“Anthropology 101” originally aired on NBC Thursday night, September 23, 2010
If Community was a sports team, “Anthropology 101” would mark the start of its “rebuilding” effort1. Where the show’s first finale went off the rails, its second premiere works to put things back on track. Right off the bat, the episode2 seems aware that “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” bit off more than it could chew, and sets about unpacking the ramifications of its many disruptions to Community’s status quo. Some are minor — like Troy getting so fed up with Pierce’s casual bigotry after spending the summer living with him that he is now publicizing his ignorance on Twitter under the account @OldWhiteManSays — others require quite a bit more work to untangle.
Crucially, what this episode gets right about season one’s cliffhanger is that it revealed exactly how much Jeff Winger still SUCKS as a person. Or if we’re being charitable, how much he still needs to grow after just one year at Greendale. There is a possibility that my feelings about the Jeff-Annie kiss at the end of “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” devolved into moralizing about the age difference between the characters, if not in the body of my essay, then somewhere in the comments. That’s definitely part of it, but the fact that this also occurred immediately after Jeff had publicly left two of his competing love interests hanging leaves no room for doubt — this is the behavior of a narcisisstic asshole desperate to avoid any consequences for his actions, and “Anthropology 101” never lets us forget it.
The first act of this episode sees every significant social connection in Jeff Winger’s life turning on him, one by one, while Britta’s social stock soars at the expense of his. If there’s one thing that’s proven to be effective in building back sympathy for a disgraced character, it’s watching them get humiliated for a half hour, to the point where even their Anthropology Professor June Bauer (Betty White) ends up assaulting him with a deadly weapon composed of multiple deadly weapons. This episode also puts Jeff back in our good graces by pitting him against Britta, thereby giving us more of their Toxic Twins dynamic as they continue to bring out the worst in each other with every spiteful kiss and disingenuous declaration of love. No wonder they couldn’t stop hooking up this season, as “Paradigms Of Human Memory” would eventually reveal — their hatefucks must have been the stuff of legend.
That escalation of their fake romance immediately transforms them into that one obnoxiously demonstrative couple everyone hates, constantly performing sickening displays such as sharing earbuds and walking around with hands in each other’s back pockets. But it takes Abed’s meddling to really drive them over the edge, resulting in this episode’s big Study Room argument. While these types of scenes would become a staple of the show going forward, even to the point of essentially driving entire episodes, we really hadn’t had one like this since “The Science Of Illusion”, where the powderkeg of conflicts and emotions that had been building detonates in one sustained burst of finger-pointing and occasional face-punching.
Meanwhile, Abed serves as the voice of Community’s fanbase, displeased with how the show’s narrative has become bogged down in character relationships and yearning for more fun, standalone paintball-like adventures. After an offhand comment from Shirley reframes Jeff and Britta’s relationship for him as an adventure in its own right, Abed starts doing his usual shtick of manipulating reality to better fit his desired dramatic structure — a “wedding episode”, as he puts it. Typical of these characters not to realize they’ve gone too far until they have pushed things to a unnecessarily dangerous extreme.
Ultimately, this episode is all about the question of where Community goes from here, as it finally clears the metaphorical debris left over from its First Great Paintball War to focus on finding new stories and new approaches to the sitcom format. This even extends to a C-plot about Chang desperately trying to join the group, all while acting like he doesn’t care about the group, which culminates in an extended Lord Of The Rings homage. The scene comes off like Harmon and Co. throwing a bone to the show’s Abed-like fans — many of whom were hoping Community would dive right into another elaborate parody in its second season premiere — as if reassuring them that the show has not lost its knack for pop culture riffing. Be patient, this episode seems to be saying. There’s more where that came from.
NOTES + QUOTES
⁃ End tag: in yet another spiritual followup to “La Biblioteca”, Donald Glover and Danny Pudi (featuring Betty White) rap the genetic classification of human beings, which turns into a singalong of Toto’s “Africa”. This is like the fourth time they’ve done some variation on this gag
⁃ This episode functions as a time capsule of that early 2010s period where everyone suddenly remembered that the then-pushing 90 Betty White is an absolute goddamn delight and she started showing up everywhere for a minute. This year alone included appearances in Community, The Middle, and the Kristen Bell romantic comedy You Again, as well as the first season of something called “Hot In Cleveland” on which she was a regular and which was apparently a huge hit because it ran for 129 (!) episodes. Would have been nice to see her reprise her role as Professor Bauer a few more times, as she doesn’t really get to interact with the cast outside of Jeff — she carries a sort of unhinged authority that feels right at home with the setting of Greendale
⁃ Speaking of guest spots, this episode features the recurring Leonard and Star-burns (in a classic gag where he gets paralyzed by a poison dart) to help orient us back into the world of Greendale, as well as one-off appearances by Ken Schumaker as a George Clooney impersonator and Kasey Truman as an Irish Singer 3.
ANNIE: But you should know, we didn’t just kiss, we technically Frenched. i checked the Makeout Meter in this month’s issue of…. National Review
CHANG: Have you checked the course description? ancient weaponry, gential mutilation…. this subject’s talking my Chang-uage
PROFESSOR BAUER: i would like you to form tribes of no more than eight. And if you can, mix up the races, or you’ll be surprised how quickly it can get awkward
BRITTA (with mock outrage): HIGH on my own DRAMA???
TROY: Maybe it’s the telescope. You could look through it backwards, shrink your enemies
JEFF: Sorry i’m late. i was in my car, loving Britta
BRITTA: i just peed a little
JEFF: Well Shirley, since you have clearly failed the grasp the insipid central metaphor of those Twilight books you devour, let me explain it to you. Men are monsters who crave young flesh. The end!
PIERCE: Wait! i’m Old White Man Says? No wonder he says everything i’m thinking!
TROY: There’s no way to disprove that. Have you ever seen a cat penis?
ABED: i can tell life from TV, Jeff. TV makes sense. It has structure, logic, rules…. and likable leading men. In life, we have this. We have you
PROFESSOR BAUER: i don’t know, Mr. Winger, the last time i called on you, i kinda got what the Maku-Maku call “dirt-roaded”
TROY: Pierce, i’m gonna delete that Twitter account. Your friendship is more important than 600,000 strangers