Episode 117: Physical Education

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Episode 117 – Physical Education

Physical Education is among one of season one’s best. It is often lost among new fans due to the iconic episodes that soon follow such as “Contemporary American Poultry” and “Modern Warfare”. “Physical Education” is definitely an episode for people who are more familiar with the show. It runs deep with laughs and has become a cult classic for Britta’s pronunciation of the word bagel.

Both the A and B stories run in parallel. The A story involves Jeff enrolling in what he thinks will be a blow-off class – billiards. The B story has the rest of the group trying to set up Abed with a girl they suspect might have a crush on him. These two completely different stories have the same theme. Both Jeff and Abed are forced to confront their own vanity; the only difference being that Abed is comfortable with who he is and Jeff is not.

This isn’t the first time Jeff has come face to face with his own vanity.  Without acknowledging future episodes, the Jeff we know at this point has only ever faced his own vanity in “Home Economics” when he learns to live a lot less materialistically. In Home Economics we learn that Jeff’s possessions are a part of who he is. In Phys Ed Jeff deals strictly with his looks, which impair his ability to play billiards when he is forced to wear shorts that he doesn’t look cool in.

It soon becomes apparent to the audience that the reason Jeff got into pool in the first place is because he looks cool playing it. It takes the strict rules and taunting of the Phys Ed coach to bring Jeff out of his shell.

Similarly, the rest of the study group tries to bring Abed out of his shell so he will muster up the courage to approach Jenny; a girl who they suspect has a crush on him. When his initial attempts fail, the group tries coaching Abed on how to approach a girl. They quickly learn that Abed can be good at it when he impersonates some of the people he sees on television. At one point Abed states it perfectly: “I understand; I need to change who I am to someone more likable.”

Abed decides to give this a try to make the rest of the group happy. Upon failure, the group assumes that Abed has had his heart broken. Unlike Jeff, Abed is left unscarred by his rejection. The difference being that Abed is comfortable in his own skin which Jeff is not.

Jeff sees confidence in Abed that was absent in him. Abed was able to put himself out there. Jeff couldn’t give his shorts the same chance that Abed gave Jenny and the rest of the group, as the importance of getting a girlfriend was clearly more important to everyone else than to Abed.

So Jeff finally decides to suck up his pride and put on the shorts that he thought to be un-cool. Jeff then proves himself in a game of pool against the coach and goes to extreme lengths to prove that he hasn’t just found a way to look cool in shorts, and that he truly doesn’t care how he looks while he plays.

This episode proved to be really effective in terms of character development for Jeff. We learn that Jeff is capable of change and that he isn’t as vain as when the episode began. The same, however, cannot be said about Abed. He, as a character, develops very little. As we later find out in season two, Abed is unlike all his peers in terms of growth and change. When I thought about it, it’s true. Abed never changes. We certainly learn a whole lot about Abed, but he never does truly change. This is why we all love him. He is aware of what he is, and stays true to himself without compromise.

As for the vanity of both Jeff and Abed, we all know how that goes. Jeff has more issues that have yet to be solved from growing up without a dad to being dressed as an Indian girl for Halloween. Abed’s vanity and ability to connect with others is never again brought into question. It becomes clear to the group that Abed can connect with a person through just about anything whether it be building blanket forts or watching Kick Puncher.

The reason this episode worked so well is because it had the right balance of story and comedy. None of the storylines were revolved around a single joke and it felt natural. Every scene had a point that had me laughing right from the start with Britta’s pronunciation of bagel. Other memorable moments were Abed’s impersonations of Jeff and Don Draper, White Abed (or you can call Abed a brown Joey, if you wanna get racist about it), and Jeff violently throwing his underwear into the face of an audience member. This is one of the rare episodes that seem even funnier when you go back and watch it, knowing the characters
better from seasons two and three.

Quote to Sum Up the Episode
Abed: That’s why I was willing to change for you guys. Because when you really know who you are and what you like about yourself, changing for other people isn’t such a big deal.

