Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Community 201: Advanced Character Development

Community really hit its stride in Season 2. The show had spent 80% of the first season figuring out the characters before the last five episodes really took off, and the show returned at that high frequency right away. The show took a lot of risks in the second season with format and with content, but they paid off with what I consider to be the show's best set of episodes.

Main character power rankings

Since most of the main characters were well-established, the writers and actors were really able to start playing around with how they would respond in different situations. They moved into much more nuanced territory, and the show was much richer for it. This is how I would rank the main characters after Season 2.

9. Dean Pelton (+0) - The show started to figure out how to use the dean this season, and by the end of the season, he was a "good dean". It was still not quite enough to pull him out of last, but that will come.

8. Britta Perry (-4) - She really is "the AT and T of people". Britta became a much more flat character in Season 2, but most of her drop in the rankings is due to how the other characters improved.

7. Pierce Hawthorne (-2) - Pierce's story line went from lovable buffoon to outright villain, and I'm not sure the change was fully justified. Still, his role in Dungeons and Dragons and then his "bequeathings" were duly hilarious.

6. Ben Chang (-3) - Chang was reduced to a student, but that just allowed the writers to have him around more for yelling random things ("Snap!"). He might not have made it into the study group, but he was memorable, if a bit mentally unhinged.

5. Jeff Winger (-4) - Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Winger went from the de facto narrator of the show to a semi-outsider and even a villain at some points, and in the process he lost a lot of the sensitive side that endeared us to him in Season 1.

4. Shirley Bennett (+4) - The writers figured out how to use Shirley as a sarcastic commentary right away, and she has at least one line an episode that was utterly hilarious. The whole Chang baby storyline was a little forced, but she definitely did the best she could with it.

3. Troy Barnes (+3) - Troy moved away from being a jock to becoming a man, and the inner conflict between his past and his present nerdery proved to be one of the season's more interesting underlying plot lines.

2. Annie Edison (+6) - Abed commented during paintball that "She's kind of awesome today"; truer words may never have been spoken. Annie went from a stereotype to a comic force, and her freakout over her pen ensured that we would never look past Annie again.

1. Abed Nadir (+1) - Abed took over his rightful place as the show's best character early in Season 2, and he did not relinquish his title. Aside from his Christmas episode and a couple of other blips, Abed actually became one of the group's more grounded members, and he was the most consistenly entertaining.

Romantic Encounter Power Rankings

7. Troy (Random girl in "Anthropology 101", Mariah the librarian) - Not much happening for Troy this season.

6. Annie (Jeff, Rich, Abed as Han) - The show dispelled the silliness of the "will they or won't they" tension between Annie and Jeff by mocking it in "Paradigms of Human Memory". Then she had an unrequited crush on Rich, and her only "real" kiss was when Abed was playacting as Han Solo during the paintball game. Rough romantic year for Annie.

5. Abed (Mariah the librarian, Special Agent Vohlers) - Abed gets points for his unique relationship with a secret service agent.

4. Pierce (The Tiny Man from his drug hallucinations, Wu Mei) - Pierce did get engaged, even if it was a brief farce, so that bumps him up the rankings.

3. Jeff (Annie, "Gwynnifer", Quendra, Britta) - Most of Jeff's romantic encounters were unrequited (Annie) or off-screen - at least until his ongoing secret series of trysts with Britta was revealed by Abed.

2. Britta (Markus, Paige, Lukka, Jeff) - Is anyone else weirded out that Britta had the most romantic interests this year? Of course, one was her nephew, one was a straight woman who thought she was a lesbian, one was responsible for genocide in the Balkans, and the other was Jeff, so she kind of Britta'd it anyway.

1. Shirley (Chang, Andre) - Shirley's two relationships formed much of the story arc for the second half of the season; besides, she didn't remember her encounter with Chang, so that's a double win.

Supporting character power rankings

With the primary characters well-established by Season 2, it gave the show a chance to really begin to explore the many different personalities that populated the background of Greendale. I was quite surprised, actually, that many of these major players did not appear until near the end of Season 2, but several of them made an immediate impression.

