Episode 311: Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts



Community Review

3×11 Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts

Shirley Bennett has gotten the short end of the stick frequently throughout the series. Her religiosity has ebbed and flowed when it aided the joke, no matter what lessons she had learned about tolerance in previous focal episodes. She has been sidelined repeatedly as love triangles and bromances took precedence, a commentator as her friends lived their lives. When she was finally given a season-long storyline (Baby Ben), it was perpetuated in the worst way possible, contrived to bring more screentime to a character that had been drastically changed. (Some say Annie’s s4 convention storyline was the worst the show has ever done; I say to that – it lasted ONE episode; this was half the season.) Within that storyline, she was overshadowed by Jeff and his Rich and/or Annie situation; by Chang’s overarching weirdness and uselessness; and finally by Britta’s discomfort with the birth itself. But hey, at least we got a pretty great ‘pumping’ joke in A Fistful of Paintballs out of it.

Ranting aside, the point I am getting to is that Shirley Bennett, starting with this episode, is at last given a multi-episode storyline that is robust and worthy of the character. A storyline that harkens back to Environmental Science, in that it provides a Shirley-Pierce story, it references in a meaningful way what a character is studying, even showing the fruits of their (never-seen) labor.  One could even say it provides some canon evidence for her grades being valedictorian-caliber in S4 (this also depends on how much you consider that season canon). But regardless of where her story travels in future seasons, within the episode Shirley confronts her future, being offered two paths forward: one offering comfort and familiarity, the other the chance to achieve the goal she set out to accomplish when she enrolled in Greendale.

She had sought to gain the skills necessary to open a successful business that would utilize her cooking acumen, for years confined solely to the home front. The coffee shop closing in the cafeteria and Britta’s light-bulb moment bring the opportunity to a reluctant Shirley’s attention, but she is side-tracked by Andre’s proposal. The desire to return to a state of comfort in her past is too alluring to be dismissed out of hand, and she rejects Britta’s entreaties to meet with the dean and get her business started. Within the episode, each member of the study group went through their own identity challenge and found the assumed role ill-fitting, some to a lesser degree than others, before returning to their former, comfortable state:

Britta: Her biggest fear is conformity, and she discovers that her innate talent lies in wedding planning, which submits to a societal norm, and therefore, she loathes her gift. She is doing the work for her friend in an attempt to get the bride to remember her career goal, in the process pushing to the side another friend who obviously has marriage and all its trappings as a life goal, and would greatly enjoy helping. Britta gets progressively drunker as she designs the look of the wedding, but her talent is such that it does not suffer, though her attitude sours at an accelerated rate, culminating in a soused marriage attempt. But, after Andre and Shirley’s impromptu marriage ceremony, she can be seen softening in her stance against the institution, though it is doubtful she would ever submit herself to such pomp and circumstance. Maybe if one of her cats was the ring bearer/flower cat.

Abed & Troy: At Shirley’s request, they attempt to dewhimsify for a day, only to appear off-putting and sarcastic to friends and strangers alike. It’s a relief to all when Troy convinces his better half to return to their version of normal. Troy and Abed without the weirdness just are not Troy and Abed at all. If aired in its proper order after Contemporary Impressionists, we can see that once again Troy has to be the adult and bring them back to their reality, a lesson Abed continues to resist, eager to play a part rather than be himself.

Annie: She has dreamed of romance and weddings throughout her life, amassing a comically large binder of ideas that she believes will help with Shirley’s nuptials. This would appear to be a perfect opportunity to use the planning skills she has perfected and craft for Shirley the wedding of her dreams. But she is pushed aside instantly when Britta’s natural, unwanted talent is exposed. She attempts to encourage Jeff to be better than he believes himself to be (something she has succeeded at in the past), and that too is a failure. Her romanticism, however, remains, though she has little in her own life to base her hopes on, but her optimism is key to her happiness. And she got a cute scene with Leonard, so.

Jeff: His natural instinct is to belittle marriage and lasting love due to his own issues with his parents’ relationship and his father’s abandonment. Annie challenges/convinces him to write a toast for Shirley’s wedding, as his oratorical skills have yet to desert him when needed. It’s almost odd that he fails so completely here, the recent increase in the depth of their friendship (coming to terms with Big Cheddar and Tinkletown, and the later reveal in 3×15 that they socialize together) would suggest that he would try harder for someone he cares for. Instead, Annie’s speech only convinces him to drink more and dwell on his own unhappiness. His own issues clouded his judgment and he gave in rather than challenge himself. This is characteristic of Jeff in that he puts forth little effort on most occasions, but for his friends he tends to strive harder; for such an important occasion, this failure is disappointing, and it is fortunate that Shirley is at her core a forgiving person. 

