Community: Season 1, Ep. 1 and Ep. 2 – ‘Pilot’ and ‘Spanish 101.’

For all my love of NBC’s Community, this was actually my first time seeing the pilot. I jumped in on the holiday ep that featured a healthy dose of Shirley’s religious intolerance–but I’m getting head of myself. I knew I’d eventually settle into this show because I remember falling hard for the earnestness of its trailer. I teach at a community college and I’ve seen firsthand its ability to bond the unlikeliest of students, so the sitcom’s premise resonated with me. Now, after having watched (almost) two full seasons, I find Community just as relatable and interesting as I figured I would–even when (or especially because) it indulges in the absurd.

Because nearly every PB contributor is an unabashed Community head–or Human Being, as I like to call us–we thought it prudent to start recapping the series before its awesomeness implodes in the third season, with the addition of The Wire’s Michael K. Williams and veteran TV/film actor John “Dan from Roseanne” Goodman.

So every Friday, a different PB Human Being will bring you a double-header recap from seasons past, until we’re all caught up. Let’s begin.

Season 1, Ep. 1: “Pilot”

The pilot opens with Dean Pelton trying his hand at an inspirational first day of school speech. Its function is two-fold: to roast common preconceived notions about community college and to introduce our motley crew of series regulars:

What is community college? Well, you’ve heard all kinds of things. You’ve heard it’s “loser college” for remedial teens (cut to Troy), twenty-something dropouts (cut to Britta), middle-aged divorcees (Shirley), and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity (hello, Pierce!). That’s what you’ve heard; however, I wish you luck!

As the dean realizes he’s misplaced the index card that contained actual inspiration, the sparse undermotivated crowd disperses.

The camera cuts to Jeff and a slender chattering, roundeyed fellow who hasn’t stopped talking about his family life long enough to actually provide his name, but soon enough, he tells us he’s Abed. And a sitcom’s meta moral center is born. Jeff is disinterested until he asks if Abed knows anything about the hot blonde in their Spanish class. Abed not only informs us it’s Britta but rattles off a ton of personal stats he picked up from talking to her just once.

“Holy crap. Abed! I see your value now.”

In the cafeteria, Jeff approaches Britta and tells her he’s a “board certified Spanish tutor” and invites her to his study group in the library. She’s skeptical until he strings together all the rudimentary Spanish words he knows in a convincing tone but a nonsensical order. She doesn’t commit to attending, but we know she will.

It still seems weird that what’s developed between these characters over two seasons began with Jeff trying to get into Britta’s pants. (And it’s equally weird that when he finally does just that, it’s so far from being a series goal that it barely registers as a climactic moment.)

As you can imagine, the study group turns out not to be just Jeff and Britta. It’s the whole core cast: every archetype addressed in the dean’s opening speech, plus Abed and Annie. To deflect his absolute ineptitude at Spanish, Jeff gets the group talking (and arguing about) their differences, insecurities, and idiosyncrasies.

“I’m certified,” he tells Britta when she asks what he thinks he’s doing.

Abed, who’s been name-checking The Breakfast Club since the study group started, diffuses the tension by launching into Bender’s “Smoke up, Johnny!” monologue.

The B plot in this ep is about Jeff’s illegitimate law degree and him trying to bribe a professor he once defended against a DUI in court (The Daily Show’s John Oliver) to give him all the answers to every test for his entire course load. The prof hems and haws but eventually gives Jeff a packet he says contains the answers, in exchange for Jeff’s Lexus. Jeff then quits the study group, after delivering the first of many roundtable speeches that flatters and cajoles the group into forgetting why they’re quarreling. He triumphantly declares that he doesn’t need them… until he gets outside and realizes the pages inside the packet are blank, except for the last, which reads: “Booyah.”

Pierce is the first to join Jeff where he mopes on the school’s front steps, then Troy, then the rest of the gang. They feel sorry for him, after he confesses that he never learned how to study, so Britta acquiesces and invites him to rejoin them.

Crib Sheet:

  • “I’m sorry. I was raised on TV. I’ve been trained to believe any Black woman over 50 is a cosmic mentor.”
  • “I thought you were like Bill Murray in any of his movies, but you’re more like Michael Douglas in any of his movies.”
  • “Yeah? And you have Asperger’s.”
  • Does Abed really have Asperger’s? Was this every officially diagnosed?
  • “You’ve just stopped being a study group. I now pronounce you a community.”
  • The John Hughes memoriam tag at the end is a class act.

