Episode 207 – Aerodynamics of Gender

Community2x07_0426

 

snowmania

207 – Aerodynamics of Gender

Apologies in advance for the perhaps absurd length.

Let’s tuck right in, for this is a good pizza episode with flashes of greatness (or in pizza parlance, gobs of run-off cheese). The plot: By happenstance, Jeff and Troy discover a trampoline with fantastical effects, and Pierce goes batty trying to uncover the secret to their new, relaxed way of being. Meanwhile, Britta, Annie, and Shirley’s run-in with some mean girls prompts them to unleash their inner bitches and tap Abed’s encyclopedic mind to lob insults. I’ll break this down by storyline.

OH MY GOD. TRAMAMPOLINE! TRABOPOLINE!

The magical trampoline is easily one of my favorite Community stories to date. Even though the trampoline itself isn't sanctioned by the college, its starring role in a heretofore secret garden on the edge of the school typifies all the goofy possibility afforded by Greendale. It’s emblematic of the national lampoonery the Dean will try reign in (to little effect, because of its endemic nature) in season three, and it’s precisely the brand of absurdity that Dr. Heidi will exploit to briefly con the group into thinking Greendale only existed in their imaginations. Of all the Greendale shenanigans we’ve seen, it’s one of the Greendale-iest. The weirdest. What I’m trying to say is, it’s damn beautiful.

It inspires some of the show’s funniest moments, too – upon taking up bouncing, Jeff and Troy exhibit a severe mellowness not often seen outside of lithium users; Pierce’s frustration at being cut off from the group drives him to ever more desperate fits and high-tech spying measures; and that nice gardener, Joshua? Oh yeah, he’s racist (1800s Disneystyle). But I think what I like best about this story is the absurd significance assigned to the trampoline itself. Like the Simpsons’ own memorable trampoline-related storyline where the trampoline drops into Homer’s life like a divine, unmitigated gift but quickly becomes a curse, inspiring violence and madness, Community’s trampoline briefly symbolizes something much bigger for our characters. It’s a lifestyle, a veritable gateway to Nirvana. (“I wasn’t sure you’d take to the trampoline’s ways.”) Did I mention this story was weird? 

I’ve always been very fond of this episode for situating the trampoline in a secret garden. In Dan’s own words, from the season two walkthrough: “I don’t know what the fuck a secret garden is. I only know the literal definition of that combination of words, that there’s a garden somewhere that’s secret.” Well, I read The Secret Garden and saw a couple film adaptations back in the day. Because I’ve become a subliterate ape in my advanced age, I can’t really expound on the omnipresence of magic or the relationship between landscape and well-being which Sparknotes tells me are important themes. But there’s a moment at the conclusion of the 1993 movie that’s a nice supplement to this episode. (That, by the way, is the odd movie that I liked as a kid but loved as an adult. I would recommend it to anyone with even a semblance of a heart.) Mary, the protagonist, formerly a punk-ass brat, has been utterly transformed by the experience of cultivating the titular garden with her friends. But finding peace in the garden isn’t the end of the transformation by half. It’s opening the garden that makes the change real and lasting, that makes it truly a living thing and not some limited place locked in time. Mary’s conclusion is that, if you look right, you’ll see the whole world is a garden. 

This perspective – that the world is a place of possibility and growth, where things (by necessity) die but can be replaced with something new and beautiful– is a worldview complementary to Greendale’s own. At Greendale, everybody’s already accepted, but the person who emerges is different from the person who came in. Nobody is beyond transformation or redemption, with the exception of the guy who ironically enough keeps using his own name as a pun for “change.” It takes careful cultivation and openness. But change is there for the taking, if you want it. 

I’d have loved this story if it were nothing more than a daytrip into saturated loopiness, but the brief flash of insight from Jeff at the end elevates it.

“Maybe that’s the lesson here. Purity that demands exclusion isn’t real purity. Maybe paradise is a lie.” 

He’s talking more explicitly about Joshua the gardener’s hilariously left-field bit of racism, but the realization can also double as a reinforcement of that most Greendalian understanding of egalitarianism. On the one hand, it’s a cynical reading where Greendale is a catchment for all those that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. But what gifts it does offer, it offers to all. Jeff and Troy’s paradise couldn’t last, wasn’t even the truth, because it purposely kept the community out. And the most meaningful transformations Jeff undergoes are inspired and aided by others – his friends, his acquaintances, even an enemy like the kettle corn-popping phantom, Rich.

What peace Jeff gains via the trampoline is temporary. That’s what allows the smallest tinge of sadness to creep in on rewatch. Troy’s transformation is sweet and enjoyable, but in most every respect, he is so much freer a person than Jeff (Hello, cartoon tunnel? Yes, I’ll hold). For Troy, the loss of the trampoline is easy-come, easy-go. But like never before, Jeff-the-trampoline-adherent could finally shed his more anxious, noxious brand of caring and become the legitimate cool customer that he only pretended to be when he was really a Goldbluming, Hawkeye-wannabe. This is a man thirsting for the rehabilitation that secret trampolines provide, but ultimately he can’t keep it, and that’s a bit of a bummer. But if he lost the trampoline, he still has Greendale itself, which is a good enough haven for a soul in transition. 

