts her down. It’s a nice bit of character continuity, suggesting that Shirley’s bully side will always try to assert itself, at the expense of her morality. It’s not a big deal, but these two will have a kick-ass story very soon in The Science of Illusion.

So, there you have it! Whew: 2300 and counting! I feel like I’ve written a ton about the show in general and almost nothing about the episode. But in truth, I feel that this is what Communication Studies and many of the S1 episodes are for: they set the stage for the awesomeness to follow. More than 2-thirds of the season on, we’re finally ready to see what the show can really do with so wonderfully fleshed-out characters.

Hey, there’s still some stuff I haven’t said:

  • This a wonderful episode for physical comedy. The extended Breakfast Club homage when Jeff and Abed get progressively drunker is a thing of beauty, and a wonderful showcase for Pudi and McHale.
  • No comment. Really. I’m at a loss for words: http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
  • “I can drive…. I can tot’lly drive… Gimme my keys! No, seriously, gimme my keys!” http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
  • I really love skanky, weathered, hungover Britta:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…. So does Harmon.
  • “I really need to believe you’re holding an imaginary doody meter.”
  • “One Papa John’s commercial and he thinks he’s Christian Bale.”
  • “He’s a young the Asian guy from Lost.”
  • “beige praying mantis.”
  • “What’s the blonde’s name: Britta? Butter? Beetlejuice?” This is the setup for the Beetlejuice joke which paid off all the way in Horror Fiction:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

DVD commentary time! (I’ll keep it short, I promise!)

Dan Harmon, Chris McKenna, Joel McHale, Danny Pudi and Gillian Jacobs do the commentary, and they’re all typically funny and super-friendly. Harmon keeps saying he’s doing a “Cosby-tary.”

  • This was McKenna’s first episode. McKenna has since proven to be, alongside Megan Ganz, an indispensable ingredient for the show’s quality, having written some of the most complex and spectacular episodes, including our top 30 winner, Remedial Chaos Theory. But, as Harmon recounts on a recent Nerdist Writers’ Panel podcast,* S1 of Community was marked by friction between himself and the show’s executive producers. Namely, the studio requested him to choose a number of executive producers to help him run the show, but, as it turns out, those guys were told that the show was essentially theirs to run, as Harmon didn’t have any experience. Harmon says this may be the cause for the show’s erratic tone early on, though I really don’t think those early episodes were in any way inferior to anything that followed after 112 or 113. This tension lead to a major dustup somewhere around episode 112, and McKenna (who had previously worked for American Dad) came in.
  • To hear Harmon tell the story, McKenna comes off as Scully to Harmon’s Mulder – sent by the brass to take Harmon’s show away from him, he ended up being his trusted lieutenant. Harmon is quite sweet and sincere when he calls the episode his “Valentine” to McKenna, who convinced him of his dedication to the show, by calling him late at night to ask about some editing hang-up. This proved to Harmon once and for all that McKenna cared about Community just as much as he did. D’awwww…..
  • McKenna is actually pretty silent on the commentary, despite Joel telling him repeatedly to shut up. Harmon is far more vocal (and drunk), comparing himself with David Milch and implying that he traumatizes his writers into silence. For those craving more interaction between these two, check out the commentary to Conspiracy Theory, particularly the part where the two of them and Jim Rash crack each other up over the faces the Dean pulls.
  • Other fun stuff: Harmon really likes Britta miserable: “She’s good at being weathered and having bad luck.” Later, he compares her to an old piece of luggage.
  • Harmon mentions a dude in a focus group – the “Isaac Newton of frat boys” who called Abed “Kumar lite,” then proceeded to give an insightful and passionate speech about how he hoped Abed wasn’t going to turn into a sidekick like Kumar.
  • Abed’s Chang is played by the kid from Tropic Thunder, which is also what his headshot says.
  • Adam Davidson, the director, came up with the gag with Jeff wearing two masks.
  • The DVD also features an extended cut of this episode. There’s about 7 extra minutes of footage, but, in my opinion, they weaken the episode considerably, because they spell out what was mostly subtext in the original cut. Major differences include a drunk Jeff waxing poetic about how beautiful Britta is (something that I doubt Jeff would ever say, even dead drunk), drunk Abed calling himself “high-functioning,” and a final scene where Abed gets his mojo back by recognizing that a weird, beefy dude in a ponytail looks like Steven Seagal. Fun scenes: an extended cut of Jeff playing drunk for Abed, and Chang making fun of Starburns’ star burns.

