Episode 119: Beginner Pottery
Community Season One, Episode Nineteen; Beginner Pottery
During the course of this episode we travel all the way down Jeff's twisted rabbit hole of a mind and discover at least some of the reasons why he's so profoundly messed up. After deciding to take beginner pottery as a blow off class, Jeff struts in, flirts with some ladies, and then plops down next to Abed. And then he sees Rich. Over the course of the series, attractive men are Jeff's kryptonite (two more times with Rich and then again with the Black Rider), they trigger his intense insecurity, and bring out his petty, vindictive obsessiveness. In the very first moment Jeff sees Rich, he starts the inevitable progression towards the total mental collapse he suffers latter in the episode, as he can already see Rich is better than him. Those ladies Jeff flirted with earlier? The're flirting with Rich.
It starts with the women liking him, but over the course of the episode, Rich consistently proves to be better than Jeff in every possible aspect of his life. He's happy, friendly, funny, he's a doctor, he gets to feel up Annie, and he's just good a pottery. It's that last bit that Jeff fixates upon. In a perfect summation of who Jeff is as a person, when he starts pottery class, his only creation is a ball of clay. He puts no effort into the class because he can't fail at something he never tried. It is the underpinning of Jeff's complete lack of effort at anything throughout the series. While Annie is driven to always be the best, Jeff's fragile ego won't let him attempt to be anything other than mediocre, in case he actually is mediocre. As he said in an earlier episode, “So what's a guy gotta do to get a C around here?” Seeing Rich and his stupid, pretty face be good at pottery is the actual perfect storm of the episode.
Jeff's insecurity over Rich's attractiveness fights with his ego, resulting in Jeff actually attempting to make a pot (alone, at night when no one is around to see), and failing miserably. It triggers a flash back to his mother telling him how perfectly special he is, which given what we know about Jeff's childhood, means he's spent the past thirty something years attempting to live up to that pressure in his own, messed up way. The cognitive dissonance caused by his insecurity and ego each demanding different incompatible things, results in Jeff fixating on proving that Rich is a "ringer." Which both proves that pottery is quite hard (letting his ego off the hook) and that Rich is deeply messed up (eliminating the insecurity). This causes him to spiral into a tailspin where he reads entire pottery encyclopedias and stalks Rich. Eventually he loses it in class and has the mother of all Ghost-bursts.
Meanwhile out in the parking lot, Shirley is having a hell of an episode. After taking the bus because she lent her van to Andre and his stripper girlfriend, Shirley decides to join Pierce, Britta, Troy and Star-Burns in a sailing class (that would be sailing in the parking lot as Greendale is 2 hours from the nearest body of water). She says, what will be her arch words throughout this episode, "kind people are always kind." Once they are on the boat, she's made captain simply because she was the first person to speak. As the episode progresses, Shirley slowly becomes a stronger captain, as her crew (with the exception of Pierce) slowly become stronger at their jobs. When Pierce screws up and is hanging over the side of the boat, holding on to the arm of the mast, Shirley reams him out for it. Britta reminds her of her statement about kindness, and Shirley responds, "strong people change, if the sea were always still and clam, no one would respect her. I'm like the sea." It is has been both subtle and obvious that Shirley spent most of this season feeling powerless about her life. Her husband cheated on her, her husband left her, her family won't even attend her Christmas party. But here, in sailing class, she's discovered something she can be confident and in control of. So, when Proffessor Slaughter hits them with a perfect storm she's able to lead them through it (again with the exception of Pierce). He gets thrown overboard and Shirley makes the command decision to let him drown rather than risk the boat and the rest of the crew.
These two storylines meet in a garage off to the side of the parking lot where Jeff finds Pierce fixing up a rowboat on wheels. Jeff wants Pierce's private investigator's number to make his stalking of Rich that much more comprehensive. Jeff, of course, is shocked that Pierce is planning a triumphant return to sailing class, even though they drowned him. And then Pierce tells him to get over the whole thing with Rich. So what if he's not actually special? As he says, ”If I ever let being bad at something stop me, I wouldn't even be here. That thing some men call failure, I call living,Breakfast. And I’m not leaving till I’ve cleaned out the buffet.” Jeff is left stunned as Pierce rolls away.
Pierce rolls right into the parkinglot, and then swerves an hits a water faucet, causing his boat to start sinking in the complete lack of water. As the rest of the sailing class laughs at him, Shirley damns the sea and organizes them to launch a rescue mission, which winds up succeeding. She says, "I'd rather be kind and get stepped on once in awhile, than be a hard ass and turn my back on a friend." After they rescue Pierce, Shirley justifies it to professor Slaughter, "The sea may be cold and unforgiving, but I'm not. The ship might go down, but at least she'll go down with honor." As a reward for her leadership, professor Slaughter promotes her to admiral, but, of course, it is meaningless as the class is over. What she's truly learned is how to be both kind and strong at once, rather than letting them be defined as opposites as they had been throughout the episode.
Jeff goes back to pottery class, where he apologizes to Rich and happily makes a terrible pot. He seemingly accepts that he's going to be terrible at a lot of things. And in the show's supreme irony, it is revealed that everything Jeff accused Rich of was true.
- “Your last blow-off class taught me to live in the moment, which I will always regret and never do again.”
- "The hilarious guy on guy."
- Tony Hale was amazing this episode. I loved that his psychosis was so specific to his class.
- Rich is played by Gregg Cromer who played Doug Hitler on Happy Endings and Jason in Spiders 2: Breeding Grounds. I own that last movie, and it is terrible.
- "He's Goldbluming…"
- I want Abed VOing my life.
Notes on the commentary:
- Joel thinks Yvette looks terrific this episode.
- Joel once saw Yvette without her Shirley wig and didn't recognize her.
- Pierce's boating outfit was revenge Chevy because early on Chevy kept saying he didn't want to be like Ted Knight, which no one could understand as Ted Knight is a television icon.
- Rich is named after Hillary Winston's first boyfriend.
- The cast and crew were making pottery on the pottery class set during the down time between takes. Hillary made a vase.
- YOU DON'T TALK ABOUT BLACK WOMEN'S HAIR!
- They spent three days filming on the boat in two different parking lots, and it was 80 degrees the entire time.
- Dan Harmon is in love with Greg Cromer.
- Dan had a huge fight with Anthony Russo over the Goldbluming joke over email.
- For the scene where the boat moves past the school window, they actually built a class stage on the parking lot.
On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-449323529 (page 121)