Introduction to Story Logic

This post contains spoilers for episodes 5.12 and 5.13 of NBC’s Community, “Basic Story” and “Basic Sandwich,” respectively.

It’s taken nearly a week for me to corral my thoughts about the Season Five finale. And, truthfully, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

After hashing it out with Becca and comparing notes with Kerry, we three came to a few conclusions. First, we’re unhappy with the lack of good storylines for the ladies of the Study Group. Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Alison Brie are accomplished, talented actresses who happen to be pretty damn funny.

 

 

The two-part season finale once again saw them relegated to supporting roles for a Jeff-centric storyline, and Jacobs and Brie’s characters were essentially props. I’m fully aware that Community was always intended to be a vehicle for Joel McHale – and Chevy Chase, to a lesser extent – but there have been plenty of episodes that made Abed, Troy, even Dean Pelton, the focus. The same cannot be said of Shirley, Britta or Annie. For a show that is normally fairly progressive, turning the women of the show into addendums smacks of that *other* Thursday night sitcom, which consistently wins in the ratings despite offensive jokes, tired stereotypes, and female characters with all the depth and breadth of a dusting of snow on a parking lot in late April.

Second, we three were frustrated by the ways in which the finale ignored established character traits and plot points. For instance, Annie’s tearful outburst in “Basic Story” is entirely out of line with instances where Annie cried previously.

Bravo WWHL

Pretty much my reaction.

Likewise, Britta’s quick agreement to have sex with Jeff, to ‘christen’ the new study room table, seemed bizarre given the multiple times she’s said sex with Jeff is unenjoyable, awkward, and ultimately undesirable. And nearly all of those instances took place under Dan Harmon’s guidance, so it’s not simply a matter of hand waving all of Britta’s objections aside as part of the Gas Leak Year.

Furthermore, several of Jeff’s comments seemed out of character. In “Basic Story,” he tells Annie he doesn’t love Greendale; he tolerates it. He adds that he loves only himself and Scotch, which not only contradicts his actions in “RePilot,” but also his Winger Speech at the end of “Introduction to Finality,” *and* his return for the climax of “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” (Plus, the audience has seen inside his heart in “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts”: The only things in there are Scotch, boobs, and Annie.)

Then, his insistence through the first two acts of “Basic Sandwich” that Greendale isn’t worth saving – that it’s time to let it go – flies in the face not only of three seasons worth of his actions indicating otherwise, but his behavior in that very episode: If he didn’t believe for a moment that Greendale was worth saving, he would have left. Instead, he sticks around not only for the explanation of Russell Borchert’s history, but also for the hunt for the missing computer labs.

Retro-Girl811

In which Davina sums up my feelings regarding this lack of character consistency.

At this point, we know that perhaps the only reliable narrator on the show was Pierce – and perhaps Vicki. So, it’s not unusual for Jeff’s actions and his words to be in direct conflict. What is unusual for Jeff to give up on Greendale so quickly and dismiss it’s importance in his life. That was the Jeff of Season One, prior to “Comparative Religion.” Jeff Winger, circa “Investigative Journalism” forward, may not be fond of Greendale or what he feels its done to his life, but he understands that he’s benefitted from attending the school. It is, perhaps, the only lesson he’s ever learned.

Likewise, his comment in “Basic Story” that Britta and Troy’s short-lived romance was ‘boring’ is strange and abrupt.

Somewhere Only We Know 7

Yep.

While Troy and Britta may have dated during the Gas Leak Year, the seeds of their relationship go back to Season One’s “Interpretative Dance,” or at least to a certain moment in Season Two’s “Basic Rocket Science.”

Community GIFs

That’s called -well, that’s called a hug. But in a story sense, that’s also called leaving a door open for later.

Granted, Season Four may not have handled Britta and Troy the way Harmon would’ve liked, but that pairing wasn’t pulled from thin air.

Finally – and, in the interest of full disclosure, this is probably because Kerry, Becca, and I have always considered ourselves Jeff/Annie shippers – we were annoyed by the treatment of those character’s friendship, and by the insinuation of an Annie/Britta/Jeff triangle, which reduces the two women to little more than plot points who bleat tired accusations at each other.