Let’s not go too nuts with this, though. It’s a brief jaunt on a bouncing machine, not an intensive soul rezoning. But this plot does remind us that life’s gifts are better given to others or shared, a point the show is insistent on.

PIERCINALD

The idea of belonging runs through all the threads in this episode, especially Pierce’s and Abed’s. “Aerodynamics” is another solid entry in Pierce’s stepwise progression into villainy, one of the show’s best fleshed-out arcs. While Pierce invites in so much of his shunning through his provocative (if unconsidered) behavior, it’s hard not to feel for him as his childlike efforts to run with the cool kids are rebuffed. It’s not just about showing up Jeff; Pierce vies for his mere consideration. When it was clear early on in the series that Jeff recoiled at any comparisons of himself and Pierce, and would have no part in “Winger and Hawthorne”-styled duo, Pierce’s efforts vacillated between outright antagonism and shallow grabs for attention, based on a real affection for Jeff. It’s kind of like the old chestnut about kids teasing each other when they like each other and just don’t know how to express it. Pierce, for all his worldly crotchetiness, has barely matured beyond this stunted approach to relationships.

Typically Jeff exacerbates Pierce’s lousy impulses by repeatedly and actively rejecting him, but this episode takes it further by having Jeff simply stop reacting to Pierce’s needling. The most infuriating moment for Pierce must come when he, perpetually a step behind on the hobby du jour, tosses a basketball to Jeff and Troy to challenge them to a game. When the latter blissfully fail to react in any way, Pierce loses it. He is now completely impotent. (Although please don’t mistake my meaning; we all know Pierce is hypervirile.) And the rub is that someone else – Troy, another kind of antagonist to Jeff if only on the backburner – is in on whatever gay little secret Jeff is keeping. This is a fine recipe for a tizzy.

Some people are really funny when they’re mad, and Pierce is one of them: his well-established immaturity is burning bright as his hapless attempts to one-up Jeff and Troy keep failing. 

“I’m watching you two, 24, 2010. These balls on your butts.”
“I’m gonna slit your butts’ throats.”

And for my money, the greatest Pierce line: 
“Tell me how to get this laidback, or I’ll kill your families!”

This kicks off a round of spying and manipulation that ultimately leads Pierce to the garden and the trampoline. I think something snaps in Pierce in this episode. By now, patience gone, he’s as belligerent as we’ve ever seen him, coercing a hilariously sobbing Troy to double-bounce him. The consequence, of course, is an accident that will land Pierce in a wheelchair from which his only solace is a chemically-induced “paradise” that opens up whole new avenues of ugliness in his character as the season progresses. But before landing spectacularly in that dumpster, Pierce flies a little too close to the sun and we get a little clue as to what’s going on in that addled old-man brain of his. He whispers the word “Father” at the apex of his double-bounce, voicing the catalyst – family, and his rejection from it – that informs his problematic relationship with the study group. 

BITCHERY

Where the trampoline story is just about perfect, there are some gaps in the girls’ and Abed’s story. In a way, I get some of Harmon’s negativity about this plot in the walkthrough (although he gloms on unwarranted self-flagellation). I’ll admit I have a hard time articulating what it was about this story that didn’t quite work for me, but I’ll give it a go. 

The cold open suggests something different from what actually transpires in this storyline; Britta extends some pet theories about the masculine aggression transpiring over in the basketball game, and as the girls eagerly anticipate their women’s studies class, it seems we’re going to get a plot predicated largely on ideas about gender that showcases the dynamic among our beloved female characters. Abed quickly throws a wrench in the works by tagging along and becoming embroiled in (and then a master of) the kinds of disses promulgated by, oh, let’s call them “bitches.” The episode starts to go off in another direction. 

Truthfully, I was hoping for a little more trenchant insight on the part of Annie, Shirley, and Britta when it came to, well, bitchery, and their own cognitive dissonance towards it. On that token, though, that same dissonance is hilarious in this exchange:

Abed: Because they’re bitches?
Shirley: Ooh, that’s niiiice!