Pierce: Tries to play the entrepreneur, looking like a Wall Street castoff, with his surfeit of money his only asset. After a few racist and (literally) painful ideas fail in amusing ways, he admits to Shirley that he would like to help her, if only to prove he can do something good/succeed in some way. This bit of growing up dissipates when he returns to his innate immaturity, leaving the party and celebrating victory prematurely, gloating at his father’s gravesite. It is utterly predictable that he would be unable to resist crowing over a success that is inchoate, Pierce being who he is, though at least in this instance it is celebrating a joint victory, one he could not attain without a friend.

Shirley: If anything, Shirley reverts to her old ideal of marriage and family, throwing aside the time-sensitive opportunity to make her career goal a reality. First, Britta attempts to push forward with her goal; then Pierce, in his quest to succeed at something, encourages her, reminds her of why she is at Greendale. After a clearly successful pitch to the dean (with a wonderful slide of cartoon!Dean that I want a poster of), she is sidelined again by her marriage, running from a celebratory soda with her partner and the dean. It is only after having a straight talk with Andre while they inform Jeff and Britta what a marriage truly is,  that brings her back to the self she has created after years of hard work and personal growth. She realizes her longing for a return to her life with Andre should not mean that she need sublimate herself as she had done the first time around. 

Everyone returns to their starting point but Shirley, having gained understanding of what she truly wants for her career and family, even if Greendale’s board thwarts the former for now. She has come up against two major life-changing events and come out on top, more confident on the direction of her life than arguably she has ever been. Though it was betrayal that brought her to Greendale, that led her to pursue her dreams, it has now been paid back positively, giving her more than she ever could have expected.

Overall, I found this episode to use each of the characters in a purposeful manner, no group member straying into one storyline and muddling its object, no sidestories that petered out into something lame or uncharacteristic. It created an important arc for Shirley (and Pierce), provided laughs and pathos (Jeff's drunken speech), and gave us a new enemy (and sponsor) in Subway.It may not be as memorable as some, and certainly not as gleefully outlandish or creative as the genre episodes, but it is solid, heartfelt episode that is really funny, and I couldn't ask for anything more.

Stray Observations:

• In the opening, Britta’s disdain at the proposal is clearly written on her face while the others at least feigned excitement/happiness. You'd think she would try to hide it some. Though really, Shirley only had eyes for Andre in that moment, so I suppose she was safe.

• Chang was not present, which was a relief, as there has been enough shoe-horning in of the character in storylines where he just adds nothing to it 

• It’s endlessly funny that when ever-failing Britta discovers she is actually talented, she’s willing to throw it away due to her revulsion at societal norms. She could totally be a counterculture wedding planner! And be much less likely to be sued for medical malpractice for her well-meaning but poorly developed therapizing. Or maybe she’ll just passive aggressively plan all her friends’ weddings. Either/or is good. Also, I want the drink she makes for Jeff – looks fantastic!

• As the rave in the future proved, the dean is super fun at parties. I only hope we’ll actually see him invited to one they throw.

• I do not understand what the point of Jeff’s heart roulette was really. I get it, he likes Annie, her boobs, scotch, and wants to be successful again (though with a dog this time). It seems to be a bit of a tease/taunt to Jeff & Annie fans because, uh, why not? And who was the blond woman supposed to be – his mom? /shrugs

• According to the commentary, the frozen yogurt end-tag was Chevy’s favorite bit he’d done for the show; it’s my least favorite end-tag. I just don’t get Chevy’s humor, I guess… 

Discussion Topics

1) This episode continued S3’s use of cartoonish visuals (fade out on Todd in Cooperative Ecology; the anime sequence in Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism; the title cards and Jeff’s heart here; the exploding Ego!apple and thought balloons in Contemporary Impressionists). Thoughts on their value – in what way did they detract or add?

2) Britta’s analogy definition may be her most adorable moment to date, but it’s again a symptom of Harmon’s decision to soften the character through decreasing her intelligence and bite. What is your opinion on this change, specifically relating to her intelligence? 

3) Shirley appears to be getting her happy ending within the series; most likely, she is the only one who will get such a complete one. She has her original family intact and is a successful business woman. Does it seem too simple? (The character’s romantic prospects dried up with the rest of the group’s some time in s2, and there was never an attempt to give her a real dating life, to move on, besides her interest in dreadlocks in Contemporary American Poultry).

