Episode 307: Studies in Modern Movement

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Community Season Three Reviews: 3×07 – 'Studies in Modern Movement'

(Studies in Modern Movement is my second favourite episode of Season Three, behind only Remedial Chaos Theory. This level of love for an episode would usually lend itself to a long, long review with many personal opinions. While I have strived to keep up the standard of previous reviews, I realised that the reason I hold this episode up so high is because, simply, it's so much fun. So while my review may not be as passionate as my ranking would suggest, please know that I like it. I like it a lot.)

This episode is visually different from most, mainly due to it taking place completely outside of the Greendale campus. There's also a change in wardrobe. Britta, Annie and, of course, Troy and Abed are all wearing tops I couldn't imagine seeing them wearing to the study group. The ladies' hair is similarly different; wore up for practicality. These basic changes in appearance signal early on this episode's distance from Greendale. SiMM may have been an early tester for the writers to prove the show could work once the characters had no reason to return to school. There may be more like this to come in Season Five.

Britta is prescient in the early scenes, describing how #annie'smove will pan out later in the episode, before taking it all back per Annie's request. I see this as a subtle commentary from the writers on the nature of typical sitcom storylines such as this. Yes, we've seen it before. Yes, the audience knows what's coming. Hell, even the supposed ditsiest character sees it coming. Nothing to say it still can't be fun. Taking this analogy further, Britta is suddenly distracted by Annie's cuddly toy, breaking her from her tangent. This is similar to how TV audiences can be manipulated and how their attention can be moved away from the important stuff by, say, a royal baby.

SiMM is a very strong episode for Britta. In the early stages of the episode, she acts as Annie's spiritual mentor, using her worldly experience to break out some hard truths. This particular exchange brought me back to Spanish 101, where Britta was the one the girls went to for guidance. The Shirley-Jesus car ride is a fun take on the 'upper-hand is constantly switching' gag and again Britta gets to act like a rational adult with strong beliefs that she isn't afraid back down from. Additionally, consider that it is Britta who leads the Seal rendition to ridicule Jeff, and then is the more mature audience member while watching the admittedly heart-wrenching demise of Horsebot 3000. Britta for the win? Britta for the win.

The writers seem very aware of Troy and Abed's status as the 'breakout' characters. I think it was a smart decision to show the other side of them in SiMM, which most viewers wouldn't consider. Yeah, they're hilarious, but what if you actually had to live with them? I think each viewer's enjoyment of this episode depends on their tolerance for Troy and Abed silliness. If, like me, you enjoy Troy and Abed's antics even when they're supposed to be annoying, you're going to have a great time. If you appreciate what the show is doing to show them in a different light, you're going to have a decent time. If you appreciate what the show is doing but already found Troy and Abed annoying before this ep…you might just want to skip past this one. As someone who likes Troy and Abed at their silliest, strangest and potentially dangerous-est, I leave it up to the comments to be more critical of this storyline. Or is that cheating? Oh well, I'll take an S-.

When this episode first aired, I remember (or possibly misremember) a lot being made of Jeff's mental state. First, there's the casual dismissal of the attractive clothes store employee. A sign Jeff has grown from his womanising ways, or simply has no interest in people at all. Secondly, there's the revelation that Jeff emailed his therapist, explaining he wanted to be alone that weekend. Lastly, his emotional breakdown over the Troy and Abed's puppet show. With hindsight, it's easy to write off both his non-flirting and crying scene as nothing more than slam-dunk laughs. At the time, though, it seemed like we were building up to a serious gamechange moment for Jeff. While it's true that we DID get a big moment like that (Contemporary Impressionists) I think we were all expecting something a bit less Hulk-y. I was on board with Harmon making the show more serialised, but with a twenty-plus episode network sitcom it's always going to be a tough ask. A slow Jeff meltdown could've been great and I'm sure McHale would've knocked the dramatic scenes out of the park (see Season 4's 'Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations').