Finally, a couple more random observations:

  • Jeff wears a bluetooth headset: the badge of a real douche, as we know fromthis incident. He also tries to pay for tuition with airline miles.
  • Is there a creepier sitcom character than the Greendale Human Being??
  • I really love Jeff’s sardonic cackle when Britta leaves the room.
  • I believe this is the first time we see Chang gnawing at gristle.
  • Abed says that he could never get by the opening credits for Who’s the Boss, yet in Competitive Wine Studies he’s already figured out who the boss was. I guess he caught up with the show in the meanwhile.
  • Finally: here’s a clip of the Breakfast Club homage, just because:

*Someone (maybe Los Pollos Hermanos? Stephen 77?) mentioned this podcast a few weeks ago, but I can’t find the name anymore. Whoever you are: thanks!

 

Discussion:

    • so as regards the chang subplot:

      i don't find men in women's clothing to be inherently funny, but there are a few small points that make it work better than it should in this episode. chang's specification that they be "elegant ladies pantsuits" rather than something more broad makes it more absurd, and a large part of the negative reaction that troy and pierce seem to have is the treatment they expect from chang ("never let him see us cry"). it still hinges a lot on whether you think it's funny that they're forced to take a submissive role while being emasculated, unfortunately, but it's also worth noting that it's in-character for both troy and pierce to react negatively to taking such a role. if it were abed, it wouldn't even faze him, and jeff would've talked his way out of it.

      it's stranger that they seem to take on the "feminized" personas in the tag (it was the tag, right?) where pierce rides off with chang. it's a strange sort of joke in that it has a lot of punchlines that could go either way: is the punchline that pierce has acclimated to his role with chang? is it that troy feels betrayed? is it the strange implications of pierce's betrayal? really, it's a downright weirdscene. 

      the few other points in its favor are that we get to see troy cry, or come close, a few times, and we get to see troy step up to defend annie and shirley from chang's outlandish sadism. despite referring to it in terms of gender, there's a lot of honor and respect in keeping them from being the victims of chang's objectifying cruelty. remove gender from the equation entirely, and it's a pretty good moment of friendship.

      and, of course, someone might have found seeing troy in that outfit to be more than a little attractive. (we'll allow it that some might find pierce in that outfit attractive, but even i have standards.)

      so is it feminist? not at all. is it funny? a little bit. is it offensive? so-so. could it have been executed better? definitely. does it ruin the episode? not even remotely. 

    • glazomaniac I agree about the pantsuits. I even remember watching it live and thinking to myself 'smart move to make it women's pantsuits, saves it from seeming too broad and tired'. 

      shirley telling Annie to 'look away' while Troy got emotionally raped by Chang's dancing definitely worked for me on a comedy level. And I hate broad comedy (hence my hate for celeb pharmacology)

    •  

       I like your interpretation of "elegant ladies pantsuits." I never thought about it this way, but it makes a lot of sense.

      My major problem with this subplot is not the drag: I don't find men in women's clothes inherently unfunny (I love Some Like It Hot, and Tootsie, and Monty Python an many others). It's the story itself I have a problem with, because it seems to exist for no other reason than to give four cast members something to do. It never connects to the A plot, and, because the A plot is so developed, it never gets a chance to build properly or get detailed enough to have a proper emotional impact. Because of this, all that's left is the men-dressed-as-ladies part, and while I agree that Glover and Chevy Chase are quite good at what they're doing, the whole subplot still feels like more of a "hey, wouldn't it be funny to put Troy and Pierce in women's clothes?" than a serious attempt at character development.

      This is even more glaring, when compared to the A plot, which puts a lot of effort into getting nuance right. It doesn't ruin the episode for me (and I don't find it offensive – except maybe vaguely, and in a purely intellectual way); I just find it superfluous and not very funny.

      Oh, and I really don't get the tag. Even if Pierce had come to enjoy his elegant 14-size (even if he's a 12 everywhere that counts) pantsuit, why would he go away with someone as sadistic and very likely psychotic as Chang? It ruins Glover's absolutely awesome delivery of "Slut!"

    • i actually don't feel like the plots not tying together had any strong negative effect on the episode/b-plot (in general, i don't mind unconnected plotlines). the comparison of the two plots does emphasize the weakness of the b-plot, though. troy's moment of realization feels a little less earned than it needs to be to make that plot work, and that's in part because the b-plot isn't as strong on multiple levels. this is likely a side effect of the "let's see what happens when we put x and y together" approach to writing the first season, too.

    •  

       To me that plot felt a little too close to audience pandering: more Chang! Let's put Troy and Pierce in women's clothes! The emotional bits felt unearned because thay felt secondary to a gimmick, rather than organically tied to the story.