Upon taking the bitchiness too far, the trio briefly admits that they “became the kind of women [they] hate.” They still see Megan and her friends as the real bitches; it strikes me that they consider their own behavior as an apparent aberration that doesn’t really count. And maybe it doesn’t: by and large, Annie, Shirley, and Britta seem like pleasant-enough, empathetic people. But there is still a real and ugly (if small) side to each of them – Shirley’s anger, Britta’s pettiness, Annie’s elitism – something that has an especially forceful reaction when given a bit of leverage in this episode. (In this case, the expulsion of Megan and her friends from the cafeteria and the ability to harvest Abed’s talent for calling out perceived bitches, past and present). On the one hand, with Annie, Shirley, and Britta ruthlessly acting on grudges and then striking out simply because they can, we have a seed that germinates into the assholery the group descends to with Todd in 303. In that sense, this is a good precedent-establishing episode for the kinds of behavior that earns them their reputation as “that study group” to other Greendalians. But it’s also kind of a shiftless, not-fully-recognized antagonism that warrants a little more exploration. As it stands, I’m simply not sure what this episode is trying to say about the women, or the idea of being a bitch, or the group’s niche at Greendale, or if it was ever meant to be anything other than a nod towards Mean Girls-style humor and an excuse for Chang to snarf, yo. 

Abed as Rowboat Cop is far more successful. Some commenters on Todd’s review complained that the story is an irritating feint towards the “Asbergers is magic” camp, and I believe I saw the name “Sheldon” pop up once or twice. I see it, but also, I don’t? Abed’s targeting system (a spoiler-laden trove of jokes in its own right) is, to my mind, an excellent humorous visualization of the rules and astute observations that govern so many of his interactions. Now, if that’s all there were to his role in this story, the Sheldonites might have a point. But there’s more. Community has a fine line to walk; they certainly mine for humor in Abed’s Asperger’s (or wherever he is on the spectrum; not my business) and the attendant hazardous navigation of convention and social niceties. But the show likes to mix things up by reminding you that Abed is a human being who grows and is capable of change. Abed’s no automaton; he hesitates before doing the girls’ bidding and admits that later he never should have mean to anyone. A TBBT-style joke tends to hit the Otherness hard and leave it at that; Abed breaches social rules, we laugh, but we know that he is initially tipped towards this via a real and very sweet attempt to get closer to his friends (“I’d love to know more about you.”) 

And just in case he still seems like a flat joke machine, Abed receives a takedown that is crueler than any of the cafeteria bystanders could guess, because it was written not by the girl who doesn’t even know his peanut-headed ass, but by Abed himself. The accusations –you don’t have any feelings; you never will [fit in] – are harsh enough to tamp down the anger of his newly-formed enemies and restore the natural order at Greendale. Maybe that was all Abed wanted. But there’s a sad resignation in Abed’s self-ward criticisms. If he doesn’t believe them to be the truth about himself, then he knows it will be a good enough simulacrum for others. Hey, is it dusty in here? I live in the country, where dirt drifts in and that’s just a fact of life. Yeah, that’s it. 

Things:

  • “Nice. Who taught you how to be a juice box?” 
  • My ex and I would watch Community together sometimes and he came to enjoy it, though not nearly as much as I did. When I first told him I was getting into the show, he told me he’d seen an episode once, but didn’t think he really liked it.  I asked him what happened in the episode and he said they were jumping on a trampoline and that it was weird and not that funny. He is a good man, but maybe I should have known.

Notes from the DVD commentary:

  • An at-times amusing but not especially insightful commentary. Gillian Jacobs’ mom refers to threesomes as "triple sex."
  • Chevy didn’t want to say the "I'll kill your families" line because somewhere nearby, some whole family had just gotten killed. Donald dismisses this in a darkly humorous way. Chevy also had a hard time with “biatch,” which he read as “biohtch” at the table reading.

 

On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/digital-estate-planning-the-first-chang-dynasty-in,73676/#comment-573247985 (page 156)

Discussion:

  • Great work, snowmania !

    I just rewatched this, and I also had issues with the Girls + Abed plot. I don't know if it was due to the fact that the girls were using and manipulating Abed's "specialness" to their own ends, or the fact that it was reducing Britta, Annie, and Shirley to the stereotypes that they had been railing against*, or maybe the fact that the entire plot felt slight next to the heavy emotional mining going on in the Secret Garden**. Whatever it was, there was definitely something nebulous that felt off to me. 

    *I suppose that could have been the joke. If so, I don't think the meta-ness and commentary made up for the fact that these jokes were coming at the expense of the characters. Although I suppose the characters would react in a petty way if they had to deal with the Mean Girls clique. I dunno.

    **I also saw the movie and the musical a bunch when I was younger. My mom figured if my dad introduced the kids to sports, she got to introduce us to musical theater. I can probably still sing some of those songs from memory, even though it's probably been a decade since I listened to them.

    The Secret Garden stuff, though…that was really good. It's something so absurd, and so out there, and so Greendale, and yet McHale and Glover's performances sell the bliss and serenity in that absurdity so well that it grounds all the fantastical stuff that is occurring.

