“Advanced Criminal Law”
During the course of the average human existence, we will all find ourselves drifting in and out of the lives of those around us at any given time. Of course, those other people are experiencing the same phenomenon, the differences being where we come from, and where we are now. Though millions of these overlaps can occur in a lifetime, it’s the ones where lives truly intersect that are the most interesting. What happens when two (or more) lives intersect is the basis of our relationships, and our actions within these intersections form not just who we are, but also how we are perceived. Personality and perception are inherently linked, and the right kind of person, say, the Jeff Wingers of the world, capitalize on that link, manipulating perceptions to boost their personality, then using that personality to manipulate perceptions, and so on in an endless cycle. So what is it about Britta Perry that causes Jeff’s cycle to, if not crash entirely, at least falter?
This is an interesting question, and one Community is only barely diving into. It’s just such a shame that the episode where the real digging begins is so lackluster. “Advanced Criminal Law,” much like this week’s other episode, is finishing the job of setting up our characters. The main plot, where Britta admits to cheating on a Spanish test, pairs up Jeff and Britta once again. The problem is that it’s unclear what more needs to be established between the two. Jeff continues his attempts to seduce Britta, who continues to deftly avoid his seduction. After she admits to cheating, Jeff offers his skills to Britta, one of his most blatant attempts at manipulating and gaining leverage. That Britta accepts his offer makes sense; Britta sees Jeff as a friend, and understands that his experience as a lawyer could help her during her tribunal. Jeff lobs around barbed sarcasm, Britta opens up to him, and he drives the story home with a Winger Speech. Case closed. It doesn’t add much, but it’s inoffensive, and the tribunal’s location (Greendale’s Olympic-sized pool) makes for some great gags. (Who doesn’t laugh at Leonard skinny-dipping? At the very least, his “Busted!” is one of Leonard’s best moments.)
Things become more problematic in the subplots. I’ll be blunt: Troy and Abed make a great team, but Abed pretending to be an alien to try and “mess” with Troy (because get it, Asperger’s!) is just too silly. Troy and Abed’s stories work best when the absurdity is gentle. The alien plot is too broad, and while Danny Pudi gets in some great physical humor, it doesn’t amount to much (until, mild spoilers, much, much later in the series). It’s nice to see their deepening friendship, but even the tag of the episode (see below) does it much more effectively. There are similar problems with “Pierce writes Greendale’s new school song.” The show would do much better with Pierce’s attempts to manipulate the way the study group sees him, but this plot does give us our first real instance of Annie getting tough, a secret weapon that will become one of the character’s greatest strengths in the future. Plus, the payoff, with Pierce performing “Greendale’s the Way It Goes,” an oblivious rip-off of Bruce Hornsby’s “That’s Just the Way It Is,” is remarkably triumphant. It’s a moment where cynicism gives way to tenderness, which is Community‘s stock and trade, but it works all the same, and serves as a nice cap to an otherwise subpar episode.
“Say hello to our ethnically neutral mascot, the Greendale Human Being!”
“Football, Feminism and You”
“Football, Feminism and You” deals not only with perceptions, but what causes these perceptions. Troy and Britta have both set up walls, based in past experiences, in order to protect their images. A stranger or casual acquaintance would have no reason to ever tear down the walls, but in order for relationships to deepen, walls must come down, and perceptions must change. It’s work for all involved, but it’s also necessary in order to establish truthful, meaningful relationships.
While the episode is ostensibly about Troy, the main conflict is between Jeff and Annie: both want to use Troy for their own (mostly) selfish reasons. Annie is nursing a high school crush, and has finally found a way to situate herself close to Troy, and become someone he can (and must) depend on for academic success. Jeff needs Troy to join the football team and appease Dean Pelton, who blackmails Jeff with posters and mailers featuring Jeff’s picture. (It should be noted that aside from the blackmail, Dean Pelton has stakes in Troy’s decision to join the football team or not. His attempts at legitimizing Greendale are a persistent runner of the season.) Annie and Jeff become the angel and devil on Troy’s shoulders, pulling him between academia and football. But our past informs our present, and it’s no surprise that Classic Winger Coercion brings Troy right back into his high school jock persona. But while both Jeff and Annie consider Troy’s decision as their own personal tug-of-war, neither realizes that Troy’s experiences are his own. It’s a relief when, at the end of the episode, Troy gives Jeff his own take on the Winger Speech, telling the truth about his accident, and explaining that he’s comfortable where he is. After the initial, douche-y jolt of adrenaline from the idea of playing football again wears off, he sees the situation much more clearly than Jeff or Annie, both consumed by their attempts to manipulate another in order to alter the way they’re perceived, could.
