Before I get into tonight’s review, I want to reflect on something that someone recently brought to my attention in regards to Community. This person said they were not a fan of how the study group were treating each other in this season’s premiere. You had Jeff having absolute hatred for Pierce; Annie telling Jeff she no longer wanted to be friends; Troy calling Britta a pizza burn on the roof of the world’s mouth; even the kind Shirley admitted to Star Burns rather bluntly that she didn’t really care about him beyond the surface. This person went on to say that their negativity has made it so he can’t really connect with the characters anymore. So why am I bringing all of this up? Well I think it’s good to stop every once and a while and clarify the characters of the show you are watching, especially when the show is as character driven as Community is. So I propose this question: Is the group narcissistic?
I feel the answer is pretty obvious. When the leader of your group is Jeff Winger, a very self-absorbed, vain person, the answer can only be yes. But isn’t that in a way the very foundation of this show? Individually, each person in the group is pretty self-absorbed and broken. That is why they were all pretty much outcasts prior to their first study session. But together, they have found a bond that allows them to all share their usually closed off lives with one another. The irony in these closed off characters is that they need attention, and the companionship of others to survive. So putting that into perspective, it makes sense that when you have all these alphas in one group, there will be moments where they get so wrapped up in their own lives, they can treat each other poorly. And well, it’s also just funny. When an audience follows a set of characters in a fictional world, often all that matters is the characters. So when a show acknowledges this, it becomes self aware of how characters are used as a central focus to the stories, and often at the expense of each other or the other characters in this world. Make no mistake about it, some of the funniest comedies have had self-absorbed characters, where their adventures completely ignore and trample over those around them (including themselves). Look no further than Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
That out of the way, let’s tackle “Geography of Global Conflict”. Unlike last week’s episode “Biology 101”, this episode focused more on the group working together to help out a member of the group. That being, Annie. Seeing as I’m a big fan of her, I was ecstatic to get an Annie centric episode so early on in the season. And in a lot of ways, it reminded me of a season one episode, where the group has to work together to help out one of their own. Jeff quickly coming to the aid of Annie, sort of shifted back the focus to him as being the leader of the group. Something I noticed in season two was that around the middle of the season and into the end, Jeff had kind of taken a backseat as being the guy that the group all looked up to for answers and guidance. But this worked, because it allowed the other characters in the group to grow more, and step out on their own. Personally though, I’ve always felt that Jeff worked better as a leader. So the return to this formula was a welcome one.
Up to this point, Annie has always been the smartest kid in her classes. In a way, it defined who she is on the surface. It’s also been a mask for her own insecurities. So when she’s threatened by Annie Kim (the “Asian Annie” as Pierce so eloquently puts it), Jeff quickly steps in and defends her. It’s an interesting plot, because unlike past episodes that have followed a similar narrative, this time Jeff willingly takes on Annie’s anger for her, and challenges Annie Kim out of a sense of duty to protect her (milord, milady). It was charming, and a reminder in wake of last week’s dysfunctional group story, that moments like that are not the norm. But in typical Community fashion, the story gets weird fast. Tonight’s episode in a lot of ways, was a commentary on the fact that there is a dark cloud over Annie and Jeff’s sexual attraction to each other, a subject no one really wants to talk about. There’s no dancing around this, but, Annie is much younger than Jeff. Personally, I have never had a problem with this. Annie is old enough to make her own decisions. She’s a full grown adult, and I think they both have great chemistry together. But I also understand why for Jeff, it would be a conflicting and problematic issue. Not only is Annie young, she’s the youngest in the group. It’s not hard to imagine what Jeff is feeling. So the writers took an interesting approach to the relationship by having Jeff step in and act more like a father figure to Annie. But even beyond that, they use this to kind of highlight the difficulties that exist that stop them from actually dating. “Annie, you’re acting like a little school girl, and not in an attractive way” pretty much sums it up. Jeff even admits in this moment that what he said sounded wrong. For some, this plot will be awkward. Personally, I understand why they did it, and appreciated the effort. But at this point, I’m kind of in the: “just do it, or don’t already” mentality. I also think at this point, most of the audience that watches Community accepts who these characters are, and would have no problem with Jeff dating/hooking up with Annie, despite the age differnece. Them highlighting this weirdness, well, just made it weird. Still, you have to give the writers credit for not taking the easy route with this one, and not being afraid to explore all the sides of this relationship, even the uncomfortable ones.
