Episode 202: Accounting for Lawyers
Accounting for Lawyers, S02E02
“Cool, he’s from your origins.”
The trend of great television – the kind that strives for awards and critical praise, not Jim Belushi’s work – is to have long, drawn-out arcs not only across a season but across the entire series. Breaking Bad shows not just a man’s adventure through the meth underworld but his transformation from a meek high school chemistry teacher to a drug lord villain. This is in contrast to a procedural show where everything resets at the end of an episode, or even though there are major threads throughout the season few things actually change. Change, however, is detrimental to comedy: you want your character to be in stasis, frozen in perfect comedic personalities and situations to be mined for countless episodes. Pushing the plot forward as the characters change while the jokes continue to fly is akin to steering a cruise ship while you write poetry to your ex in hope of winning her back, and rarely are the jokes/poetry worth the paper they’re written on.
If you’re reading this you probably know the episode well, so let me be brief with the plot recap and remind you of some of the key points – Jeff spots a friend (Alan) from his past life at his old law firm, they start hanging out with each attached at the cell phone holster (Tango and Sundance), Annie remembers Alan from her NA meetings and that he ratted out a former colleague to get him fired, Jeff attends an elegant gala at said firm, the rest of the study group cutely intrudes and searches for proof of Alan’s misdeed, Annie chloroforms a guard after they find the proof they need, the former lawyer lectures the group on morality before he tells them and the concept of caring to basically fuck off, Alan lies to Jeff and says it was Thompson the nicest main the world who turned him in, and it leads to Jeff realizing he cares about Greendale too much and comes in at the last minute to the group’s Pop-and-Lockathon. In between are great jokes, Annie’s boobs, and intriguing character growth.
“Caring is a disease.”
“Accounting for Lawyers” serves as a major part of Jeff “Nipple-play” Winger’s arc. Not only do we enter the secret confines of his law firm, but we see him reject the negativity of his former world and embrace Greendale all in one episode, serving as a microcosm of the entire series. The episode starts with him complaining about the Greendale hat club, one that completely summarizes the college by being zany and pointless, and it ends with him celebrating his new home by shamelessly dancing in another Greendale-ian event, “The Pop-and-Locktoberfest,” where the winner gets to annex Poland (edit: iTunes gift card.)
Speaking of the b-story, Chang serves himself to the story as the dark creature of the underbrush, reminding Jeff of what can happen to a man without friends and support. He accepts the challenge of the danceathon as an attempt to enter the study group, and in a deluded state imagines himself in Jeff’s seat while Jeff himself is in the elusive eighth chair around the table bowing down to the new king. In the third season premiere, “Biology 101”, Jeff briefly dips into the madness of that dark place – “It’s a scary, Chang-filled world out there” – and comes through to the other side with a greater appreciation of the study group. Chang, however, is left out in the cold, and by the end of the season goes into full psychosis and is banished from the Kingdom after trying to take it for himself. Chang’s insanity, unfortunately, is driven by the study group. They accept a racist, a kid on the spectrum, and a lesbian, but not Chang. They were his only hope, and in rejecting him they helped lead to a meltdown. This episode is part of the germination of Chang’s descent, as they casually dismiss his asking to be in the group at the conclusion of the episode. Ultimately, however, this is Jeff’s story, but the Chang-ponent can’t be ignored.
“And Jeff, you need to be more respectful of our time.”
“Shirley, if I killed a man, as a Christian would you forgive me?”
“Then either that man’s life is worth less than your time or it’s okay for me to be late.”
A clever way to show a character’s past is to have it intrude on his new life. Instead of a flashback, we’re treated to Jeff falling into relapse via an old friend, a common precursor to the relapse. Jeff before used his lawyer superpowers for evil, like some sort of … regular lawyer. As a viewer it’s both entertaining on a purely surface level to watch him crack jokes and on a deeper level learning more about him as a character. This is the Jeff from the pilot, the one who created a study group to get into Britta’s pants (which, by the way, after seeing some of her ex’s is about as hard to get into as a Denny’s on Wednesday.)