Keeping one of your most comedically talented actors' separated from the rest of the cast is not the best sign for a comedy. In season one, Pierce was an integral part to many storylines, often being the one to ground the silliness in wise advice come the end of an episode. At this point, the writers are clearly struggling to fit Pierce into the stories they want to tell. When the episode cuts back to Pierce, it is a signal that the audience can rest for a minute; Pierce is unimportant to the storyline but we have to show him doing something. Despite this, I love Pierce's side adventure in this episode. Chevy Chase is still fantastic at physical humour and I'd wager that he probably enjoyed being given a B-plot like this; in his wheel-house, as it were. His line about painting the floor being 'quite calming for some reason' rings true to me. There's something about watching a skilled comedic actor such as Chase make gold out of a basic idea that is very soothing. With the central plot of the episode dealing with how the new, lovable double act of Troy and Abed can be grating after too long, this small part of the ep reminds us that while the old ways of comedy may not be the best, they still get the job done.

I hope I've raised some points you hadn't considered before (which, let's be honest, is damn hard at this point!) and given you the desire for a rewatch. As a closing argument, I'll say it again: it's a lot of fun.

Oh, I didn't even mention the freaking 'Kiss From a Rose' montage. Remember that? That was a good bit.

Stray Observations

My original idea for this review was to make everything dance-related, based on how the episode title connotes dancing. The section titles I came up with were:

Annie & Troy and Abed – The Ballerina
Britta and Shirley – Headbanging
Jeff and the Dean – '…And the Men Are Going to the Ballroom'
Pierce – The (Old Fogey) Hokey Cokey

But ultimately I couldn't get past the first paragraph…because I know nothing about dancing.

I wondered whether the writers were aware how similar the bubble wrap gag was to a joke on Friends, but the 'Schwimmer Fatigue' joke right after tells me they were in the know.

Discussion Topics

How did you feel Jeff's emotional arc was handled in this episode, and the season as a whole? What would you have done differently?

Did you ever fall out of love with Troy and Abed? If so, when?

Ideas for how the show could have made Pierce relevant again?

 

08/19/2013 – 07:19 PM – 21 LIKES

On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/advanced-introduction-to-finality,97134/#comment-1007195650 (page 176)

 

Discussion 

  • I think this episode was what did it for me with Troy and Abed. I was looking forward to this since it was an Annie episode with the potential to be very interesting (we hadn't had any forward progress on that front since Mixology), and then instead of being an examination of Annie as a character it was just Troy and Abed getting up to wacky hijinx. It was tremendously disappointing for me.

  • hated that lease term they added in crayon. WTF, Community!

  • Abed's total inability to comprehend Annie is frustrating because it clashes with the way his character was previously established. The running joke in Debate 109 can't involve the same character who showed up in this episode.

  •  Yep, just like I said – this is sub-Full House humor.

  • Britta really is a champ in this episode. In addition to what you said, Fez, she's also the one to let Jeff off the hook for avoiding the group because she understood what he was going through, and then she quickly lightened the mood by leading the Seal rendition. And she foresaw Troy and Abed's nadir with "When you become roommates with friends, the things you love about them become the things that make you want to smother them with a pillow."

    I really didn't like this episode when I first saw it. It felt so cheap and hokey and it had the distinct feel of a webisode. Like Fez points out, there's a lot of elements that uproot the show from its usual ground, plus there's the hashtag, the green screen, the cheap claustrophobic sets, and the story out of something you'd see a sitcom do in webisode format — everyone helps a friend move in between real episodes. I just didn't like Community feeling that disposable. I soon realized that SiMM is a lot more thoughtful than it lets on. In addition to Britta, it's a great episode for Annie in particular — one of the few good ones for her in season 3.

    Check out this extensive commentary roundup for publishable insights. People really brought it for this one.
    http://www.avclub.com/articles…
    http://www.avclub.com/articles…
    (it's page 6 on the SiMM board)

  • Yeah, this one is a grower for me too.