On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/advanced-introduction-to-finality,97134/#comment-1046483158 (page 214)
09/16/2013 – 07:48 AM24 LIKES



    • Favorite: http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
      "Don't you DARE use your sexy voice on me"

    • Wow, I did not remember the heart roulette from that episode. I mean, I remember it, I just thought it was in a different episode.

      1) I'll admit to not being a fan of the cartoonish visuals. But in some cases I see their purpose.

      2) Britta's analogy definition didn't show a decrease in intelligence, I don't think. I mean, the surprise at how apt the definition was did show a decrease in the expectations of her intelligence, compared to the beginning of the show.

      3) Well, they've never gone particularly complicated with Shirley anyway. However, I don't see it as too simple. It's logical – she works hard to be a successful business woman; she put in the time and effort to be a good mother; and she is a better wife than a stripper that would steal someone else's man. She's had enough happen that her happy ending seems earned enough.

    • Same. I was convinced it was in Impressionists, for some reason. Probably because I love this episode as a whole, and that heart is one of my least-favorite things the show has ever done, not counting S4.

    • I think I was mostly okay with the visuals until CI; at that point they just rubbed me the wrong way, but that may be colored by my overall dislike of the episode. 

      I guess it's just compared to S1 Britta that I find it a bit jarring to hear her speak in that fashion, but it truly isn't close to the most egregious offense this season, and she actually is correct in her definition. 

      It's the cheating and ruining her life that I find somewhat unforgivable. They were cobbled back together through a pregnancy storyline too which is my least favorite way to contrive a pairing or reunion. 

    • Ah, but Shirley's religiousness means she offers forgiveness easier, in certain circumstances =P

    • Definitely. I think the problem is the disparity between valuing marriage and commitment to a very strong degree but allowing the transgression to be waved once a child is involved. I very much doubt that their reconciliation would have occurred to the point of remarriage without Ben (though neither would that entire storyline). Yes, they reconnected on Labor Day, but their relationship was accelerated by the baby.

      I guess I just wanted more for her, especially as I disliked the storyline so greatly. S3 does greatly make up for it, though.

    • "Shirley Bennett has gotten the short end of the stick frequently throughout the series."

      OF COCK!!
      (I think Andre would big to differ about "short end")

      Great observation about the theme of identity challenges and it mirrors the show itself briefly contemplating whether it wants to be "normal" before deciding it's being normal that's weird. "I thought this wedding was supposed to be the start of us getting back to normal." Nope!

      I thought this episode was a solid return from the hiatus but not without worrying elements. For the second time in the season, with Biology 101 being the first, it felt like I was watching a very different Community (this also happened with Intro to Poli Sci). Several groupers' comedic traits were amped up further to grating levels and the jokes got broader and just plain worse. These things had been present throughout the season and indeed since season 2, but not as blunt or corny and the jarring elements from the past were soothed by complexity in the story and characterization or they had episodes to follow that immediately reversed the trend in a big way.

      Is Annie and her big stupid wedding book she plops on the table and her barging in on Britta and Shirley's convo any different from anything she did in season 4? I'd say it's worse. Or Jeff's bewildering outburst about "my daddy told me…" If that was supposed to be a genuine breakdown I didn't buy it. It's the Jim Belushi of emotional breakdowns: it's poorly acted, it adds nothing to the story and you're left wondering what to think of it all. A similar moment comes in Course Listing Unavailable when Jeff is apparently devastated by…something, either the news that he lost his Bio credit or that "my summer is gone"; I can't tell which because of Jim Belushi. Now, I'll defend Britta's dumbing down a bit because I think she's actually supposed to be pretty intelligent this season, but where they slip is in how she is intelligent. Instead of the slightly awkward, oblivious and hypocritical but wise and world weary Britta of season 1, she's an exaggerated, cutsey type of dim and her intelligence is reduced to buzzwords like "societal norms" and "gender roles" that only make her superficially wise while actually reversing her to a college freshman. Then the writers overcompensate with the broad jokes at her expense because they think she's getting toosmart now.

      As for the cartoon gags, you probably don't want to get me started on that. There's still next week's episode.

    • OF COCK!!

      (I think Andre would big to differ about "short end")

      I think Shirley's assessment of what she saw through the keyhole in Phys Ed would support that statement :)

    • It did feel different than the Community we know so well, but it was an enjoyable different for the most part for me. The fact that little actually carried over into the next episode (the proper one, not CI) helped. It may actually have been a bit of a ruboff from CI, now that I think about it, which would help to explain the exaggerated behavior. 