    • Though it was still pretty funny on its face–somehow the fact that they bought matching ladies' trench coats to cover their pantsuits tickled me–there was part of me that was a little uncomfortable laughing at it.  I think you might be right about the audience pandering.

      That said, it did lead me to a new appreciation of Donald Glover's rear end– I'd like to slap those buns on the grill!

    •  

       Pierce had a pretty sweet scarf though. Very lady-like…

    • Great review SBT. I feel really bad for making the world wait for mine until Monday.

    •  

      Oh, don't worry. This thing turned out so long and shapeless, it will take people until Monday to finish it. Really looking forward to your review though: 117 is one of my favorite episodes.

    • Great review! One thing I like about this episode is the fridge brilliance in Chang never for a second believing that he's been recruited for a teaching job at an Ivy League School despite his massively delusional nature. Why would he? He doesn't even have the proper credentials to be a community college teacher.

    • Awesome write up. I really liked how you hit on the Jeff/Abed relationship. That's probably the most interesting one on the show, in my opinion. Jeff doesn't see Abed as strange, or as an excuse to act like a kid, he just sees him as another person. In fact, Jeff probably sees him as the most normal member of the group. Jeff is able to open up to Abed in a way that he can't with any other member of the group. Abed filters everything through a pop culture lens, but Jeff is right there to pick up on pretty much everything Abed is referencing (My Dinner With Andre is thankfully and gleefully excluded from this list). Jeff goes so far to ask Abed why they are the only two sane members of the group in Science of Illusion. The two of them could not be more different outwardly, but they stand as equals personality-wise and emotionally. 

    • Plus Abed was the only sane one according to the test in Horror Fiction, except Jeff didn't fill it out seriously so he might be sane too. It's the little details like that that make me love the show the most.

    • First of all, tremendous review, as expected. Seems like we're learning something new about Jeff-Abed every time the topic comes up and this is perhaps the best take yet.

      I gotta defend S1, though. You and Eric have been really hard on the 'observational' plots from that season and, while I appreciate the insane depth of knowledge you guys have for stories and sitcom devices, I just think they're FUN! There's something to be said for putting great characters and actors in the typical hackneyed (you can just say it) sitcom plots and then letting them loose. I never once thought about the broad plot mechanics of Troy and Pierce dressing in pantsuits to preserve their honor because their line readings and physical comedy surpass any limitations of the story. I mean, plots like those make up the entirety of many shows, including great ones like AD, and no one's complaining about them being cheap, uninteresting and lacking in character revelation. So this is why a lot of us love S1. It's breezy, harmless, cute fun, and I personally think that made it the funniest season of the three while also, as you said, building the groundwork for the show to get much more complex and audacious.

    •  

       Sorry, I didn't mean to come off as "hard." I like S1 a lot; it has a warmth to it, and a sense of joy and love throughout, that S2 and S3 don't have very often.

      It's true that I'm very fond of formalism. I like things that are structurally flawless, yet manage to project the messiness of emotions truthfully; it's why Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors, and why I like Racine and Nabokov too (hey, that's an explanahumblebrag!). If I had, if I ABSOLUTELY had to choose just one season of Community though, it would be S2, because, as I said, it's where the show truly broke off from the pack and never looked back. But I realize that without S1, S2 would have never packed the same punch. Episodes like Communication Studies lay the ground that make AUC, or PHM, or RCT possible.

      But, thruth is, I love S1 and S2 almost equally. Can't I just have both?

    • I'm saying let me have both. Silly side plots (side adventures?) are the nuts and bolts of sitcoms, especially if you want the show to last a while, and it's a good way to take the edge off more serious plots. One thing the show has gotten away from is these kinds of B and C plots. There have only been three episodes this season with them; otherwise, every episode has been about the group as an organism. They're going to burn themselves out like that.

    • @lloydbraun agreed! that is one of the reasons I liked Advanced Gay – it was nice for the characters to do something on their own again.

    • My favourite line from the episode, "Movie reference."

    • I feel like the guy from the…TV show…

    • the girl from the breakfast club… you broke me

    • Abed’s understanding of the world is based in reproduction and replication. He’s very much like Uncle Toby from Tristram Shandy in his belief that feelings are dictated by events and therefore the perfect replication of an event would result in the perfect replication of the attendant emotional state.

      Wow. That is great. I guess that's the way a lot of little kids with Legos and model trains feel, a way I've often felt, and part of the key to writers and filmmakers. A really interesting way to consider Abed.