Community GIFs

Full Disclosure: This is just a gratuitous GIF at this point.

Sure, there was a point – probably early that first summer, after the Tranny Dance (see “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited”) – when many Jeff/Annie shippers would’ve been happy to see these two become End Game: They fall in love, follow a pretty standard romantic-comedy trajectory, and the show ends with them together. Probably not married, and certainly not with kids, but with a stable enough foundation that they would have a mostly content future. But those hopes rather quickly deteriorated under the weight of two factors: Spoilers for the Season Two premiere, and the difficulty of articulating why Britta deserved better than Jeff, but he’d still be a perfect choice for Annie.

 

Many of the original Jeff/Annie shippers liked Britta as much as any of the other characters. (Largely because Harmon intentionally made her the butt of jokes designed specifically to garner her sympathy.) Those folks had to work to find a point where Jeff would have changed enough to be good for Annie without changing all the traits that made him unsuitable for Britta.

Community GIFs

And that’s what I think they call a ‘curveball.’

But the “Basic Story”/”Basic Sandwich” arc gives us a Jeff/Britta pairing that feels unearned (even after Jeff’s reactions in “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”), followed up by the insertion of Annie as an unwanted antagonist. Annie’s reaction to Jeff’s announcement that he and Britta are getting married is too broad and unspecific, especially given her reactions to similar revelations during “Anthropology 101” and “Paradigms of Human Memory,” not to mention her exasperation when Jeff and Britta almost married each other during “Urban Matrimony.”  And as sweet as the moment between Annie and Abed in the bowels of Greendale’s hidden computer department was, the escape scene at the top of the third act, which could be read as a Jeff/Annie affirmation, felt equally unearned: We no longer need a big declaration of love, but moments like these are like patronizing pats on the head.

For a show that prides itself on remarkable plot continuity, the finale felt sloppy. The lack of independent plot for the women of Greendale isn’t enough anymore, despite Community never having insisted they be little more than screeching, sexless mothers, girlfriends, and friends/sisters. And if Harmon & Co. aren’t going to treat the hearts of their characters with even a modicum of respect, then perhaps the show should stick to Dan’s Season One mandate to get the romance out of the way and not put anyone together.

I think, in the end, we were disappointed that the parts were greater than the whole. This isn’t an issue of Community having overstayed its welcome, unlike some shows whose novelty has worn off and are now nearly satire of what they once were. Hell, Community is like that person who comes to your house party, sitting quietly in the corner, and every time you look over, they’re always having fun with someone, but they’re not the life of the party. That status, as a sort of afterthought, or the lack of ratings doesn’t make the show any less funny, less quotable, or less relevant. Even in their off moments, the cast is still top-notch and better than 90 percent of what you’ll see on network or cable TV.

Pop Culture Brain

The tagline. It’s like someone was inside my head. Like I was – *mind robbed.*

But even with the captain back on the bridge, the show feels directionless, the course arbitrary and meandering. Couple that with the flippancy with which our beloved characters are treated – the lack of care for their inner life and the disregard for the consequences of their actions – and it’s tough not to feel that words aren’t being put into the mouths of the Greendale Five because of hurt feelings and thwarted ambitions.

 

Drunken Hanna

Presented without comment.

And if TV has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes no king is better than a mad one.

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Tune In/Tune Out: March 30-April 6, 2014

Welp. I’m watching something now that’s pretty fun, but it’ll have to wait till next week’s installment. In the meantime, anger about a certain series finale aside, there was actually a lot to watch this week. Onto the picks! (For some reason, I wanted to put ‘tally ho’ just now, but I’m going to ignore that urge.)

