Fourth Wall Views

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‘Community’ Returns with Lessons for Everyone

  March 2nd, 2014     Community     3

After the long, hard two weeks when the Olympics ruin the hopes and dreams of all television fans by causing the TV schedule to look like an empty abyss where our only options are to be patriotic and watch the games (Go Team Canada!), or settle for reruns of those shows we should be getting new footage of, the regular programming has returned. Of all the shows that returned this week, Community‘s latest  stuck out to me as the best of the bunch. This week’s episode “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” (which, can we take a moment to marvel at how hilarious and misleading that title is?) was a return to the bittersweet, emotional core episodes, like “Mixology Certification” and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” that this show is so good at doing. With the additions of Chang, Duncan, and Hickey to the study room table, it was much easier to pair characters off, so we ended up with multiple storylines where our favourite characters are able to grow.

I was slightly apprehensive when the cold-open dealt with Duncan asking Jeff for help with asking out Britta. Mainly, I was afraid that this would spark jealously in Jeff, and he would realize that he still has feelings for Britta, something that has been done countless times on other shows. While this was the case for the first part of the episode (though it was played for laughs, as Jeff’s renewed attraction is clearly caused by other forces, mostly Britta not being “the worst”), it took a fantastic turn in the end, letting all three characters learn a lot about themselves, and realize that how important friendship really is. Britta went through the biggest change of these three, and it was caused by something we’ve never seen before: how people that aren’t from Greendale see Britta.

After hearing characters tell Britta how she’s “the opposite of Batman” for a few years, it was shocking to see that at one point she was respected as an activist. The show has always made it seem like her activism wasn’t as real as she thought it was, and that she was a total sellout for leaving it behind and going back to school, as much as she thinks she’s making a difference. As it turns out, Britta was considered a hero by her fellow activists, specifically Michael (pronounced Mike-ale). It was weird to see people so excited to see Britta, because we’ve become used to everyone talking down to her lately, and I was even more surprised to here her tell everyone not to listen to anyone else, just “listen to yourself”. It’s almost like this has been her way of coping with all the derision she constantly receives from the people she considers her friends, the people who turned her name into a verb. Or it would be, if Britta knew how to take her own advice. Despite the words of wisdom she shared with others, Britta later admits to Duncan that she defines herself in relation to to others, and now feels worthless because there isn’t anyone who thinks highly of her anymore.

Though Jeff and Duncan didn’t go through drastic changes as people, their relationship went through a change, as they realized that they need to treat each other better if they want to remain friends. Ever since Duncan was introduced on the show, he’s been pretty much an irredeemable slime ball. He’s dependable when the show wants to go for a laugh, but it’s rare that we get to see any depth from him. The closest we got to seeing any real feelings was in “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” when he talks about what he sees in his Cave of Frozen Memories, but otherwise he’s been pretty one-dimensional. This episode was able to show us a side of Duncan we’ve never seen, the side that cares. Duncan usually does anything to get women, and it makes sense that he would hit on Britta at her lowest. Yet, we see him decide to do the right thing by not taking advantage of her, which definitely shows growth for the character. Likewise, we’ve only seen an antagonistic friendship exist between Duncan and Jeff, which lead to Duncan constantly hitting on Britta despite her history with Jeff. By giving Duncan a conscience in this episode, he is able to go to Jeff and make amends, with both of them making an effort rather than being friends by label only.

It’s telling that Britta is the one to call attention to Jeff and Duncan’s lack of real friendship along with the fact that everyone should only listen to themselves, as she has trouble with both those notions. This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen that therapy might actually be a good field for Britta to practice (the biggest was likely coming up with a way for Abed and Troy to cope with their imminent separation in “Geothermal Escapism”), but it’s definitely the most overt. Britta’s life has always been a mess because she can’t take her own advice. She can see when others are in need of advice, but can’t see how she can use it to improve her own life. It takes Duncan, a psychologist, to help her see that she isn’t as worthless as everyone else makes her feel. I don’t think I’d want to see Duncan and Britta as a romantic pairing (Duncan is still kind of a creep), but I think pairing them together makes for some great character development.