Observations:

  • Annie wears that yellow sweater a lot doesn’t she? I’m pretty sure she wears it in debate 109 and the conspiracies episode
  • Jeff wearing a leather jacket seems wrong. It’s much more Britta
  • BAGel
  • Pierce has a bunch of funny one-liners. “See! She has a fat name. Might as well be Gravy Jones.”
  • Adios! Guys… Class is over! I’m trying to get you to leave.
  • Chang’s psychic powers
  • Whoa! Pierce pronounces Abed right instead of A-bed. How did I miss this?
  • The Greendale gym uniforms are blue and grey?
  • The picture behind the coaches desk is awesome and hilarious
  • Because I don’t look cool in shorts!!

25 LIKES

On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-446658696  (page 114)

 

Discussion:

    • he apologizes after jeff says in a hurt tone, "zach braff?"

    • Hilary Swank in boys don't cry and Jeff is upset at Zach Braff. Hilarious!

    • Nice point about Jeff changing/Abed not changing.

      I thought it was really interesting, listening to the commentary, that theystarted with naked billiards and built the story from there.  Bless you, Dan Harmon.

      I will say this episode makes me glad Community doesn't have the money for real music most of the time.  For some reason, I found the use of "Werewolves of London" kind of jarring.  Granted, I've enjoyed non-Ludwig/Matt&Kim songs on the show before–hello, ABBA–but that particular song clashed with the general tone of Community.  It felt a little sitcommy.  The musical cue for Don Draper, meanwhile, was perfection.

    • Oh, and if there are still any lurkers out there, I present you with your new username: Vampire Abed.  (Or was he being a lizard? Or a raptor?  No matter, they all work).  You're welcome.

    • FWIW (and forgive me if you already know this), "Werewolves of London" was making fun of The Color of Money.

    • Ah.  I did not.  Makes much more sense. I should know by now to suspect something like that when things seem off.

      Add that to the list of movies referred to by Community that I should get around to watching one day.  Thanks!

    •  yeah the most famous scene in Color of Money (a much inferior sequel to the Hustler) is a scene of them playing pool to Werewolves of London

    • Good work, TyM.

      My favorite parts are definitely Abed impersonating Don Draper and maybe that one dinosaur from Jurassic Park and especially Jeff. Abed mocking Jeff losing his temper while Jeff stalks off pouting is hilarious.

      But as for the ep's bigger comic concepts, I guess I'm just L7. I've watched other people, who aren't even as in to Community as I am laugh their asses of at Jeff's increasingly naked pool playing. I get that it's kind of gently mocking both dumb "learn your lesson" sitcom plots and Animal House type hijinks by being hyperbolic (or at least I think it is), but it's just so goofy. I guess I feel kind of embarrassed that they're transparently getting Joel progressively more and more nude for sillier and sillier reasons. Which is the joke, I know. White Abed, too, was kind of "instead of the expected payoff, here's something really weird." By the time the cute girl from Jeff's class wanted to ask Abed out, it was like a lecture on how stereotypical TV dorks aren't actually what TV makes them out to be, with the whole story serving a fairly simple and didactic inversion of old sitcom logic.

    • I thought the lesson that that episode presented about self-esteem was a nice one, and one that could be taken to heart more often.

    • I'm with you on this one.  Not that I remotely disliked this episode, but given the love around here for it and the fact that I've really come to appreciate most of the S1 episodes a ton more on rewatch, it didn't rise in my estimation as much as I expected.

    • Loki100

      Mmm… Jeff naked! I can't ever decide if they are specifically mocking the sexualization of women in entertainment by sexualizing Jeff while (mostly) de-sexualizing Britta… or if they just realize that Joel's a hottie, yo.

    • I'm fine with the sexualization of everyone!

      Except Chang. Please not him.

    • Loki100

      You say that now, but that's just because you haven't read the Chang/Optimus Prime slash fiction… that I totally never wrote…

    • Whatever, Chang/Charred mannequin leg 4evah!