Season 1, Ep. 2: “Spanish 101″

This just seems like a character development ep. Which is fine, but it’s not all that eventful, so I’ll make my recap brief.

Jeff’s late to study group. Again. Britta’s none too pleased, so she galvanizes the group to confront him upon arrival. But he swans in, charming and schmoozing them all, until no one wants to spoil the moment. Except Britta, who of course remains unimpressed.

In Spanish class, we’re introduced to Señor Chang for the first time. I know Ken Jeong has a reputation for being this hilarious scene-stealer, but I’ve never found him particularly funny (*ducks*). Chang pairs the class up for a partner presentation. They have to write a dialogue that includes five assigned phrases. Jeff swaps shirts with Abed so he’ll swap cards with him and he can pair with Britta. But Britta, one step ahead, trades cards with Pierce.

Pierce brings alcohol to the planning meeting, hoping to make fast friends with Jeff. In typically toolish Jeff form, he waits two hours until he’s too exasperated to be tactful, then tells Pierce he’d rather be chasing Britta.

Which brings us to the B plot. Britta offhandedly mentions turmoil in Guatemala at the beginning of the ep and Annie and Shirley glom onto this tidbit. Shirley: “I want to be political like I go to a real college. I want to protest the hell out of something.” They ask what they can Google to get caught up to speed on the unrest. Britta gives the name of a journalist who was stoned for writing against the government and they run with it. Their protest involves pastel balloons, t-shirts, brownies, and a piñata shaped like the dead Guatemalan journalist.

Jeff abandons Pierce so that he can go “pretend to care” about Britta’s “stupid cause.” (Britta first mocked Annie and Shirley’s efforts, then joined in upon realizing she’s all talk and very little action.) Pierce drunkenly crashes and outs Jeff’s picket sign and duct-taped mouth as yet another ploy to bag Britta. Then one of the silent vigil candles ignites Pierce’s sleeve, effectively ending the protest.

The next day, in Spanish, Pierce prepares to do his presentation alone, until Britta reveals that he’d offered her 100 bucks just to partner with Jeff. She thinks this is because he wants to be a part of something bigger than himself: a family. This becomes a running theme, as it relates to Pierce, but two seasons later, I’m still not buying it. More on that in the crib notes.

Sufficiently guilted, Jeff declines Chang’s offer of a C to basically do nothing and joins Pierce in a long, racially offensive presentation, performed soundlessly over Aimee Mann’s “It’s Not Going to Stop.”

Chang gives them an F and an F-. Jeff gets the latter.

Britta likes Jeff a little more. So does Pierce.

During the credits, we get our first Troy/Abed end tag. They’re rapping in elementary Spanish. It’s beyond awesome and ends with a “Word.”

Crib Notes

  • - In addition to introing Senor Chang, this ep also introduces us to Star Burns, who will always work better as a sight gag than an actual character with dialogue.
  • “You’re like Jodie Foster or Susan Sarandon. You’d rather keep it real than be likeable.”
  • “C’mon. Ninety percent of Spanish is hands. (leads class in exaggerated hand gestures as they say, “Hasta Luego.”) Excellente!
  • “Did you guys know about the ethnic cleansing in Burma?”
  • “We need to bust out that brownie mix.”
  • On Pierce: I’ve always found this character a little problematic. He’s the only one who never really felt settled in to the group. In retrospect, this was probably always intentional, given what happens in the season two finale. But still. It seemed the writing couldn’t decide if he was doddering on the edge of dementia, socially inept, really desirous of a “family” or just a vaguely lecherous old guy who really, really didn’t want to grow old. I love Chevy Chase in the role. I think he plays that awkwardness of being the only senior citizen in a group generations removed from his own very, very well. But I never cottoned to him (or the group’s treatment of him) the way I did with the others. It makes me feel complicit in the ostracism he feels for growing old. And maybe that’s my problem. Anyway, now, I’m worried about his fate, in light of creator Dan Harmon’s interviews about this season being far more serious than the others and the characters grappling with their mortality. Fingers crossed for Pierce!
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slb (aka Stacia L. Brown) is a writer, mother, and college instructor in Baltimore, MD. Check her out here: http://stacialbrown.com and here: http://beyondbabymamas.com.

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