Jeff’s happiness was his wealth and status, not his bonds with people. A character reveal from another episode had Jeff bunk with Abed in his dorm after losing his expensive apartment, and the only souvenir he has is a faucet handle Britta stole for him. Few shows are as diverse as Community without looking like a politically correct university campus welcome pamphlet. Jeff was part of the elite, the upper class, while most of Greendale is the lower class he regularly ignored. Pierce is also part of the upper class, and he’s a warning to Jeff about how easy it to become out of touch with the world and how wealth doesn’t buy peace and contentment. Throughout the series we’ve heard a little more about why Jeff chose his profession, but it’s best said as a line in this episode: the only one who escaped the bloodbath of parents’ divorce, and problems inherent with caring, was the lawyer with the sweet ride.
“You’re jealous because we’re fitting in with your cool friends.”
“No, I’m distracted by watching you mutate. Britta, you’re not a whore. Shirley, Jesus turned the other cheek; he didn’t garnish wages. Pierce, do I even need to say this? It is bad to hunt man for sport.”
Before Annie tells Jeff about the letter Alan sent to the bar association, Jeff comes to the realization that the study group needs him (“Are you their court-appointed guardian or something?”) and he needs them. Annie, for example, gets into a hilarious escapade with Abed and Troy, the first of a few more to come when they move in together a year later. Abed brings everything a TV character would have for a sting operation, but in a reversal the plan goes horribly awry when realism sets in. Giving chloroform to a guard does not lead to a goofy adventure; they freak out and Troy in particular breaks down. Abed, still thinking in television/movie terms, tries to do a fake out and pretend they all passed out, but of course it doesn’t work. The entire sequence is one of the funniest the group has ever done. It also gives Annie an unconventional win as she was pushed to the hallway to keep guard, but she was the one with the rag maneuver. Later in the episode when Jeff brushes the group aside she hilariously loads more chloroform onto the rag: her power as a character is her strong, almost insane conviction to whatever situation she belongs to (see: Caroline Decker.)
Jeff, meanwhile, meets with his former boss, which is a strangely skinny Drew Carey with a hole in his hand (you’re not supposed to talk about it.) Ted, unlike a few of the lawyers there, is a refreshingly good guy and highly respected. He knows Alan is a dumb creep, and he also mentions that Jeff can do consulting work with the firm while he earns his real Bachelor’s. (Has he been doing that ever since then? Because unless he has a lot of savings he’d need a source of income.) Interestingly, Jeff made the case for Alan as a partner because he believed at the time that being a douche-y jerk didn’t matter, and almost two years later that decision came back to haunt him when Ted was literally eaten by sharks and Alan’s partner status turned him into a golem blocking Jeff’s path to his former, idealized life. However, his previous, privileged life no longer serves as his only way back to happiness.
“You just stop thinking about what’s good for you, and you start thinking what’s good for someone else.”
The above quote is from another episode (Intro to Finality), but it’s a good commentary on the resolution of the episode. We’ve seen Jeff threaten to leave the group and show his shallow side before, but in this episode it’s realistically driven by a taste of his previous life. Looking at Harmon’s story circle, Jeff enters Greendale for a real degree to get his old life back, but after three-quarters of the way through he’s already changed. The heavy price paid as outlined in the story circle could be Jeff’s coolness or it could be a lucrative job, the money and prestige. Jeff may end up like Thompson at the end of the series (or it was so intended): a lawyer on the good side of the force, working cases to help people rather than capitalize on their misfortune. Jeff’s slow transformation is the opposite of Breaking Bad’s Walt; he’s breaking good.
“I painted a tunnel on the side of the library, and when the paint dries I’m going for it.”
The tag: It’s a funny little sketch, but it also foreshadows Abed’s dreamatorium and Troy’s almost blind dedication to his creative antics. It’s also referenced at the beginning of the episode with the above quote. I like it because it’s part the silly world of Greendale and something I’d have fun doing.
Quote I couldn't find a place for: "Shirley, don't sue a stripper." "Why?" "Life sued her, and she lost."
Side note: any errors, factual or grammatical, belong to Tibor, my foreign co-worker.
Objectification of women side note: http://i53.tinypic.com/25pjpyq…
Unrelated to this episode side note: we should have seven different people review the Chaos episode in short bursts. Because, you know, yeah.
Edit: Disqus formatting … TIIIIBBBBOOOOR!