TUNE IN

 

The Walking Dead: The finale was amazing, and kept the audience at the end of their seats. It is great to see about 84 percent of the group coming back together, but it still leaves so many questions to be answered in season five. I can’t wait to see what stuff and things happen in season five.  – Becca

NCIS: The second half of the backdoor pilot for the bayou-flavored spin-off could have fallen completely flat, but it managed to do two important things in the space of an hour. It successfully built a world for the spin-off to inhabit, and it set forth an interesting ongoing mystery to give the real pilot (presumably next fall) something to draw from when it gets going. – Moff

The Mindy Project: It’s back in a big way, and it’s better than ever. Next week also promises two new episodes, so catch up while you still can! –Kerry

Grimm: SO MANY THINGS ARE HAPPENING. It’s terribly tempting to draw comparisons between this show and ABC’s own fairytale-inspired Once Upon a Time, but it’s ultimately unfair. NBC’s show has successfully built a reputation for compelling storytelling, moments of jump-in-your-seat, and awkward humor, and this week’s episode managed to set up a breakneck race to the season finale. – Moff

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The show gave me a pretty good idea on what would be happening with Captain America: Winter Soldier when I watched it. The episode was intense, and left you constantly questioning who you could trust. – Becca

 

TUNE OUT

How I Met Your Mother: This is probably unfair, since I literally tuned out of the series finale, but it effectively ruined the mythology of the entire show. It deserved a better ending than that. –Kerry

 

Picspam: Community 5.10 “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”

001

Like most of the recent outings, this week’s episode opens at the conclusion of a Save Greendale Committee meeting, with the Dean making a note that the group should add “insurance” to their docket, because “The school needs some.” Chang immediately volunteers to “ask around on the street,” but a distracted Hickey makes a noise of disbelief and Chang replies, “Oh, too cool for street insurance? Must be nice.”

No, Hickey’s not too cool for street insurance, he’s just really upset that he hasn’t been invited to his grandson’s third birthday party. He says he barely gets to see his grandkid because of his son, and in a nice nod to continuity, Jeff points out, “You just saw your son at his wedding.” Hickey says that was his gay son, “Him, I get.” It’s his other son, Hank, that he doesn’t understand. His only hobby is, “What do you call that crap with the dungeons and the dragons?”

Abed, looking like he’s swallowing several sharp knives, bites out, “Dungeons and Dragons?” and the group gets excited when Hickey confirms it. Annie gets the idea to play it again in order to reunite Hickey with his son, which is kind of nice after last week’s episode — Annie’s consistent in the way that she believes people can be reunited just by being in the same place at the same time.

Continue Reading

Microeconomics and Modern Femininity

This post contains spoilers for episode 5.09  of Community, “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing.”

This post was going to be about something very different, and then I realized: What I was going to respond to wasn’t actually the important part of this episode. It was simply a distraction from the real point. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This week’s episode featured the return of Brie Larson as Abed’s sometime girlfriend Rachel, as well a sort-of cameo by Breaking Bad producer Vince Gilligan. Both were part of a storyline in which Annie and Abed argued over who should move in with them: His girlfriend or Annie’s brother, Anthony.

The concurrent storyline involved Jeff, Shirley, and Professor Hickey discovering a cache of mint-condition chemistry textbooks in a storage room while organizing (another item from the Save Greendale Committee’s task list).

They decide to sell the textbooks themselves, rather than turn the books over to Dean Pelton. Britta is brought in for the use of her shady connections to find a buyer, and then Chang stumbles into the middle of the plot. Jeff, Shirley, and Hickey turn on each other, and Shirley meets with Britta’s buyer (musician and songwriter Paul Williams in a surprise cameo) in a dark hallway. But their hopes of making a quick buck are ultimately disappointed, when the mystery buyer tells Shirley the books are misprints – each volume is missing page 105 – and no one will buy the books.

As wonderfully executed as Gilligan’s cameo was – especially the tongue-in-cheek tag including a second surprise appearance, with Gina Gershon appearing as his wife – people seemed frustrated by the inclusion of Annie’s brother for two reasons: The character was grievously underserved by the writing, and there had never been a single hint Annie was anything other than an only child.

Compounded by the fact that Anthony’s character was a fantastic opportunity to shed further light on Annie’s character and backstory – whether by discovering a new facet of her personality or find a clearer reason for an existing trait – yet we ultimately learned very little that was new about her, I personally wonder why the writers believed introducing a sibling with no prior warning would make for a compelling story element.

However, if nothing else, the missed opportunity to shed light on a main character and the secret textbook sale storyline did highlight something I hadn’t noticed about Community. As much as Jeff has always essentially been the main character – largely because the show was designed as a vehicle for Joel McHale, with the established star-power of Chevy Chase – he is not the true main character.