    • A review on the same day you signed up for it? I love it.

      Very nice review. Ideally concise and thoughtful. This line in particular is very well written: "Jeff couldn’t give his shorts the same chance that Abed gave Jenny and the rest of the group."

      Gotta love a show where something that silly is part of rich characterization.

    • I'm so tired my brain is about to explode, but let me briefly say that this is definitely one of my favorite S1 episodes and it includes a great Pierce moment. "Good grief, clear the chickens off the runway, I'll be the bad guy. Yes, Abed, you need to be someone else. Someone who eventually gets a girlfriend because I can't think of anything more frightening than a half Polish/half Arab virgin in his thirties. One way or another that story ends with an explosion!"

      Quintessential Pierce. Like everyone else in the matchmaking brigade he gets it completely wrong, but I really like this side of him and how he's the only one who can just come out and say what the group is trying to do. And in spite of his reflexive brusqueness and dickishness, there's a man who really wants to help this kid he doesn't quite get. (Okay, doesn't get at all.) I like that he's so self-aware of his role in the group, too. This is like the gentler, more productive side of his villainy, the closest he gets to a real function while being firmly on the group's side. 

    • He says things that others won't. That has value.

      Seriously, though, it's true. I think this is part of why Pierce-as-villain didn't sit so well with me. He's not a bad person, even if he is a racist, homophobic old goof.

    • Loki100

      Within the context of the season, Pierce-as-villain I thought was executed beautifully. The death of his mother, and his pill addiction created a very strong, very grounded reason for his emotional neediness and instability.

      Pierce is not a villain. He is a very lonely old man who has trouble relating to people, which can lead to villainous behavior.

    • Pierce-the-villain actually really interests me and sat well with me for the most part — though it started to wear thin towards the end of S2 — because it's nothing that's not already in him, magnified by all of his considerable issues and compounded by the pill addiction. I also think they did a great job laying the groundwork of his separateness pretty much from the pilot, even with quotations like the one above where he's trying to be a good guy you can see where he could become the group's odd man out. So that coupled with the steady descent made me buy the all-out jerk he was acting by the time the doc episode and D&D rolled around.

      Glad it was temporary though.

    • DavetheDouchebag

      "He's not a bad person, even if he is a racist, homophobic old goof." This should be the line Ron Paul supporters use when defending his newsletters.

    • Massive continuity win: Abed becomes the beige praying mantis Jeff described him as
      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

      Continuity fail: Jeff snaps back that Leonard's son told him about his gambling on family day. Lots of episode shifting in season 1.

    • Actually, it's quite plausible that Greendale could have a "family day" once a semester. At a school with that high a turnover rate, it'd make sense.

    • Nah, Jeff has clearly already broken up with Slater.  They flipped the episodes.

    • Annie does indeed wear that yellow sweater a lot, which is a nice continuity point. I always love to see characters reuse clothes, makes them feel more like real people.

      In any case, I absolutely adore Physical Education. It's side-achingly hilarious, and has some pretty decent character work.

      Annie (and Troy) watching Jeff take the shot naked never fails to crack me up.

    •  "Do you have something against playing pool with a full range of motion and optimal comfort?"

      "Nobody plays pool like that".
      "Well, what do you call this". (the prop department outdid themselves for this scene. such a great office)

      Awesome turn.
      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
      "I liked it"
      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

      Love how Troy says "Annie you sit here, OK, and be a girl"

      "What are you doing hitting on my girlfriend, UGLY"

    • DavetheDouchebag

      I know! Those eyes are the main reason I love Alison/Annie so much.

    • She is a princess after all.

    • Yep. They're really really really amazing.

    • Glover's delivery on "be a girl" is priceless.

    • Yes, another one of my favourite quotes from the episode.

    • Good review. Although I wouldn't say that Abed is incapable of change. I happened to watch the pilot again yesterday, and in the first few episodes, he was not only not able to read other people's emotions (which is still a flaw of his most of the time), but also completely unaware how his actions would affect other people (see Intro to Film), i.e. unable to relate to other people on all levels.