The episode was mostly divided into two stories: Britta’s quest to be a true activist, and the groups attempt to help Annie out with her model U.N. debate. Britta’s plot really was a call back to her season one characteristics, and was fun to see her desperately try to be a real activist, despite not actually having a cause. What really made this work was the bizarro relationship she had with security officer Chang. The minute Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” came on, and Britta kicked the trash can, I knew it was destined for greatness. The entire thing played out like a romance plot. Chang, needing a trouble maker to make his job mean something, and Britta, needing an authorative figure to “oppress” her to make her a legitimate activist, made it a match made in heaven. Still, as much as I loved this plot line, I couldn’t help but feel it felt out of place in the episode at times. Maybe it’s because this season is trying to take a more serious tone, I found the over the top plot to be a bit jarring in places in the greater context of the episode’s story. Not to say I found the plot to be too over the top for Community. I mean, this is the show that had a conceivable Zombie outbreak, and it was real. I just meant, in the episode itself, I felt like an odd pairing.
Where the episode exceeded exceptionally well was the model U.N. debate. Seeing the group all come together to face off with another section of the school, is something that has always worked well for the show. I couldn’t stop laughing when Abed asked if there was two worlds since there was Red and Blue U.N. (Fringe reference perhaps?). Then Troy’s use of a southern accent for Georgia when he actually knew he was representing the country Georgia, was great. This entire scene also reminded me how much I like Pierce this season. It was nice to see him being a team player, and actually overcome the underestimated expectations that are often thrown on him. But of course, this kind of perfect harmony between the group was bound to get side tracked at some point. Just like the U.N. in real life, peace was foiled by absurdity. In the case of Community, it was a rancid fart. Seeing Annie’s Veruca(esque) tantrum (Willy Wonka fans know what I mean), was uncomfortable. But as I said earlier in this review, this was Annie’s identity and comfort zone being threatened here. When you put that into perspective, the idea that something so important to her was going to be lost over the team’s inability to get over a “fart, well, it’s understandable. But it also highlighted how childish it was for Annie to hold on to something so unimportant in the grand scheme of things. She’s really much more than just the “smartest student”, and I figure her arc this season will be coming to learn this and accept that. And of course, Annie’s tantrum also played into the Jeff being her father plot that was somewhat alluded to throughout the episode. I’ve already seen fans and critics complain about the Jeff and Annie moment in the study room. And I’ve already said my peace on that. So all I way say is this: I didn’t think it entirely worked. But again, I can’t fault the writers for taking that kind of risk to go there, and explain why there is those hurdles. Maybe it didn’t work for some (like this writer), but it certainly wasn’t an awful moment by any means. And I figure it was also a set up for Annie’s greater arc this season, and that is her coming into her own as an adult. It might be weird now, because Jeff still views Annie as a kid, but wait till she becomes more confident and sure of who she is. She will be a woman to be reckoned with.
All in all, “Geography of Global Conflict” was a solid episode that had some big laughs. Arguably, it was much funnier than the premiere. Yet, what the premiere had and this lacked, was an overall sense of cohesion. At times I found the episode’s pacing to be a bit strange. Particularly, the Britta and Chang parts in relation to what the rest of the group was doing & the Jeff and Annie father/daughter conflicted romance sub-plot. The guts and parts of this episode were pretty fantastic, but they didn’t fully come together. But it should be mentioned that almost every single season of Community starts off by warming itself up, and building towards something greater. I have a feeling that since every season has always tried to tackle something new at the start of the season (season one, as a new show it was trying to find its voice, season two, they strengthened the groups friendships with bigger thematic/concept episodes, and season three, finding the balance of being weird with being more serious and focusing more internally on the characters) – the show has to find its grounding. The writers are still working out the kinks so to speak, and figuring out a way to balance this new season’s goal, while also retaining what has made the show so great all along. But hell, for all the weird things this episode was, it still offered a lot of great moments. A lot of moments that will bring people back to earlier episode of the series and remind them why they fell in love with it.
Best Lines & Other Random Thoughts
- “I swear they are just for sex!” Chang’s reply to having his handcuffs taken from him was great.
- “An Asian Annie. Obama’s America”
- “Be careful Annie, they are ruthless. What! Not Asian’s, I mean women”.
- The reaction from the group when Britta launches into her usual spiel about the rain Forrest was great.
- “Looks like someone woke up on the regular side of the Bed”. Troy is really going in on Britta this season.
- Annie fiddling with her straw was mesmerizing (remember her clay shaping skills?). Troy emptying her cup so that she was doing it in the air was hilarious.
- “Pardon me professor Cligoris, how do you pronounce that?” Besides the obvious joke here, I loved the fact that Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks and Party Down) played the professor. One of the coolest cameos ever.
- When Annie and her world decided to invade the other world, it was funny that they marched right through the anus of the Greendale flag. Perhaps the best entrance to an invasion ever?
- “The science works out” The quick acceptance of the invasion by Cligoris made the scene that much greater.
- Britta has done some pretty lame things before. But I think those baby dolls taped to her body while she shook her butt around takes the cake. To be fair, it took a lot of balls to pull something off like that. Plus she took that tase to the neck like a pro.
- “I told you to stop playing Operation on me. I’m not your damn board game”. Community has had some great after the episode segments, but this one had me laughing hysterically. Again, really glad Pierce is back.