Let’s take a quick tally of which family members we’ve met and when:

  • Troy’s grandmother (1.18)
  • Annie’s brother (5.09)
  • Abed’s father (1.03) and mother, sort of (2.11)
  • Chang’s wife (1.10) and brother (1.18)
  • Jeff’s father and half-brother (4.05)
  • Pierce’s ex-stepdaughter (1.18), father (3.2) and half-brother (3.20)
  • Shirley’s older sons (1.18), her husband (2.12), her baby (2.22), and a several members of her extended family (4.05)

While we’ve met none (Britta or Dean Pelton) or very few (see above) of the people close to most of our main ensemble, we’ve met all of Shirley’s immediate and some of her extended family. We knew much of her family had chosen her husband over her, and we’ve seen her gain and lose real and chosen family members (her youngest son, and her friend and business partner, respectively).

 We’ve watched her journey from isolated single mother to successful businesswoman and watched her fall from grace, again, with the start of this season. We’ve watched her fall in lust (guy with dreadlocks), fall back in love with her ex-husband, and have a random one night stand (albeit with dubious consent). We knew more truth about her from day one than any of the other characters: Her husband left her for a stripper, she had two young children, and she wanted to sell her brownies and such on the Internet. We knew she was angry over the hand she’d been dealt, and her decision to attend Greendale was driven by a desire to take back control over her life.

We learned over time that she had anger management issues, that she was essentially a recovering alcoholic, and, as she herself mentioned earlier this season, that she has a problem with passive aggressiveness. Where the other characters have willfully withheld or unconsciously omitted important information about themselves, Shirley has always stuck as much to the truth as possible – even if she can and does manipulate others to advance her own cause.

If we assume, despite Community‘s creativity and rejection of traditional sitcom tropes, that one character is the audience’s point of entry and that character is our main character, the true focus of the show is Shirley Bennett, a Black single mother and small business owner with expanding interests.

It’s difficult not to want good things for Shirley, especially when she typically only works to improve herself and others. She’s had so many disappointments, and yet she is unflinchingly optimistic.

When her husband leaves her, she turns it into an opportunity to become self-sufficient. When she is kicked out of her first study group, she takes offense at their nickname for her but doesn’t lash out at them directly. When she discovers she’s pregnant, she is worried that her child’s father might be Chang, but she doesn’t keep him at arm’s length (more so than normal, at least). And when Greendale denies her the opportunity to open her own business, she refuses to accept their answer as final.

In a society and a time when women are expected to always be polite; to never raise their voice; to immediately apologize for any offense, real or imagined; to not expect their opinions to be valued unless they further those of a man; to stand down when they are told their behavior is somehow inappropriate; and to not only express shame, but to genuinely feel shame when society tells them they are not behaving like a woman, Shirley is a role model.

Shirley is not perfect. She is not always quiet. She often yells and shouts. She is occasionally violent.

 

She appreciates the value of revenge. She stands by her opinions, even when they are unpopular. She shows embarrassment, but she is rarely ashamed of her choices.

She appreciates a pretty face on a man, and isn’t shy about saying so. She shows a true mercenary streak, as demonstrated when she ties up her would-be partners so she can pocket the entire windfall from the chemistry textbooks.

She is polite, but she will not be cowed. She loves her children and her friends, and she fights for them. She is willing to forgive the man who betrayed her sacred trust and give him another chance.

She asserts the worth of others, even when they don’t value themselves. She is unfailingly honest, but she has the maturity to acknowledge if she’s hurt someone because they misunderstood her.

Shirley is wiser and tougher and stronger than many female characters on TV today.

She never says ‘quit,’ and she does so, mostly, with good humor and the wisdom of experience. She is the true main character of Community, and as nice as it would be for her to catch a break – Maybe Idris Elba is a deacon at her church? Or Chris Evans is an investor for Shirley’s Sandwiches? Perhaps Godfrey Gao is a different investor, who wants to open a chain of Shirley’s Sandwiches in Canada? – she never seems to ask for more than the love of her family and the loyalty of her friends.

She’s not the obvious star because she doesn’t expect to be treated with kid gloves: Shirley understands that being an adult means not only opening yourself up to criticism but learning to respond to it gracefully.

