Saturday, October 17, 2009

Community 1.05: "Advanced Criminal Law"

“Is she allowed to have counsel? I mean, I may not be a practicing lawyer anymore, but relative to this place, I’m Alan Dershowitz.”


When I finished watching this week’s episode of Community, I was left thinking something along the lines of “what the heck just happened?” There were three distinct plot lines, none of them especially developed. There were, however, some great legal and British jokes, so that pretty much redeemed the episode from any structural problems in my eyes.

I’m trying to think of any theme that ties the three stories together, but I just can’t think of one. Jeff has to defend Britta when she is brought before a campus tribunal for cheating on a Spanish test, Annie asks Pierce to compose the new school song, and Abed is trying to grasp how to play a practical joke on a friend. I guess you could say the theme was “friendship,” but that’s awfully general, and it’s more of a statement of the theme of the series overall as opposed to this specific episode.

I was happy to see that John Oliver made yet another appearance as Professor Duncan in this episode. When he and Jeff are essentially arguing about whose culture is better and Duncan says “Fawlty Towers. Game over,” I was laughing hysterically. That quote actually almost made Quote of the Episode status, but for once, legal humor won out over British humor. I personally adore Fawlty Towers. Basil and Sybil’s antics never get old, and I find myself saying “You get what you pay for!” in Sybil’s whiny tone whenever I have the opportunity. Unfortunately, this episode also included another prolonged appearance by Señor Chang. Ken Jeong plays this character so over-the-top that it’s really not enjoyable to watch. Just uncomfortable.

Señor Chang is especially upset this week because he discovered that a student cheated on his latest test. He has the crib sheet to prove it. He is absolutely, almost-ready-to-spontaneously-combust furious, and he threatens the class. If somebody doesn’t fess up within the next twenty-four hours, he’s going to give the entire class a failing grade on the test. Predictably, nobody is quick to volunteer themselves for the slaughter. The next day, Señor Chang begins a countdown to failure and Annie begins to emit a high pitched scream. Britta ends the craziness by fessing up to being the cheater. The Dean, anxious to prove that Greendale takes cheating just as seriously as any university, calls Britta before an academic honor board.

Jeff asks to represent Britta at the hearing, and the Dean agrees. The hearing takes place in Greendale’s luxurious athletic facility, more specifically the pool judge’s table. Now, I’ll admit, I’m one of those kinda annoying self-righteous girls who was actually on the conduct board in college. And I served on an academic honor board once. This was much more of a circus than any of our hearings ever were. But I guess that’s to be expected, considering it’s a TV show, and a sitcom at that. I found the kind of circular logic used to justify some of the hearing procedures interesting. For instance, Señor Chang is on the board, and he’s obviously biased against Britta, but Professor Duncan is also on the board, and he’s biased in favor of Jeff. And since he believes he himself can be impartial, the Dean thinks everything is perfectly balanced.

Britta keeps vacillating back and forth between admitting she cheated and denying it, so Jeff has to have a little conference with her. Britta admits that the reason she cheated is that she expects to fail at college, so she just wanted to speed up the process. Jeff uses this reasoning as the basis for a sort of “insanity” defense. The board buys it, and they decide against expelling Britta. Professor Duncan arranges a little extra bonus for himself, though. Britta has to see him once a week for counseling (he is a psych professor, after all).

Meanwhile, at a study group meeting, Annie announces that she has been placed in charge of acquiring a school song for Greendale. She says that she found a local composer who has agreed to take on the job, but Pierce interrupts her to say he composed the commercial jingle for one of his company’s products. Annie decides to enlist Pierce for the task instead, which, of course turns out to be kind of a mistake. He sits at the piano for hours on end and makes no progress except for maybe two notes at a time and the occasional rip-off of an already existing song.

Annie eventually has to snap Pierce out of his funk. She gives Pierce what apparently was the same speech her mom gave her when she wanted to give up cheerleading. “You’re not very pretty, you have no boobs, and you can’t do a basket toss to save your life, but you made a commitment. So pick up your pom-poms, Pierce, stuff your bra, and get ready for the team bus to forget you at a Taco Bell, because life is tough. But we soldier on, and that’s just the way it goes.” I usually don’t quote from an episode at length like that, but anything but the actual quote just wouldn’t do the scene justice. The ultimate school song is indeed a rip-off as well, but that doesn’t matter to anybody except maybe the Greendale legal department. Pierce is just basking in the glow of somebody believing in him.

The final story deals with Troy trying to relate to Abed. Troy starts kidding around with Abed, telling him things such as that he’s President Obama’s nephew. Abed, like Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory,” needs the people around him to hold up a “sarcasm” sign. He doesn’t realize that Troy is kidding. When he does finally find out that Troy was kidding, he’s upset. Troy explains that friends tease each other like that. Abed takes his response to extremes. As he does. He has this elaborate plan to convince Troy that he is an alien. Abed walks around surreptitiously whispering into a walkie-talkie. The grand finale is arranging for Troy to walk in on him talking to a pre-made video of himself as an alien making these weird hand gestures. Troy then decides to take a new approach with Abed. Troy tells him that friends don’t actually kid each other after all. I think Troy made a good choice there.

Now you’ll have to excuse me while I go take in an episode or two of Fawlty Towers (I have them all on DVD). I think “The Builders” will be just the ticket.

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