Episode 301: Biology 101
Hector The Well Endowed presents…
Community Season 3. Episode 1. Biology 101. The Review*
*review might be pushing it. Things I wanted to write about might be a better subtext.
“So this is the year we all die.”
Depending on your views on season 4, the last line of Biology 101 may or may not be true. Sorry, had to get that joke in. As Jeff uttered those words I had a giggle to myself remembering the anticipation I had for this episode and the subsequent reticence I had at Season 4’s debut outing. It would be easy, and frankly lazy, to compare Season 3’s opener to Season 4’s just to cast it in a better light. And given I am neither lazy nor…well, I am kind of easy but lazy I am not! So that’s the last you’ll hear of Season 4 here (it’s probably not but it’s an admirable goal to have in this review, nonetheless). So what to make of Biology 101 in a vacuum. Well, it’s ambitious. A meta letter to fans and studio’s that this show will never comply with your expectations and will, in fact, distort them just to show that it can. It’s also a reset button attempting to bring Pierce back from the brink, showing how easy it is to be portrayed as the villain of the piece when excluded from the core. It also establishes one of the seasonal themes of separation and how these broken people deal with it. Separation from Greendale, from the study room, from family, from each other and finally from reality itself. As to my review itself, I’m going to attempt (give me props for trying at least people!) to analyse the three storylines; Jeff’s forced separation from the group, Britta’s attempts to help Abed through the trauma of his favorite show being moved to mid season and the Dean’s attempts to make Greendale more college than dorm room; through the looking glass of three different stories that mirror their themes/structure. I figure I can’t top Shinigami in the one for one comparison so I’m gonna throw a bunch at you people to confuse you. It’s how Chang would want it.
1) Jeff’s story/Wanda Maximoff’s arc in Avengers comics since just before Avengers Disassembled.
Jeff Winger; former bad guy turned good guy who turns bad again before being saved. The Scarlet Witch; former bad girl turned good girl who turns bad again before being saved. Scarlet Witch loses her mind after being separated from her “family”, Jeff Winger does the same. Scarlet Witch married a robot, Jeff almost married Britta-Bot. It writes itself people! Biology 101 in particular is the perfect mirror with which to compare the two characters. Jeff’s imagination has more influence in this episode than in anything we’ve previously seen. The musical number at the start, while a hilarious meta commentary, takes place in Jeff’s head. He wants the group to be normal, he wants to have sex with Annie (I do love how this show continually pokes the bear that is Jeff/Annie shippers), he wants to see Dean Pelton in a dress I guess. The photo he finds of Pierce and Hawthorne Wipes spokesman and rap artist Sugar Cube is, in Jeff’s head, evidence of collusion between Pierce and Professor Kane. The dream sequence showing Jeff how the tables power is turning Jeff into Pierce, the villain in the groups midst. The main driving force behind the actions that lead to the group turning their backs on Jeff are fueled by Jeff’s own insecurities given voice by his imagination. Compare this with Wanda, who’s very power is her imagination. She controls the very essence of chaos and once her insecurities and mental fragility take over, she completely alters reality. She hits the table with an axe (House of M). And in the end (in this case Avengers: The Childrens Crusade) she, like Jeff, is saved by the very beings that inadvertently supplied the doubt and anger that set the events in motion. The smashing of the table is symbolic of more in both the characters and worlds cases too. For Jeff, and the world of Community, it starts the slow move from basing their entire friendship’s around that table in that room to the outside world. For Wanda, it sets her free. For years she’s been a pawn of various villainous types. By breaking the world she forgets and can live a quiet life, at least for a short time. For the Marvel Universe as a whole it took away the ever growing population of mutants, something that would have to be dealt with sooner or later. See, I’m not crazy! Parallels people!
I assume most of the above paragraph will be absolute gibberish to a lot of you so I’ll focus solely on Jeff for a bit. Jeff’s own psychology is better explored here than in any episode of Community, in my humble opinion. We get to see how his brain works and I think it was a noticeable and frankly brilliant choice to switch from the bright, luminous world of the musical number at the weekend to the lifeless, colorless world of his monkey gas hallucination. It shows what a truly divisive and, frankly, broken man Jeff really is. To go from an internal monologue of a B-52’s video starring the people he knows to a dreary, German art film in the space of a day is quite the jump. I honestly see the color pallet of the two dream sequences as more telling of what a broken man Jeff is than his loss of control with the axe. That was a slip, a moment of passion. The dream sequences occurred when he was serene and calm. His appreciation for Pierce taking the mantle of the villain of the group is just as short lived as well. As much as he defends Pierce in his closing Winger Speech, he still will not accept Pierce saying “We’re one in the same.” Acceptance has always been the biggest theme running through Community so for Jeff to still not accept, after everything he went through in the course of Biology 101 that he is somewhat like Pierce shows how far the character still has to go. But, like Scarlet Witch before him, as the season plays out and the separations get bigger, Jeff might just come to terms with who he is.