As a friend of mine said last night, it’d be nice to learn even more about Shirley’s background than we already know. But, in the meantime, I would have settled for her plan to sell the textbooks not backfiring, and Shirley making out like an outlaw bandit.

Tune In/Tune Out: March 2-9, 2014

Geez. OK, well so much for the rerun hinterlands of March. ABC has been packing in a string of high-profile episodes and premiering several new series, while other networks have been slipping in new episodes, considering they no longer have to contend with the Winter Olympics. And, as Kerry said earlier today, “so many duds, so many great ones.” Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

TUNE IN

NCIS: I’m a fan of Robert Wagner’s portrayal of Anthony DiNozzo, Sr., mainly because he often serves as comic relief. But I especially liked his guest spot in this week’s episode because his reason for being in town put his son’s new-found enlightenment to the test. – Moff

Brooklyn Nine Nine: I love when this show gets to be action-y, and the tactical village was a really cool way to see the characters in a true police setting. Jake seemed primed to take a big step forward with Amy, only to be beaten to the punch, while Rosa finally found out the true reason Boyle didn’t invite her to his wedding. I never thought I’d say this about this show, but it looks like we’re ramping up for an emotional conclusion to the season! (And congrats to this show and <i>The Mindy Project</i> on their renewals!) –Kerry

Trophy Wife: Two words: Bert Day. It’s as amazing as it sounds. –Kerry

Joe Punjsd

You know the rhyme.

Community: Visually, it was weird, and the story was a lot more depressing than it seemed on the surface, but it was still a fantastic episode. It left me really excited to see where the rest of the season is going. – Moff

Lereyo

How have we never had an ‘Andy = Kool-Aid guy’ joke before now?

Parks and Recreation: Ron Swanson hangs out with his newborn son for the entire episode, a swarm of bees attacks mostly Eagletonians, and everyone is insanely quotable. (“Hey Ron, cool baby.”) –Kerry

Elementary Gifed

So many dirty jokes, so little time.

Elementary: If you don’t tune in just to see roosters hanging out in the Brownstone, then maybe the case of the week, which is twisty with a weird conclusion, will appeal to you. Ears to you! –Kerry

Sherlocked Mind Palace

Arrow: Comes for the abs, stay for the acting

Arrow: Slade Wilson hangs out at the Queen mansion, freaking out Oliver as he charms his mother and sister, while back on the island, Oliver goes and lets the bad guy monologue. Never let the bad guy monologue! But it still made for a seriously good hour of television. –Kerry

Multiprises

And this drawing is actually *less* creepy.

Grimm: We got a little bit of the larger, Royal-related arc, and we got a creepy new creature. And Sgt. Wu finally got a first name and some back story! Of course, it didn’t end particularly well for him, but it’s been a long time coming. – Moff

TUNE OUT

How I Met Your Mother: this week’s episode made me regret recommending this show to everyone who would listen. Even if the show ends with a miraculous (spoiler), the entire narrative of the show has been cheapened. My instinct is to tune out the show for the rest of the series, but curiosity may get the better of me. –Kerry

Suits: The stakes have never been more… the same as ever. Louis re-realized Mike was a fraud, Rachel walked around two apartments in lingerie, and Harvey bickered with Scotty over her contract and buy-in at Pearson Specter. The episode <i>is</i> worth the precious few scenes we get of Donna and Jessica (they both get two separate scenes, each) but since it amounts to about seven minutes of screentime, just skip this one. Maybe tune in next week, though it’s possible nothing will happen then, either. –Kerry

About a Boy: I really wanted to like this show, because the premise is right up my alley. The kid is unbelievably cute and hits all his marks like a veteran, but there’s still something missing from the show as a whole. While the pilot was fine, I didn’t expect the second episode to be so formulaic (guy doesn’t want to watch kid, kid really likes guy, guy has to watch kid, guy takes kid to grown-up party, guy neglects kid, guy learns exact same lesson he just learned in the pilot) and the whole thing ended up feeling flat to me. Hopefully the third episode’s the charm! –Kerry

High School Is Forever

This post contains spoilers for episode 5.08 of Community, “App Development and Condiments.”