    I had forgotten that this is really the genesis of Evil Pierce, at least as far as in-show stuff goes. Even before the accident, his fear of becoming irrelevant is coming to the forefront, which will directly pay off in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Although the drug addiction drives the action, his attempts to stay relevant were shown all throughout season 1, with the drug use in Intro to Statistics and his early adoption of somewhat useless technology. This is just great character building, and the way that his relationship with his father was hinted at here and in Basic Rocket Science just ups the tragedy in his storyline, which amazingly doesn't fully come to fruition for another season and a half. As much grief as Chevy has (rightfully) caught, and as shunted-to-the-side as Pierce has (occasionally) been, the overall arc he has played from the beginning of season 2 on through the end of season 3 has honestly been spectacular. 

  • Thanks! To your first asterisk I figured that that had to at least be part of the joke (they are in a women's representations in media class, after all…so many layers) and yet it still seemed like a few more dots needed to be connected. 
    And this, even while I basically bought that the girls could have that kind of reaction to the bitch squad. I guess I'm still just curious about their perception of their own meanness to others, and how they used Abed. (And how patronizing they were with the "He's one of the girls!" style comments. The group as a whole become increasingly oblivious to how tenderly they treat him; don't they say something about him being unique like a snowflake or some such thing in season 3?) 

    Much agreed on all Pierce-related points.

  • The group as a whole become increasingly oblivious to how tenderly they treat him 

    That's also an interesting insight in light of some of the comments around here during the 3rd season that Troy was verging on using Abed for his "magicalness" as a way to avoid maturing.

  • Great review!  And agreed on all comments and thoughts above.  I too feel it's the slightness that drops the Rowboat Cop© plot below something concrete and meaningful to just a series of funny lines and reaction shots. 

    It's funny that, as much as Dan blasts The Psychology of Letting Go for having a "sitcom plot" with Britta and Annie, I find that much more true here.  Even has the same standard "double sorry" conversation pieces [I’m sorry I blah blah!  Other person: No!  I’M the one who should be sorry for blah blah blah!].  But I liked the resolution of the Annie/Britta tension there.  In this episode, what gets raised quickly is just as easily dismissed within 20 minutes.

    Nothing wrong with that, but core pieces therein– that for all of Britta/Shirley/Annie's statements of being righteous and thoughtful individuals, their first grasps of power in this school system amongst their peers corrupts them immediately, and the seeds of Abed's inherent self aware outcast status leading to AUC and IFS events– get brought up and resolved in double time.

    Thematically nothing's given the weight it could have been given, and that's ok.  Just not great. 

    And awesome analysis on the Rowboat Cop himself, Snowmania.  I mean he embodies the visuals of Robocop and The Terminator to exemplify his desire to bond with the girls.  It connects directly with his filtering of the world through pop culture.  When the balance gets disrupted mere episodes later with AUC, the filter becomes all encompassing.  No Sheldon antics here, people.  Being the bot was the easy way to embody what he wanted for the people he wanted so that's how he chose to play it.

    And finally, splendid grab on the Father line.  Really ties it all in with Pierce's journey this season.  Funny how much I loved to hate him first time I watched these episodes and now I just feel so bad for what he's going through.  He's in a quicksand of irrelevance and irreverence and the more he struggles the more everyone pushes him away.  /comfort Pierce.

  • Liked for TRABAPOLINE*

    *and a kick-ass review

  • Didn't like the episode? Clearly he's a terrible person. 
     
    This was an episode that (I think) made this show my current favorite. I loved how imaginative the show could get. It reminds me of the Simpsons, but it also reminds me of the expansive creativity you have as a child and how everything is an adventure. They find a trampoline and it's somehow a spiritual awakening. How could you not love that?

  • Awesome review. I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about this episode. I really like the whole trampoline plot, but the bitches plot is pretty meh to me and really dragged the episode down when I was ranking it compared to all the other ones.

    Regardless, this bit makes me giggle uncontrollably every time I watch it.

  • Super review.  Thank you for it. Kept meaning to look into what Secret Garden parallels exist.

    Line I have used twice, once to some effect:

    Why name your daughter Megan? Are you stocking up for a bitch shortage?

  • Thanks!! And I love that line so very, very much. I've really only been acquainted with one Megan before, and to my knowledge she was not a bitch, but I still snort knowingly when I hear that line.

  • Around 25 percent of the parts of my brain dedicated to over-thinking the circumstances under which television (as an art) is created believes that the other writers put this line in (or named the character such) to impishly lay low emerging "teacher's pet" and Harmon acolyte Megan Ganz.

    Or it's just a funny line. 

  • You're a brave one to attempt to dissect why the mean girls plot didn't quite work and I think you've done a really good analysis of it here and articulated what I couldn't.  It really could've been more than it was given the parallelisms set up in the first act and for whatever reason it didn't get there.  I would say, though, that Abed does believe those criticisms to be the truth about himself, as he basically echoes those sentiments in the "locker" in VSA.  I think that's what makes it so heartbreaking that he gives that ammunition to the girls: he just lays his deepest insecurities on the table for the sake of his friends.