  • Definitely a grower for me, as well.  I wasn't that on-board on the first viewing.  The Kiss From a Rose montage kind of weirded me out, in that way that I'm always nervous the first time watching each Community episode that this is the one where they go off the rails.  But, as others have said, it's just such a fun episode that heightens to such a ridiculous (and well-executed–that had to be hard to orchestrate!) climax with the montage tying everyone together. And yet it still manages to address some serious stuff: Jeff's mental state, the coming implosion of Troy and Abed and Annie's relation to them.  That's really what I ask of a Community episode, so, in conclusion, Jesus loves marijuana…and drinking human blood.

  •  I like Britta here too. Model UN protests aside, S3 gave her a nice, subtle arc of increased competence. She was secretly perceptive and right about a lot of things (Jeff's narcissism and edible issues included), and she seemed to have finally found her true calling as a psychologist.

  • Like you said, I think that spacing out Jeff's arc would have done the trick.

    I think that expanding OVM's Pierce-Chang miniplot would have helped make Pierce relevant. Have the two reflect on their outsider status, and have them form a damaged kinship. Perhaps even tie it into the "Chang takeover" plot (although it would be best if that plot thread just disappeared into the ether), with Pierce having conflicted ideas about who he should side with.

    Oh, and in the commentary, Alison says that before the episode started shooting, she wanted to always keep her hair in a ponytail. Once it started shooting, she instantly regretted the decision.

  • I didn't realize Jeff's arc was considered poorly paced. There are a lot of clues and details built into the season from start to finish in between the big moments like the axe attacks and the Hulk-outs. As Eric said after the Biology 101 review, the season didn't hit a lot of clear beats that made his issues obvious but it was still a very rewarding arc in the final analysis. I think that's the best way to do it, actually, because we've seen how a plot-driven arc can fail characters.

  • "As a closing argument, I'll say it again: it's a lot of fun."
    This is the description that jumps to my mind right away when I think about this episode, and thus why I'm surprised that it's not always viewed that favorably by CZ'ers.  This sticks out well among the less ambitious episodes because it just is that much fun.

    "Oh, I didn't even mention the freaking 'Kiss From a Rose' montage. Remember that? That was a good bit."
    I'm perfectly fine with ending a review with a line that sounds like Chris Farley in the Chris Farley Show sketches.

    "Did you ever fall out of love with Troy and Abed?"
    The idea that Trobed were characters people might fall out of love with seems so weird to me because, even though they were "breakout characters," it never got to the point where they being used nonstop, or it least it never felt that way to me.  This show has a high number of principal characters, and it has always focused on devoting time and space to all of them.  Before Troy and Abed could have ever gotten overexposed, Community avoided that trap by expressing self-awareness about that possibility.

  • "I'm perfectly fine with ending a review with a line that sounds like Chris Farley in the Chris Farley Show sketches."

    Chris Farley: *nervously* Remember that time Community spliced together Chevy Chase getting high on paint fumes and hallucinating hula dancers as he played the piano, with a transient singing "Jesus loves marijuana", along with a puppet play that had a Horsebot and it was all set to karaoke of "Kiss From a Rose" by Seal, and it all somehow all meshed perfectly?

    Dan Harmon: Yes.

    Chris Farley: *nervous* That was awesome!

  • Oh, man, now I really want to see a Chris Farley Show interview with Dan Harmon.  It would have been so beautiful!

  • Great review!  This episode isn't high on my rankings for Season 3, but it is well executed for what it's saying.  

    And /cheer to the Britta /praise.  She really kicks ass this episode.  It's unfortunate we didn't get more of this Britta in Season 3 (like Troy she's just too easy to setup into a punchline-delivering service and luckily in S3 Troy has a well-honed arc so he avoided that fate, unlike in Season 4).

    In particular, it's a DAMN shame we don't see more Britta/Annie scenes.  They work so well off of each other, the "older sister" with world experience and relaxed and the "younger sister" with the ambition and drive.  Maybe because Dan was so upset (contrast to how much we love Psychology of Letting Go) with the sitcom-y elements of their last pairing in PoLG that he kept away from that dynamic (sure we have them in Aerodynamics of Gender and what not but it's never JUST those two again until now).  