You remember that thing teachers make you do on the first day? When you sit in a circle, or a square all facing in, and go around the room, introducing yourself and say something about yourself? Invariably, what you say in those 30 or 40 seconds determines how whoever hears you thinks about you for the rest of the term. It’s a lot of pressure to put on anyone: ‘Hey! Say something short but funny, brief but pithy, and remember: These one or two sentences will define who you are to the people you’re about to spend a lot of time with for the next couple of months.’ When you consider that, normally, the people introducing themselves are teenagers or young adults, who may not have a fully developed sense of self – let alone know what they’ll be having for dinner – it seems extra unfair.

The unfailingly sad – and frustrating – part of life is this doesn’t stop happening when we leave school. It happens at jobs – menial, part-time and big, fancy shmancy ones – and it happens in other, unexpected circumstances. And, nearly every time, it sucks.

This week’s episode starts with another meeting of the Save Greendale Committee, wherein they’ve agreed to seek estimates on how much putting grass on the soccer field will cost.* As the meeting draws to a close, Shirley discovers Jeff has organized a dinner outing with everyone else but to which she was not invited. Jeff explains he didn’t invite her because he knew she’d be unavailable**, and before they devolve into an argument of foosball levels (and before the rest of the group fumblingly tries to reschedule), Dean Pelton arrives with an announcement: Greendale has been chosen to beta test a new mobile app.

Hello Booze

So, this happened.

The app, created by David and Bixel (guest stars Steve Agee and Robert Patrick), is more ridiculous than its name: Meowmeowbeenz is a ‘rating’ app, where users can rate each other, and their ratings become weighted over time, with the ratings of users with higher ratings themselves given more importance.

David Tennantant

Before Annie went all sycophant.

As you might suspect, the app, with its wide-open parameters, leads to a total breakdown of society within Greendale. Shirley and Annie, along with Buzz Hickey and Chang, advance to the top strata, while Abed hovers around the middle, and Jeff and Britta struggle to break out of the lower ranks. The rules become increasingly absurd as the levels become more and more clearly delineated.

At the episode’s climax, Jeff performs a bizarre, and offensive***, stand up act to gain the approval of and join the uppermost tier, letting Britta down after agreeing to help her overthrow the system. He and Shirley argue again, are kicked down to the lowest level of the new society, and then resolve both their current and earlier arguments. Meanwhile, Britta embraces her own absurdity and manages to overthrow the skewed social order on her own, only to impose a new, vindictive system in its place. However, when Jeff and Shirley are brought before her for judgment, Jeff manages to destroy Britta’s new world order. The episode ends with Jeff inviting Shirley to dinner. She explains she’s probably unable to attend, but Jeff has thought ahead: They can order take-out for the entire committee, which means Shirley won’t have to arrange for a different schedule to see her kids.

The first element of the episode, largely because it’s totally inescapable, is that it was designed as an homage to the 1976 scifi film Logan’s Run, with just a dash of the alternately campy and bewildering Zardoz.****

Sitcom Family

Just when I thought Starburns couldn’t get any worse

Logan’s Run is, in many ways, a predecessor to the current crop of dystopian future novels and films we’ve been swimming in for the last decade; it has nearly all the required elements. Wacky futuristic jumpsuits and/or diaphanous outfits in colors associated with your place in society? Check.

The South of Heaven

Oh, hai, Tim. Love the eye makeup. Also, a round of applause for Jeff’s cleavage, everyone!

A rigid social order that is as arbitrary as it is (mostly) understandable? Check. A dire secret that can bring the entire society crashing down? Check. A cross-social class alliance that will end in rebellion and romance? Double check.

But what’s particularly interesting is how, in the context of social satire, Community has embraced the traditional role of scifi, which is to hold up a mirror to our own lives in order to highlight the parts that are awful and ridiculous. In Logan’s Run, the social commentary focused on overpopulation and the glorification of youth culture.

Ask Ian Duncan

Yup. You know you’ve thought it.