      As the ep goes, I like it a lot better in the "extended cut" with way more Jeff and Abed. I don't really like the end with Britta showing up at thew dance, going overboard just to mess with Jeff, then having the perfect solution via the phone message. (If the 40 minutes was so informative, how come it never comes up again?)

      But everyone doing the Electric Slide as the camera pans overhead is really cool.

    • SBT must have been watching A Dangerous Method before writing it.

      "Perhaps you should entertain the notion that Jeff's drunk dial represents his penis" (a version of an actual line from the movie, although it actually makes sense in this case)

    •  

      Did Jung drunk-dial Sabina Spielrein in that movie and I missed it?

      (Is it wrong that I am now imagining a scene where Michael Fassbender makes googly eyes while slurring his words into an old-timey phone?)

      And of course Jeff's drunk dial to Britta represents his penis (or, as it's known in England, "Italian tummy").

    •  

       Oh, yeah, the extended cut spells out things too clearly, and kills almost all subtext. Stay tuned for my 1500 word analysis, coming up some time tonight.

      (Just kidding; I'm going to write a brief post about the commentary and the extended version soon, because I didn't have any time to do it this afternoon.)

    • CLAP
      CLAP
      CLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAP
      which is to say fantastic review, i especially love your take on the Jeff-Abed relationship.  Jeff more than any of the other group members accepts Abed as he is.  Britta tries to change him, Shirley and Pierce dont understand him, Annie i think pities him and Troy regards him as the cool toy, but Jeff accepts him.  And I think you nail why Abed is attracted to Jeff, Jeff greatest skill is Abed's fatal weakness. 

    • When New Girl did its Zooey Deschanel sees one of her roommates naked so she lets him see her naked to restore the balance of power episode last year, all I could think about the whole episode was Jeff going "Is that really a sitcom staple?"

    • I remember when i first saw this episode i was amazed how many shows i could think of where this plot happened.  sitcoms are weird beasts

    • Awesome review, Semi-bored torontonian .

      I love that Harmon meant for each season's course to be thematic. It seems so basic, but I hadn't ever considered it before. So, (knock on wood) does anyone want to venture a guess as to what season 4's course will be? I'm thinking it will be something practical that will prepare the group for the real, scary, lonely, Chang-filled world out there. 

      Economics 101?

    • Someone on TVtropes (mass weapon of distraction) theorized that it would be a history course, and I really like that idea. It could tie everybody's past into their presents while leaving hope in the future.

    •  

       Yeah, History would make the most sense, and it would keep with Harmon's four-part narrative circle thingy too. If we are now in "the December of our December," i.e., the darkest time, and the course is Biology (change and evolution), this means that next year the show would enter its 4th quadrant: spring and hope. History would then make a lot of sense: a reevaluation of the past with an eye to the future.

      I really like this idea.

    • Economics is striking my fancy because of the duality of economics as a very real-world, unfeeling, predictive field and also the use of the term in writing and film as "narrative economy."  It hits me as very Abedian and appropriate for their last year before the real world.

      But then again,  blue_light_888 and Semi-bored torontonian are making a pretty good case for History's place in the narrative circle, so that makes a lot of sense, too.

    • What the?!?!  This was neither homophobic nor gratuitously critical of Israel.  I thought I was clear with my requests this morning…

      Okay, instead this was great.  I'm going to be turning this over in my head for awhile: "Abed…very strongly hints at his conviction that emotional authenticity can only be achieved through playing a part, through filtering your personality through a mask" and especially thinking how that plays with Abed's line "You've been acting your whole life. It's time to pass that act up, and find the actor that's playing you."

      I thought another nice Abedian note, though tiny, was "You know Britta's defining weakness."  What a friend-as-character way to speak about your friends.  But he's not at all wrong.

      I was continually pleased by lots of nice little setups for future episodes in this one, too.  Abed tells Jeff "She likes you just the way you are" which, interestingly, Jeff will echo in the finale but about Britta.  Jeff and Britta play a warmup round of relationship chicken while the real action will be in Anthro 101.  And, of course, what was referred to in the commentary as prison-eatin':

      http://bit.ly/yyFHV1

      Surely the stage direction for that was: “When he eats, he holds his fork like a murderer’s knife, gnawing at its skewered payload like a deranged woodland rodent!”

      Sorry if some of this was from the extended cut.  I'm trying to save those comments for tomorrow, but I wasn't totally paying attention to when I was watching regular v. extended footage.  In fact, I thought for one moment of glorious smarty-pantsness/terrible sadness at the loss of an idol, that I'd caught Community in a huge continuity error, because Abed says he couldn't make it past the opening credits of  Who's the Boss.  Alas/Hurray, I was watching a deleted scene  I wonder why their decision to cut that and why they brought it back later?