    But hey, at least we get those great scenes in Origins of Vampire Mythology where there's a slight reversal on the advise giving here.  Stop being so loosey goosey, Britta!  And it's Annie trying to help Britta stay away from a bad influence as opposed to Britta counseling Annie on how to keep a good influential relationship stable with adaptability and understanding /cheer.  And BOTH of them exhibit the virtues of these approaches openly throughout the respective episodes (Britta by reconciling with Shirley and accepting Jeff's apology, Annie with supporting Britta and the banana moment).

    If I had one complaint with this episode (and it ties in with your excellent discussion questions), it's that we have a Spider-Man 3 scenario here– too many plots and not enough time to really develop them for what they deserve.  

    1.  It's GREAT that we finally have direct examination of Jeff's avoidance of the study group since the premiere's ax incident (he NEEDS them, he realizes he NEEDS them and he's going to lose them eventually, and he's freakin' out because he has no foundation anymore).  And the Dean being the one to unearth these elements when neither shopping nor the store clerk's advances appeal to Jeff anymore makes sense.  But we needed that 3rd Act reversal before he goes back to the study group and apologizes for his lies for there to be a full story here. And unlike the rest of Season 3 this episode isn't jarring, but there are holes in its serialization.  

    So instead of Dean punctures Jeff's resistance–>helps him open up–> exposes his stalker manipulation–>resolution of that conflict for Jeff to see he needs to go back and face the music–>final scene: we lose the penultimate element that might have lent gravitas to the whole proceeding.  But as you say, and rightfully so, this episode is a ton of fun moments, and keeping that second to last piece of the narrative out helps keep the breezy tone for this piece (AND keeps it centered on Annie/Troy/Abed more than anything).  

    So I'd probably have removed the Shirley/Britta/Chase scenes and had them in the bookends but that's it, but we'd also lose "DRINKING HU-MAN BLOOOOOD" and Chevy in prime form slapstick and solo dynamics.  Still, had this episode just been primarily about Jeff/Dean and Annie/Troybed, it could have delved deeper for the arcs being presented.  Not the end of the world or anything, just an observation.

    2.  Troybed Stuff:  I've never had a major problem with the Troy and Abed relationship– the comedy and pathos stuff have always been gold.  Even the over-exposure/giant cookie stuff in Season 3 works for me (as it's supposed to be grating to hit home how desperate these guys are to keep things fresh/fun and ignore the future before it bites them in the ass), though the Season 3 issue of jarring/in-your-face strains the enjoyment factor out of it in spots, to be sure.  Really the only issue I have with Troy/Abed in Season 3 are the major pathos scenes– Contemporary Impressionists ending and the whole of Pillows and Blankets.  And I'll delve more into that with those reviews. 

    But as a whole– I WANTED to go all in with Troy/Abed on their relationship's ups and downs this season, and it's like the show came up to the line of tragedy and hardship and these two breaking apart, and then dusted them off and hit the reset button to the beginning of Season 3 (with some rare snide remarks between them in Basic Lupine Urology.  I'm hoping more than anything that Season 5 hits deep where Season 3 stayed a tad too shallow for my tastes. 

    Mainly though, from a thematic standpoint– the whole episode's about proximity of dissonant personalities clashing and how to reconcile those perspectives to learn to live and growth together– great for drama and comedy alike.  Britta and Shirley are two sides of the same altruistic and caring yet self serving coin (they reflect each other's flaws to each other and it's only when they meet a phony manifestation of their virtues in the pseudo Jesus that they have their own "it's TODD who's to blame" moment and they can recalibrate and reconcile.  Jeff's been pushing everyone away and the Dean's been pushing himself into overdrive on everyone else to help save the school this season, and while their ending is cut short, we do see Jeff stronger for opening up and seeing the world didn't end with his friends (thanks to Britta).  