      The lesson learnt here is that Abed is the least insecure member of the group by far ("I've got self-esteem flung out of my butt."/"Let's face it, I'm pretty adorable.") and is therefore willing to (temporarily) change his persona to make his friends feel better. He's come a long way from the pop-culture reference machine, even to the point where he is – at times – able to display genuine emotion without having to relate to a TV character (see RCT).

    • "Make out with the hottest girl in school? Check-a-rooni."

      Abed knows he is awesome. He is the one member of the group who is entirely comfortable with his personality and isn't actively trying to overhaul or redefine who he is. The fact that makes this so intriguing and really smartly written is that, outwardly, he is the strangest member of the group and the person that could most easily be singled out as in need of growth and change. That's also something that makes the Jeff/Abed relationship so fascinating. Not only do they understand each other more than any other pairing on the show, but Jeff lacks and desires the self assuredness that Abed has in spades.

    •  Nicely done. 

      This is one of my favorite season 1 episodes mainly because i think it is hilarious but also because it is another jeff-abed story even if their screen time together is limited.  Once again we see Jeff express the opinion that the group shouldn't try and change Abed.  Jeff recognizes Abed's self-confidence and comfort in himself.  Jeff has always been accepting of Abed as he is, whereas this episode shows how the rest of the group, even if they love abed, want to change him for what they think is the better.  It is an interesting dichotomy too because even if most of the group doesnt accept Abed for who he is, he always accept the rest of the group for who they are.  Once again we see that Abed is the most mature of anyone in the group.  he is confident enough in himself to change but knows he doesnt have to. 

    • Brings to mind Pierce's outgoing speech in the season 2 finale. He's the other one that accepts everyone for who they are, "sickness and all", or at least he claims to.

    •  perhaps Pierce focuses on the flaws and Abed on the positives in the group.  Pierce's identifier for most of the group is the thing they are touchiest about.  Still it is an interesting thought, he does not try to bring about change because of a perceived flaw but he is frequently willing to help that change along when the person in question desires to change.  Think how he helps Shirley in her class, how he tries to hypnotize britta, he helps the others with their abed quest here, teaching Jeff how to fight, and so on.  Pierce is willing to help change someone but he isn't the initiator.

    •  I don't think Pierce accepts everyone "sickness and all." Greendale does. Pierce can't bring himself to do the same, which is why he leaves the group at the end of S2. It's a nice way to underscore the "magical" quality of the school – its power to pull together so many different, even conflicting, personalities. Pierce rejects all that. This dovetails rather nicely with 301, when Pierce returns to the group after his "soul-rezoning" has helped him understand that "the table is magic." The same sentiment is echoed in Luis Guzman's speech about Greendale: "Worship this place! It changes people's lives!"

    • You're right, he was talking about Greendale not himself.

    •  Thank you so much.  I've heard criticisms in other places about how they hate (yes, hate) this episode because of the absurdity of naked pool.  I don't know how it's any more absurd than everything else, but whatevs. 

      This is the episode where I realized that Danny Pudi could totally pull off suave if he was given the chance.  He shows some great range here.

    • great review. This is an all-time classic episode of television, and should be pointed to when someone erroneously claims 'COMMUNITY IS TOO ESOTERIC FOR PEOPLE TO LIKE'.

      plus I'm a sucker for Jeff-Abed

    • sll03

      Great review!  10 Don Draper impressions out of 10!

      I've always thought Physical Education was an excellent example of an episode that balanced humour with character development really nicely.  For every hilarious shot of Jeff in those ridiculous shorts there is an equally nice moment where he realizes that playing pool isn't about being cool (and yes, I did intentionally make that rhyme).  The same concept can also be applied to Abed's story with his odd pick-up expressions and wonderful study room speech.  Overall, just a great installment of a fantastic show – one of my favourites!

      Favourite Quotes

      If this is going to get ugly, I can't be here. I'm a two striker.