      Oh, and also, what the…is Joel McHale wearing one of those child leashes shaped like a monkey in that fishstick (http://bit.ly/ywk2xh)?  That it super creepy and also I might have dreams about opening a door to that scene one day….

    •  

       Wow, brain wrinkle much? I was just about to comment on Jeff's monkey harness… I don't even want to know what all that was about.

      The Who's the Boss bit is in the original cut. I guess Abed must have changed his mind.

      Also: rugelach sucks!

    •  i'm pretty sure Abed watched the entirety of Who's the Boss in preparation for the class because that is what Abed would do

    • i like that we've basically begun referring to the images as fishsticks.

    • Thanks for the trivia, NPR. I've been slipping on these.

      "You know Britta's defining weakness: she cuts and runs" is a direct quote from Dan Harmon in the 105 commentary. Another example of Abed being his mouthpiece.

      'Kick Splasher' poster in Abed's dorm.

      The heart decorations at the dance are brought back as candy hearts when Abed guesses the message blindfolded in 215.

      Jeff and Abed's drinking toast: "Nostrovia", which of course is from Deer Hunter, a De Niro movie but not directed by Scorsese.

      This episode is the origin of one of my Ludwig favorites:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…. It has come up several times since and I've heard it a couple times on New Girl as well.

    •  

       Actually, "Nazdrowia" is Polish for "To your health!" and is something Abed would say, being half-Polish and all.

    • LloydBraun half the reason I rate this episode so high is that Ludwig song at the end.

      I think that song would work well in a season finale type situation.  especially the 2:02 onwards portion. just seems like a finale type mood. 

    • SBT, just trying to connect it to his line about De Niro and Scorsese drinking together.

      Los Pollos, I love it dearly. We just don't get those kinds of moments anymore.

      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co… – Jeff looking back at Britta. In Spanish 101, Britta turned to look back at Jeff.

    •  

       Yes, I just realized what you were doing; I really should read these posts closer…

      I like it when Abed uses Polish; it's a nice bit of character continuity, and a little nod to Pudi's own background.

    • That music comes to mind instantly whenever I think of this episode. I found that having it play in my mind as I read the review put me in the right state to really appreciate it.

    • I never knew that song had words!  Love that it, too, is so upbeat with such a morose title.  I am distinctly not okay with sharing it with New Girl, however.  Mine.  Mineminemine.

      Kicksplasher! I laughed at that when I saw it but forgot to mention it. We need to see that movie, too.

    • Other cute moment-of-note in the extended cut: Britta's verbal turnin'-it-into-a-snake: "Hey……..is for hoises!" and her extremely awkward run away.

      Favorite moment of the commentary: Danny and Gillian spontaneously breaking out into "Annie's Song"

    • OccamsBlazer

      I'll second on the love for weathered "leather bag" Britta, along with hungover "Drunky Brewster" Jeff.

    • sll03

      10 drunk dials out of 10!

      Damn, that was good!  I really have nothing to add because Semi-bored torontonian covered everything (and then some!) about this episode quite expertly.  I just want to reiterate what a great showcase Communication Studies is for the Jeff/Abed relationship.  Abed and Jeff really seem to relate on a level only they can truly understand and watching them recognize parts of themselves in each other is both encouraging and disheartening; the former because you feel hopeful that they may finally be able to form a real connection and the latter once you realize their common ground stems from shared past pain. 

      Favourite Quote:

      No, I have noooo idea what I'm talking about.  I'm Abed, I neeeever watch TV!
      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

      The way Pudi delivers that line just makes me happy.  That is all.

    • Phenomenal review! Communication Studies absolutely is a gem of an episode.

    • I know there are a lot of Chang haters out there, but Chang's dance was awesome. Also, Troy's "Slut!" at the end of the episode was great.

    • I love Chang through S1 and through many parts of S2 (particularly most of the pre-Epidemiology stuff). I only think he became a problematic character towards the end of S2 and S3.

    • I don't have time to read your entire review right at this moment, Semi-bored Torontonian, but I just want to ask you something in response to the following portion, that I did read:
      I’m Team S2 all the way – if Community is going to be remembered for anything, it will be for the ease with which it jumped from format to format and from style to style from one episode to another, for its extraordinary formal audacity and for its remarkable self-assurance. I predict in fact that very soon (perhaps as soon as next season), and largely because to the increased awareness of the show, due to NBC’s shitty handling of the hiatus, we are going to see other sitcoms attempting their own “concept episodes.” HIMYM already did a RCT-type episode, and by the time Modern Family’s version of Epidemiology rolls around, it will win every Emmy in existence. And it will suck. 

