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Episode 2 - Accounting for Lawyers

22 October 2012

Watching this episode made me excited to watch TV. Now I love watching TV, but it doesn't always make me excited. Like any love in life you can spend hours experiencing mediocre stuff to get back to those emotions that hooked you in the first place. You can sit through many bad football games waiting for the excitement of the close contest to finally materialise. And that is how I felt with this episode. I have sat through bad 30 Rock and all too familiar Modern Family and suddenly this appeared.

Community isn't always funny and is far from consistently this good. But unlike all the other comedies it is fresh. When it gets things right as it did here the joy comes from not knowing what will come next. I became excited early on because the episode was doing all the logical, character consistent stuff but in ways I hadn't seen a hundred times before. That's what I watch TV for, to see the art form taken to new places and to be excited.

So to the details and as Abed points out - this is a Jeff Winger origin episode. We finally learn why he became a lawyer, see where he worked and discover exactly how he was found out. Those details add depth to the character and Jeff is written to react to his old life in an ideal way. I say ideal because he reacts in ways which benefit the show, the character and seem like real life.

Jeff misses being a lawyer, he misses the competition, he misses honing his litigating skills, he misses the suits and the drinking. He doesn't look down on what he did now that he has seen a different side of life. When he is reminded of the sleazy side of that existence by Alan's endless lies he doesn't get on his moral high horse, he simply recognises that he has developed a more complicated morality now. By being forced to spend time with his study group and develop a little family he can't just walk away from people like he used to be able to leave a courtroom and ignore the victims of his profession. That balanced reaction means Jeff reflects where he is in life. He is enjoying his new friendships, misses where he was and knows he will end up somewhere different down the line. It shows us how he has changed but leaves his future open to develop in any interesting direction the writers choose.

The origin story of how Jeff grew to admire only the lawyer as his parents' divorced was subtly but brilliantly slipped into the story. It's a tale which explains a lot about Jeff and his attitude to life. It adds a convincing streak to the number of stories where we have seen his facade slip and the insecurity underneath take hold. 

Aiding Jeff in this story is Alan, the man who narced on him, the man who wants to use him to become partner, the man who tries to screw him over by pretending someone else narced on him. Alan is really good in his role, sleazy but believably good at what he does and he acts like though he is working an angle he genuinely misses Jeff a little too. "I quit blow, not being rad!" he says when suggesting they go drinking despite his membership of Narcotics Anonymous. He isn't written as a crazy person, he isn't written as evil, he is just made out to be a sleazy but believable person. Similarly Alan's boss Ted (Drew Carrey) had a hole in his hand. Yes, a hole in his hand. A typically weird and wonderful gag? Yes I suppose so. It wasn't my kind of thing but it added a little colour to Ted, who talked about the hole in an open and plausible way and because he played the role completely straight it didn't detract from the story. The reality in both Ted and Alan was stronger than the zaniness.  

The reality, as I always say, is what keeps the craziness funny. And there was plenty of craziness going on. Another thing which marks Community out is when the show successfully comments on itself. By making Abed's self commentary a defining characteristic of who he is, he can say things like "The stakes have never been higher!" before an ad break and make it into a funny line rather than a Xerox of a Xerox as it appears so often when Family Guy and other shows point out that they are a TV show.

Abed was also involved in the funniest moment of the episode. Troy, Annie and Abed break into Alan's office and find the email where he told on Jeff. But a janitor interrupts them and asks who they are. Annie in panic chloroforms the guy (Abed had of course brought some because TV had led him to believe he might need some) and they all panic. Abed suggests a plan to get out of their predicament. A brilliant cut to them all pretending to be unconscious so they can convince the janitor that they were all chloroformed! When that doesn't work Annie hits him with the rag again and they run for it. Brilliantly silly.

The Chang pop and lock plot made sense to continue his attempts to get into the study group. Although Chang has twice now tapped into a dark comedy cackle which has left me unsure exactly how real they will ever be able to make him seem.

Community is far from the best comedy I have ever seen but it doesn't feel processed. It feels natural. It feels organic. It feels like the creators are trying something new all the time. So many TV shows (and especially movies) feel like a committee sat down and selected elements from successful projects and tried to carefully place them in a new one. Community stands out for being so wonderfully free of convention. I really hope it continues to succeed.



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  • You seem to be saving The Office for last...the best for last?

    Posted by Ben F. , 21/10/2010 4:13am (10 years ago)

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