NR: Officer Cackowski, Male Nurse Jackie, Quendra, Alan, Dean Spreck

10. Pavel - "I get mad cold, bros!"

9. Rich - "I thought I was spesssshullll..."

8. Andre - Shirley's ex-husband returns with a great sweater.

7. "Annie's Boobs" - "Monkey got my spoon."

6. Vicki - "Vickiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!"

5. Garrett -"It's like God spilled a person."

4. Fat Neil - The hero of Dungeons and Dragons.

3. Starburns - Another victim of the (political) system.

2. Leonard - "Let's go kick some taint!"

1. Magnitude - "Pop pop!"

Professor power rankings

There were not many professors this season, but the ones they did have were memorable. Here are the rankings for the season:

4. Professor Sheffield ("Competitive Wine Tasting") - Abed showed him who was the real boss.

3. Professor June Bauer ("Anthropology 101" and others) - From drinking her own urine to making a super weapon out of tools to rapping with Troy and Abed to speculating on the ending of Inception with Stone Age tribes, Professor Bauer was one of the best.

2. Professor Sean Garrity ("Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design", "Competitive Wine Tasting") - From Professor Professorson to showing Troy the pain of having no pain, theater professor Sean Garrity was the best new professor of the season.

1. Professor Ian Duncan ("The Psychology of Letting Go", "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples", "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas", "Early 21st Century Romanticism", and others) - We need more Duncan? Let's put him in teaching Anthropology. Brilliant.

Overall Professor power rankings:

10. Doctora Escodera (S1)
9. Admiral Slaughter (S1)
8. Coach Bogner (S1)
7. Professor Holly (S1)
6. Professor Michelle Slater (S1)
5. Professor Sheffield (S2)
4. Professor June Bauer (S2)
3. Professor Whitman (S1)
2. Professor Sean Garrity (S2)
1. Professor Ian Duncan (S1-2)

Best end tags

Since many of Troy and Abed's best moments came in the end tags, I decided to replace their category with this one to open it up past the two of them. Here are my five faves from Season 2.

5. Abed enters cartoon reality ("Accounting for Lawyers") - Troy believed...for a second.

4. Anthropology Rap ("Anthropology 101") - It repeated the first real viral moment of the first season and added Betty White.

3. "Fiddler, Please!" ("Competitive Wine Tasting") - "It's hard to be Jewish in Russia!"

2. Troy and LeVar Burton ("Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking") - "More fish for Kunta.

1. Puppy parade ("Cooperative Calligraphy") - Was there any doubt?

Best meta-moments and cameos

Community became even more "meta" in Season 2. Here are my favourites, along with a few honourable mentions.

HM: Abed's film ("Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples") and documentary ("Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking"); Abed finds the meaning of Christmas ("Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas"). While "meta" within the context of the show, I think the other listed episodes do a better job of commenting on the show and the sitcom form itself.

5. Abed tries to force a wedding on Jeff and Britta ("Anthropology 101") - In response to all of the drama from the Tranny Dance, Abed tries to up the stakes for "Season 2" using classic TV tropes, causing all of the group's drama to come spilling out.

4. Troy and Abed's election coverage ("Introduction to Student Politics") - The ticker at the bottom of the page is brilliant.

3. The bottle episode ("Cooperative Calligraphy") - I sure didn't know the term "bottle episode" before this, but I sure did afterward.

2. Abed becomes "Chad" on Cougar Town ("Critical Film Studies") - Not only does the episode itself serve as homage, but Abed tells the story of becoming Chad on Cougar Town before the actor who played Danny Pudi appeared on CT later in that season.

1. "Six seasons and a movie!" ("Paradigms of Human Memory") - As if the brilliance of running a clip show of scenes that were not in the actual show were not enough, Community adopted Abed's mantra about The Cape as its ultimately unexpectedly prescient hashtag for the remainder of its run...as long as the movie gets made at some point.

Best homages

The homages this season might have been the best of any season of Community. I had to expand my Top 5 to a Top 6, and then I still had three more honorable mentions beyond that.