      Well, Jeff did have far too much McCallan scotch to effectively transmit his grief/anger/frustration with his father into much else but a primal scream. But it was forgotten conclusively by episode's end, that's true, and it could only possibly be said to be touched on in the finale, but it certainly didn't launch an arc.

    • Great analysis.

      1) I didn't mind the fade out on Todd and I loved the anime sequence, but I loathed both the exploding apple and the heart roulette so much. I shudder when I think of them.

      2) I love Britta's analogy analogy. And it seemed perfectly in character to me. She's obviously smart. But she's also lacking in a lot of book-learning basics, having dropped out of high school and only recently started caring about academic things. She understands what an analogy is, but she doesn't know how to express it in an academically approved way. That suits for me.

      3) I think all the non-Pierce characters are getting happy endings in one way or another, or at least they're all becoming more honest with themselves at Greendale and will benefit from that self actualization at some point, if they haven't already. And even Pierce has grown a little bit. I think Shirley's is just the most traditional of endings, marriage, kids, business success. She's after the American dream, whereas the rest are after something more offbeat.

    • That's a great explanation for Britta.

      And I like your last sentence. Because everyone does seem to want something different that will make them happy.

    • There are many things in this world that I don't understand. Britta Perry is not one of them.

    • 2. Speaking about Britta overall, I think there's a better way to write someone like her without making her so conventionally TV-feminist or even TV-female, for lack of a better descriptor. I don't know if anything specific happened that did it but she's a long ways from even something like 215. You're the Brittologist; what changed, if anything, and is it from within the character or is it the writers losing their grip on her?

    • First of all Lloyd, you flatter me. You're twice the Brittologist I am. You practically invented the field.

      Secondly, I have to confess that while I'm not always on board with S3 Britta, particularly when it comes to the protesting early on, I like this Britta. I identify with her very strongly in this episode. Not that I'm a genius at wedding planning, but I understand the aversion to marriage and traditional wife and motherhood very, very strongly. And I understand the instinct to blow off a friend's princessy interest in all things weddings. In my 20s, if I had discovered a secret gift for wedding planning, I probably would have reacted just as poorly as Britta does here.

      Also, I think her escalation into almost marrying Jeff just to prove a point,again, could not possibly be any more in character.

    • Absolutely, I get all of that and as I've said before, season 3 is really good to her as far as the content of her arc. I'm not explaining it well enough but it's the way her personality has shifted from passionate and goofy, but still pretty classy and mature, a lot like Gillian herself, to now where she's this boisterous, overconfident chick who's just so darn cute for her enthusiasm about what she's into. She's getting literal hard eyerolls now vs implied ones. It could be argued this is just a natural progression for her after the outer shell of sophistication and maturity melted away or that she was like this all along (see: getting switched by Troy's nana), but I prefer Britta to be more like the one who lectured Jeff in Home Economics, or even as recent to this episode as Annie's Move where she was so wise without approaching any kind of caricature.

    • Things I liked

      Britta's face. Just another example of Britta excusing racism.
      -"I'd get rid of that 'take a penny, leave a penny' nonsense. If the good Lord wanted you to have a penny you'd have one!" How great is Yvette? Also, what is this line saying about her?
      -I wish I could work "You are dippin and dappin and don't know what's happenin'" into conversation more often.
      -"We don't call anything by its name. That's like day one floral school stuff."
      -Dewhimsified Abed saying "What? Shirley's late to the rehearsal for her wedding? Oh my."
      -"How fiscal will the quarterly earnings be?"
      -Britta doing the "Lindbergh Lean"
      -Pierce echoing the "give them a sandwich" gesture from 110, this time to ask for Shirley's help.

    • "Blond woman"?  That was a redhead!  It's Alicia Witt.  I kind of remember reading a backstory about why Alicia Witt would be in Jeff's heart, but now I can't find it.

    • I've watched this episode over half-a-dozen times and have this memory of her being blond; I usually only focus on Annie, though, so. Checking the fishsticks, however, it seems like she has a very bright shine on the right that gives it a blondish tint. 

    • Well, since nobody else seemed to like it, I'll just say, I loved the Jeff's heart animation.  As far as it being a cartoonish element and that being a trend of the season, I didn't really care one way or the other.  But regarding the actual content of what was in his heart, I was like, "YES, OF COURSE! … Who's the redhead?"  You wondered if that was a "tease/taunt" to Jeff/Annie fans, so I'll expound and say that as a Jeff/Annie fan, I thought it was great, and when I explore the shipping community, that's often a moment held up as, "See?! Look how much Jeff likes Annie!"  So I think it's a moment that's generally liked by shippers, except when viewed in a context of lack of consummation.  Anyway, I really liked how their relationship kept getting jerked back and forth in Season 3, because I can't think of any other sitcom that kept continuing Unresolved Sexual Tension to a seemingly insane degree the way that Community S3 did (whereas the reason S4 jerked back and forth on the tension was apparently because the writers were not seeing eye-to-eye).