      There's two sitcoms presently on the air that look like game-changers and have broken down the barriers of just what a live-action sitcom is capable of doing. Those two are obviously Louie and Community. Do you think that when we look back at this era of television, we'll see their influence in the same vein as we see The Office (both versions) and Arrested Development in the early-to-mid 00s, or Seinfeld and The Simpsons in the 1990s? I'm certainly thinking that these are the two shows to carry that mantle of influence. Many will say that Parks and Recreation is just as good, if not better, but it's very much in the tradition of The American Office and doesn't really bring anything new to the table (furthermore, it does even less with the mockumentary format than the American Office did). It just does the same old thing very very well. There's nothing wrong with that, in my opinion, but it's not breaking any barriers like Community and Louie.

      Also, I have another question, where else do you think Community's influence is being felt, or will be felt?

      Sorry for the questions. I don't have time to think about the answers myself, but I'd love to hear your's, and anyone else's opinion. I posted this is in a different thread because, while it's in response to something you posted in your review, it's not at all on the topic of the episode you're reviewing, and I think it'd distract less from the discussion of Communication Studies in a separate thread (if that decision is ill-informed I apologize. If you think it's more of a distraction here than in the review thread, I can edit it and repost it there).

    • It's possible, but Community doesn't have the ratings those other shows did (with the exception of AD), and I'm assuming Louie doesn't either (plus it's not a network show) so they might not have enough public recognition to really influence things. But I guess what really matters is that the creative people see them which I'm sure they do.

      Just as long as my nightmare that Family Guy becomes the defining influence in early 21st century sitcoms doesn't come true.

    • Ratings aren't all that important in terms of influence.  We can liken it to pop music–The Velvet Underground didn't sell a lot of records in their day, but look to the late 70's and 80's punk/postpunk/college rock scenes and any band that mattered was citing them as a foundational influence.

      By the way, everyone, this thread might be the single most impressive bit of critically minded dialogue I've encountered in a while.  Nicely done.

    • I know that, that's why I added that last part about the creative people seeing it. I was just pointing out that most of the shows mentioned did have great ratings and that could have been a factor. There's a history in television (and everything, really) of grabbing on to what's popular and trying to replicate it and get some of that success.

    • So I wrote you a lenghty answer as my students were doing a test tonight but I can't paste it using my iPhone. I'll post it as soon as I get home. Awesome question, though!

    • I really look forward to your thoughts. Both Louie and Community are so dramatically different from your typical American sitcom – especially Louie which I prefer not to refer to as a sitcom – that I think one could easily write a very interesting, lengthy article about just what exactly makes them so groundbreaking and what their potential legacies may be.

    • Loki100

      Community is going to be the defining sitcom of the late '00s-early '10s, there's just no way around that fact. The most obvious example of where its influence is already being felt is ABC's Revenge where they play with genre and expectations although in a more subtle way than Community does. I would also say American Horror Story was aping aspects of Community, but it might be an example of Ryan Murphy simply cutting loose with every aspect of his writing.

      I would wager that in 10 years we will be deluged with a glut of Community knock-offs that lack the heart and soul of the original.

    • I suspect the biggest influence of Community is that to encourage sitcom writers to do elaborate concept episodes and push the boundaries of the medium. I think it's also notable that Community has character depth and development without sacrificing comedy, plus it eschews the crutch of cut-away gags.

      Parks and Recreation proved that you can make comedy out of fundamentally good-hearted people, couples don't have to be irritating so you can dispose of the crutch of will-they/won't-they, plus major characters should be retooled if it would improve the show.

      The Simpsons and The Office aside, I suspect the most influential sitcom currently on air is 30 Rock. 30 Rock upped the tempo and the elaborateness of sitcom plots to new levels.

      I love Community but I don't think it'll be as influential as Seinfeld, The Simpsons, The Office, Scrubs or 30 Rock (it's also interesting that four out of the five were on NBC).

    •  30 Rock got that from AD. If you want fast paced, super elaborate plots, callbacks aplenty and jokes that pay off six episodes later, AD was the first to do it.

      Whether it will be influential or not, Community really is the most original sitcom since… well, since AD, really.

    • You beat me to it by a minute. I listening to an AV club podcast from a couple months back (that plug makes up for the hitfix link!) and they were talking about the evolution of the "smart" NBC sitcom. It got me thinking how 30 Rock was more off the AD branch than Seinfeld or Frasier. Nothing will ever top AD in terms of jokes per minute, and I can't imagine any show using cut-aways better either.

