Friday, January 3, 2014

Thoughts on Community: 501 "Repilot" and 502 "Introduction to Teaching"

After a largely imperfect fourth season and the impossible offseason which saw the return of Dan Harmon, Community returned last night in what was ultimately top form.

Jeff, depressed, with Alan, taunting.
I say "ultimately" because "Repilot," by necessity of season four's conclusion, starts at a rather dark place. Indeed, it almost mimics how Dan Harmon must have felt after his firing from the show: we see Jeff in his failed, strip mall law office as repo men stripped it to the falls--booze included. It's Jeff at a low point, a prelude which sets up his return to Greendale Community College... or is it a reflection to Harmon's low point, which ultimately was a prelude that set up his return to Community?

Armed with a convenient yet delicious excuse from the vile Alan Connor (played by the wonderful Rob Corddry, who once nodded to my brother whilst the former was taping a bit for The Daily Show), Jeff returns to Greendale to look for certain records. (The search is ultimately a maguffin.) . As he fires off the acid line to the still-there, still-old Leonard, I couldn't help but think that this too was reflective of Harmon, of the disbelief we all had at the earliest news that the show's creator would return: "I'm not here. I'm just a figment of your creeping dementia."

Quick enough, though, Jeff is in the records room which, as fates would align, is the old study room so familiar to the show's viewers. Cue the rest of our stars, and we're updated on everyone's progress since May.

Lost. (The table is like an island.)
  • Annie has given up her dreams to become a big pharma rep
  • Abed has given up his dreams to pursue programming
  • Britta has given up her dreams to become a bartender
  • Shirley's husband has left her and her business is in ruins
  • Troy is a mere tag-along for the Troy-and-Abed connection
  • Pierce is dead and no one cares because he's never returning.*
Jeff, awful, heartless, bottom-feeding Jeff manipulates the group into preparing to sue Greendale but--darnit, right wins out. The group, sans Jeff, decides to... wait for it... reenroll at Greendale to pursue their actual dreams; after an absolutely wonderful scene where Jeff, wonderful and heartfelt (to a point), tie-whips Alan (in what was a truly great moment), Jeff realizes that he needs a job.

"Repilot" concludes with Jeff practicing his chalkboard signature--having taken a job as a professor at Greendale. The Dean's deliciously odd line of "once again... more teachery!" concludes the episode.

And with that, we're back! The group has returned and the show has repiloted.

And with that, we're really back--as "Introduction to Teaching" started right afterwards!

I don't know at what point NBC decided to air 502 immediately after 501, but it works for a number of reasons. First, the second episode was always going to be a bit of a let-down--after all, how can the show hit the same high again after "Surprise! We're all back together!" (Surprise here is relative and in a willful suspension of disbelief sort of way.)

The plot of "Introduction to Teaching" consists of--wait for it--Jeff's introduction to teaching. Jeff learns what those of us in the real world always knew could never have suspected: teachers (at Greendale) have it easy! Professor Buzz Hickey, crusty and irascible, is  excellently portrayed by Jonathan Banks, an actor familiar with questionable educators. Jeff learns that most professors simply have students work together and quiz each other, (Marzano would approve wholeheartedly) a tactic which affords the staff ample opportunity to have mixers in the faculty lounge. 

Note the board: Always Be Cageing
That's Jeff's bit of business for the episode, but what about the other characters? They're taking classes, with a main focus of the B plot being devoted to a film course on Nicholas Cage. It's a wonderfully Harmon-esque area, and one that hits home with the audience: we too have wondered if Nicholas Cage is a good or bad actor. (How is he great in Face/Off but awful in Ghost Rider--when it's the same bag of tricks?!) Abed, as the resident Asperger's student, insists that Cage must be somewhere on the scale of good and bad--leading to the hilarious (but vaguely creepy) scene in which Abed has created yarn connections all over his apartment, A Beautiful Mind-style. Further, the conflict leads to Abed's breakdown in class, where actor Danny Pudi puts on one heck of a Cage impersonation. "I'm a sexy cat" is a line that should--and daresay will--live in infamy.

That said, it's not all hijinks. I particularly enjoyed seeing Annie as the moral compass for Jeff--reminding him that he's there to actually educate his students for the class Fundamentals of Law. She infuriates him, inadvertently having him out-logic her to the amazement of his class... a class which asks to learn more about how one can make such arguments logical arguments. With that, Jeff is relating it to legal arguments... and he's actually teaching

Furthermore, Jeff discovers that he actually likes teaching. He tells Hickey as much.

And with that, he's back as our slick hero--but hero nonetheless. This is all the more reason for NBC to have run these episodes back-to-back: together, they complete a circle. And complete it is, for all the friends meet in the study room to share lunch. Indeed, that Buzz Hickey joins them, taking the "old man" seat once occupied by the dearly-departed Pierce, played by the not-so-dearly departed Chevy Chase.

*PS... Chevy, by the way, gamely returned for one scene as a hologram. It was nice to see the actor was man enough to return to the Harmonized show. Still, he get's bottom-of-the-article mention because... well, that's what happens when you call someone a ______.

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