I’ve spent all this time talking about one storyline, but there’s another important one to discuss. This episode is the second since Troy’s departure, but the first where it has really been addressed. The moment where Abed finishes making his Kickpuncher and sadly glances towards the empty chair where Troy once sat is one of the most heartbreaking moments of the show. The sadness doesn’t end there, as we are then shown a full-costumed Abed walking down a dark hallway alone. He clearly hasn’t gotten over the loss of his best friend, despite his chipper appearance in front of the group, but he doesn’t know how to deal with it. When he goes to Hickey in search of bonding, he’s really looking for someone to goof off with the way he would with Troy. What he wants is someone to pay attention to the things he likes to do, people that will be enthusiastic when he says he’s going to build a Kickpuncher costume. When Hickey doesn’t drop everything to play with him, Abed acts out. He knew what would happen when he pushes the button on his costume, but he doesn’t care if he wrecks Hickey’s drawings because they seemed unimportant compared to what he was doing (when he finds out what they were, Abed asks if he ruined something “valuable,” meaning it would be fine to ruin Hickey’s work in some cases).

Throughout their time together, Hickey and Abed tell each other what they really think, things that neither have ever heard before in a constructive way. Abed may have been shoved in lockers for being “weird,” but he’s never been talked to frankly by anyone that didn’t have the intention of bullying him. His friends tend to indulge him to keep him happy, with a few exceptions — Annie called him out in the Dreamatorium episode and Troy told him to stop hiring impersonators in “Contemporary Expressionists” — but they have never physically limited him like Hickey does here; he’s always given a choice. Similarly, Hickey seems like the type of person that intimidates people, so it’s likely that nobody has ever told him the truth either. Abed cares about nothing more than getting to his movie, so Hickey’s intimidation doesn’t work on him. Both characters end up telling each other exactly what they need to hear, and that leads to a creative partnership and a new friend for Abed. In my last post about Community, I mentioned that I was looking forward to the new pairings now that Troy is out of the picture, and I’m excited to see what this partnership will add to the show.

Finally, the episode dedicated part of its running time to the best Chang storyline I’ve seen in a while, if not ever. He got more airtime then Annie and Shirley, who were quickly disposed of in a great joke where McDonald’s was the punchline, but not too much that it became overkill. My biggest issue with Chang is that his personal brand of crazy can contrast whatever is happening with the rest of the cast, but keeping him separate from everyone while still in the same place really solved this issue. He was crazy, but not on purpose and not in a mean-spirited way, and pathetic Chang is often the funniest Chang to see. My biggest laugh of the night was seeing that the black and white picture was from the “Old Timey Photo Club,” a great ending to a very weird storyline and a fantastic episode, one that a show considered a “comedy” can’t do often, but when done on this show it is always enlightening.

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  1. In the scene where duncan has his revelation about his friendship with Jeff, only Duncan has that revelation. Do you think that Jeff will reciprocate the new found respect or appreciation or realization about their friendship that duncan will? Because Jeff was ready to go after britta when he knew duncan wanted her.

    Love your stuff.
    Keep it up

    1. I think a lot of it depends on what Jeff was really thinking when he decided to go after Britta. It seemed like he only wanted her because others expressed interest, not because of genuine feelings (though those may still exist too), as well as anger at Duncan for pursuing his former lover in the first place. When Duncan showed Jeff that he’d rather be with him than Britta, it seemed to create a stronger bond between them, as shown by the way they were acting the next day. I can’t say for certain what Jeff is really thinking because we aren’t shown given many scenes of him expressing himself, but there didn’t seem to be any hidden animosity between himself and Duncan, which I take as a positive sign. This could all be reversed next episode, as Duncan has really always been a terrible guy, but I’m happy we got at least one episode that shows us he might try and improve himself.

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