    Like SG, I tend to forget that Evil Pierce didn't start with the pill addiction, but was really in full force prior to that (and, if anything, the pill addiction came out of Evil Pierce, since the whole trampoline incident led to the broken legs).  Whatever the reason Pierce was more sidelined this season– whether just devoting time to other characters or because of Chevy's sparkling personality–I wish we'd seen just a smidge more of his journey after his father's death this season, since his mother's death really kicked the Evil Pierce story into gear in Season 2 (sure, DEP was a nice resolution, but I would've liked to see just a few more dots connected on the journey).  

  • These reviews just keep getting better and better, don't they?

    Fantastic job, snowmania ! Your discussion of Piercinald in particular is just about perfect. I probably mentioned my admiration for Pierce's S2 arc once or twice (or fifteen times, I'm a little blurry on the numbers), but I have to doff my hat to the way the show built Cornelius up to these near-mythical proportions (what is Pierce's broken flight in this episode, but a reiteration of the Icarus and especially Phaetonlegends?) for the fantastic S3 payoffs of Advanced Gay and DSA?

    I understand why you have some misgivings about the bitches plot – part of it does indeed seem to depend on the reinforcement of some rather stereotypical notions of female behavior. But I think the the plot integrates really well into the general theme of the episode which is repression. There is a dream-like (or nightmare-like) quality to both plots, and like any self-respecting dreams, they both uncover things that the characters have so far repressed: Pierce's edible complex, Troy and Jeff's secret mellowness, the girls' untapped reservoir of meanness, and Abed's fundamental anxiety and loneliness. It's very telling that the one thing that is laid out in the open in the most overt manner possible passes totally unnoticed – Joshua's racism.

    Kudos too for linking this to VSA, and pointing out that Abed's fear of not fitting in has been around for quite a while. As cruel as Abed the bitch was to other students, he's cruelest to himself – that thing about his mom having made love to a muppet is particularly sad, seeing as soon in AUC we'll learn just how attached Abed is to his mother.

    Like you, I adore the trampoline plot: of the many strange things Community has done, this is surpassed only by the Dreamatorium, imo. I am especially fond of the way the trampoline reverses the Secret Garden payoff: the garden got rid of a little kid's wheelchair; the trampoline put an old man into one.

    "It's going to be a maze…": is this the best line in the history of the show? I think yes.

    Sad Chang, licking his pistachio ice cream is just the best:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

    By my count, this is the second time Jeff has solved a conflict with ice cream. I love just how sincerely happy Troy is about this: http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

    "It's like wearing a pair of dreams…"

  • Thank you! 
    As far as the bitches go (heh), it's certainly a satisfying plot as far as fitting into the repression theme, as you point out. I don't think it's a problem that they're falling into some sort of clichéd female patterns, either, because it seems believably based on what we know about these women (and how members of this group act when given a modicum of power, like in the chicken fingers adventure). It was largely in the resolution that it fell apart for me. The ugly behavior is unleashed, acknowledged, and then apologized for, and Abed gets in a shot at an easy celebrity target in his own abbreviated Winger speech. I guess that's about as full circle as it comes. I think what I want might be a little bit beyond the scope of the episode (them's the breaks),  and yet I feel like we were promised a little bit more at the outset too. Broader ideas about gender, which get boiled down to a few amusing disses afforded by an (already established) darker side of the girls. Overall, the treatment just feels a little slight. 

    (…"a little slight" sounds stupid.)
    that thing about his mom having made love to a muppet is particularly sad, seeing as soon in AUC we'll learn just how attached Abed is to his mother.
    Weird that I never even thought of that line having any significance. Mothers being fodder for all manner of insults, it could have been lobbed by anyone, to anyone, but it introduces a whole new kind of pain with Abed being the author. Makes me wonder if this is prompted by any kind of anxiety about her, if he has any inkling of what's to come?

    Some of the writers must have been aware enough of the Secret Garden to pull a reverse-Colin with Pierce. That's just too great a parallel; I love it, and am glad you mentioned it. 

  •  I think this was more of an Abed story, than a girls story, though. We know the girls can be very bitchy: in The Psychology of Letting Go, Annie and Britta dis each other, and Shirley disses them both ("skinny bitches…"). Which I suppose makes their sudden capitulation to Megan a little too convenient. But Abed, as always, gets expelled precisely by trying to fit in, and that's what elevates the story for me. That, and Abed dissing that juice box. That's never getting old.

    Also, I forgot to mention this, but Pierce bouncing off that hedge and into the dumpster is a source of endless mirth for me.

  • Yeah, even if a part of me always hedges a little on the girls' role in it, I don't want to lose too much sight of the fact that it really is an Abed story (and a very good one at that, for the more nuanced and meaningful insight into his self-perception and his relationships). It took quite a bit of parsing for me to come to that conclusion but it was a real duh doy moment when I finally did.

