Professor Whitman: If you don’t genuinely seize the day before the end of the week, then you will be seizing an F for the semester.
Jeff: THIS IS NO WAY TO TEACH ACCOUNTING!
In the name of full disclosure and all that, I should probably note how much I hated Dead Poets Society on something like a molecular level. I’m definitely on board with Introduction to Film as what could arguably be considered the first Community concept episode, but anything that reminds me of the existence of Robin Williams is not going to be something I’m especially going to celebrate. (Yes, yes, I know he was a genius in the ’80s, but I’ve seen the 80’s, and I don’t think anyone’s judgement from that decade should be trusted.)
To be fair though, I don’t get the impression, watching this episode, that the Community writers particularly liked Dead Poets Society either, and so I’m willing to excuse the A-plot on those grounds. Professor Whitman is, hands down, the absolute worst kind of person who ever saw Dangerous Minds, and the writers appreciate this. He tells his class to “Live in…the moment!” without the least bit of awareness as to the triteness of that statement, and then attempts to quantify the worth of how anyone lives their life with the most self-satisfied sliminess possible. Jeff in a light-up tie and multi-colored suspenders? Thumbs down (though, to be fair, he did have the misfortune of intersecting at that moment with the B-plot of the episode, and totally misread what was actually Jeff being a decent human being). Jeff flying a kite through campus and then jumping rope with suspiciously underage girls? Definitely thumbs down and also seriously stop hugging those girls, it’s legitimately creepy. Jeff kissing Britta? Thumbs up, but only because Whitman again misread the intersection of the B-plot and has a tendency to force the innocent actions of others into his own narrative. Like I said, the worst.
But speaking of forcing the innocent actions of others into his own narrative, apparently Abed is what it takes to showcase Britta’s misaimed social justice crusade for the delusion it more often than not tends to be. You can’t really blame Abed for fitting Britta and Jeff into the roles of his parents for his movie (and also his life, but I’ll get to that in a second); while Britta is most obviously asserting herself in that role by pushing and providing for Abed, Jeff likes being the leader and the center of attention enough to act as a father figure even while he insists that’s not what he’s doing.
The payoff to Abed’s daddy issues is a little heavy-handed – I know it’s hard to build up to something when you’re only three episodes in and I guess they tried by playing off his established personality difficulties to the logical conclusion of how his parents might react to that, but it still comes a little out of nowhere – but this plot is still really interesting in how it establishes the way Abed is going to learn how to interact with the rest of the world. That part is no less heavy-handed (Abed’s Dad: “My son is hard to understand. If making movies helps him be understood…then I’ll pay for the class.”) but there’s something more to it than just the simplistic way it’s presented.
Abed doesn’t just use movies to express himself; in fact, after this episode, you’d be hard-pressed to find an example of Abed using movies in quite that way. What he does use movies for, however, is as a way of understanding (active versus passive); that is to say, he uses movies as a means of interacting with the world in a way that makes sense to him. Sometimes, he forces “real” people into the narrative he wants to express (though it’s worth noting that Community never really lets you fall into the suspension of disbelief that any of these people are real), but more often, it’s about the fact that narrative makes sense. A narrative has a beginning, middle, and end; it has character development and lines which are ironically juxtaposed with images and thereby made meaningful (just look at the way Abed takes Jeff’s “I think you are weird, Abed” and puts it in a place where it has a deeper significance). Abed’s quirkiness was never really taken past Ambiguous Personality Disorder TM, but there is a theme in this show of Abed’s comfort with stories, which have rules, and his frustration that reality (such as it is in this post-modern vortex of a show) fails to constrain itself to any sort of order. Honestly, I’d be hard-pressed to judge whether or not Abed’s filmmaking is actually healthy or not – while it does allow him to communicate in a way he’s comfortable with, it also allows him to avoid engaging with real people. (Abed: “Well Britta, it isn’t called friend business. It’s called show business.” Funny, but he’s also getting away with being a jackass.) The point is, however, that Abed at least has some way of engaging with the rest of the world, and that’s got to be an improvement from the motormouth oversharer we met in “Pilot.”
– Neither of these plots interact with the extremely slight C-plot, which involves Troy sneezing “like a girl” and Pierce teaching him to sneeze “like a man.” There’s some amusement to be derived from Pierce’s conviction that his sneezes render him masculine, some mild interest to be derived from the way this acts as one of the last vestiges of the Troy/Pierce odd-couple plan, and a nice call-back in the way Jeff begrudgingly fist-bumps Troy in a way that suggests that it’s lame, only to have Pierce later enthusiastically initiate the gesture. But yeah, nothing that exciting going on here.
– “I shall have…a birthday cake!” We don’t talk enough about how much of an asshole Whitman is. Someone had to reprint that menu you ripped up, jerk.
– “Pierce will beat that in one minute.” This show is seriously masterful at their cold opens.
– THIS WEEK IN TAGS: Our dynamic duo attempts to krump, only to be schooled by, surprisingly, Jeff. Always nice to see him give up on being ironically detached and give in to the insanity around him.