In “App Development and Condiments,” the commentary reflects our obsession with technology; our inability to communicate effectively with real people; and our tendency to overinvest on social media. (Full Disclosure: I fully include myself in those ‘ours.’ I’m as guilty as anyone of these same dependencies.) However, while other modern satires – The Colbert Report, Weekend Update – take a more direct approach to pointing out societal absurdities, Community used scifi conventions to show the logical (but sped up) conclusion to a new social media trend. (Klout, anyone? Twitter? Facebook? Ahem.)

The other interesting aspect of this episode was the focus on relationships. First and foremost was the tug-of-war between Jeff and Shirley. Season three’s “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” illustrated how compelling they can be when they work together, given that Jeff now is modeled on Shirley then, while season one’s “Social Psychology” showed how their similarities (both gossipy and thoughtless) make both of them genuinely unpleasant to spend time with, at times.

Sitcom Family

Oh, Annie. Et tu, Edison?

But equally interesting was how Annie followed Shirley, riding the other woman’s coattails to the popularity she presumably always wanted in high school, if last season’s “Heroic Origins” can be trusted. Yet, despite Annie toadying to Shirley’s whims, there were points where Annie seemed aware her popularity was still unstable, which speaks to Annie’s continued lack of confidence: Much like Britta, her sense of self-worth is connected to her friends, but she also lacks the confidence to build her popularity on her own merits.

Interestingly, in a subtle callback to season three’s “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps,” Abed is again shown to be the lone voice of reason in his group of friends. While the beginning of the second act sees him super pleased with everyone using Meowmeowbeenz, and the close of the same shows him tickled that he can make small talk with others in his class, he realizes in the third act that being part of the popular elite is as isolating and lonely as being considered emotionally stunted and socially inept.

Introduction to Basics

I’m sorry. That is not the face of a happy Abed.

It becomes clear Abed had hoped his Meowmeowbeenz rating would help fill the void left by Troy, but what becomes clear is he’s not the same self-assured man he was in season one’s “Physical Education.” Whether his lack of confidence is a product of having had Troy as a crutch for the last four years, or if it’s a result of having lost sight of who he was because Troy was always there, Abed is both lonely and seems to have lost the spark he had back at the start.

Following on last week’s confession from Britta that she feels she has no friends, her discovery in this week’s episode that people would take her seriously only if she had mustard on her face was a sad addendum to her character having lost sight of her self worth. Now, it might be that I simply have strong Britta feelings (We do have similar names.), or it might be a matter of hating how she’s been misused and ignored for the better part of three seasons.

Shirley’s storylines have consistently been about her struggle to balance her personal and professional obligations with her desire for freedom, even if they’ve been couched in a poorly handled pregnancy arc, a poorly handled recovering alcoholic arc, and a marriage more confusing than Ross and Rachel’s on again/off again nonsense. Annie may have less backstory than any of the other characters, and the storylines she’s been a part of have disproportionately focused on her attraction to Jeff (and Vaughn and Rich and, that one time, Dean Pelton), but she’s always been represented as smart and driven. The same can’t be said for Britta.

Lereyo

You tell him, Britta!

Whatever the cause, I was genuinely upset by Britta’s willingness to make a mockery of herself. As much as her activism has often been played for laughs, her passion to make the world better is a huge part of what makes her believable as a person who might exist in the real world. And she’s always genuinely believed in the value of her activism, even if she’s equally aware that she’s not making a huge dent in the world’s problems.

Don't Kill the Vibe

This was simply too pretty not include.

Furthermore, her rise as a egalitarian-minded dictator isn’t as absurd when we remember this is a girl who felt her father was controlling, who was ignored by her peers as a teenager, and who made the incredibly ballsy (if ill-timed) move to tell Jeff she loved him in front of the entire student body, only to have him walk away and make out with someone she thought was a friend. (Second Full Disclosure: I am an unabashed Jeff/Annie shipper, but that was a pretty jerk move on Jeff’s part, regardless.) My point is Britta went a little mad with power, but her reign wasn’t as divisive as Shirley’s or as mindlessly violent as Chang’s; and her intentions, however clouded, were pure.

But like a lot of us, Britta is stuck. She wants to be taken seriously, but she’s unsure how to present herself in a way that won’t make others dismiss her out of hand. She’s trapped in high school and knows it, but can’t escape because everyone else is stuck there, too.

