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Community Review: “Biology 101” (Episode 3.01)

"Biology 101"

"Biology 101"

 

The third semester for Greendale has begun. Just like New Years, a new semester offers students a time to start over, and approach the coming year with new goals and aspirations. But just like New Years, often these goals are derailed or eschewed by our habits and unwillingness to change. “Biology 101” starts off with a musical number that pokes fun at itself (meta-musical for the win), with lines like: “We’re going to have more fun and be less weird, then the first two years combined”. It really acts as a declaration of all the ways this season is going to be different, yet, be challenged by the fact that it is inherently weird. I imagine this is what most of the third season of Community will be like — that struggle between old and new habits, and accepting change. And this is what made the premiere such a bizarre and yet familiar welcome back to a show we have come to love.

As the musical number ends, we see that it was actually Jeff’s day dream, or a lens if you will, of how he would like to see this year’s semester play out (which includes sleeping with Annie, Harmon you dirty dog). While the intro itself was rather over the top and silly, it served an important function. From a meta point of view, Harmon and his writers could poke fun at their own show and critics, while also setting the stage for what we should expect this season. It was also what I mentioned earlier, the pull and tug between being more serious and being strange (which is a natural thing for Community). It’s a bit of a contradiction, but an honest reflection of how life can be. But more importantly, it also established an important principle, and that is: introspection.

A lot of this season will probably focus more internally on the characters. Whereas season two focused more on the things the group did together to progress their friendships, season three will define those relationships. This season looks to narrow the scope so that we understand why these people are the way they are, and how they fit in their relationships with one another. Jeff’s ideal semester might be one where he gets the girl, they do less weird shit, and oh yeah — one without Pierce. If only it were that easy. Did I mention that Jeff’s musical dream was triggered by Annie asking about Pierce? Despite the fact that the rest of the group were still worried about him, Jeff was happy to see him gone. Is Jeff such a dick that he can’t feel at least some sympathy for an old man that felt alienated by his only group of friends? On the surface, Jeff’s perspective is pretty easy to understand: Pierce was an asshole all last season. And this is what makes Community such a great show. By Jeff’s estimates, and probably our own, Pierce was in fact the villain last season. But as the “Paradigms of Human History” episode taught us, it’s all about perspective. Pierce could have easily have been the victim of being left out. It’s not so unbelievable. It’s easy enough to get so wrapped up in ourselves, that we forget how we treat others. Not to say Pierce wasn’t somewhat to blame either, but I would say the tension of his relationship with the group was contributable to everyone. So why is Jeff seemingly so heartless? Well, because he’s in denial of the fact that him and Pierce aren’t so different after all.

The basic arc of this premiere was Jeff having to examine who he is, who he is going to be, and how this all figures into his relationship with the group. While the group has stepped up in the past season and have become more equals to Jeff then followers, they still look up to him. When Jeff declares: “as friends we have evolved” and states that they no longer need a class to hang out together, the group accepts this logic. Of course, Jeff was just trying to be mean to Pierce, but there actually was some truth to his logic. Their relationships have pretty much grown beyond just the need study together. If anything, studying is just a distraction. But once Jeff got kicked out of his Biology class, his logic came back to bite him.  It’s interesting to note that Jeff was looking for a new class for them all to take together, almost as if their lives revolved around him. But then Annie throws it back into his face about them no longer needing a class to still be friends,  and Jeff can’t argue with it. This separation alienates him though. And similar to how Pierce felt last year, he feels left out of the group. In a brilliant homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jeff has to face the reality that him and Pierce are the same person. Of course, this was a hallucination induced by Monkey Gas. But the dream sequence was Jeff staring at the ugly truth: Both need others to survive. Both also need to be the center of attention. Without that, they are lonely people.

The episode wasn’t all about Jeff though. Abed and Troy announce they are moving in together, which gets a no surprise reaction from the group.  But Abed’s freak out about Cougar Town being moved to mid-season was hilarious, if not a bit self-referential (screw you people that didn’t watch the premiere, 3.9? Really?). But seeing Troy try to comfort him was great. Even funnier was Britta’s attempt at calming Abed with different show alternatives. Cougartown Abbey, Inspector Spacetime (Dr. Who homage, woot!). Of course Britta would pick a show that ends with the whole cast dying within 6 episodes, and consider that “closure”. Which makes it all the more amusing that Britta declares Psychology as her major. As one that tends to screw things up, she would want to be a therapist, when she can’t even help herself. John Goodman played Vice Dean Raybourne masterfully. Although his story in this premiere was short, it’s nice to see Dean Pelton have a rival. Similarly, the Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams offers up  an interesting rival for Jeff. Their contrast in personality helps gives the show a new layer of realism. Jeff, who is so laid back and care free, is absolutely baffled as to why he got kicked out over his phone. Completely missing the point that he’s self-absorbed, he fails to see the bigger picture.  But this intense relationship should push Jeff to examine himself, and I can’t wait for that. Even Annie had a bit of a big moment, when she asked Jeff to no longer be her friend. Some might have found this moment to come out of nowhere. But you have to keep in mind their relationship last season, and the fact that Jeff kind of pushed her aside for Britta without a real explanation. Wouldn’t you be upset if that happened to you, and then that same guy just drove an Axe into the study room like a scene out of the Shining?

From the Dean declaring an end to lampoonery to Britta declaring a major, this premiere if anything set the groundwork for a new  chapter that will focus on change and evolution. But just as Jeff’s isolation made him realize that he needs the group and doesn’t want their relationship to evolve, we too come to the conclusion that change happens, but not always willingly or immediately. The Dean said it best: “I just came by to tell everyone here that this year isn’t going to be that different. With the notable exception we won’t have any money”.  While I have no doubt this year will be in fact different, it will start from the inside and work its way out. As far as the Dean’s latter statement, let’s just hope that isn’t true. “Biology 101” was a great premiere. The tonal shift of being a bit more dark/serious has me excited. If there was any kind of gripe to be had here, it’s that it was mostly exposition and tying up loose ends from the previous season. Then again, that’s what season premieres are for. And just like the first week of school, it  never truly feels like school has began until the 2nd week.

Grade:B+

Best Lines & Other Random Thoughts

  • This review focused more on the themes as I saw them, rather than being a complete critical critique or episode re-cap.  As any critic will tell you, it’s hard to find that balance between writing a re-cap, review, and or analysis. I’m sort of winging it for these writings. Some weeks these will be more heavy on theme, other weeks they might be more of a commentary of the episode itself. In general, I just hope they serve as interesting reading companion to your weekly Community episodes.
  • Troy’s tension with Britta is an interesting development. Personally, I think it will lead to a romantic relationship between those two at some point.
  • Troy: “You are human tennis elbow”. “You are the pizza burn on the roof of the world’s math.” “You are the opposite of Batman”.  Mega burn.
  • Loved that the Monkey Gas was named: “Chimpan-Zzz’s”
  • The Dalmatian  photos and throw pillows were a nice touch to the Dean’s office.
  • What was up with Ham tonight? Both It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Community had a prominent role for the beloved meat.
  • I was never one of those fans that complained about Britta’s hair. But there you have it, season one hair is back.
  • Chang being made a security guard was a smart move. He really needs to be in a place of authority.
  • Britta mixing up Chemistry with Biology, lol!
  • Star Burns mentioning Breaking Bad at the end of the episode made my heart flutter. Best show on tv mentions best show on tv. *Brain explodes*

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