    Juice box clinches it for me too.

  • Good work, snowmania . Especially your character insights into Jeff and Pierce and their gradual unveiling and development as complicated people.

    I agree that the Womens Studies/Hilary Duff plot holds the episode back. I think some of it just boils down to there not being enough consequences. We have Abed isolated, the girls of the study group driven to a bad place, and the whole idea of Megan as someone with status who is ultimately just as closed off as Abed in order to preserve that petty high-school-esque social order. But none of these things lasts, or is pushed to the limit. As SBT noted, Abed giving Megan insults about himself has some power, but they could've done a lot more with it, even in the small period of time allotted.

    The trampoline plot is great, though, and I often forget how good Pierce's mini-arc in this ep is. Not to mention the "How to Download Photos From Your Spy Camera" bit. Still, the lightness of the ep as a whole allows it to be lost among the many great and instantly memorable S2 episodes.

  • Thanks! I definitely wanted some more consequences too*, with a capital C, in the same way I wanted something more to come of the group's treatment ofTodd!! (simply hauling him back didn't do it, much as I enjoyed seeing him again). It's too bad, because this storyline has a lot of potential. 

    *Maybe I was a Puritan in a past life. It seems like a severe kind of Puritan thing to want.

  • Is this episode the first time we see Abed with some sort of readout or display? I'm sure it is more appropriate to discuss as we get to VSA or the main thrust of the Evil Abed arc, but this episode also provides a good starting point concerning Abed and the way the show handles his breaks from reality. 

    I've maintained the opinion that Evil Abed isn't Abed going crazy or having a mental breakdown. Rather, it is him embodying the TV trope of being an evil doppelganger. The way that he embodies Rowboat Cop here strikes me as being very much in tune with the Abed we see in Intro to Finality. He hasn't lost touch with reality in either case. He's really just quoting TV and movies through his actions rather than his words. 

    We don't need to get way deep on the issue if it isn't yet appropriate, but the parallels struck me as too similar to ignore.

  • Pretty sure it's yes, to your question. Good insight on those parallels; I wouldn't have thought of that. And I think there's something solid in your theory, although I'm a little uncertain, given how a seeming vision of Evil Abed appears unbidden to (…Regular?) Abed. Is this some elaborate playacting happening (or a rendering of dreamscapes,  or however Abed likes to put it — ha)? 

  • I've viewed it as elaborate play acting as opposed to an AUC style psychotic break. I see Evil Abed as the manifestation of a combination of two of Abed's defining characteristics. 

    1. Abed's Friendship With Troy

    I'm not exactly reinventing the wheel by pointing this out, but Abed retreats into the Evil Abed persona when he is separated from Troy. Troy connects with Abed early in the run of the show in a way that not even Jeff fully can. While Jeff and Abed share the same likes and references and truly do "get" each other, Jeff is still an adult. On the other hand, Troy is willing and able to join Abed on more childlike adventures, solidifying their relationship in an entirely different way and bringing them closer together. This makes Troy one of the most important, if not the most important, friendship that Abed has. When the two are separated, Evil Abed emerges.

    People may disagree, but I think we can safely say that the various timelines in RCT are Abed's mental simulations of each scenario. When Troy leaves, the Darkest Timeline scenario plays out in Abed's head. In Contemporary Impressionists, Troy and Abed have their first real falling out over the nature of their friendship. Abed retreats to the Dreamatorium by himself, and Evil Abed appears as a figment of his imagination. Based on these first two appearances, we can assume that Troy being away from Abed leads to the worst possible future in Abed's mind. This becomes reality once Troy joins the A/C repair school. 

    2. Abed's Embodiment of Pop Culture

    We know that Abed goes all-out in approaching a theme or a pop-culture trope. I don't need to list examples; we could go back and forth listing them for 60 posts without repeating a reference that Abed has fully committed himself to. When Abed latches on to a pop culture reference, he goes all out. Rowboat Cop in this episode is a perfect example. Abed sees a way to relate to the situation through movies, he takes it as far as he can. The readout we see in this episode is his brain's way of processing the situation*. He relates to people through movies, and in his effort to relate to them, he occasionally takes it too far (see also Anthropology 101, CFS, CAP, etc). 

    *And I do think that that readout is supposed to be a view into how Abed's brain works, as opposed to what he is actually seeing. The memo's on the readout are things he needs to remember-Troy's birthday, record Cougar Town, confirm Mom for Christmas, etc. Abed isn't a robot, he just adopts the characteristics of one because movies have taught him to do so.

    The tag to Remedial Chaos Theory is another example, and one that applies in this discussion of Abed most of all. Abed mentally plays out the scenario of the darkest timeline. In the darkest timeline, people are the evil versions of themselves, try to take over the prime timeline, and have goatees, because that is what pop culture has taught Abed darkest timelines are all about. 

