By Darin Skaggs
I remember there was a time where I thought this was one of the greatest season one episodes of Community. Apparently, I was wrong. It is in no way bad, it is pretty good actually, but great it is not. The reason I put this so high in my mind was because this is one of the most important episodes in this first half of the season. In a lesser show the writers would not know what to do with its “main” character Jeff (McCale) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown). They, in simplest terms, are completely opposite. Jeff is a white, God denying, single, selfish, young at heart guy who has yet to make a real connection with anyone while Shirley is a black, Christian mother that wants the best for everyone. In the lesser show, they would have a season two or three conversation on how they never hang out and be forced together with a cheesy ending. Here Harmon and crew face this “dilemma” head on. Shirley is passive aggressive and probably feels cooped up looking after her two children by herself in search of gossip and funny judgments to escape her perfect little trapped life. Jeff is a selfish, purposeful loner that bleeds sarcasm. Jeff fights hanging out with Shirley, but fate, the writers and Shirley herself have other plans. They connect immediately almost more than anyone else at times. I love their relationship in later seasons. We will get to Shirley more in depth later though.
Let us get to the A plot which Jeff is having feelings of jealousy as Britta is getting closer to extreme hippie Vaughn (Eric Christian Olsen). This is where Shirley and Jeff bond as they make fun of Vaughn’s hacky sack skills (the fact he has them), bro-ish greetings and tiny nipples. Jeff tries to be a good friend to Britta and attempts to stop making fun of him, but with the combo of him and Shirley he cannot help himself and eventually offends her and Vaughn, which causes them to break up shortly after. This plot is fine. Harmon states in the commentary that he is always trying to break the norm for cliché sitcom tropes. This is the transition period; Jeff has to get over Britta before Harmon gets the group where he wants them. Honestly on rewatch it is pretty awkward. I cannot stand this Jeff, it is nearly boring. He has a great relationship with Britta throughout the show (great meaning it is interesting, but in no way a healthy relationship) but I don’t like seeing this side of anyone.
The B plot is good enough. Duncan is performing this science experiment where he sticks people in a room and tells them the “real” experiment will start in five minutes or so. He makes someone do this every once and a while. The secret is the experiment will never really start and the class will observe the victims slowly go mad and break as they cannot wait any longer. In this Annie ropes Troy and Abed into the experiment. Everyone breaks, Chang does immediately which totally fits his character and is fairly funny. It comes down to Troy and Abed, because it is their show. Troy finally breaks and Donald Glover performs this wonderfully hilarious breakdown that includes frustration on missing the Soul Train Awards and crawling out like his legs no longer work. Abed then sits and waits and waits and waits. Duncan is slowly going mad waiting for Abed and has his own freak out where the students take notes and he screams at them more. It makes sense the Abed from last episode would patiently wait to help his friend and miss a showing of the four Indiana Jones films. He outlasts most of the students and teacher until Annie comes in and screams “Leave.” Later we find out Abed was pretty angry, but was just being a good friend. In the A plot Jeff and Shirley are bonding while Annie and Abed bond here, she buys him three of the Indy movies, because she knows he hates the fourth one, to make up for being a bad friend.
Now let us talk about Shirley. First of all Yvette Nicole Brown nails her and really makes the character her own. She does seem to be the character they lose track of later on, but Brown keeps a hold of her knowing exactly who she is. She is one of the most passive aggressive people I have ever seen, but without that aspect a lot of good things never happen, like her and Jeff becoming buddies. Like I said in simplistic terms she fits in the least of the group, not only because she is black, but she is a mom. No one is ready for kids in that group, but with her passive aggressiveness slides her way into the group and luckily fits right in. She gets her way while also caring about these people, mostly wanting them to convert to Christianity, but she wants the best for everyone. She will make fun of Vaughn all day, but when Jeff sees Britta make out with the loser, her heart breaks for the pain Jeff is feeling. She thinks of herself as a saint who will comfort you at your darkest time, but will not deny being called the Devil when teasing Vaughn when Jeff is trying to stop. We learn she was kicked out of another group of black women because she was too mean. Like Jeff, the group will make her better and heal her like she hopes she has done to anyone she meets.
Pierce is in the episode doing an odd thing where he gets a Bluetooth looking device that is called Ear-noculars that have supersonic hearing. All this really amounts to is him thinking that Jeff and Shirley are making fun of the rest of the group, but then that gets everyone to pick on Vaughn which leads to him finding out and being rightfully upset. The episode has some really solid jokes as well. The Troy and Duncan meltdowns are highlights and in the opening Chang is teaching Spanish oddly and writing complete gibberish, which gets a nice chuckle out of me. Shirley making fun of Vaughn behind his back is awesome but nothing classic really happens in the episode.
So Anthony Russo directed the episode and while a lot of these episodes have cool cinematography, I have yet to learn what makes an Anthony Russo episode. Liz Cackowski wrote the episode and she only is credited to write one more after this, and it’s another Shirley focused episode so it seems she must have a soft spot of that character. She was a writer for SNL for a few years, but mostly she has small roles in films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Neighbors 1 & 2.
I DON’T GET THAT REFERENCE: Not a lot of references again. Abed claims the fourth Indiana Jones blows, but I sometimes get the idea that Abed’s movie opinions are too simple and safe. Maybe I feel this here because I kind of like the fourth Indiana Jones film, but later on we learn his love of film goes from 1979 to 1994 which is a bother as a film fan because great movies range from the beginning of film until now.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The tag here is Troy and Abed mocking everyone behind a window, which is pretty funny. We meet Garrett in this episode played by Erik Charles Nielsen. He is an observer of Duncan’s experiment. He doesn’t do anything Garrett-like, but it is nice to see him.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This episode is good, maybe just okay at best, but it is important. It is clear that Harmon needs everybody to connect. They all have to become loved ones to each other so he and his writers bond the two most unlikely pair. Almost it is like he is saying if we can get these two to work we can accomplish anything.