Community 1x01: “Pilot”
“What is community college? Well, you’ve heard it’s all kinds of things. You’ve heard it’s loser college for remedial teens, 20 something dropouts, middle aged divorcees, and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity. That’s what you heard, however, I wish you luck!.”
The dean has just stereotyped many of the supporting characters into roles, and it turns out he is missing the full deck of cards to tell them how things will be different from these preconceived notions of self.
Jeff has not yet been cast in a type, but as soon as we meet him, we find that he is looking for ways to use people, and that is what we are doing too. How can we utilize him and all of these characters we are meeting for the first time, as mirrors for ourselves or models of antithesis? In his first three interactions, Jeff wants to use Abed to get to Britta, use Britta to get sex, and use his old acquaintance to cheat his way through the community college by being handed all of the answers. He is lead to believe that he might get them.
Soon, the study group meets for the first time, and Abed gives us our first Breakfast Club reference. The assigned thesis of the Breakfast Club’s essay was “who you think you are,” which is also our assignment here as engaged viewers. Which of these character stereotypes introduced in the beginning are we going to latch onto?
Jeff quickly distances himself from the group and rejoins his old acquaintance Duncan, who is a connection to his old life as a lawyer, when he was able to use his silver tongue to cheat the system. He still hopes that he can get all of the answers form this link to his past, but the only answer Duncan gives is a question of whether or not Jeff knows the difference between right and wrong. Jeff responds: “I discovered at a very early age that if I talk long enough, I could make anything right or wrong, so either I’m God, or truth is relative, but in either case: booyah.”
Jeff returns to encounter the rest of the study group, and Abed gives a second Breakfast Club reference. Jeff uses everyone and plays them off one another to throw the group into turmoil in hopes of extracting himself from the group once again. Abed delivers Bender’s speech from The Breakfast Club and stops the fight momentarily. The only person his reference elicits a response from is Jeff, everyone else becomes a silent observer. Jeff retreats again to finally retrieve all of the answers from his old acquaintance. When he returns, he must once again use everyone to attempt to get what he wants from Britta. He makes his first speech:
“We’re the only species on Earth that observes Shark Week. Sharks don’t even observe Shark Week, but we do, for the same reason I can pick up this pencil, tell you it’s name is Steve and go like this, and part of you dies just a little bit on the inside, because people can connect with anything. We can sympathize with a pencil, we can forgive a shark, and we can give Ben Affleck an Academy Award for screenwriting. People can find the good in just about anything but themselves.”
He goes on to recast everyone in the group in a new type. In the commentary, the creators explain this scene as follows: “He’s bringing them together [but] the character doesn’t mean it, but then again he’s not lying ‘cus the whole point of this character is supposed to be… the character doesn’t hate anybody, he doesn’t think that anybody’s a bad person, he’s too self-involved to care enough to judge anybody.”
In his speech, regarding Abed, Jeff states: “Abed’s a shaman. You ask him to pass the salt, he gives you a bowl of soup, because you know what? Soup is better.” The only person Abed connected with earlier during his film reference was Jeff, and we can see Bender (to whom the speech belongs in the film) as Jeff and perhaps the related story as symbolic of Jeff’s motivation. Jeff did confess earlier to the lunch lady: “I’m sorry. I was raised on TV, and I was conditioned to believe that every black woman over 50 is a cosmic mentor.” Though Abed does not change Jeff’s behavior with his references, he is attempting to reach him. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, the job of the shaman is to determine what is wrong in the community, travel to the appropriate higher realm, commune with the spirits, and set it right quickly. The higher realm here is the collective unconscious of popular culture, and that is what the entire episode has been working in to set you at ease and help you connect better with the characters. When Abed shouted his reference, it was not at the group because they were not broken, but rather at Jeff who was breaking the group.
After the group is repaired by Jeff’s speech and Jeff is revealed to be a fake, he storms out with all the answers and Abed begins spouting a wider variety of pop culture references after him. Outside, Jeff tears open all the answers and rifles through a lot of nothing before coming to a single page bearing the word booyah. This recolors his speech before about his ability to manipulate truth and being God, which he ended with a “booyah.” His self addressing speech was a lot of nothing. This also hearkens back to the dean not having the cards to tell anyone how to overcome their perceived categorization in the community. Jeff has ultimately gotten no answers from his old way of life. The group comes out to find Jeff without all of the answers, and they begin to project themselves onto him and pull him back into their group.
In the opening of The Breakfast Club, the letter in response to “who you think you are” lists off the stereotype assigned to each of the members of the club and declares that they feel that they are brainwashed. However, at the end of the film the letter in response to the assignment has changed to reflect the fact that they all share commonalities. In the same way, the dean’s list of stereotypes in the beginning is eclipsed by our having found something relatable in each of the characters who form the study group by the end of the episode.