After last week, I am more convinced that Britta is on an arc where her loneliness, which is even more ingrained than Abed’s, will make her the weak link when the inevitable season-ending showdown happens. And if that showdown includes City College and Dean Spreck, well, the Save Greendale Committee will have its work cut out for them when they have to fight a foe from within as well as an outside threat.

* It’s fantastic to finally have the world of Greendale fleshed out. We’ve known for years now that their basketball team is really gay, their football team practically always loses, and the football field serves as overflow parking for the nearby mega church. But there are still little bizarre things about the campus we’ve never quite found out, as Kerry has mentioned.

** I think it speaks to the nature of Jeff and Shirley’s friendship that he knows her schedule, but also to a new commitment on Jeff’s part, after season four’s confrontation with his father, to spend more time actively engaged with his friends rather than keeping his nose glued to his phone all the time.

*** As a fellow former Seattlite, I can say that not everyone in the Pacific Northwest thinks people from New York sound the way Jeff was speaking. However, our impressions of Californians are usually more on point than when we try to mimic people from the other side of the country.

**** Unlike Logan’s Run, the social commentary of Zardoz is not really worth discussing, although if you haven’t seen it already, I recommend it if you have a couple hours to kill and you’re not huge on things like plot, story logic, or continuity.

Tune In/Tune Out: Feb. 23 – March 2, 2014

Wow. So, that was an awfully long week, wasn’t it? (Why, yes, I am pretending to ignore the rules of space and time. Thanks for noticing!)

While not all our shows are back yet – and we’re heading into the hinterland of March reruns, which means I’ve queued up a bunch of IFC movies from the last two years – but there were some real stand-outs this week. And a couple stinkers, too. But lets not dally any longer, shall we?

TUNE IN

 

Person of Interest: This week’s ‘number’ wasn’t part of a larger arc, but it was still poignant, tensely paced and gripping: All the things POI does best and has done since the latter part of season one. – Moff

Brooklyn Nine Nine: – Did you know Jake and Gina have known each other since grade school? Neither did we until this week’s episode! Their storyline gave the department some surprising depth, while the self-evaluations held by Holt and Jeffords were downright hilarious. Poor Santiago. –Kerry

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Arrow: The ensembles on Arrow were amazing in this episode. The Diggle and Felicity friendship gives me constant feels, and I hope this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship between Felicity and Sara – Becca

Community: I’ve liked Britta for a long time, even when she was The Worst. As much as this episode was about Abed finding his footing post-Troy, and Jeff and Ian Duncan’s friendship, Gillian Jacobs shone in this episode, fleshing out Britta’s character in bits and pieces. – Moff

 

Grimm: It’s fun when a show has finally established enough of its world that it can spend time character building, which this week’s second-half of the pre-Winter Olympics cliffhanger did. But it also managed to add new elements to Adalind’s pregnancy arc, and the resolution of Monroe’s falling out with his father even hinted at what the season’s remaining episodes will bring. – Moff

Psych: – This show really is firing on all cylinders as it heads into its last block of episodes. If seeing everyone in sixties costumes doesn’t appeal to you (notably Tim Omundson and Dule Hill, with Maggie Lawson as my favorite) then the last scene between Lassiter and Juliet is sure to tug your heartstrings. (What are we going to do without this show?) –Kerry

TUNE OUT

NCIS:LA: It’s difficult not to feel like the writers were simply scraping the bottom of the barrel as they tried to prolong the ‘Kensi in Afghanistan’ storyline. While it was an unexpected – and clever – way of throwing a wrench into the Kensi/Deeks partnership, it’s starting to feel confusing and unnecessary at this point. After all, the writers aren’t taking the same tact as they did with Tony/Ziva on NCIS, so why continue to keep Kensi and Deeks apart? – Moff

Saturday Night Live: Admittedly, I only tuned in to catch Weekend Update, as I was excited to see Cecily Strong anchor the desk on her own. But, in the grand tradition of SNL setting high expectations and then failing to meet them spectacularly, Strong is now partnered with a newer member of the cast, who I have spent the last 12 hours referring to as ‘Generic White Dude.’ Strong was clearly picked to take over from Seth Myers because she had the chops, and I’m disappointed the show isn’t going to let her show it. – Moff