    So now that we've recognized those two major pieces of who Abed is, we can combine them to answer the elaborate playacting vs. psychotic break question that appears in Intro to Finality. Abed has been separated from Troy, thus creating a real-life darkest timeline (point 1). We have also established that Abed relates to reality via playing out pop culture, occasionally takes things too far, and has a set idea of what a darkest timeline is supposed to be (point 2). The combination of those two factors leads to the real-life appearances of Evil Abed. 

    Evil Abed puts Britta in her place, much like Rowboat Cop did in this episode. He walks through the halls of Greendale merrily wreaking havoc, much like Rowboat Cop did in this episode. Then, once he reaches the point where he realizes he has gone too far, he pops his own pop-culture bubble, returning to normal. Would Abed have actually chopped Jeff's arm off with a bonesaw? Probably not. However, Jeff's speech helped Abed realize that, even if Troy is not around**, it isn't the darkest timeline. Thus, Abed's manifestation of Evil Abed vanishes, and the play-acting can cease. I think the similarities between Abed in Aerodynamics of Gender and Intro To Finality, combined with the two main things we already know about Abed, go a long way to showing that Evil Abed does not equal Insane Abed; it just equals a different version of the same Abed we've seen for three seasons

    **I actually hadn't considered what a big moment that is for Abed until just now. I was focusing on the "Troy moves out of the blanket fort" as a big moment for Troy, but it's equally big for Abed. They are both growing up. Just as Troy no longer needs Abed to help him avoid maturity, Abed no longer needs Troy to be his one true friend. Troy has accepted responsibility, and Abed has learned that he has plenty of other friends that can be just as important to him as Troy has been. Awwwwwww.

    Ok, this is a way-too long response that just came together off the top of my head. And it's several pages back. Nobody is going to read this. Still, if anybody does, feel free to question my stance and tear my argument to shreds. There were some points where I felt like I was totally reaching, even though a good bit of it makes sense to me.

  •  I agree with this, but also I don't?

    I think there's more to Evil Abed than just playacting. It's important to distinguish that there are two Evil Abeds – the one in the darkest timeline, who has Evil Troy as a partner, and the one in the Prime Reality, which emerges after Troy leaves. The presence or absence of Troy makes all the difference. With Troy, Evil Abed is focused on restoring the good timeline; without him, he is focused on spreading the darkness.

    In essence Evil Abed 2 is like a secondary personality of Abed, whereas Evil Abed 1 is just a goateed counterpart, existing independent of Abed. Evil Abed 2 is also what Abed fears he will become if left alone; he's the monster hiding inside that locker he shows Annie. I know lots of people really hated this plot point, but I think it has a poignancy that overtakes the gimmick. Since 102 Abed has feared that he is somehow weird and unlovable. Evil Abed is the fulfillment of those fears.

  • Since every action leads to an equal yet opposite reaction, I can safely say the following as well; I agree with this, but also, I don't? 

    I don't see the presence of Evil Troy to be that big of a deal, seeing as we never see him after Remedial Chaos Theory. I see Evil Abed as existing apart from the rest of the Darkest Timeline, since he is the only aspect of it that is revisited later in the season. 

     I kind of have an inverted view of the two Evil Abeds. The first Evil Abed (Evil Abed 1 in your post), is the one from the Remedial Chaos Theory tag who later reappears in Contemporary Impressionists and Intro To Finality. This Evil Abed is a mental manifestation of Abed's abandonment issues. Since Abed's feelings of belonging-ness are so tied into his friendship with Troy, those issues show themselves when he is separated from Troy, hence the Darkest Timeline being the Troy-less timeline and the reappearance of Evil Abed occurring in ITF when the two are forced apart.

    I see the other Evil Abed, the felt-goateed, bone saw wielding mischief making Abed from ITF, to be Ourbed* taking on a role, much as he did in Aerodynamics of Gender. I didn't get the sense of a split personality taking over. Rather, I thought that the actions of this Abed, while really weird, were perfectly in line with the actions of Abed the mob boss, Abed the Rowboat Cop, and My Dinner with Abed Abed. Since those were all Abed play-acting in order to relate, I classified this as the same. Granted, it happens on a much different level, and the fact that we see this other Abed, whether it is real or just a glimpse of what goes on in Abed's head, makes it stand out in a very different and very notable way.

    *Sorry, couldn't help it. 

    The more I reread this and your post, the more I think we totally agree. There are two Evil Abeds-one in Abed's head (real facial hair, RCT excluded), and one that Abed embodies when he feels alone (felt goatee in ITF). So one is all mental, and one is Abed acting evil because that is the way that evil counterparts are supposed to act; he is fully in control of who he is and what he is doing, he is just indulging in a pop-culture aided reality to help him better understand what he is going through.

  • A++++

    If I don't make it back here to respond more thoroughly, know that I think I largely agree with (largely, because I'd need more time to think things through) your incredibly well-argued points. You're doing the review for Finality, yes? No arguments? Yeah!