2) Britta and Abed’s Story/Henchman 21’s story arc in Venture Brothers
Another tale of loss, separation and recovery here this time aided by what can only be described as Season 1 Britta. Struggling to help her friend but failing at every attempt until finally stumbling upon the answer. The comparison here, though, would be between Abed and Henchman 21 from The Venture Brothers. Abed’s first sign of his reluctance to let things go (which obviously will be a continuing theme throughout the season) starts with a scream. With Cougar Town being moved to mid season one of the constant sources of happiness in his life departs but, with the help of a consoling Troy, he manages to stay afloat. That is until Britta gives him the original British version of Cougar Town, Cougarton Abbey, which culminates in everyone killing themselves after 8 episodes. This leads to Abed’s almost catatonic state until Britta finally comes through giving us Inspector Spacetime, the joke that can NEVER GET OLD. Compare this with 21 in The Venture Brothers, a content henchman for supervillain The Monarch until his best bud and fellow henchman, 24, dies horribly. Like Abed, a breakdown occurs with 21 (Gary) seeing 24 everywhere and becoming more and more intense and volatile in his henching duties. This all culminates in his departure from The Monarch’s service to work for an old organisation that’s been around for years, Sphinx. While Abed’s arc as a character throughout the first 3 seasons is a better mirror for Henchman 21’s journey throughout The Venture Brothers run, the comparison works in this episode as well as any other individual one. And not just because Gary would probably watch Inspector Spacetime too.
Abed’s journey in Biology 101 pretty much sums up the entire season for him. The, at the very least imagined, loss of his closest friend, the groups tribulations resulting in them having to live their lives outside the safety net of Greendale (beautifully illustrated in the mid season metaphor: If you aren’t part of the regular season rotation you’re living on the edge of losing it all) all lead Abed to go deeper into himself leading to darker storylines for the character. The fact that it’s Britta that pulls him out of his flunk in this episode and Britta that “therapises” Abed in the final episode of the season is surely no coincidence either. Abed inspires Britta to keep trying despite the doubt and brilliantly specific insults thrown at her. The use of TV shows as therapy probably hits a chord with everyone reading this too. I know it did with me at least. Abed’s characterisation this season is something that I’m sure will warrant a lot of discussion but this seems to be the starting point for the exploration of Abed’s psyche. And while not as obvious because It’s pretty much the C plot, it has important ramifications for both characters going into the year. Abed and Britta have an almost symbiotic relationship at times this season and this is one of the first indications of it, a reminder of times gone past (Introduction to Film) and a hint of the season to come. Plus, Inspector Spacetime. Everyone loves that, right?
3) The Deans Story/My perceived notion of how Guarisco and Port’s tenure as showrunners of Community went
Hey, I got through most of this, right?! Okay, so when I was trying to come up with a good comparison piece in media I stumbled across this wayward thought which is entirely subjective but I thought it would be funny. They were hired to bring a bit of normality/save money/not be complete assholes. Despite the Dean seemingly taking on Dan Harmon’s personality, his actions were more (my imagined) Guarisco and Port: “See? This is the kind of national lampoonery that is coming to an end this year.” Unfortunately, imagined Guarisco and Port hadn’t counted on the fact that 80% of Greendale’s money is supplied by the Air Conditioner Repair Annex (the crazily motivated fan movement) run by John Goodman (@violincatherine on twitter) who decides to shut him down and shave his stylish goatee (foreshadowing?). It all ends up being the same show “with the noticeable exception we won’t really have any money.” Now, while my example is ridiculous and meant to make at least one of you giggle, it really is the old “the more things change, the more they stay the same” type message. The fact is that the show had established a beat for itself, created a niche. To abandon that niche, to completely change the show/school from what made it special would result in all the money/fans being pulled from the show. It’s as simple a commentary as that. Dan Harmon can change who he is, he can put on a suit and demand focus and realistic targets from his writers room/school but they’ve already been on campus for 2 years and there’s a monkey living in the vents. No amount of monkey knock out gas and reduced funding would change how this show/Greendale does things. And that’s kind of special.
And that’s that. Biology 101 is, more than the Pilot or Anthropology 101, sets the tone for the entire season. A mix of cartoonish laughs (Chang), redeemed villains (Pierce) and goatee’s to accompany the themes of separation, loss and family. And that’s what this is about really. Do I believe Annie would have not been friends with Jeff anymore? Pierce was a monster in the previous season and yet they kept coming back to him. It was said in anger. These people are a family. A family that fight and bicker and hate and yet love each other so much that one of the members would search to look for a television show that lasts practically infinitely just to make a friend happy. But the season ahead tests these characters commitment to each other like never before which is why, if I was to nominate a theme for the discussion below, it would be separation. In this episode, Jeff is gone from this magical group of people for around a day and completely loses it. Now that speaks to Jeff’s own psychological issues but more in the acceleration of his fall into darkness than anything else. The episode leads us to assume that they would all fall the same way given time if they lose the magic in that study table and are cut off from the whole. I suppose what all my paragraphs of babbling have been about is when Biology 101 is viewed as part of this whole season it gets eminently better. It’s main strength is the clarity of it’s thematic vision rather than the story as a whole. And that’s something they should be proud of. They warned us how the season would go, we just weren’t listening at the time.
So, that’s my inane ramblings on the subject. If you’ve taken the time to read this whole thing, thank you and have +1000 bonus points. I’m honored to have a name I stole from a show I love be associated with these reviews and I hope I at least gave you guys something to chat about on this fine day. Thanks again for reading and I’ll see you all next week.