Britta: Will you guys have some respect? You are obsessing over someone who does not give you a second thought. Meanwhile, in Guatemala, journalists are being killed by their own government.
Early Community had a Britta problem.
To be fair, this could more accurately be called a “straight-man problem,” in that the show still thought it needed a straight man and attempted to force Britta into this role until it finally realized that it could really just involve everyone in the craziness, and then was much better for this realization.
But the fact is that at this point in the show, Britta was…problematic. Take that first scene around the study table. Pierce and Troy have a nice little rapport going about “tardiness” and Pierce being old (though I can’t pretend I’m not happy they eventually dropped the mental disorder jokes), Abed is self-consciously meta in a way that reminds you that Community really doesn’t care for the fourth wall, and Britta, meanwhile, is a buzzkill. But that’s not even the problem; the problem is that, where later episodes would take this wet rag quality and make it the joke itself, the plot here still manages to be about Britta’s superiority in a way that makes everyone, including the audience, feel bad.
To put that another way, no one’s pretending here that Guatemala is in any way relevant to the conversation (Shirley: “Baby, you went and jumped a column there.”), but we are still pretending that Britta knowing about Guatemala is something for which she should be admired. So when Annie and Shirley jump in and get literally everything you can possibly get wrong about protesting wrong (Annie: “You can hang the Chacata Panecos pinata.” Britta: “You guys realize he was beaten to death, right?”), they’re still the butt of that joke, and everyone is still made to feel a little bad for having so much fun when there are journalists dying in South America.
Because while Britta may be a bit of a douchebag who has a little information about a lot of topics no one else knows enough about to fact-check her on, she is still, at this point in the show, first and foremost a love interest for Jeff. So Britta is a buzzkill because she’s there to be the grown-up, because the whole point of her character at this point is as a goal for Jeff’s redemption arc – where, we might assume, he has traditionally pursued random floozies, he is now pursuing a mature, respected equal who keeps everyone else from getting out of hand. (Which is why, incidentally, I don’t mind that later episodes made Britta so absurdly incompetent – in doing so, it allowed her her own, independent character arc that was decidedly more interesting than “love interest.”)
However, as much as the “Jeff pursues Britta” plotline of the first few episodes hits the worst beats of the Ross and Rachel Express, it also led to the first of my two favorite subplots in this episode – namely, Jeff and Pierce and the Spanish Fiasco. Abed is paired with Britta for a Spanish assignment, so Jeff gives Abed his shirt in exchange for his partner (I can almost excuse the lack of shirtless Joel McHale in this scene by how ridiculous he and Danny Pudi looked in each other’s costumes. But not quite). But since Britta has also switched, with Pierce, Jeff ends up partnered with everyone’s you-kind-of-want-to-hate-him-but-also-you-feel-a-little-weird-about-that grandpa.
Look, Pierce is fundamentally a sad, pathetic character, and there’s always a bit of melancholy even when others are mocking him. (Pierce: “I’m not sterile. In fact, it’s a rare condition called hyper virility. Apparently my sperm shoot through the egg like bullets. Can you believe that?” Jeff: “I can’t. But you can, so that’s fine.”) He’s delusional and stupid and unlikable, but it’s in a way that makes you think he’s not completely blind to the fact of these qualities. Sure, Britta lays it out for us at the end of the episode (ugh), but while drunk Pierce setting himself on fire at the vigil is a bit of karmic retribution for being so terrible, it also gives us a guy who’s stuck in a vicious cycle of karmic retribution with a universe that won’t give him a break.
Now, that’s a bit heavy, and while that heaviness is something of a theme for Community, I really don’t want to obscure how obscenely fucking funny this plot ends up being. The final presentation is everything I want from a Community final sequence (you can keep your Debate 109’s – this is the first time Community made me laugh until I cried). Angry men in tiny sombreros! Fairy wings and the Israeli flag! Robots! Sad Annie! Abed gets it! (And I love the implication that this whole production had to pause for five minutes while Jeff and Pierce explained to Annie that she needed to be tied up and the desks needed to be moved, and no, it wasn’t some weird sex thing, just kind of racist.)
F minus, indeed.
But as great as Jeff and Pierce were, they pale like a candle before the sun in comparison to the other great duo introduced in this episode. Yes, folks, this was when Dan Harmon & co. realized that, while Troy and Pierce may have been the most obvious odd couple of the group, Troy and Abed was where the magic was going to happen. From their completely blase two-second completion of the assignment (Pierce: “Hacks.”) to the fact that obviously they ended up at the protest together even though Abed claimed they were going in order to get laid (truly, this was the love story of the program), to the Spanish rap, it’s really impressive how much chemistry they already have so early in the process. (Fun fact about the Spanish rap – if I recall correctly, the tags were never part of the original plan, but the episode ran short and Harmon saw how great Pudi and Donald Glover were together, and everything just sort of fell into place.) And how great is it that the Spanish rap makes absolutely no sense? Senor Chang may be a Spanish genius, but the language is never going to be something these characters are going to get out of this class. (Mostly because he isn’t actually a Spanish genius. But we’ll get to that later.)
– “Whoever is growing a small patch of cannabis behind the gymnasium, congratulations, you have won a cruise. Report to security to claim your tickets.”
– I’m sure Ken Jeong is a lovely man and I’ll allow that Chang works in small doses, but he’s all noise and no matter here and is easily my least favorite part of the episode.
– Interesting how it’s Pierce who can make Jeff so desperate that he actually becomes the one begging to do the assignment.
– Was that the beginning of Dan Harmon’s famous story circle that Pierce drew on the board?
– Pierce: “To the empowerage of words.” Jeff: “To the irony of that sentence.”