  • Uh…sure thing! I'd better get started now if I want to do it justice. 

  • Great job, snowmania!

    I don't like this episode as much as most other Communists here, especially because the trampoline plot. I like the episode and don't mind rewatching it, as I find much of it hilarious, but I like the bitchery plot as much, if not more, than the trampoline plot.

    I always felt that the trampoline plot was a bit forced and contrived. The ending seemed to try to pull too much meaning and moralizing for something as silly as a hidden trampoline garden. I do appreciate Pierce's story in this episode here, with his attempt to keep "these balls on your butts" and the continuing exploration of the relationship with his father.

    I really like the bitchery plot that I am willing to mildly defend it. (Rousing praise, I know.) I find it to be in character of Annie, Britta and Shirley to fall into a state of temporary bitchitude, and I don't feel like it is a poor representation of their character or of female television characters in general. While all three have experienced different circumstances, they all have a common desire of wanting to be respected in their environment, and finding pleasure in using and abusing their new-found power. In fact, I see it as a variation of the dynamic shown in CAP, just with a bit more cattiness.There are many other reasons I liked this plot as well:

    -Hillary Duff accounted for herself nicely playing as Megan. She wasn't brilliant, but was better than some guest stars Community has seen. (I'm look at you Katherine McPhee.)
    -Britta's attempts to psychoanalyze the Troy, Jeff and Pierce by talking about their butts.
    -Annie's indignant "Knuckle walkers!" 
    -Britta's declaration of the cafeteria being a "Bitch-free zone!" followed by her woofing.
    -"Charisse is a bad row-boat. Sink her!"
    -Abed's Robo-Cop vision and the season 2 spoilers contained therein.
    -Chang's increasingly ridiculous responses to various insults and put-down
    -An interesting point my sister raised when we watched this is that like in this episode, Mean Girls, the protagonists led by Lindsay Lohan essentially fell to the same level as The Plastics by seeking revenge on them. I like the fact that the Community writers picked up on this, and made Annie, Britta and Shirley self-aware enough to realize what they did was wrong and to be forgiving.

    On a personal note, I'm sorry to hear about you and your ex, snowmania. I don't know the details of what happened (nor do I ever need to know) but I know that it's never fun or easy. I know that reviewing episodes and being a fan of Community is SERIOUS BUSINESS, but personal matters are important as well. Snowmania, I want you to know that we here care about you and if you ever need or want to talk about anything ever, you can talk to us.

  • Thank you so much for the kind words. Y'all are so nice on this comment board. </Caroline Decker> Really though, thank you. It's been said here before by others, but aside from this being a collection of smart and insightful Community nerds, it is truly special for being a welcoming place in the midst of life's various and sundry hard knocks. If I ever need to vent about something, I feel comfortable turning here, and how many INTERNET PLACES can you say that about?

    Anyway! I can see why the trampoline plot wouldn't work so well for some for the reasons you mention. I know when I watch it, I largely enjoy it at face value — for the hilariously laidback delivery by McHale and Glover, for what seems like a crazy quilt of different allusions/homages, and for the seemingly out-of-nowhere racism of the gardener. I chose to run with Jeff's line about paradise for the purposes of this review, though, because aside from not having much to say about the trampoline other than how it was a particularly Community-flavored brand of goofy, I thought that, for all the goofiness, the idea of a transformative place is really important. And the fact that something so seemingly trivial could inspire a profound (if fleeting) reaction in Jeff has never really bothered me; in fact I quite that the show throws out this juxtaposition a lot. I enjoy it in much the same way I enjoyed all that transpires after the pen theft in Calligrahpy. (Granted, that is on a whole 'nother, superbly-scripted level, but still.)

    There's a lot to enjoy about the bitch plot, too — I love a lot of those things you mentioned, too, and think it's to Community's credit that even a plot that doesn't light a fire in me still tides me over with quite a few laughs and character insights to boot.

  • You are very welcome snowmania! I take pride in being a part of this community and helping to make this a comfortable and welcoming place in my own small way

    For all the criticism I have of the trampoline plot, I still like it and the episode. Your excellent review has made me reconsider some of my opinions, and it could improve in my eyes when I rewatch it. There is a good possibility I was watching this episode in a particularly harsh or critical mind-set which has permanently colored by perception of it. Perhaps I do need to enjoy the trampoline plot more at face value and just relax a bit, like Jeff and Troy. 

    Once again, great review and thank you for the thoughtful and intelligent response!

  • “Tell me how to get this laidback, or I’ll kill your families!” is one of my favorite lines from the show.
    AND
    I love the payoff of the throwaway line "We're not in to RC anymore" that comes a couple of episodes later in Memory (in front of Jeff).
    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

  • It took me the longest time to make the connection between the RC car in Paradigms and this episode. I love this show's attention to detail.