    Not much to say about Annie and Troybed that wasn't already said so well here /cheer.  But Annie's dreamatorium scene in particular is great here– stone cold reality in the center point of Abed's imagination– she wants others to adapt to her for once, darn it.  Simple reciprocity– she's sacrificed enough in earlier seasons.  Next to Virtual Systems Analysisthis is the closest we get to the awesomeness of Season 2 Annie so /cheer for that. 

    Doppeldeaner Count for this Season 3 Episode: We have Everyone as Objects in Motion vs. Objects at Rest (both in transit to Troybed's apartment and figurative in trying to adapt differing living and world views amongst the group members).  We have Britta and Shirley reflecting virtues and flaws off of one another, we have the fantasy of Pierce in his paint fume haze versus the reality, we have the Study Group together at the end versus their divergent elements/presence and absence on Twitter (though that is part of how they all maintained balance despite Jeff's absence so it's a good sign for their future– they don't have to BE together to be together).  We have the duplicate outfits and stances for Jeff and the Dean, Britta and Annie, Troy and Abed.  The Troybed shadow puppet show and "Saving Annie" plot (which could very well be how Abed sold Troy on this idea– they're "helping" Annie and she can help keep them grounded, as Troy mentions in Nocturnal Vigilantism).  Jesus in reality vs. Jesus in fantasy (and idealism of altruism [help EVERYBODY NOW] versus reality of altruism [help the people you care about most in your immediate vicinity]).  

    Song for the stellar CZ review, CZ denizens?
    Adios Amores~
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

  • Oh, and with regards to Pierce relevance– it might have been nice to have a pseudo-Season 1 moment between him and Annie (to show how he's much better/repaired his relationship is with her now than it all was following S2's Celebrity Pharmocology and A Fistfull of Paintballs).  

    Just a nice simple line as a reversal of what Troy says to Pierce in Abed's timeline in RCT– instead of "thanks for helping Pierce, but now I have to make it on my own, like you did," we could have gotten:

    "It's great that you're like me, Annie, and proving you can go off on your own– but even better that you're not STUCK like I was at the end of each semester at Greendale before meeting you guys– pushing everyone away who gets too close. You can work with others and be even better.  Now you have Troy and Abed and I have the senator! Hurrah to us both." 

    Again, maybe there just wasn't enough time for that or that it's sort of implied already with how disastrous Pierce is for a little bit on his own to hit home how no one in the group should have to go it alone for too long– but I feel there was and is always room to let these characters shine.  Oh well, Pierce gets to complete the majority of his arc in DEP at least.

  • Excellent work, Fez!
     
    I'm definitely a fan of this ep. It's fun, a good character episode, and has at least one satisfying arc in allowing Annie to enter Troy and Abed's apartment and force their world to adjust just the slightest bit towards maturity. The only part of the ep I don't like is it tips the Dean in the direction of being a little more unlikable. He obviously means well, but his willingness to abuse his authority and be a little manipulative fits in with an arguably more negative pattern of behavior that was developing around this time. Still, in the bigger picture, he nudges Jeff in a way that may be good (I think SiMM on it's own merits is a very good Jeff episode). From the time it aired until now, I've considered the four eps from RCT to SiMM to be the 2nd best 4 episode stretch Community ever ran, after "Calligraphy" thru AUC in s2.
     
    Your review addressed the most important stuff in considering this ep. The fact that Troy and Abed are starting to get irritating (as you say, it's played up deliberately, almost in quotes, yet for some reason it seemed to really bother some people that T/A could be so oblivious to Annie's needs…but I thought their recovery was one of their finest moments: All it took was a moment to consider the implications and they were able to see her side and adjust to it). Looking back on it, this subplot was one of the best Troy/Abed plots of s3. They had a conflict caused by a clear reason (Annie being an outsider they're bringing into the fold), they had to deal with it, and in resolving it came out better people. I wish "Pillows & Blankets" felt so clear and believable to me.
     