    • What was so brilliant about the actual content of the heart reel? Pictures of Annie, a dog, scotch, house and a car? I don't get it. Just a pointless and tacky joke.

      Is there really any difference between the UST in seasons 3 and 4? It's more likely they didn't see eye to eye in either season.

    • Brilliant isn't the word I would use.  I would say, "That's nice."  Most of the items were kind of obvious, sure, but I found them heartwarming.

      I would agree that the writers weren't exactly seeing eye to eye either season, but I think in Season 3 those differences were wrangled in such a way that was thrilling (at least I found it thrilling).  In most sitcom UST situations, the characters spend a lot of time not realizing how much they like each other/are perfect for each other/etc., whereas with Jeff/Annie in S3, the situation was they both know they like each other, but there were forces (age difference, Jeff pushing Annie aside at start of Season 2, Jeff not sure he's ready or willing to be in a committed relationship) holding them back from acting on that attraction.  And those forces are kind of legitimate concerns, but if they really liked each other, those forces shouldn't have been enough to stop them from going for it.  So it seemed to be that a part of Season 3 was going to be them figuring out how to overcome those forces.  An alternative, just as legitimate (though not favored by me), route was suggested by VSA, for example, in which they might instead choose to come to terms with deciding it would be best to not make it work.

      In Season 4 it was like, enough already.  It's time to make a decision one way or the other.  And they acted like things had been figured out, but at various times, it seems like those things had been figured out in multiple, conflicting ways.  That's not tension, that's whiplash.

    • Of all the cartoonish touches to this season, the heart roulette was actually the least irksome, and I found it actually pretty sweet. I do enjoy J/A and only retroactively grew annoyed, because it seemed to mean something pretty important, and then, as you said, it really did not. It is a lovely scene between them, though.

    •  Damn, already pushed off the front page? That's Walter White for you…


      1. I'm not as violently against the cartoonish elements as others seem to be; they reflect the shown sudden detour into full-blown neurosis, its identity crisis (as well has Harmon's somewhat justifiable bile) that made the second half of S3 such a a fascinating, crazytown bananapants stretch of episodes. It's like suddenly the show started operating in a continuous drunken haze – brilliance alternating with incoherence and just plain goofiness.

      2. I didn't like the dumbification of Britta (though, compared to the depths she was lowered to in S4, she was a positive Rhodes Scholar), and not just because it made her dim, but because it also seemed to rob her of the sexual adventurousness and the world-weary wisdom she displayed in S1. I want the Flavor Country Britta back!

      3. I do think Shirley intimidated the writers sexually (or maybe they're just racist); it's hard to write a genuine sex life for a woman in her late 30s on TV (even more so if she's not white and not conventionally beautiful). That being said, I think that Shirley got the best development she could under the circumstances (Chang baby aside): her story may seem almost cloyingly traditional, but the writers took care to fill in the margins with all sorts of intriguing details, by fleshing out her rage issues, and her ambivalent relationship to religion and family values. This in turn makes her happy family life feel genuinely earned: she's a woman who had to struggle not just with being patronized and dismissed by society, but also with her own demons, to achieve a modicum of happiness.

      Overall, I like this episode; it's not a classic, but it's funny, well-paced, and very zippy. And drunk Jeff and Britta are adorable (God, I wish the show would put them back together because their passive-agressive friendship is fantastic. And sexy!)

      Great review!

    • Great work on the review, Shion. This episode was the beginning of the second half of s3, which apparently pitted a desire to genuinely resolve a lot of character arcs with Harmon's frustrations about being messed with and ultimately pushed out. As you broke down here, Shirley often gets the worst of these tensions, though she ends up being an important part of the group's journey, even if her stories lack the confidence or freedom to experiment the writers imbue the other groupers with.

      That said, this is one of my favorite eps of s3. It's so much fun. It's got a great energy and a lot of funny scenes and bits. Britta's crisis over being successful as a wedding planner/boring, normal person is the ultimate riff on "white people problems" and Jeff's melodramatic angst about marriage fits in with it perfectly. There wasn't nearly enough Jeff/Britta chemistry this season, which makes this ep even more of a gem. "Pick a number, dick!" is the best, but the Dean also gets points for: "Hey, it's me! And where did I get that money I'm holding?"