HM: Mean Girls ("Aerodynamics of Gender"); The Right Stuff ("Basic Rocket Science"); The Lord of the Rings ("Anthropology 101", "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons")

5. My Dinner with Andre / Pulp Fiction ("Critical Film Studies") - Abed's birthday party works in two homages simultaneously and seamlessly.

4. Mockumentary sitcoms (The Office, Parks and Recreation) ("Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking") - Brilliant.

3. Those Claymation Christmas specials ("Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas") - Capturing the look and feel of those classics was impressive.

2b. Star Wars ("For a Few Paintballs More") - Complete with Abed as Han.

2a. Spaghetti Westerns ("A Fistful of Paintballs") - So many classic tropes.

1. Zombie movies ("Epidemiology") - Maybe the best homage of the show, period.

Favourite moments

  • Annie chloroforms a dude. ("Accounting for Lawyers")
  • Abed delivers a baby in the background ("The Psychology of Letting Go")
  • All of Shirley's sarcastic asides, especially in the first few episodes - "I'll make your ass sense."
  • The KFC space simulator ("Basic Rocket Science")
  • Troy and Abed's Halloween costume (Ripley and the Xenomorph from Aliens) ("Epidemiology")
  • The puppy parade ("Cooperative Calligraphy")
  • The original blanket fort ("Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design")
  • The twist ending(s) to Jeff's Conspiracy Theory class - "You can't conspire with everyone! Then it's just doing random crap!" ("Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design")
  • Annie as Caroline Decker from Corpus Christie ("Mixology Certification")
  • "Kettle corn! That's a fun-time snack!" ("Asian Population Studies")
  • Chang as Brutalitops ("Advanced Dungeons and Dragons")
  • "You selfish jaded ass!" - Britta defends BNL to Jeff ("Early 21st Century Romanticism")
  • "You can't disappoint a picture!" - Troy on meeting LeVar Burton ("Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking")
  • Everything about Troy and Abed's commentary on the student election ("Intro to Political Science")
  • Jeff's audition tape for The Real World ("Intro to Political Science")
  • Abed's Pulp Fiction birthday party ("Critical Film Studies")
  • "My emotions. MY EMOTIONS!" - Troy in acting class ("Competitive Wine Tasting")
  • Abed proves that Angela is the boss ("Competitive Wine Tasting")
  • "Six seasons and a movie!" ("Paradigms of Human Memory")
  • Paintball ("A Fistful of Paintballs" and "For A Few Paintballs More")

Best episodes

The show really hit a groove in this season, so I felt the need to increase my Top 5 episodes to a Top 10 just to squeeze them all in - and even then I still had to do Honorable Mentions. Fully half of the season's episodes are included here, and I think most of these would be in the Pantheon of best episodes of the series.

HM: "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design"; "Cooperative Calligraphy";

10. "Critical Film Studies" - My Dinner with Andre meets Pulp Fiction meets Cougar Town. Somehow it works.

9. "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" - Abed takes a journey into a magical Claymation Christmas wonderland.

8. "Basic Rocket Science" - The study group simulates going into space with some product placement help from the Colonel.

7. "Intro to Political Science" - Greendale holds a student election.

6. "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" - Abed films Pierce's bequeathings.

5. "Paradigms of Human Memory" - The clip show of clips that weren't in the show.

4. "For A Few Paintballs More" - Greendale fights back against the evil Empire of City College.

3. "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" - Jeff and company play D&D

2. "A Fistful of Paintballs" - Paintball gets the Western treatment.

1. "Epidemiology" - A zombie movie in 22 minutes.

Final Thoughts

Season 2 of Community has always been my favorite, and I think it will still likely end up that way after I finish the series. I think it had the best balance of character development, meta-commentary, and situational comedy, and I routinely return to it first. There are no episodes that miss out entirely, and even the lower-ranked episodes are still better than most of the rest of the series. If Season 1 showed what the show could be, Season 2 showed what it was, and this season is largely my reason for ranking Community as my favourite comedy of all-time.

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