    Also the greatness of Britta. The first half of s3 is maybe the peak of Britta's character, because it combines her s1 and s2 sides and shows her being aware and taking control of her own life (and to a degree controlling the other groupers' perception of her by not letting their doubts and insults derail her). I love the scene you broke down, where Britta tells Annie everything we already know to be true about moving in with friends, both in real life and inevitably in a sitcom. When Annie refuses to trust her experience, Britta redacts with Troy-like confusion: "Then…I'm lying?" Annie's more than willing to accept that Britta is lying/wrong in that moment, and Britta can (sort of) handle that. Basically, just because her close friends are willing to be dismissive of her in the moment, she isn't going to take it as a personal slight. She'd rather be around to help when Annie has to find out for herself. Like a lot of moments in early s3, this demonstrates how far Britta's come since fighting back tears in s1 when everyone mocked her pronunciation of "bagel." It really makes me believe that she needed to be somewhat shameless for awhile during s2 before she could decide who she wanted to be and how she wouldn't let other people dictate her identity to her.

  • Great review, Fez!

    I know, I'm late to the party again, and you're probably already out of the good chips, and there's only, like, some Miller Lite and coolers left, and everybody's drunk/stoned. asleep already but I'm going to chime in anyway. Thank you for not kicking me out; I'll be brief.

    SMM is a weird one – it contains some of my favorite S3 moments (Pierce's whole subplot, the "Kiss from a Rose" montage, Britta and Shirley in the car), yet it's one of my lest favorite episodes on the show. Somehow the episode seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts, and, if anything, it's actually a good case study for one of the major flaws of S3.

    My main problem with SMM is that it seems to want to address some major changes in the lives of several characters, but is unable to do so with the sophistication and psychological consistency that had come to characterize the first two seasons. The episode revolves around two sudden and almost out-of-character decisions, both stemming from RCT. On one hand, Abed, in a fit of spontaneity, invites Annie to move in with him and Troy, a gesture which shows both an earnest desire to change and be more outgoing, and, more crucially, his capacity to stop Bjorking and start empathizing. On the other, Troy has to cope both with a more individualistic "new" Abed, and with a new addition to their weird little relationship. And Annie has to leave Dildopolis and finally admit that she needs some help. To put it another way, three of the show's most popular and most established characters appear on the verge of a major and exciting reshaping.

    And yet, the episode sinks all this into second-rate sitcom shenanigans that wouldn't really fly on Full House, by having Abed duct-tape Troy to the door and Annie mug like there's no tomorrow (this is where Stephen, Dave and Janine suddenly shudder, as I'm about to say that this kind of acting is one of the reasons I found Alison Brie mostly grating throughout the season). It's a measure of SMM's shoddy structure that its best parts are wholly unrelated to the main plot: Pierce's solo house painting is, as you well say, an excellent opportunity for Chevy to showcase his physical acting; plus, it's pretty endearing in its goofiness, and the way Chevy says "Good evening, Senator. Any requests?" is hilarious. Britta and Shirley's road trip is also very good, because, like Pierce's plot, it's mostly an excuse to watch what the characters would do when placed in a specific situation. Jeff's plot is wonkier, mostly because of the Dean's predatory attitude, but there's some nice stuff in there too, mostly related to one of our rare glimpses into Jeff's non-Greendale life (also I do NOT buy that he'd shop at Forever 21, but maybe that's just me).

    But the core of the episode remains, I'm afraid to say, pretty rotten. There's no serious attempt made at examining the more toxic, annoying, co-dependent sides of Trobed, just as there's not attempt made at exploring how Annie's more domineering, pragmatic aspects mesh with Trobed's rococo lifestyle. And this, in turn, ties into my main complaint about S3 – that, in its grand ambition to out-complex The Wire, it stopped implying and showing, and mainly told. I love S3, but even I will admit that there is often a certain negligence in the characterization. Luckily, it's compensated by the virtuosity of many episode premises and sophistication of the metanarrative (more on that when we get to CI), but when the plotting isn't as baroque, the lack of substance shows.

  • Something Quirky

    If I can stray off topic for a moment…

    Fezzy-bear! I miss you!