Meanwhile, back on the farm, Britta struggles with the idea of women going to the bathroom together. Let’s all be honest: the premise is as sitcom-y as they come. But instead of silly hijinks, Shirley forces Britta is explore her own femininity (and vice versa). Britta, so far in the series, is a woman defined by her isolation. Her refusal to let anyone close is not limited Jeff, and at least in the case of her relationship to other women, was created by a long history of being ostracized for not conforming to the same ideas of femininity as other girls. Shirley, much more traditionally feminine, initially ostracizes Britta herself, not out of meanness, but only because she interprets Britta’s coldness as a lack of feminine camaraderie. It’s only after the truth about the past comes out that both Britta and Shirley can see what the other is offering. It’s a wonderful moment, then, when a crying Annie (caused by Jeff over in the A-plot) asks Shirley to accompany her to the restroom, only for Shirley to encourage Britta to go instead. Britta’s rebellious nature and stand-offish approach to soapy drama makes her prickly towards Shirley’s restroom banter, but after learning the true nature of the lady’s room, she turns those qualities around and uses them to help Annie. Britta believes in female empowerment, and is herself a strong woman, but because of her history, was averse to the shared feminine experience. Her ultimate revelation is that, while restroom banter may seem childish to her, it’s a pure, visceral form of female empowerment. It’s a way for Britta to share her strength, as well as forge the deeply personal connections with other women she had been denied throughout her life.
It’s the idea of whether or not a person needs help with the way they’re perceived that drives “Football, Feminism and You.” Jeff, Annie and Shirley make assumptions about Troy and Britta, about what they are and what they need, and those assumptions are incorrect. Troy and Britta may have both carefully groomed the way they’re seen by others, but those perceptions were built on fallacies. While our pasts may inform our present, it’s the truth about the past that makes us into the people we want, and need, to be.
Advanced Criminal Law: B-
Football, Feminism and You: B+
One good thing “Advanced Criminal Law” gives us is a greater sense of place. Not only do we get appearances from Starburns(!), Leonard(!!) and Garrett(CRISIS ALERT!!!), but also Dean Pelton, Señor Chang, and Professor Duncan. And Luis Guzman! (Okay, it’s just a statue, but still!)
Duncan: “Fawlty Towers. Game over. Have a nice day.”
“The only difference between Señor Chang and Stalin is that I know who Chang is.”
Pierce playing Annie out of the room might be a cliche (especially in the post-Keyboard Cat world), but it’s still funny.
“Dean Pelton, I move that this case be thrown out of… the pool area!”
“I’m sorry, do you mind if we have this conversation in a room with slightly less balls?”
“Pierce and Troy didn’t get along at first, but now they’re bonding over mutual adolescence.”
“Football, Feminism and You” gives us a truly fantastic C-plot where the dean and Pierce work together to create Greendale’s new mascot. The result is the truly horrific Human Being, one of Greendale’s most enduring, and hilarious, quirks.
Jim Rash does some great work in both of these episodes. His insistence on receiving a high-five from Jeff near the beginning of “Football, Feminism and You” is such a perfect piece of physical humor, played terrifically by both.
Troy: “How did you know my nickname was T-Bone?”
Jeff: “Because you’re a football player and your name begins with ‘T.’ Your name… begins with ‘T.'”
“Troy, why are you doing our politically conservative high school’s shamefully outdated fight rap?”
“I think not being racist is the new racism.”
“I’m not having a conversation with someone who just emerged from a bush.”
This week’s tags: Troy and Abed take turns trying to fit as many (unsharpened) pencils as possible into each other’s mouths, and break into the main office to make their own morning zoo announcements over the PA.