      You should be like Calvin! His best friend was a tiger, and he always went on
      dope adventures, and if anything stood in his way, he'd just pee on it!

      Well, I hate to say I told you so, so I'll shout it through cupped hands.  I TOLD YOU SO!

      He's not sexy. You should be like Jo from "Facts of Life"… but you know, the dude version.

      Also, poor "Dimitri…

    • And then Pierce's "I knew it!" is a great little throwaway joke.

    • sll03

      I love that line – it's such a great build-up for his letter in Early 21st Century Romanticism.  Bon Appetite!

    • When he says "two-striker", I assumed that meant he has two felony convictions. Is that what it is?

    • well that's what it is playing off of but I think it is probably more on the level of some kind of ridiculous Greendale 'cafeteria behavior policy' strike

      i mean, it's greendale!

    • sll03

       I think Los Pollos Hermanos has it right; it's a silly Greendale strike.

    • Thanks for the feedback guys! Looking forward to reading the rest of the reviews and then starting S2.

    • This is MUCH more coherent and concise than what I was working on; I was probably aiming a bit too high with the analysis and we'd be at 120 right now had I had the sense to go for something like this.

      I was actually delving into the Abed-Jeff relationship quite a bit, which yielded a couple of utterly nonsensical yet heartfelt paragraphs in my "first draft". Not to mention my perturbing rant on Jeff's vanity. Nice job Ty (I wish your name was Travis, though. I've always wanted a guy named Travis in my entourage).

    • I'd read those Jeff-Abed paragraphs if you want to put them up sometime!

    •  I'm always up for reading utterly nonsensical yet heartfelt paragraphs about Community. Post away.

    •  And since it must be said –

      I CHOOSE SHORTS!

    •  Fun fact from the DVD commentary: it was McHale's idea to put his leg on the pool table for that final shot. Also the group reaction to that is amazing:

      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

      I also absolutely love the Color of Money homage during the pool game; it's a nice reminder of how the show goes for subtler references to less famous movies. It also draws a nice parallel between Tom Cruise's character's cockiness in that movie and Jeff's.

      I also really like Jeff dismay at being compared to Zach Braff. It once again shows how Jeff and Abed are really on the same wavelength when it comes to pop culture: Jeff not only knows who Braff is, but he's also aware of what he stands for (namely the kind of hipsterish affectation that Jeff tries to avoid, even if he doesn't quite succeed).

    • NewlyRegisteredRandom

      My favorite episode of the first season, and the best example the show has of everything falling together at the right place at the right time (well…until they made Cooperative Calligraphy and Remedial Chaos Theory).

      Baggels, Gravy Jones, Don Draper Abed, 'Shut up Leonard' and the thrilling game of naked pool (Annie's reaction is the best).  AND IT HAS THE BERT & ERNIE TAG!

      Not only my favorite of the season (Romantic Expressionism is #2), but I also feel that it's harshly underrated (as we saw by it placing like 16th in the voting block Stephen77 did).

      I'd just like to take this space to hype my own review (upcoming for 201), which is…

      – As of today 5100 words long (I drafted it six weeks ago and have been adding to it periodically).
      – Number of digs at BBT: 3 (including one from my life I'm very proud that I worked in where I compare Sheldon to Kim Jong-Il)
      – Number of dick jokes: 2
      – Number of vagina jokes: 1
      – Number of sex jokes: 3
      – Number of masturbation jokes: 2
      – Number of references to Alison Brie's boobs: 3
      – Number of lines or terms appropriated from Community: 13
      – New terms for the lexicon: VanDerWerffing, The Kardashian-Handler Slut Scale.

      It's a monster…just like my penis.

    • Oh dear. I get the feeling that your review is going to be very very entertaining.

    • NewlyRegisteredRandom

      I just hope I actually get to post it before the show comes back.  I probably won't, but I'll still post it anyways.

    • NRR, we're leaving S2 for the summer now. Not the way I wanted it but that's how it is.

    • Not sure if that last statement is reflected in your count for number of dick jokes or not…