    • I agree with this entirely. Although, I would say that Louie is even more original because it just throws all of TV tradition out the window. It's like previous television doesn't even exist (and as we know CK doesn't watch much TV so that may be a big reason why. He's the David Chase of TV comedy in other words. And in more ways than one! I feel like that was quite the revelation. Ok no more rambling on in these parentheses). On the other hand, that is still an important aspect of Community, which often makes a specific point of subverting TV tradition/tropes, of course. However, I do agree with your statement about Community being the most original sitcom since AD, but I'd say that Louie is the most original since probably the British Office.

    •  Oh, I think Louie one-ups even The British Office. The British Office at least was serialized. Louie is more like a series of short films (I think what fascinates me most in the show is just how fucking good Louis CK is at directing). It's like Kafka's diaries or Carver's short stories, only slightly funnier. But it projects the same sense of slightly skewed realism.

      To call it a sitcom does Louie no justice, really. It's more like a label for filing the DVDs. That's why I think its influence may be quite limited. But I expect to see Louie's business model catching on, somewhat.

    • I thought about it after and I agree that it one-ups the British Office as well. It's something entirely new for television comedy. I'd probably have to go back to shows that I haven't seen when I say that "Louie is the most original TV comedy since…". Because frankly, even shows like The Simpsons and The Office carry on some, or many even, forms of television tradition. Louie scraps it all and, like The Sopranos, seems to be far more influenced by film than TV.

    • Perhaps.

      Honestly, I don't think much about Arrested Development because I didn't like it at the time and haven't really tried rewatching it since. I thought it was a jumbled unfunny mess.

    • I think Arrested Development, 30 Rock and Community all come from a similar grapevine, and each show added something a bit new to the formula (though maybe Community's addition was a lot new). I think all three of them will be looked at as defining shows…there's really not many network sitcoms willing to delve as far into batshit insanity and experimental humor as those shows do.

    • I'm somewhat unclear, though, as to what 30 Rock did that was significantly different from Arrested Development? That's not meant to be a knock against the show, I just have difficulty seeing what was truly groundbreaking about that show in the wake of AD. Mind you, that may be my own fault and not the show's.

    • I'd agree with Dan Harmon himself that AD ran with Seinfeld's blueprint.

      I'll quote a relevant portion of an interview DH and Steve Levitan:

      HARMON: Easier to have a little bit of sap, right?

      LEVITAN: I think it’s easier to do. Because you have that net.

      HARMON: Absolutely. Tina Fey is in the 24-carat comedy wholesale business, but there can’t be a single flaw. Our show is just like, ‘Yeah, we’ll take 20 percent of that, and aren’t they cute?’ Here’s the thing: Larry David’s personality is what’s ringing through. It’s a great scientific observation to be able to take part in, because you get to watch "Curb Your Enthusiasm" after "Seinfeld," and you get to really understand the relationship between show-runner and product.

      Because there he is immediately afterward on HBO, and you can see the similarities, and you can see the voice that began to ring through "Seinfeld," after all these things fell away. Starting and end each episode with Jerry doing stand-up, or making Kramer’s hair higher or lower — those things just fell away. It was like a car going so fast: the hood goes, the hub caps go, and this hot rod is just Larry David and four f—ing wheels and an engine — that’s all it was.

      And everybody thought that because "Seinfeld" was successful, that television had changed.  But the way it changed was everyone started imitating Larry David, and then you had a bunch of equally uncharismatic shows that were egregiously sardonic and gratuitously cynical. I watched shows from that era, and I'd think, you don’t hate the world that much! You’re a TV writer! Relax! 

      Hard to tell if that's a shot at Seinfeld, but it seems to be a shot at AD and 30 Rock too..

    • He doesn't even mention AD though, and there's no direct attack towards 30 Rock either. When he talks about "egregiously sardonic and gratuitously cynical" shows I think he could easily be referring to Chuck Lorre-type shows instead.

    • That makes sense. I do get the sense, though, that Harmon looks down on snark and cynicism. He's a big softie so he'd think every show should have some sap.

    • I'm thinking that the key thing, for shows like Community and Louie, is that while their influence may not necessarily be as widespread, their innovations have definitely blown up the television comedy format and just what it is capable of doing. They have opened previously unopened doors for future comedies to pass through. Whether those comedies do that or not is more difficult to say. And while I don't know much about Scrubs, I also don't feel that 30 Rock did that at all. It's definitely an influential show, but I don't feel it blew things open like, say, The British Office.

