Community, “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” (CREDIT: Yahoo! Screen)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in March 2015.

The Audacity of Hope

In its earlier seasons, “Community” distinguished itself among typical sitcoms with its determined focus on character development.  The study group was various forms of broken, and Greendale was positioned as a place for them to work out their issues and become better people.  The show followed through on this determination in a way that was deeply satisfying.  Six seasons in, “Community” is still concerned about allowing its characters to grow, but it is also intent on emphasizing what works best, and that can mean maintaining the status quo.  “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” found itself squarely within these crosscurrents.  Major developments were looming, but they felt like conflicts that had played out many times before.  Ultimately, though, this episode succeeded by getting deeper into the emotional truth of these situations than ever before.

This was not the first episode in which Annie was considering transferring to City College, but it was the first time that her reasons for doing so were completely out in the open.  Back in Season 2’s “Basic Rocket Science,” it felt like a mere plot point, but this time it was clearly the result of frustration that had built up over the course of the episode.  One might think that at this point that she is loyal enough, and has been for a while, to overlook Greendale’s silliness.  But this was something different, something really bad.  She could not abide institutional dishonesty, especially with it being promoted by people she likes and respects.

A more pressing question is just how much more time Annie needs to complete her degree and if it still makes sense for her to transfer at this point in her education.  Also, it is odd that City College would be her first choice to switch to, considering how personal their rivalry with Greendale has been.  Obviously she has the talent to aim higher. Granted, though, another community college would be more convenient.  It would be nice if “Community” would clarify where Annie (and Britta and Abed) is in terms of enrollment/employment at Greendale.  Despite that confusion, Alison Brie was in fine form here, fiercely presenting where Annie stood with everybody.

Annie and Frankie have become fast friends, bonding over their shared efficiency of improving Greendale, so much so that Jeff insisted that they get a boardroom together.  But Frankie’s results are not driven by the steely optimism that Annie deploys, but instead by a brutal, laser-focused assessment of the truth.  Her rejection of hope revealed how the two of them profoundly differ.  The revelant part of their conversation is worth quoting in full:

“I’m not psychic, Annie. That’s an illusion caused by extreme preparedness.”

“But, what do you hope is true?”

“Oh God, no, I never hope. Hope is pouting in advance. Hope is faith’s richer, bitchier sister. Hope is the deformed, attic-bound, incest-monster offspring of entitlement and fear. My life results tripled the year I gave up hope and any game on my phone that had anything to do with farming. What’s true will be true, Annie. Our job is to deal with that truth.”

Frankie’s dedication made her initially most similar to Annie, but this moment suggested that maybe she used to be exactly like Annie but then grew not exactly cynical, but dismissive of either optimism or pessimism.  She has been interestingly hard to pin down, with the first three episodes of the season featuring comparisons of her to Annie, Abed, and now Jeff.  She could have been a preview of what Annie might be in ten years or so, but Annie was at this moment – and will probably continue to be – too defiant to allow that to happen.

Considering the harshness that was borne out here, it was understandable that Annie would actually consider leaving Greendale for City College.  It may have started as something she said in the heat of the moment as a last-ditch effort to get everyone to settle on a course of action that would not sacrifice their principles.  But she is too sincere for something like that to be a bluff.  She really did feel betrayed enough to consider City College a viable option.

Annie was surely disappointed by Jeff most of all.  It has been a while since he has really been in the groove of Winger Speechifying, so his takedown of Ruffles was attention-grabbing.  This Winger Speech was a classic, in the sense that it would have fit right in during Season 1, when he had no trouble sacrificing honesty while remaining truthful.  This was not a total regression: he was being unscrupulous not just for himself, but for Greendale (although, as he pointed out, looking out for himself does mean looking out for Greendale, seeing as they cut his checks now).

While Annie was clearing out her locker, it seemed like the perfect time for Jeff to run out and assure her that they were not going to disappoint her.  Instead, what ended up happening was Abed the next morning showing her the completed commercial.  This was not an unreasonable conclusion.  It made sense that Jeff and everyone else hung around to make an ad with integrity.  While it would have been nice to have a big dramatic moment of winning Annie back, this was probably the best solution, managing both efficiency and sweetness.  Jeff may have insisted this was just the most, prudent tactical move (getting in the front of the scandal, “Letterman-style”), but that did not change the fact that it was also the most honest move and that he surely knew that.  Annie’s assurance that she would never mistake him for having a heart was surely a coded message meaning that she would not embarrass him by mentioning how he really has the biggest heart of anyone.

Jeff did not end this episode on the most assured terms with everybody, though.  He and Abed were unusually snippy, with the latter demonstrating his knack for attack ads by calling the former a pedophile.  But this probably had less to do with any lingering resentment and more with the late hour.

Jeff’s major issue at hand, and the most consistent source of comedy in this episode, was the Dean’s misunderstanding of their relationship.  The fact that Jeff had given his now-boss a fake phone number retroactively provided a lot of extra depth to their relationship.  That the number belonged to a teenage boy in Tokyo and that he would know enough English to trick the Dean may have been improbable, but that was justified by all the hilarity it brought.

It was implied in “Basic Sandwich” that the Dean thought that he was the source of Jeff’s passion that opened up the door.  It would seem like he ought to know deep down that that is really not the case, but this episode showed that maybe he has continued fooling himself.  Perhaps this could be fodder for prompting Jeff to reveal the truth.

Also, Britta pooped her pants.  Then she had enough scenes talking with Elroy for this to qualify as a subplot.  At first this seemed like another “Britta is the worst” episode with an outsider and/or new friend assuring her that she is perfectly lovely, but it ended up being a lot weirder than that.  Elroy may have peaced out on hanging with her after they initially bonded over the Lilith Fair-esque Natalie Is Freezing, but that was not about her being terrible in general so much as it was about her being terrible at singing.  And everyone else may have been dismissive of her, but that was because she was too drunk and loopy to be of much use.  This was essentially an excuse for Gillian Jacobs to be as goofy as possible, which is a perfectly fine reason for a subplot to exist.

Notes & Quotes:
-It seems that the clearest effect that the switch to Yahoo! has had so far is the random, reality-breaking diversions, as demonstrated here by Britta’s music video fantasy while listening to “Pillar of Garbage.”
-The other noticeable Yahoo! difference is the slightly longer running times, which has so far most affected the end tags, which have been ambitious affairs – short films in their own right almost, only tangentially related to the rest of the episode.  The revelation of the life of Takashi (who would grow up to be Ioban, leader of the Yakuza) was another winner in this regard.
-While Britta was not at her most triumphant, she did manage to say “I couldn’t care less,” instead of the often misused version, “I could care less.”
-The canine nature of it all apparently entered Annie’s subconscious so much that she was yelling at Jeff like he was a dog (“No! No! Bad!”), which he of course found delightful.
-“Of course I know them! But how do you? You’re-” “Black?” “No, old!”
-Abed was right to go with the James Spader impersonator, considering that his best role was a sleazy lawyer (who may very well have influenced Jeff Winger).
-“Some things are evil and silly, like candy cigarettes.”
-Elroy’s epic stare in response to Frankie saying she doesn’t own a TV was incredible and completely deserved for a character on “Community.”
-“Annie, this started with me sleeping and getting yelled at for not helping.  If it ends with you yelling at me for not sleeping, that’s not a story, that’s a German art film.”
-Chang made a porno. It was amusing.