    • Either Scrubs or Malcolm in the Middle deserve the credit for bringing single-camera sitcoms back into the mainstream in the US and, of the two, I'd rather credit Scrubs because it did more with the format.

      I think the influence of the UK version of The Office tends to be overstated. It was well-observed but the format, an imitation of UK reality TV, wasn't that unique. Marion & Geoff deserves a lot more credit than it gets, as does That Peter Kay Thing.

      I think the American adaptation was a bigger revelation in the US than the UK version was in the UK. It was certainly a bigger hit.

    • I don't know much about UK television, but, I'm assuming the UK Office has had much more of an influence in the US than in the UK.

    • These are really great questions! I'm not sure what the answer is exactly. Maybe I  jumped the gun a little discussing Community's posterity (I do get all giddy and emotional when I write long posts about the show; I call it the VanDerWerff syndrome). The show is after all still on the air. But I think that, in a weird way, the hiatus pushed it more into the spotlight, and forced more creative people in the industry to take it seriously. This isn't going to increase its ratings, mind you, but I get the distinct feeling that it's not going to be seen as a live action Family Guy anymore.

      So, yes, I like to think that, even more than Louie, this is the defining sitcom of the 2010s. It has a format like no other, and an approach to serialization that is also unique (in that it tends to serialize characters, more than stories, thus making it more akin to The Wire). I'm not sure where its influence will be most visible though. Its format is innovative because it's not fixed or easily graspable: it's not the mockumentary form of AD or The UK Office, and it's not the snarky classicism of Seinfeld. Community is a fantastically protean show, changing styles and genres from week to week, and that may be hard to capture. If anything, its influence may a more general one: a liberation of the genre – an impulse to shed comfortable formats like the mockumentary or even the flashback/ side swipe structure of 30 Rock, and try to go for a purer form of storytelling, play with characterization, use exotic genres for the sake of expression rather than parody.

      Yeah: storytelling; I definitely think this is where Community will be most influential. It's why I had RCT at the top of my list: that episode managed to tell 7 fully formed, interlaced stories in 20 minutes and give the characters consistence and structure. It's a mind blowing piece of narrative art, not just of television.

      I can't speak for Louie's influence, though. That show is far more intimately linked to Louis CK's personality and idiosyncrasies than Community is to Harmon's. But it certainly offers a very intriguing model of what can be achieved with very little money and a lot of creative freedom.

      I don't see P&R aging particularly well. Its ambitions are very small: it uses an already creatively spent format and its approach to character building is solid but unmemorable. Most importantly, it's not quotable or memorable in the way AD or The Simpsons are (can you name a single episode of P&R that can be justly called a classic?) I'm not saying it's not funny, just that it's not particularly lasting.

    • Well said all around. I'd like to find people who dismiss Community as "live action Family Guy" so I can kick them and show them an episode like Debate 109. 

      I think Community is too…well, too out there to be directly influential. I agree that the liberation of the format is most likely to be its lasting contribution to television. It doesn't have a defining category that can be used to classify it, which is what makes it so great. If a future sitcom can get pitched without saying, "It's a mockumentary" or "It's like Two and a Half Men but with women making the crass jokes instead", that is where Community's influence will be felt. 

      I'm also going to keep a close eye on the Dan Harmon Comedy Tree. In a few years once Community wraps up on it's own terms, I'm looking forward to when Ganz and McKenna get their own shows and see how they draw from their Community experiences. That's definitely another way that Community will last. People in the industry know what kind of talent is in that writers room. 

    • Heh, nice 2 Broke Girls swipe.

    • I really really really wish I could read this right now but I have to hit the hay.

      I did catch that last part about P&R though, and as a fan of the show, I do kinda see Flu Season and Fancy Party as classics, just off the top of my head. There's others too.

      I'll hopefully have a real response for you tomorrow! Peace.

    • If anything, its influence may a more general one: a liberation of the genre – an impulse to shed comfortable formats like the mockumentary or even the flashback/ side swipe structure of 30 Rock, and try to go for a purer form of storytelling, play with characterization, use exotic genres for the sake of expression rather than parody. 
      That's the sort of well-informed answer I was looking for when I posed this question.

      In regards to Louie, while it is linked to CK's own personality very much so, it also opens up the possibilities for future shows to take on a more personal tone and cinematic style as well. Like Community, it is perhaps too idiosyncratic for its influence to be widespread, but it has cleared the way for a new type of TV comedy. For instance, maybe I have this information completely mixed up, but I thought I read somewhere that, apparently, there's a new series (I think it's Lena Dunham's upcoming HBO series, Girls) that owes much influence to CK's deeply personal show. If that's true, it's influence is already being felt in some regards.